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Hipsters Face the Apocalypse

In First Winter, Brooklynites in an upstate commune confront their mortality during a natural disaster. A mix of actors and non-actors blend in Ben Dickinson's feature debut.

Tribeca: Congratulations on your first feature! Tell us a little about First Winter. How do you describe the movie in your own words?

Ben Dickinson: First Winter about a group of people learning how to love each other, through a confrontation with their mortality.

Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story, both as a writer and as a director?

Ben Dickinson: Lindsay [Burdge] and I spent a lot of time at Heartland, Paul's farm and yoga retreat, for several years before we made the film. It was those experiences that formed the seed of the idea. The rest came from the period when Paul's Mom Heidi was dying in the house, and we were up there helping Paul to care for her as she passed.

Tribeca: What can you tell us about your casting process? Did you write with these actors in mind? Were they all experienced actors?

Ben Dickinson: It's a mix of actors and non-actors. I was friends with all of them beforehand and I wrote the parts specifically for them. 

Tribeca: So, tell us a bit about how you worked together. Was there a rehearsal period? How much of the dialogue was improvisational vs. on the page?

Ben Dickinson: We used both written dialogue and improvised dialogue, depending on the scene; if it was a scene where we needed specific information to come across, the dialogue was written. Then there are other scenes where it's more about capturing a specific moment in time, a movement or an emotion, and being present for it, and in those scenes the dialogue was improvised. 

First Winter

Tribeca: What can you tell us about the shoot? Did you just hole up upstate for a few weeks and shoot around the clock? Did you shoot chronologically? (It just feels so realistic, this is how I imagine it all in my head.)

Ben Dickinson: Yes, we holed up upstate for a month, and there was a very thin line separating fantasy and reality. We sort of lived the movie, to the extent that it was possible. I think Herzog would have been proud.

Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?

Ben Dickinson: The hunting of the deer was an incredibly trying and intense process. We spent days and days walking around in the cold, and at a certain point even considered cheating in some way. But in the end, I was convinced that it had to be authentic, and I was prepared to change the story if need be. I would recommend dressing an animal to anyone, especially if you eat meat or wear leather; it changes your perspective.

Tribeca: Since First Winter is your feature debut, do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers looking to get a film off the ground? What's the biggest lesson you took from the experience?

Ben Dickinson: Just do it.  Don't wait for someone to give you permission. Take inventory of what you have available to you right now, and fucking make your movie.

Tribeca: What are you most looking forward to at Tribeca?

Ben Dickinson: I'm so excited and pleased to be premiering the film in my home city and sharing it with the community that made the film possible.

First Winter

Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?

Ben Dickinson: Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg, circa 1969.

Tribeca: What's your favorite New York movie?

Ben Dickinson: Manhattan.

Tribeca: What makes First Winter a Tribeca must-see?

Ben Dickinson: I think I can safely say that you have never seen anything quite like it.

Ben Dickinson

Benjamin Dickinson studied filmmaking at NYU and started Waverly Flams in 2004 with six friends from school. He has directed music videos for Q-Tip, LCD Soundsystem, Reggie Watts, and The Rapture as well as commercial work, short films and Internet clips. His work has been featured at Cannes.


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