November 30, 2012 | 4:00 PM
For over a year, Ben Sayeg traveled around the world documenting a traveling installation art project made by his sister. Throughout the year he stayed in hotel after hotel, finding himself in unexpected cities and surrounded by unexpected people. It was that experience that inspired his Four Stories-winning script, ¡El Tonto!. Director Lake Bell took Ben's script and adapted it into ¡El Tonto!, a comedy about an unlikely friendship at W Mexico City.
Ben lives in Brooklyn with his wife and works with the sketch-comedy troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade. The Ultrabook™ Experience caught up with Ben after he got back from filming in Mexico City.
Hey Ben! Did you enjoy traveling to Mexico City and being on set?
Ben Sayeg: It was a really new experience for me. I've made movies before, but on a much smaller scale. When I am just making stuff with friends, we have to do everything. So usually I'm holding the camera and running around make things happen. With this project, I wrote something and these professionals made it happen. I sort of found myself without a role on set. But just observing how the process came together taught me a lot. It was great.
What was it like working with director Lake Bell on revising your script?
Rarely is a script taken from paper to production. So much has to be taken into consideration: locations, budgets, etc. We had a lot of jamming sessions over the phone. Working with a director, a whole host of ideas need to be addressed. You need to envision what the shoot would look like and that affects the pacing of jokes and the development of characters.
This is my first big project, arguably my break big. And the process made the script much more streamlined. The pacing is better, and the jokes really stand out. What we shot was so much better than what I came up with originally. I really want to thank Intel and W Hotels for putting on this competition. Getting to work with such talented professionals was such a great opportunity for learning.
How did you hear about Four Stories?
My roommate Will sent me the link. And I thought "OK sure. This deadline's coming up and I got a little bit of time." I've traveled a lot in the last year. Documenting my sister's installation artists, stayed in hotels all around the world. So this feeling of being alone while traveling was still fresh in my mind.
Did that feeling inspire the character in your script?
Yes. Finding connections with other people is the great challenge of traveling. The character learns how to release himself from his solitude through a chance, magical encounter.
How did you respond to the constraints of the contest?
I love rules. That's sort of a weird thing to say, but I feel like the rules gave me a place to jump off from. Using the Ultrabook, which is such a helpful kind of device when you are traveling, and getting the most from the setting at W Hotels, it all made sense to me.
I also appreciate working with brands and seeing how brands are supporting young artists. Four Stories gives hope to the way brands can interact with filmmaking. Brand-supported content isn't just little 30-second spots anymore. It gives me hope as a filmmaker that more opportunities to create meaningful stories exist.