‘I keep think­ing I’ll wake up and dis­cover this isn’t real’

In any other year, Os­car nom­i­nee Ben­jamin Cleary would be the name on ev­ery­one’s lips – but he’s de­lighted to be in the race along­side Room and Brook­lyn

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Don­ald Clarke

You have to feel a lit­tle sorry for Ben­jamin Cleary. In any or­di­nary year, an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for best live-ac­tion short would se­cure him a place on the do­mes­tic front pages. In 2016, how­ever, with best pic­ture nods for Lenny Abra­ham­son’s

Brook­lyn and John Crowley’s Room, the Dubliner has been un­fairly over­looked. I trust he’s an­gry about it.

“Ha ha. Not at all. I’m so glad all this hap­pened,” he says. “I saw Room and Brook­lyn at the Sa­van­nah Film Fes­ti­val and loved them. Room for me is film of the year. It was great to see them get­ting the recog­ni­tion they de­served.”

Cleary’s Stut­ter is a lovely, clever piece of work. The film con­cerns a ty­pog­ra­pher who, ham­pered by a se­ri­ous stut­ter, lives an elo­quent par­al­lel life on so­cial me­dia. Shot in Lon­don, the film does count as a Bri­tish pro­duc­tion, but, given that Cleary paid for it him­self, we can surely also claim it for Ire­land.

“Yeah, I saved up while liv­ing in Lon­don work­ing in my mate’s restau­rant, Butchie’s, who do the best chicken burg­ers known to man. I worked there for a year be­fore and dur­ing the mak­ing of the film. It al­lowed me to work on the film all day.” What was the in­spi­ra­tion? “I had a friend grow­ing up who had a bad stut­ter. So I got to see what that was like first hand. I think things like that stay in your con­scious­ness.”

Cleary stud­ied screen­writ­ing at the Lon­don Film School af­ter UCD and went on to write the fine short Love is a Sting, which won the Grand Prix at last year’s Cork Film Fes­ti­val. He has a great eye and a taste for off-cen­tre hu­mour that suits the shorter form very nicely. But he still had to get him­self no­ticed. How does that hap­pen at the Os­cars?

“You have to en­ter an Os­car-qual­i­fy­ing fes­ti­val. We have Cork and Foyle here for ex­am­ple. We en­tered LA Shorts here. We were sur­prised even to get in and then we won best for­eign film and that qual­i­fied us to get onto the long list for the Os­cars. And there are about 140 films on that. Then they bring it down to 10. From there five get nom­i­nated.”

It can­not be de­nied that Ben will, this week­end, get less cov­er­age than Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet, but he is just as Os­car-nom­i­nated as they are. At the nom­i­nees lunch two weeks ago, he was there with all the stars, shak­ers, movers and ma­nip­u­la­tors. (I think that’s him just in front of Stal­lone in the of­fi­cial pho­to­graph.) That must have been an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I got to meet Lenny Abra­ham­son at that lunch. It was sur­real and a lot of fun. When we went up for that photo, I got a sense of be­ing part of it all sud­denly. That is quite bizarre.”

He re­turned for the Se­dona Film Fes­ti­val in Ari­zona at the week­end and is now be­ing trun­dled from party to party. There was a bash with the Ir­ish Film Board on Wed­nes­day evening. He will go to din­ner with all the other short film nom­i­nees. Mean­while, pro­duc­ers are tak­ing note. There are few things that bet­ter boost a young film-maker’s ca­reer than an Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

“It’s def­i­nitely been good for get­ting into in­ter­est­ing meet­ings. That has helped both in LA and Dublin. You hope that it will open doors, and it looks as if I will get fund­ing to de­velop my next short. And then I will de­velop my next fea­ture.”

Os­car week is a blur. The cor­ner of the city that abuts the Hol­ly­wood Hills only seems to have one sub­ject of con­ver­sa­tion. An ami­able man with no ap­par­ent an­gles, Cleary now gets to see his film pro­jected for the Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute. He gets to meet he­roes.

He can’t have seen this com­ing when he was pre­par­ing the world’s best chicken burg­ers. “I swear to God, I keep think­ing I’ll wake up and dis­cover this isn’t real.”

Left: Matthew Need­ham in the Os­car-nom­i­nated Stut­terer. Below: di­rec­tor Ben Cleary

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