Filmmaker Life With Cinema Powerhouse, Derrick Benton

Derrick Benton is a Brooklyn native and graduate of SUNY Oswego with a B.A. in Cinema Screen Studies. He dedicated most of his coursework to film theory, philosophy, and storytelling through the medium of screenwriting. In 2018 Derrick received an award for outstanding screenplay at SUNY Oswego for his Senior Thesis script “Acid Rain”. His stories often explore themes of identity, existential anxiety, and social inequality.

Hustle and Soul Magazine got an exclusive interview with Derrick.

Please tell us about yourself.

Derrick: I was born and raised in NYC. I was raised mainly by my aunt, and eventually lived with my mother when I was 14. Both are strong women in their own ways who taught and molded me into the person I am today. During this transition is when I began spending my days writing short stories. I attended college at SUNY Oswego, where I majored in Cinema and Film Theory and learned the art of screenwriting and filmmaking.

In 2020, I received a $40K grant for the second annual CNY short film competition to produce and shoot a short film in Central New York. It was with this grant that I was able to launch my production company, F.R.E.E. Studio Productions, and produced my first short film, Wasted Talent. The film has been screened in over 12 film festivals so far, including New York, California, and London.

Please tell us about your latest film and what it means to you?

Derrick: Wasted Talent is like a combination of “Boyz n the Hood” and Stand by Me. It’s about four boys who get detention after a high school fight. They create a small beat that they all connect and vibe with, which opens the door to let them get to know each other. They quickly become friends, and chaos ensues from there.

My upcoming project is called September 13, 2004. It’s a period-piece comedy that’s like Ferris Bueller meets Friday. It’s about two boys who, on September 13th, decide to ditch school and end up getting roped into an opportunity that changes their lives. The script has been selected for 8 festivals and is currently a quarter-finalist in the Nashville Screenplay Competition.

Both of these films are like my brain children. I love how starkly different the two are, yet they both pack a punch in different ways, and it’s just one of many things I love about the artform of screenwriting.

What keeps you motivated to stay in the film industry?

Derrick: There’s a freedom that comes with making films. As an indie filmmaker, though there can be many constraints, I like the power to tell a story and the ability to write about things and topics I want to talk about. I named my production company “Filming Real Emotional Experiences” (F.R.E.E.) because my goal is to one day make allow other filmmakers to tell the stories they want with fewer constraints. I guess what truly motivates me is that I really love art, and I want to see the industry change in a positive way.

You recently were at the Black Bird Film Festival, what was the experience like for you?

Derrick: Blackbird Film Festival was truly an experience. I came to it not sure of what to expect but I was completely blown away by the films and filmmakers, as well as the professionalism of the festival staff. It had been a tough time because of Covid-19, but to see festivals like this one and, even more recently, festivals such as BGR Fest, come back strong after two years of uncertainty is truly amazing. It has been such a treat to collaborate and connect with other filmmakers and artists again.

What else would you like our readers to know about you?

Derrick: I am a huge tech nerd, I used to build computers and still do it as a hobby. I am also a long time gamer, but haven’t had the time to play much recently.

What can we be looking for from you for the remainder of the year?

Derrick: I am directing our next short film “Sept. 13, 2004”, this summer. My crew and cast are super excited about that. I am also producing another short in October in Central New York.

I host film screenings bi-monthly on Thursdays in collaboration with the Brooklyn Moon Cafe called Film Night on Fulton. It’s a really fun, laid back night that allows artists to come and connect with one another. All the films are curated and we take submissions.

Lastly this year, we are launching our first screenwriting internship program where we will have college students come and learn about working in the film industry. They will have an opportunity to work behind the scenes and dive into the art of storytelling and screenwriting, having a chance to sit in on a real writer’s room, as well as other facets that contribute to creating projects.

How can we keep in touch on social media?

Derrick: My business, where you can keep up to date with our film projects, is @f.r.e.e.studios. You guys can also follow me @the_stooop_kid, although I don’t post on there too much.

Tammy Reese

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