Ben Cleary is a film writer and director from Dublin and his recent short film ‘Stutterer’ has been nominated for an Oscar. We spoke to Ben about making Stutterer and his Oscar nomination.
Tell us about your film-making journey- where did it all start?
Well I’ve been scribbling ideas for films and characters since I was about eight, but I finally decided to get serious about it in 2010 when I applied for a screenwriting masters to the London Film School. It was a great year and I learnt a load about the craft. From there I began writing shorts for other people to direct and finally saved some money to write and direct my own one.
Why did you choose to write a film in which the main character has a stammer?
Well I saw something online on day that stayed with me. It was a gentleman with a stutter who was speaking about his experiences. He had gotten to the point where the stutter was almost imperceptible when he was speaking to someone face to face, but once he got onto the phone, it came flooding back and he found phone calls immensely difficult. This really struck a chord with me and I began considering how someone faced with the difficulties presented by a speech impediment might navigate through life. And it is this image that opens the film. An extreme close up of a mouth struggling to get words out to an impatient phone operator. But also, growing up I had a friend who had a pretty severe stutter and I remember how difficult that was for him. So you could say I had a bit of a personal connection to the issue too. The more I explored the idea, the more excited and passionate I became about telling this story.
How did you do your research and what resources did you find most helpful?
The vast majority of my research was done online. I would spend hours and hours looking at sites and going through videos on youtube watching these incredibly brave people speaking about their speech difficulties to try to help others. I was sitting in a shared desk studio at the time and there were so many instances where I’d be watching a video and start to tear up and desperately try to hide my tears from the people sitting around me. I still don’t know if they noticed or not! But yeah, it really moved me and it still does even thinking about it now. But also, a lot of my knowledge about it came from experiences of knowing someone with a stutterer and seeing what it can be like from day to day and in certain situations.
What have you learnt about stammering through producing ‘Stutterer’?
Well, I learnt that there are a lot more people suffering with a stutter than I had been aware of. And of course I learnt some other things like the fact that it’s not necessarily just an anxiety thing or that some people find they can sing perfectly or other interesting things like that. But I think I also learnt something that I already suspected. And that’s the fact that I think a lot of people don’t really understand the issue and sometimes don’t have the sensitivity about it that they should have. Although our lead character, Greenwood, finds it impossible to communicate with people face to face, he has this wonderful inner voice that we get to hear through voice over, and he’s very eloquent and charming and witty. I was very interested in exploring this element of it, and I hope with Stutterer that we’ve represented the issue in a sensitive, insightful light and if it gets people to look at the issue in a new way, that would make me very happy.
What would it mean for you if you won the Oscar?
Well we never thought our little film could ever get this far so even being nominated feels like we’ve won you know? Winning the Oscar would of course be an indescribable honour but we’re just going to go and enjoy ourselves and see what happens.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed! Good luck to Ben at the Oscars in a few weeks time!