Friday, 16 June 2017

Follow The Money - Ben Unwin Interview

Following on from my review of Follow The Money last week and on the eve of the film's European Premiere at the East End Film Festival at the Hackney Picturehouse on Saturday 17th June, I was granted the opportunity to interview Ben Unwin - one of the three intrepid British travellers - who follow a single $10 dollar bill across America where they encounter all manner of people from the centre of America to a shining sea in California.

follow the money documentary film poster

Where did the idea for the film come about?

Steve and John met to watch football and Steve told him that he was writing a book about his experiences following a ten dollar bill around the states. John thought it would be a great idea for a documentary and told me about it. We then got Steve drunk and persuaded him to do it again! 

When was this filmed? Did you plan the trip and say a specific time or was it a now or never situation to commit to?

We filmed it a few years ago but due to work commitments and being self funded it took around three years to edit and do all the post production. I guess we filmed it at the time as that was when we had the money to do it. I had just earned some extra money that I had never expected cutting a commercial and I thought well it is now or never. 

From left to right: Steve Boggan, John Hardwick, Ben Unwin

Watching the film it is like a documentary on how to make a film when you guys look at each other in point of view or at the conclusion when you don't know what to do? Was it fun or stressful?

I won’t deny that there were stressful moments most probably due to lack of sleep. We had to spend one night sleeping in the car and I remember thinking I am too old for this shit. However in general I loved the experience. At the risk of sounding pretentious how often does one have a truly existential experience with the process of decision making being removed form everyday life? 

You say in the film you preferred to not know what was coming. Was that the same for everyone?

For me yes and I think in general for all of us. Perhaps late on in the process it may have worn a bit thin for Steve but then he had been through the whole process before. 

Had you travelled to America previously? How different was this trip?

John had studied in America for a year, Steve had been a reporter there and I had lived in LA for a bit trying to make films. I had not experienced this amount of variety before though and that was what has made it a lifelong memory. I mean when else am I going to hang on a ranch with genuine cowboys? 

What was the most surprising experience?

In reality the fact that no body said no to being in the film. Americans just love a big idea and their warmth and hospitality never ceases to amaze me. 

Did any interview have to be cut? (i.e. the Texas trip in the bar?)

I would not say cut exactly but very careful thought was put it as to what to include and what to leave out. One individual had some views about Obama not being born in America. In an hour long program about them you would delve into this but when you only have five minutes to show on them that is not fair. They were decent kind-hearted people but just misinformed by certain media. I figured of you include that in a five minute segment it is what the viewer will remember about them rather than a true reflection of their characters. Obviously if they had been screaming members of the KKK that would be different but this was not the case. 

What did you take away from the whole trip?

That you can’t use phrases like “Americans think this or that”. The USA is like a hundred different countries under one flag. A person from Nebraska is very different from and person from Chicago. Having said that I was constantly amazed at how warm people were. At the end of the day real people may have differences of opinion but we just have a beer together and get on with it. We don’t end up shouting at each other like politicians. 

Have you been pleased by the critical response at film festivals?

Very much so and it has made me confront some of my own prejudices. In Mississippi we won the Audience Award which was a great honour (and  relief as they have lot of guns there and I did not want to be run out of town!) and also the fact that we were able to have great discussions after the film. I found myself having a beer with a Christian Pastor who was a staunch advocate of gay rights. You have to delve below the surface and you find that there is always a better story below the headlines. Also a guy in Kentucky (where we won best documentary) told me how great it was to see a documentary where Native Americans were portrayed in a uplifting light. You can’t help but feel good when you get that kind of response.  

ten dollar bill from belle fourche

What is the hope for this film in terms of release?

We just want as many people to see the film as possible. At the end of the day you don’t make documentaries to get rich but if in some small way it makes people feel a little bit better about how we can interact with one another and get on then I will be happy with that. I will also take an Oscar though if it’s on offer. 

What is next for the three of you or in a solo role?

We are all good friends so I am sure we will think of something. John has been mainly directing drama recently (Including the film Svengali, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and Delicious for Sky).  Steve has another great book out called Gold Fever and is working on another. As for me I am researching two projects one about the USA and one about Sport. I dare say we will all combine on something in the future but I am definitely not sleeping in the same car with them again! 

Follow The Money won Best Documentary at the Louisville International Film Festival, Audience Award at FSFX, Mississippi and was Highly Commended by the LA Film Review of Los Angeles.

If you have a spare evening then please attend the European Premiere at the East End Film Festival on Saturday 17th June and support British documentary film-making, Follow The Money is the sort of film that will leave you with something everlasting.

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