Edd Benda, a native of Birmingham, Mich., has worked as an independent filmmaker for more than seven years. Superior is his first feature film with Beyond the Porch Productions partner Alex Bell. It will be shown at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, in 1100 Jamrich Hall. This Q&A with Benda is based on a phone interview with NMU News Director Kristi Evans.
Q: Congratulations on completing your first feature film. What is it like to achieve that milestone relatively early in your career?
A: Getting a movie made is a fantastic feeling, but the real reward is having people actually see it. It’s very new in the exhibition process. The world premiere was at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for the Dances With Films festival. The Michigan premiere was at the Calumet Theatre. We also showed it at the Soo Film Festival [where it received Audience Award runner-up]. Now we’re doing this Michigan road show so more people who live in the state it was filmed—and my home state—have the opportunity to see it. Marquette is one of several stops on that tour. [Superior also was recently accepted in to the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Oct. 16-25].
Q: What led you to develop a movie set during the Vietnam War era that literally revolves around Lake Superior in the form of a best friends’ biking adventure?
A: I grew up in lower Michigan, but my dad’s family was from Calumet. I spent the better part of summer in that area and along the shores growing up, so I knew it was one of the most beautiful places on earth. If I wanted to make a beautiful movie, I needed to film it there. The movie is actually based on a real journey taken by my uncle, Karl Benda, and Dan “Dudza” Junttila. Karl told me the story a few years ago and I found it amazing and inspiring. My dad’s family—he’s one of nine kids—grew up very adventurous and I’ve grown up listening to their stories. Superior is like a patchwork quilt of some of those tales. I took this one from Karl, added to it and changed some things, but ended up with a movie that stays true to its origins. A cool aside is that the same bikes Karl and Dudza rode in 1971 are featured in the movie.
Q: How did your family respond to seeing their stories portrayed on film?
A: They were one of the first audiences to see it at a special preview over Thanksgiving last year. I was chewing my fingernails to the bone wondering how it would go over, but they loved it and it was amazing to be able to share it with them. They’re so incredibly supportive. The term family has become a lot broader to me as a result of this. Others in the Keweenaw who were in the film or helped out or fed us or gave us place to stay all became family as well.
Q: As a Northern employee, I’m obligated to ask: Couldn’t the one main character be getting ready to head to NMU instead of that other university up the road?
A: (Laughs) A few of my relatives have given me some grief over that already, but there are more Tech alumni in my family. I should mention, though, that I do have an NMU hockey jersey I like to wear on the ice from time to time when I have a chance to play.
Q: You fully immersed yourself in this project as writer, director and producer. You even have an acting cameo. How was it wearing all those hats?
A: I had an incredible team working with me. There were 11 of us—nine crew and two actors—who traveled in a truck and three sedans from Los Angeles to the Keweenaw Peninsula. We stayed in a tiny cabin on Lake Superior together to make the movie. I may have a lot of credits associated with my name on this film, but I can’t take singular credit for anything. None of it would have happened without the great team working with me.
Q: How was it different trying to get a feature film that you conceptualized made compared with other projects you’ve worked on? I had done commercials and corporate video-type work. I also made short films, including Hipster Werewolf, which made it in to various film festivals across the country. But my goal was always to make feature films. It was a learning process all the way through and I’m still learning new things to this day. We had an idea of what we were up against. A lot of things worked in our favor and we had some good luck. We also put in a lot of hard work.
Q: Okay, final question. I’m always intrigued by production company names and the stories behind them. How did Beyond the Porch Productions come about?
A: Alex Bell and I started as business partners and co-producers when we were in college at USC. We lived in big houses that we shared with other people, so the only way to have quiet production meetings was to sit on one of our porches. From there, it became about looking toward the future, growth and finding a name that was still available that included the word porch.