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Taking 'Asylum' with Back Stage


Less than one year after finishing the script, writer-director Ben Samuels just attended the first screening of his new horror film, Asylum, inspired by an actual asylum located in rural Pennsylvania.

"It was the summer of 2009, after graduating from Tufts University, and I spent a day with one of my childhood friends visiting scary sites in PA," Samuels says via email. "We were walking along a winding backwoods road and came out in the middle of a 23-building compound. The asylum in the film is real, and operated for over seven decades before it was shut down for torturing patients.

Ben Samuels headshot "What transpires in the film, to a point, was inspired by the adventure my friend and I took that day," he continues, "the evil that we felt in that mausoleum of human cruelty, and the actual terror that engulfed us when we were below in the dark tunnels of the compound. When we finally escaped and got home, I was haunted by what I had seen. Less than a month later, I sat down and wrote the script."

After posting a casting notice in Back Stage to find actors, Samuels says that the audition process went fairly smoothly. "Auditions couldn't have been easier," he says. "We spent a couple hours in Shetler [Studios in NYC] meeting some 30 handpicked actors from over 700 submissions, courtesy of the incredible resource Back Stage." Samuels had written roles for himself and a friend, Nick Jandl, but still needed to cast the other leads.

After the cast was complete, Samuels kept the rehearsal process fairly brief before shooting began. "I personally enjoy not rehearsing actors in film," he explains. "Obviously, you work out the blocking and make sure they have the lines down, but after that I want to keep them open to spontaneity and the unseen potential of every moment. Undoubtedly, this type of approach only works when you have an incredible cast that you wholly trust, both because they are individually hard-working and communally giving. I was lucky to have just that on this project."

Nick Jandl headshot The actors in the film found the experience rewarding as well. "Ben was great at letting us improvise and find a natural dynamic with our co-stars," says Jandl, who played the role of Ray in Asylum. "I learned to have even better trust of my natural instincts as an actor and really feel at ease with making the dialogue my own."  Jandl will soon be seen on the big screen as Jim Jordan in this summer's comic book blockbuster Green Lantern alongside Ryan Reynolds, and also plays Brandon in The Sibling, a film starring Mischa Barton, to be released later this year.

Justine Griffiths, who plays the role of Tess, is a Back Stage subscriber and one of the actors who was cast after applying to Samuels' Back Stage casting notice. She agrees that the production was balanced, allowing the actors to "play" but at the same time with a clear objective in mind. "[We] had room to build our characters and relationships without being stifled," she recalls. "Ben's direction was clear and to the point. At the same time, he was great at communicating with me and the other actors, because he exemplified patience, [was open] to trying new ideas, and demanded that everyone had fun throughout the process."

Justine griffiths headshot-betheny screaming
(Pictured from left: Justine Griffiths; Bethany Pollock as Kiki in "Asylum")

Samuels knew that he was interested in filmmaking from a very young age. "I made my first film in fifth grade at my birthday party," he says. "Throughout middle and high school, my friend and I could be found lighting fires in the backyard or choreographing high-speed pursuits for our newest project."

He went on to study at Tufts University, where he made multiple student films, including a feature-length WWII film entitled A Year and a Day, also featuring Jandl. The film went on to win Best Student Film at the Hollywood East Film Festival and Best in Fest at the Bucks County Fever Film Fest. "[That] film became a calling card to approach industry professionals with, and certainly was an instrumental factor in bringing people on board for Asylum," Samuels says.

Hoping for a successful 2011 festival run with Asylum, Samuels has several ideas for his next project but is ready for anything. "Inspiration is constant and ever-changing, and I feel my job as a filmmaker is to open myself to the possibility of new stories in every moment," he says. "I have projects that are ready that I would love to make, and others that are ideas for another moment in my life. Hopefully, Asylum will help make all of them a reality."

For more info about Asylum, visit www.asylum-the-movie.com or follow @AsylumMovie on Twitter.

To search Back Stage casting notices and submit your headshot and résumé for auditions and gigs, visit Casting.BackStage.com.

-- Sri Gordon

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