Five months ago, Fort Worth Weekly mentioned Brett Bentman in a feature story about local filmmakers (“Grappling With the Glitz Machine,” Nov. 5). At that time, the 33-year-old New Jersey transplant was operating on four-figure budgets, but since then, things have taken off rapidly for him.
After studying economics at Florida Southern University (“I kinda knew I was never gonna use that”), he started writing scripts. “I learned the movie business the hard way,” he said. “I had people say they were interested in my stuff, and then nothing happened.”
He moved to Fort Worth five years ago with his wife and infant son (a second son has since been born), following various family members who had come to Texas.
“It’s a great place to be because it’s close to everything,” he said. “There’s a huge film community [in North Texas]. We can shoot in Austin if we have to. We’re here for the long run.”
Bentman started making short films to gain experience. “You get into the festival circuit and make contacts that you wouldn’t make just by writing,” he said. “Learning how not to make a film is as important as knowing how to make one.”
His first writing effort, Jägerbär, was made in California and re-imagined the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears as a thriller. Bentman now calls it “very silly” but appreciates the notoriety it won for him. Since his move to Fort Worth, he’s been directing and producing his own films through his company, Circus Wheel Productions. A flurry of works was completed last year, including Slow Wave, Ash, and And He Said Goodbye, a supernatural drama that Bentman himself starred in. His first acting job was in another film he had scripted, Rupert-Anthony Ortiz’ 2013 drama The Calm Before, which Bentman based on his own troubles with a previous marriage. The director says he has no plans to continue his career in front of the camera.
His fortunes took a turn last year when he joined forces with Endeavor Cinema, the forum that has branched out into producing films instead of merely screening local filmmakers’ work. “I had been using Kickstarter and Indiegogo [for financing], but that only works for so long,” Bentman said. “How many times can you get the same people to give you 50 bucks?”
A grant from Endeavor allowed him to make Take My Body, a visually striking if somewhat inscrutable short about an unfaithful married couple trapped in a limbo state after death, which screened at last week’s Wildcatter Exchange. Endeavor founder Carlos Aguilar, an executive producer on Take My Body, was impressed seeing Bentman work. “Brett is very organized,” he said. “There were no hiccups. That’s hard to get.”
Bentman has now made the leap to features. He’s written a psychological thriller called Element that was directed by prolific Fort Worth filmmaker Jon Keeyes and partially filmed in the city. While that movie is in post-production, Bentman is now prepping for his feature directing debut, a crime thriller called Kreep that stars American Gangster’s Lymari Nadal, though he’s negotiating with some bigger-name talent in Hollywood.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” he said. “We’re not independent anymore. We have crew members who worked on Birdman. It just blows me away that actors have been discussing my script on the set of Empire and Scandal.”
The experience has taught him the value of collaboration. “If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you have to put yourself in the hands of someone else, because it opens doors for you,” he said. “You can only get so far on your own.”