Silver Tongued Devil

Brandon Bennett, 23, is a recent Chapman University film school graduate, but he's already found work as an assistant director on The Real Housewives of Orange County, and his flashy, locally shot caper short, Con: The Corruption of Shawn Helm, makes its world premiere at the Fullerton Film Festival. The story follows a would-be screenwriter who becomes so engrossed in the research for his screenplay about a con man that he eventually becomes a real-life con man himself.

OC Weekly: I wondered how autobiographical this story is. The con artist in this movie is an aspiring screenwriter who scams a bunch of pretty girls; you're an aspiring filmmaker, and visiting your MySpace page, you had all these messages from hot-looking girls. You seem like a popular fellow . . .

Brandon Bennett: Oh, jeez, you found the MySpace page? The Internet's an amazing thing, huh? Well, I was interested in cons, and like the guy in the movie, I played around with cons in bars with my friends. But it was just playing. I never got beaten up and dumped into a dumpster or anything.

And you never seduced a bunch or rich girls to con them?

No, no. I could never do something like that. I wouldn't have the heart. I've never been a con artist and I'm not a scumbag, but the character is somewhat autobiographical. That was why I cast Ryan Eggold, who's been my best friend since fifth grade. I felt like he really knew me enough to get this.

I wasn't sure what we were supposed to think about this character. He seems like kind of a jerk, but then everything goes his way . . .

Well, originally the film ended on a darker note, but people who read the script said it was too depressing. So I changed it. I hope to do a feature based on this character, so I wanted to leave the ending open.

Was the whole cast made up of your friends?

I used a lot of people I've used in my other shorts. When I enrolled in the Orange County High School for the Arts, I signed up for the musical theater department specifically so I could meet actors to use in my films. I made some great friends.

Oh, I went to the High School for the Arts in LA! Did you guys break into production numbers in the cafeteria and stuff?

You mean, like on Fame?

Yeah. We hated being compared to theFame kids, but now that I look back, I can see there was some truth to it.

Well . . . high school kids lead pretty dramatic lives already. You put 150 kids in a musical theater department, and you can just imagine the drama.

[Laughs] Okay, back to this film. Did you do a lot of guerrilla filming, using locations without permits and all of that?

I did things guerrilla-style on my previous short films, but not really on this one. I was fortunate on this one to hook up with the people at the Fullerton [Historic Theatre] Foundation. They helped me out with clearances and got me talking to the right people at the police department so we could discharge firearms at the bank.

I bet you had to fill out some crazy paperwork for that.

No, the police were great about that. They basically told us we had to call them after every discharge and let them know about the next one, and how many rounds we were going to discharge. They were great.

This was in a working bank?

It was a former bank. It was the Fullerton Foundation's office. It used to be a bank, and they let us use it, so it was perfect. Originally the robbery was supposed to be more violent, but I wasn't getting good feedback on that.

I can see why. Like I said, this guy isn't always so easy to like. If he was shooting people, I think he would've been really hard to take.

I am glad we changed it. It wouldn't have fit.

The robbery scheme in this movie is very clever. How did you come up with that idea?

That was from watching movies like Ocean's Eleven and Snatch, and brainstorming with my actors. As a screenwriter, I'd had these fantasies: “Would this plan really work? What if I tried this . . . “

If the filmmaking doesn't work out, you could have a promising career in bank robbery.


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