“We had numerous challenges in reporting, producing, and in making the decision to ultimately publish this story. We feel this story is incomplete due to access issues and time constraints inherent with MediaStorm’s approach to a workshop story. Sometimes you can learn as much from your shortcomings as from your successes. As such, we hope this will serve as an important case study about the ethics of storytelling.”

– Brian Storm, Executive Producer, MediaStorm

Panos photographer, and one of the film-makers of The American-Made Benny, Markel Redondo, answers some of our questions regarding the making of the film. You can watch the film here.

How did you find Benny? What made you think his was an interesting story to tell?

A month or so before the workshop we started looking for possible stories around New York. We got down to three stories to choose from and at the last moment the one we had chosen got cancelled due to super-storm Sandy, so we decided to go with Benny’s story. This article in the NYT was our lead. On the phone he sounded like an interesting character but we did not know what to expect from him and we did not know either about the issues with his family.

Tell us about the difficulties you faced while trying to tell his story?

We only had three days to shoot the story and we realised it was a much more complex story than we had first thought. Ideally we would have spent a few weeks to cover all the issues and angles of the story. The major problem we found was that we did not manage to get access to Benny’s family, which we thought was crucial to having a different point of view on Benny’s persona.

What storytelling structure were you planning to use? Did the model work with Benny?

MediaStorm has a structure that they use for every workshop where they create a story around a single interview and illustrate it with visuals. This structure did not really work with Benny. The first day we ended up with more than two hours of interview covering lots of different issues (all very important), that made the storyline more complex. A story like this, about mental health and domestic abuse, needed more time for planing and to gain access to the family. So, during the three days we had restricted access to Benny’s house and we were not welcomed by his family which made recording in the house very difficult.

Benny’s family didn’t want you to be there. How did this affect the project? And how did you feel about it?

I think the family’s perspective was an important one and we could have managed to have them on camera if we had spent more time with them (without cameras). that is definitely a problem of having just a few days to work on a story and that’s why I think MediaStorm’s workshop structure did not work as well this time. Not having their point of view left us with just the story of Benny by Benny (and his friends) so from a journalistic point of view is lacking perspective.

Do you think Benny was being honest in front of the camera? Did you change your mind after watching the two additional videos MediaStorm produced? [The two additional MediaStorm films can be seen here on the right]

While shooting the documentary, it was difficult to know if Benny was acting for the camera or if it was just him. Watching the split screen version produced by MediaStorm I could see Benny’s reaction to his actions and I think he was acting at some point for us but I think that is also the way he really is. He spends most of his time acting for others (friends, passers-by…) so I think that is fair enough.

Have you ever thought about different options to present all the material collected?

Not really. We did not have many expectations for this story after the workshop but I am quite satisfied with the final result.

Did this make you think about different ways of approaching future projects?

Definitely, one of the lesson’s from Benny’s story is the time of preparation before the story is produced, researching the story and doing a pre-interview with the subject to have a better idea of the scope of the story. For this story we had only spoken with Benny on the phone just a few days before shooting and we did not know what to expect when we first met Benny.