Dust Up’s Ward Roberts and Amber Benson
Vanessa Berben talks with the Writer/Director and Star of a Perfect Salute to Grindhouse Camp
As a lover of all things camp and grindhouse, I recently had the chance to screen Writer/Director Ward Roberts’ new film Dust Up and was blown away by how beautifully crafted his homage to the genre is. Not only is the film itself incredible to look at with its mind-blowing color palette and classic, aged-film effect, it’s a shit-ton of fun to watch.
And because I’m awesome (just go with it), I got to sit down with Roberts and the film’s star, Amber Benson, to talk about filming in the desert, money shots, and yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So pull up a yoga mat and a meth pipe and join the fun!
VB: How was it filming in the Mohave Desert? The whole movie has this sheen of “hotness” around it; you almost start sweating as you’re watching.
WR: At one point it was so hot and we’d been shooting for so long that my brain just kinda shut down. I remember being outside with my head in my hands, trying to figure out how to cover a section of the final fight sequence, and for a stretch of time my mind would not form any kind of functional thought. The only thing I could think was that I couldn’t think. It was scary there for a few minutes.
Despite that episode, overall I do believe the heat added to the intensity, the brutality even, of the film’s aesthetic. [Cinematographer] Shannon [Hourigan] did a great job to capture that “hotness” during production and really brought it out to full-effect in coloring the film in post.
AB: It was so hot during the day on the Joshua Tree sets that I felt like we were shooting in a sauna, but then at night it was freezing – and I spend most of the night scenes in my underwear, so, needless to say, I was a walking side of goose flesh. Of course, by hotness, you could’ve also been talking about all my hot co-stars. It was a lot of fun being the ‘voice of reason,’ ‘mother figure’ character in a movie full of attractive men.
Without giving too much away about the very literal “money shot” in this film, was there any time you feared you were taking things too far?
WR: Oh absolutely. Truthfully I had not planned to show the “money” if you will. Ezra Buzzington had mentioned something about doing that when I sent him the script and thought he was joking. When he showed up on set and said *SPOILER ALERT* “So are you gonna jizz on my face or not?” I was like, oh… you were serious about that?” And he was like, “Yeah. You want people to talk about your movie or not?” It was something to consider.
So we shot it both ways and Ezra was convinced I’d never use the money version. I actually only ever cut that scene with the money, (gonna just keep rolling with that euphemism), and during the editing & screening process we had some folks suggest that it may marginalize the film and significantly reduce our potential audience. I put the idea out to key Dusters like Amber and even my parents and everybody was like “No! No! You have to keep it!”
AB: I love extremes and I knew if this film was going to succeed it needed to be a balls to the wall, bloody, insane extravaganza – which I think Ward accomplished most exquisitely.
WR: Ultimately we all felt it was the line Buzz had to cross and we as a film had to cross to really keep the audience in fear of what could happen to our heroes, particularly the baby. The massive distribution we ended with and overwhelmingly positive critical response allows me to sleep well knowing we stuck to our creative guns without sacrificing the size of our audience.
In your varied career, did you ever imagine making a film like this?
AB: If a script makes me laugh out loud when I’m reading it then I’m in. There is so little out there project-wise that moves me, when I find one, I insert myself into the process. So, the answer is: I may not have envisioned Dust Up in my future, but I was open to weirdness and that was what I got.
Ward, Dust Up was a little bit of a reunion for your “Drexel Box” crew – what is it like working with a team you’ve grown so close with?
WR: This is our family that began in college and has been going and growing ever since. Dust Up stands on the shoulders of all the projects and playtime we’ve had over the last decade plus. So much of what Dust Up is came from this collective sensibility and style we’re honing as a team. Telling a story you love and believe in, with the people you love and believe in, is an excellent way to roll.
So Amber, coming onto Dust Up, you were really stepping into a Boy’s Club with Ward and his crew – did you feel like the odd girl out?
AB: Not at all. I was lovingly embraced from day one. Then they got to pour mud all over me on my like, first day, and the deal was sealed. It only helped my cause that while I was getting shower splooged with mud, I was loudly forcing the song “Put It In Your Mouth” into everybody’s head by singing the chorus over and over again.
Lastly, what’s next for you both? Amber, I see some of the Buffy crew pop up occasionally on HIMYM and Robot Chicken – any plans to make millions of fans dreams come true and do an official reunion? Do you get tired of being asked about that?
AB: Never tired of it because it means what we did on Buffy moved a lot of people. When you stop getting asked about the show, then you know it’s all over. Aside from Dust Up, the last book in my Calliope Reaper-Jones book series for Penguin comes out in March. It’s called The Golden Age Of Death. And I am also in post-production on a web series called Girl On Girl.
And Ward, on top of the incredible films Little Big Top and Lo, Dust Up is further catapulting you towards indie legend status – what’s next for you?
WR: Well, I just had a blast playing a part in an episode of Hawaii Five-0 that will air in early 2013. It was the perfect time to break away from all the Dust Up madness and get my acting on. From the writing/directing end I’m cooking up a few things but still no way to know which will be the next into production.
The main contenders are a horror-comedy and an action-comedy, both of which will appeal to those who dig Dust Up. Travis and Shannon’s latest film, The Dead Inside, just came out so everybody should view that immediately. They also have a new film that looks close to getting off the ground in a very big way, so we are super stoked about that heading into the New Year.
“Dust Up” is now available On Demand, iTunes and DVD – seriously give this movie a viewing, it is pure camp in the best and most lovingly violent way possible.
Special thanks to Justin Cook and Breaking Glass Pictures for providing all images. Photos from the Brooklyn screening © Will Vaultz Photography.