By David Dixon
Local independent gay filmmaker’s rise into the industry
Winner of several awards, including the New Filmmaker Award at the 2018 San Diego Film Awards, Benjamin Howard’s passion for filmmaking grew during his time in high school. And now, this young student and openly gay film director/producer is catching the eye of the LGBT community and beyond with his groundbreaking independent filmmaking.
Howard’s senior thesis film at SDSU, “Deviant,” will be shown on Sunday (June 10) at FilmOut San Diego at the The Observatory North Park. This film is featured as part of a San Diego Spotlight, which features films from local artists.
The drama follows a 1960s teenager, Marcel (Rudy Pankow), during the aftermath of suffering from electrotherapeutic conversion therapy.
When thinking about advice for LGBT talent that want to become involved with the entertainment industry, Howard believes people should “keep it interesting.”
“We’ve seen a lot of stories about people struggling with their identity,” he said. “Finding a new perspective on sexuality and touching on that is something that I encourage. Keeping the story universal enough that you can empathize with the character is what storytelling is all about.”
And Howard has utilized his cinema talents in many areas of his life. Howard used cinema to ask his prom date to the school dance.
“My project was about me and another guy trying to find a way to ask their dates to prom,” he said. “Once the final scene was over, we walked through the classroom doors and asked them afterwards. That was an early sign that I wanted to make a career out of this.”
Following graduation, he studied film at SDSU where he developed and honed his skills. When he first started classes, his original goal was to be involved with movies as much as possible and, during his time on campus, he made seven short motion pictures.
One project that Howard loved working on was his Intermediate Film Production course project, “Sleep on It.” The motion picture, which is filmed in one take, focused on a gay couple mattress shopping for their apartment. An argument that escalates between them was inspired by relationships that Howard and his friends had in their lives.
“Sleep on It” received several nominations at the 2018 San Diego Film Awards and played at events like the Corvallis Queer Film Festival, the Culver City Film Festival, and HollyShorts Shorts screening.
Another film he was proud of was the 2016 award-winning short “Disconnect,” which was filmed at KFMB-TV studios. Produced for a cinematography class, the shoot was a memorable one because of the location.
“It was really exciting to film in a live, working news station,” he said. “I was stoked to have that opportunity.”
While his tales can be very personal, Howard wants to make sure that his work will connect with audiences.
“Whenever I start to write something, I ask myself — could I see this film playing at festivals and does this have appeal with a wide variety of audiences?” he said. “I’m always pondering the festival circuit.”
For the fall, Howard is going to UCLA to get his master of fine arts in film production/direction. At the moment, he has ideas for narratives that can be filmed for the university.
In terms of his objectives at UCLA, Howard wants to learn about different aspects about film.
“I want to learn from as many people as I can,” he said.
While a lot of his stories feature LGBT themes, he didn’t initially plan to focus on these topics in his work.
“Since I’m gay and we’re taught to write what we know, it’s easy to write about that kind of experience,” he said. “Half of my shorts from SDSU either had gay characters or were about a gay struggle.”
UCLA seems like a perfect place for Howard to create unique and original movies. Don’t be surprised if you continue to see new work from the rising storyteller at a variety of film events and festivals.
FilmOut San Diego continues at The Observatory North Park through Sunday, June10. “Deviant” will screen on Sunday as part of San Diego Spotlight. For tickets or more information, visit filmoutsandiego.com or call 619-665-1029.
— David Dixon is a freelance film and theater writer. He can be reached at email@example.com