Benjamin Kasulke is an award-winning cinematographer who graduated from the Northﬁeld-Mount Hermon School and received his BS in Cinema Production from Ithaca College following additional study at the Filmová a Televizní Fakulta Akadmie Muzickych Umní in Prague. He has won numerous accolades for his expertise in lensing films and series. Having served as a Director of Photography for the Sundance Institute Feature Film Director’s Lab since 2011, he met actor, writer, and producer Hannah Marks in 2012 and years later, their latest collaboration has resulted in Kasulke making his feature film directorial debut on the high school dramedy Banana Split, coming to select theaters, On Demand, and Digital on March 27 from Vertical Entertainment.
WorldFilmGeek had the chance to talk to Kasulke about his feature debut as director.
Thank you so much Benjamin for taking the time to talk about Banana Split. It was such a great film and I felt it was quite a meshing of the likes of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe in terms of its story and execution.
That’s so great to hear, thank you! That was the plan!
What led you to direct Banana Split?
I’ve worked as a cinematographer for years and I was always looking for the right project to direct. I met Hannah Marks years ago at Sundance Institute Feature Film Labs. We’ve kept in touch and two years ago, she sent me this script she had co-written with her partner Joey Power. She was doing post-production on a film she co-directed with Power, After Everything. She asked me to give her any notes on the film.
Banana Split is kind of an autobiographical movie and when I read it, I really liked what I read. I thought it was really funny and emotional as well. So, I gave her the script back with not many notes because I thought it was that good. Because she was working on After Everything, she wanted to do the film as soon as possible because she felt if she didn’t get it done right away, she would find herself no viable to play a high school student (laughs). She thought it would be great for me to direct the film, so I went ahead and signed on to direct.
You’ve worked as a cinematographer, but this marks your directorial debut. Was it an easy transition?
Well, I will say directing can be hard, but it can also be fun and good for the soul if you really like it. I couldn’t have had a better team in my corner. Aside from Hannah, we had this great production company from Syracuse, called American High, led by Jeremy Garelick. These guys were excellent. They’ve seen my work as a cinematographer, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t sink the boat and aswk too much considering what the budget was.
I also felt very lucky to have gotten a great director of photographer in Darin Moran. He came from Portland, Oregon, and he’s done this for years now as well. We worked very well together and altogether, I had such a great time. It wasn’t a tough transition, and I’m glad to have worked on this.
What was it like working with the cast? They all had this natural chemistry in their performances.
I couldn’t have asked for a better cast. Hannah and Liana [Liberato] have been friends for many years. Liana was the perfect collaborator for Hannah. There was no ego involved and they were great. All these actors were terrific. I mean Hannah and Liana have been doing this for years. Dylan Sprouse and Luke Roberts were child stars. Meagan Elizabeth Smith and Haley Ramm are like the seasoned veterans. They all were good in their roles.
They were prepared to play their roles. They never had issues. They were ready to shoot and I let them have fun on the set. They were able to improvise at times and it really helped that natural energy they brought to the roles. And that’s especially great when it comes to making comedies.
I couldn’t agree more. Improvisation really works more in comedies. I talked with a director last year who told me she used more improvisation with her film because what she wrote wasn’t really working and I will say, it worked really well.
That’s great to hear! The thing with improvising is that it has to be set in the right environment. And you have to have the actors work. I remember working on a film where the script wasn’t working well but they improvised instead and I remember they did a few 40-minute takes and as long as you have the right atmosphere, improvising can work well.
How long did shooting take and were there any obstacles you faced on the film?
Well, we shot a good couple weeks in Syracuse, New York and then we did six days for exteriors in Los Angeles. What’s interesting here is that we shot in Syracuse during the winter. The biggest challenge was trying to match stuff like the interior of the high school, which we shot in Syracuse as opposed to the exterior of the high school, which we shot in L.A.
There were a couple of challenges along the way as with most indie films. It was mostly technical issues. But we had a great production team who really gave us the tools we needed. I never felt uncomfortable once. And I have to say, I was really excited to have shot the film in Syracuse. I’ve never been in a city where they were so welcoming and open to let us shoot there. Sometimes, when you’re in cities like New York and Los Angeles, sometimes not everyone is welcoming. But Syracuse, they are so great there. I even have some family there. Overall, it was a great experience overall.
Do you have plans to direct again and do you have any new projects in the works that you can talk about?
Yes! I actually did some directing recently. I directed an episode of the HBO series Room 104 that I also co-wrote with Mark Duplass. The episode is called “Night Shift” and I also directed an eight-episode interactive series called Owl Moon. It’s about a band in Rural Canyon, Los Angeles in 1974 and their tumultuous relationship as they are preparing their second album. It stars some famous musicians and it’s coming out in the Fall.
That’s excellent! Banana Split comes out on March 27 and this is a great high school film that meshes John Hughes and Cameron Crowe in terms of story and execution. Benjamin, thanks again for getting the chance to talk about the film!
Thank you so much! I also want everyone to know the film will be available on Demand so you can watch it from home during this time and it will also be on Apple TV! Thank you for having me!
A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Benjamin Kasulke for making this interview possible.