How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Note to Film Nerds readers: This  blog entry is particularly “inside baseball”. I simultaneously apologize to and thank the reader for allowing some indulgence. I promise I’ve got a more Film Nerd-ish entry in the works.

It seems like I start every blog entry with “boy, I haven’t written one of these in a while.”

In March, the company I worked for over the past 3 years as head video editor closed. I have a wife and a dog that demand food, but since one of those is healthily employed, and because I’m a member of the Dave Ramsey cult, we were never in danger of starving. However, the American spirit and my German breeding wouldn’t allow me to bum off of my wife and our savings account, and I had to be honest with myself and admit that the fear spread by the media about our nation’s economic situation had officially reached our little City of Tomorrow. So, I was looking a grim situation in the face, and I knew this was going to be an interesting couple of months.

We were going to have to boil things down to essentials for the second time in our young marriage, and I realized there were two ships to keep afloat – my relationship with my wife, and The Nocturnal Third.

When faced with adversity, it seems like two easy coping mechanisms are to punish those closest to you and to drop long-term goals for the sake of short-term solutions. To ensure quality time together, we organized a Summer Date Night Screening Series, the results of which I hope to post soon, and I joined in on her triathlon training (periodically). Add to that, I never entertained any job options that would jeopardize any forward movement on the film (working an oil rig in Alaska, taking out a loan and going to grad school, etc.)

Consequently, we enjoyed a lean summer full of fun and productivity, but the entire time I felt I was performing a high-wire act, as God seemingly provided the right amount of work right when we needed it to meet our budget. It was pretty amazing, and now I feel like I’ve been taught that ever-elusive virtue that this fiscally conservative dorkus has been missing for so long – flexibility. The killer schedule of A Genesis Found and the directorial experience of The Nocturnal Third went a long way in keeping me guessing, but now I feel like we could survive anything.

In the midst of “struggling” (let it not be said that I’m not aware of the real hardships many families are facing here and abroad), I had a few tools, beyond a great family, ever-evolving faith, and the aforementioned dog. I’ve finally picked back up the amazing Neal Gabler biography Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination. My mom got it for me for Christmas 3 years ago, and after reading a few pages in 2007, I quickly realized this was going to be less of a breezy read and more of a side project. At 880 pages, it functions as a comprehensive history of early Hollywood, the art of animation, and global pop culture. My renewed journey through the book is complemented by my mission to fill gaps and watch every animated Disney feature I’ve missed over the years. What strikes me about Disney and the principles he was able to establish is the idea of enacting almost subliminal social change through positivity and shared experiential joy. Intentional or not, a Mickey Mouse cartoon is constructed in such a way that it immediately triggers endorphin release. I’ve even been listening to tracks from the various Disney musicals in an almost therapeutic way. It’s hard to have a bad day if you’re jamming “Whistle While You Work”, or “Prince Ali”, or “When You Wish Upon A Star”.

I also spent much of the summer reading up on the Space Race, and revisiting films like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. Again, NASA in the late 50’s exudes optimism and stubborn bravado.

This interest in progressive-thinking genius (or at least the image thereof) is definitely informing a burgeoning concept for my second feature-length screenplay, but it’s also reflected in The Nocturnal Third. In addition to learning resourcefulness in my personal life, the themes of utilitarianism in your surroundings that surface in N3rd are also becoming more and more clear and clean to me as I mold each scene in sound editing and in examining the film from a “marketing” perspective. Producer Lee and I were recently talking about how refreshing it is to have a story still speak to you in its various stages of development, despite being conceived of three years ago.

I’m currently enjoying the bizarre process of recording foley, basically acting out the aural consequences of decisions our actors made a year ago. It’s a slow-moving process, as it’s location-based, which is harder to schedule, and dependent on location operations and weather. In the meantime, I’m working on writing copy for marketing materials, prepping the glitzy web site, and chatting with the other artists working on the film.

Let’s not forget that there’s plenty to be done for the upcoming Southeastern Campus Tour of A Genesis Found… Follow director Lee Fanning’s blog ( to get the latest info on that, as well as some great insight from him.

So, that’s how I spent my summer. I’m now working part time at a job with one of the best companies on the planet, as well as working with some great freelance clients doing interesting work. It really does feel like school is back in session, as balance seems to have been restored. Above all, we have a release date set for The Nocturnal Third… April 2011. Myself and the other filmmakers working on the project are excited about the ever-approaching day when the world can see our movie.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting in Melody Time from Netflix… the last of the post-war anthology features in the Disney line-up. Watch out for my blogging activity to hopefully increase now that I can afford to make a bit more time for such “distractions”, including an entry into the “Great Scenes” Film Nerds series, a look at our Summer Date Night movies, and a comprehensive look at the ENTIRE Animated Disney canon (expect that 4th quarter 2014).

Also, if you’re not already, come follow @WonderMillFilms on Twitter. It’s a little less formal and more abstract than much of our dialogue on Facebook.

Thanks for reading, guys, and for letting me indulge.

God Bless,

Ben Stark

Writer/Director, The Nocturnal Third