We had the good fortune of connecting with Lex Benedict and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lex, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
There’s this great quote my grandfather loved to tell me when I was a child “Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are your own fears.” Growing up he would always remind me that in life it was often ourselves that held us back and that there was always a greater reward, the greater the risk. He was a bomber pilot in WW2 so he knew real “life on the line” kind of risk but he also believed in the war and what the allied forces were fighting for, so the risk was worth it. I think about that quote all the time and feel it in every fiber of my being as a filmmaker. Everything about being a filmmaker is a risk. The risk of one’s ego might not be an actual physical risk like my grandfather was taking but it is the risk of our ego, our pride, our self image, our self esteem. I read recently that people rank the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death and as an artist I totally understand that even though it’s absolutely nonsensical. There’s always talk about imposter syndrome in the film industry. The feeling that everyone is suddenly going to stop what they’re doing, stare at you and point, screaming at you that you don’t belong here, that you don’t deserve to tell your story as much as them. I don’t believe other people think about you as much as you think they do though. It’s the fear inside of you that’s pointing and screaming you can’t do it. That’s the greatest battle really, the risk you take on yourself. Ten years ago I took the biggest risk I’ve ever taken when I decided to give storytelling a real go and move to Los Angeles. I had no connections, no industry experience, no film school degree. I knew if I didn’t give it a really good attempt, really try to make my dreams come true, really push myself, the liar inside myself would win, the fear would win and I couldn’t let my grandfather down, could I? I couldn’t let myself down. And well, I’m still here. I just need to make sure it’s worth it. I’m still working on doing all the things I want to do as a filmmaker.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a narrative film editor who works mostly in the independent film side of the business. Over the last ten years I’ve edited short films, music videos, documentaries, web series and unscripted television but my favorite film medium to work in is definitely feature length. I love to help other creatives nurture an idea and see it brought to fruition. What did Vincent Van Gogh say? “I thought I would be understood without words.” I feel film, just like paintings, are a way to tell other humans how they can understand you. It’s a really practical way to put yourself in another person’s shoes and show everyone where you’re coming from.
Growing up I didn’t even consider that I could make movies as an adult. Being a small town girl from the Florida Panhandle it wasn’t a dream I knew I could have. It wasn’t until I got to college and started participating in campus politics and then got more and more into social justice and really just having a say in the future of the world I was living in that I thought maybe I could do something bigger with my life. I just couldn’t understand why I could have a conversation with a person I disagreed with and it didn’t seem like they could hear what I was saying. I was really frustrated not being able to communicate with them, not being able to find some common ground to move forward on. I actually started looking it up and read an article that said, something along the lines of, the other person’s brain literally can’t hear what you’re saying once they’ve decided they disagree with you. I had to really sit with that and then I started thinking about what does change people’s minds. It’s books, it’s movies, it’s art. Why would I continue to argue with one person or a handful of people who couldn’t even hear me when I could start a discussion by framing the idea through a film. I find people are much more likely to open themselves up to change when they feel they are making the choice themselves. It’s what artists have been doing since the dawn of mankind but it was a really big epiphany for me.
Now the road to working on films took a little longer than just realizing I wanted to make them. Back in the year 2000 we didn’t have Iphones or easily accessible camera gear unless you were in college for Film or had access to some kind of funding. I was still in Florida when I met my husband and we started making films together. It’s probably what drew us to each other that we both loved the language of film. I think it wasn’t until 2003/2004 when I really started filming and editing and figuring out what a career in film could look like for me. This is also where I really must show my appreciation for Apple and Final Cut Pro, they really democratized filmmaking in a way by making affordable software for the consumer. After around five years of smaller scale projects we found ourselves in California and were introduced to 48HR Film festivals and that allowed us to commune with other filmmakers like us for the first time. Homegrown and passion-filled but without any contacts or actual prospects. The film industry is a very cloak and dagger type of industry in terms of how you find a job or how you can get in on the ground floor. I feel like there are way more opportunities to break in than there were a decade ago when I got here but there’s still really no one way to do it. I have so many people in my life who are coming at it from so many different pathways in life . Honestly a lot of it involves a little bit of luck. Maybe a little bit of magic. It definitely involves a lot of hard work, a lot of beating your head against the same things over and over until it’s right and well, patience. It also has a lot to do with how easy you are to work with. I’ve heard it a million times if I’ve heard it once “People would rather work with someone who’s hard working and agreeable than someone who is abusive but a genius.” And of course, practice. It really does make perfect or as close to perfect as you can get. Nowadays you can readily make a film with your friends on no budget which I actually really encourage. Sure your taste and how it looks or how the acting is will all stick out to you but you have to start somewhere and it does get better every time. Eventually what the film looks like in your head and what you actually make will get closer and closer to being the same thing.
I also believe in mentoring and giving back. I might just be a little indie editor but I’m very proud of my body of work and the filmmakers and directors that have trusted me with their vision and their hopes and dreams and I know I have a lot to give to those coming after me. I love encouraging and helping to empower the next generation of filmmakers or editors or directors or whatever they want to be in this industry. I will always take time to watch your film and discuss it or help you figure out how to do a specific thing to help you tell your story better. Reach out to filmmakers you admire, you’d be surprised at who gets back to you. Trust me. Also learn things that others don’t want to do. I have gotten further in my career knowing how to do things that others find tedious.
Right now I’m really excited to be finishing post production, editing my eleventh feature film “The Greatest Inheritance” from Mustard Seed Entertainment, starring Mena Suvari and Jaleel White. It’s about four estranged siblings who have all come home for the reading of their mother’s will only to find out she had hatched an elaborate game for them to play in order to receive their inheritance. It’s a lot of fun and the whole family can watch which I love. I hope it inspires a dialogue for anybody that watches it about end of life and regret and working on things that pushes us away from those we love. At the end of my life I want people to say the movies I worked on brought them some joy or made their lives better in some way because we really are all in this together.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I currently live in Atwater Village which is on the edge of Glendale in Los Angeles. We absolutely love this neighborhood. It’s really walkable. Lots of small businesses to support. We really love all of Los Angeles actually. There is so much to do, there’s so many people to meet and you can really feel the energy of the city.
Day 1 -We would probably get up early and take my Australian Cattledog, Dash, down on a hike by the LA River. There’s a fantastic park by us a few blocks over that is always bubbling with life, kids playing sports, equestrians on their horses, lots of dog people and general outdoor enthusiasts out. Everyone smiles and greets each other, it has a really lovely community feel about it down there. Then we would come back and grab breakfast and coffee at The Village. They are the cutest little restaurant and legit have the best baked goods in town. I’m vegetarian and the fact that they have tempeh bacon means the world to me. Afterwards we’d probably ride our bikes down to Glendale Tap and have a few beers, watch a Dodgers game on the patio. It’s dog friendly so we could continue to bring the dog with us. If that got too busy we could also walk down the block to Paperback Brewing Co. that has the some of the most tasty flights of beer served in an old library card catalogue drawer. It’s the coolest. Both beer places have local food trucks so you really could spend the rest of the day here hanging out.
Day 2- We’d probably spend the day at Griffith Park exploring. We’d hike up to Griffith Observatory. It’s just a really lovely hike, you’ll see lots of Angeleno’s out and about and meet lots of other canine friends. It’s good exercise too. You could really bring a picnic and spend all day at Griffith Park if you wanted to. There’s the batman caves from the television show that’s great for photo ops and has a pretty decent view of the hollywood sign as well. There’s the old Zoo which is just a really neat picnic area with the old enclosures you can explore. There’s a beautiful old carousal that still operates in the park. There’s pony rides. There’s bike paths. There’s an old outdoor train museum. Griffith Park really is a gem to live by. We go every weekend.
Day 3- We’d spend part of the day exploring the Getty and see one of their wonderful exhibits. Then we’d get tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see John Williams conduct a portion of the music from his exceptional career, Hopefully hear his score for Star Wars and wave our faux lightsabers around with our fellow nerds. We’d pack a homemade picnic with snacks and hand pies and a few bottles of wine because that’s allowed there. There really isn’t a bad seat the bowl. It’s one of my favorite places in Los Angeles.
Day 4- We’d probably venture down into Hollywood and at least take pictures with our favorite entertainer’s stars on the walk of fame. There’s just something about it you have to do when you’re here. It might feel touristy but you want to do it. Trust me. There’s so many fun little dive bars and restaurants down here too and street performers and the famous Chinese Theater. Or if we’re lucky we could have dinner and see a magic show at the Magic Castle.
Day 5 – We’d brave Venice Beach and go to the Santa Monica Pier. We’d work in a champagne brunch somewhere and fish tacos and oysters. We’d find some live music and just enjoy doing what countless of other Californian’s are doing. Enjoying the beauty of living on the coast.
Day 6 – We’d probably walk across the street to Tam O’Shanter and sit on their patio. Enjoy some bottomless mimosa’s and brunch and hopefully some English trifle. There’s a great history to the place and Walt Disney spent a lot of time there because the original Disney’s Studio was in this neighborhood. Then we’d have to drive by the houses that inspired Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that is also in the neighborhood. After that we’d grab tickets to see a movie Alamo Drafthouse. It’s really such a fun movie going experience. The curated events and drinks and food are just divine. I just love everything about them.
Day 7 – We’d take a taco tour of the city. We’d start at Tacos Villa Corona and get papas burritos for everyone. Then we’d head to Home State. I love all their breakfast tacos, their queso, their Bunuelos. We’d drink some margaritas. We’d continue to CaCao Mexicatessan. Their fried avocado taco’s and sangria are exquisite. Don’t forget a Tres Leches cupcake. We’d go down to the famous Casito Del Campo, they have the best salsa in life. Love their cheese chili relleno’s. And then on the way home we’d stop at the El Flamin’ Taco Truck across the street for their homemade huaraches. They have some fantastic avocado salsa too.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I absolutely have to shoutout and recognize all the amazing grandparents out there. My grandparents on both my father’s side and my mother’s side absolutely deserve a lot of the credit for who I am as a person today. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. My mother’s mom, my NeNe, taught me so much about tolerance and championing being different, not only in myself but in others. She thought the world would be such a boring place if we were all the same. She was an artist in her own right and would cut out figures in fashion magazines to make paper dolls for me. In fact she met my grandfather while using his football practice as a way to sketch figures. She always told me I was an artist too and that my imagination would take me the furthest in life and that I should embrace that. When I first got to LA she would cut out newspaper articles about the history of film and send them to me to encourage me. She said “If they can do it, you can do it.” Her husband, my Pops, was always an avid long distance runner. When I was small he would put me on his shoulders and take me with him. When we would get to the end of a road, he would stop and ask me “which way should we go?” I always loved that he wanted to hear my opinion, that he would encourage this small child to have a say in the direction we were going. I was a pretty shy child and he was always encouraging me even at that young age to have a say in my life. I think about that every day, how someone encouraging you to make a choice makes you a stronger individual and I’m so appreciative of that. Not only that but he instilled in me the love of movies, he showed me westerns and classic horror movies. Every Saturday he would pick up donut holes and then let me pick the VHS we would watch together. Even now, though he’s in Florida and I’m in Los Angeles, I curate and send to him new movies on DVD from Netflix that I know he’ll love because I love them and we have the same taste. We still get to have these grandfather/granddaughter dates from afar and I love that. He is precious to me. Both my Father’s parents served in WW2. My grandmother was a member of the WAVES. She instilled in me how important manners were. How presenting yourself well was a sign of respect for yourself and others and how treating people kindly and with grace was an impetus for them to do the same. My grandfather, her husband, was a bomber pilot, and one of Hap Arnold’s “Guinea Pigs” the famous 42-X class of experimental pilots, who would cram the traditional 26 week pilot class into 13 weeks and then immediately turn around and teach the next class. He flew a Martin B-26 Marauder during the war and was a hero. He was my hero too. As a child he was always challenging me. He believed education and reading were absolutely the best way to become a fully realized human. He bought me all the classic books and would make me write up summaries for all them as I read them. Then we would take me somewhere, like miniature golf, to reward me for my scholastic endeavors. He felt that the education you got at home and in your leisure time was just as important as doing well in school. He felt people should always be in a state of learning, of reaching for personal growth. He hated the idea of your brain being stagnant. He had an intense love for science fiction and I inherited his vintage Analogs when he passed. He loved Star Trek and would have been so excited about the invention of Iphones. I wish he was alive today so I could call him and get his advice as an adult.
All taken by my husband Greg Cruser.