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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Filmmaker Ben Zolno for "Status Pending" (2018)

Filmmaker Ben Zolno's "Status Pending" (2018)

Director/writer Ben Zolno's breakthrough film 'Status Pending' (2018) is a roller coaster love story between American, Ryan, and Kiwi, Lizzie, living in New Zealand. They met on Tinder and exist posting their personal lives on social media, as most millenials do. At first, their hook up is a lot of fun, until it's time to either move forward or move on.

Starring Ben Zolno and actress Ivana Palezevic, the film is currently traveling international film festivals, including most recently the 21st Sonoma International Film Festival. Wonderphil Entertainment is handling international sales and screened to international buyers at the 2018 Cannes market.


I interviewed Ben about the film. Here is what he had to say:


The story felt so real. Were they based on true events?

BEN: That is the ultimate compliment, thank you! While the film is not based on true events, it was important for me to make the story feel real, almost like a documentary, and be highly relatable to people. Every step of the way, I reached for authenticity... I made sure to bring in aspects of Ivana Palezevic’s true personality into the work, and that of my own. I made most of the camera angles tight, right on the eyeline, to make people feel like they were there. Even though there’s a lot of social media in the film, there are pop ups on screen or graphic effects… you only see what they saw. There were hilarious comic bits we cut be because they were borderline farcical, and could take people out of Ryan and Lizzie’s world. In the end, I get a lot of feedback from people feeling like I was making the movie directly about them, like they felt they themselves were up on screen, so I think we did something right.


How do you think social media has affected how we view relationships? And what does the "status pending" mean to you?

BEN: As I explore in the movie, I think a constant barrage – hours every day – of seeing peoples “perfect” lives inevitably makes us feel insecure about our own. We not only feel insecure about ourselves as partners, but we feel insecure about commitment; there's always somebody hotter, and smarter, and funnier around the corner. They're just a swipe away! These are the themes we play with in Status Pending - how do you decide between “good enough” and “time to for something better”?


You and the lead Ivana have great chemistry. How did you go about the casting?

BEN: We went through a traditional casting process, but as far as chemistry, that was all developed in our unique rehearsal regime. It was important for the characters to feel real to people, so we used a lot of Meisner technique/improv rehearsals, where we forced ourselves to just be in the moment emotionally. We also pretended to be a couple for hours at a time, just living in the moment, sometimes even out on the street pretending we were a couple. We'd tease each other, got into arguments, things like that. We always had our acting coach Jason Tolley with us, who we pretended was our roommate Jono from the film, to keep it professional and give us feedback. Ivana was so open minded, so driven, and gave so much of herself to make Status Pending feel genuine.


How long was the shoot?

BEN: Because of the improvised nature of the film, our shooting schedule was a little different. We shot for five days, then edited together our story as tight as we could. Eleven months later, we shot another five days of tightly-outlined and largely written material, to fill in the blanks. That later shoot meant we had to get the same haircuts, be in the same physical shape, and make the house look exactly the same, as the entire film takes place over the course of about nine hours. Nobody so far has noticed!


It looks like it was easy to produce. Were there any difficulties you faced during production?

BEN: This film was relatively easy and inexpensive to produce; part of the motivation of it was to show that anyone can make a feature film… although it does require a lot of amazing volunteers and/or people willing to accept deferred pay, which we were very lucky and grateful to have. The only major hiccup was a decision to shoot with largely no lighting, which kind of give us a flatter look than I was looking for. While that technique probably saved us three days of shooting or so, it meant we had to light almost every shot, frame by frame, in post production on DaVinci Resolve. It took about four months, twenty hours a week, to get the cinematic pop look we were going for.  


As you first feature was it difficult to act, write, direct and produce all together?

BEN: I have to be honest and say that it was not difficult. I have been a one-man band for about 20 years, from wedding videos to documentaries to music videos to comedy sketches, so although I did many things on the Status Pending at once, it was less than I was used to – I had an amazing team to help with almost every aspect of the film.


You live in NZ. Is there a strong film industry there for indie film?

BEN: There's a strong indie spirit in New Zealand, with everybody willing to work on each others projects, just to produce great work. Ego seems to be minimal, if not largely absent. People just want to work. That being said, New Zealand is way more into creating short films than the US, from my view. So there's not as much focus here on making feature films.


You recently attended Sonoma Film Fest. How was that experience?

BEN: Sonoma was fantastic. The audience there are open to a wide variety of cinema, and really enjoying engaging with filmmakers. I'm kind of a hustler, making sure to get the word out about Status Pending to people as much as I can, and everybody was receptive to the pitch. Some people stuck around for over an hour to talk about the film and what it meant to them. Steve Shor and the crew were so welcoming and dedicated to giving filmmakers a great experience.


What are your hopes with distribution for the film?

BEN: We're figuring all of that out now, in the midst of our film festival run, but the main thing is I just want to get Status Pending out to as many people as possible. It's been amazing to be at all of the screenings of my film so far, but I look forward to the day where random people will write me Facebook messages telling me about how the movie affected them. They can also interact with the characters online – anyone can find Ryan Nevin and Lizzie Conley on Facebook or twitter, and interact with them.


What will you be working on next?

BEN: In addition to more festivals and the political/environmental documentary work I'm doing, I am hoping to get a coming-of-age music film called On Track in the next few years. It features the music of and stars the amazing Rob Giles; it's about a grieving teenage girl who develops her singer and songwriter talent through three days of walking with him through the New Zealand bush. I'm also on the second draft of a comedy horror called Blood Green, about a jaded environmentalist who has to either save many evil CEOs from being trapped and killed, or do what's best for the environment and help trap them himself! There is, and always will be, a nod to environmental concerns in all of my work.

Ben Zolno's "Status Pending" (2018) Filmmaker Ben Zolno


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


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