Have you ever wondered where producers get all of their ideas for the movies that entertain us and impact our culture on such a high level? Ben Stranahan is an actor and producer for Tip-Top Productions and has been making films and TV series at a dizzying pace ever since he graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in Los Angeles. His latest works – The Naked Umbrella, Better Than Yourself, and The Inventor – offer an intriguing glimpse of a man who never runs short of stories to tell audiences. We sat down with Ben to learn just what is going on inside the head of a person who is driven to entertain millions of moviegoers.
“Those who work in film are a unique, quirky group of people,” Ben says, “and that definitely includes me. We see the world as it is, of course – the bills to pay, the toilet that doesn’t stop running, the economy – but we have another part of our brains that never stops, either. It’s where we can create anything we want, where we can make the impossible possible. Fairies and goblins can be real. The bad guys really are held accountable. Heroes may get bruised and battered, but they win the day – or not. It’s incredible that as producers and actors, we can live there, so to speak, and bring all of that out with the help of crew members. In many ways, it’s like you never have to completely grow up and leave behind the fun of your childhood.”
Ben says he got the acting bug back when he was in middle school. He was fascinated that while his days were spent in classrooms, where he focused on studying, he could step into an alternate world when he went on stage.
“Anything was possible – anything!” he remembers. “When I saw how there were no creative limits when I was acting, my imagination went a bit haywire. It really kicked into overdrive in high school, when I started directing my friends to make short films.”
After high school, Ben went to AADA, one of the most exciting times of his life. It’s where he began picking up industry-level skills that would, in turn, help him to begin telling the stories that were packed into his mind.
“I probably had dozens of film ideas that I couldn’t wait to bring to the big screen and to TV,” he says. “Once I had the training, I was ready to get started on making them a reality.”
The inside of his head, Ben laughs, was a bit like one of those bookstores where everything is piled onto shelves and on floors. Picking his first idea was difficult, but he learned to juggle producing it while at the same time bringing the next ideas forward.
One of his favorites remains Mean Dreams, which starred Bill Paxton, Sophie Nélisse, Josh Wiggins, and Colm Feore and premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes and as a Special Presentation at TIFF. Mean Dreams was ultimately sold in more than fifty countries and released theatrically in over ten countries.
“That was incredible to make, as I’d had its story in my mind for a long time,” says Ben. “Once everything was aligned and our wonderful team was ready to begin its production, we dove right into it.”
The psychological thriller Population Zero was equally satisfying, as he had heard about the story of the men who were killed in Yosemite National Park. Making their story, including what happened after the crime, come alive on screen was a career high.
“Perhaps most unforgettable was Calibre because I couldn’t wait to be involved with a movie about these people whose lives are going just fine until they do something shocking. Then, even though they’re panicking, they have to act completely normal to avoid being discovered,” Ben reveals. “It was especially exciting because it was nominated for four BAFTAs and won for Best Actor, Jack Lowden.”
He says that over the years, he’s gotten better at keeping his ideas organized, but that same list of projects remains: as soon as one film is finished, a new idea takes its place. As he has progressed in his Hollywood career at Tip-Top Productions, his tastes have evolved to include animation. In 2023, audiences will be treated to the world of Leonardo da Vinci in The Inventor by the wonderful Jim Capobianco.
Whether Ben is exploring the world of opioid addiction in Castle in the Ground or telling a story about a mysterious entity on the Isle of Man in Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, he remains committed to going anywhere a good story will take him.
“No limits!” Ben says. “Whatever the script, whatever pops into our imaginations, go with it. I am willing to make any movie if it takes viewers somewhere completely new, touches emotions, or challenges them to think more deeply. And, of course, if it accomplishes the ultimate goal: to entertain and make audiences forget the real world for a few wonderful hours.”