Alyssa and Gary Bennett with Miles Teller on the 25th Anniversary
Arthur Glover – So tell me about about the origins of Stonestreet Studios, and how you came to found it together as a married couple?
Alyssa Bennett – I came out of Tisch Drama Department back in the late 70s. Growing up in New York City, I worked in theatre my whole life and then eventually started to work in films and TV, as well. I was lucky enough to learn, on my feet, from the sets of Zeffirelli, Woody Allen, Scorsese, Jeremy Kagan. Although my background was in acting, there was never a ton of screen acting work for a girl in her teens with an old soul, and I just got intrigued with writing my own scripts and making my own films instead of acting in them. I met my Gary at Film Video Arts aka Young Filmmakers, which was a great place where many indies were born. They had given me a scholarship to make my first short film and asked me to do them a favor and talk the directors there on how to talk to actors. After the class, he asked me to act in his film, but aside from that we just jumped in together developing it and after that did the same thing with “Rain Without Thunder” the feature film that he wrote and asked me to help produce. That’s where our working partnership was born. The next feature he wrote he handed over to me and said, we’ll never get this made, and which was a smart dare on his part, because of course I bit the hook and developed and produced it as well. We both wanted to get space to do more producing, creating and directing, and as it turned out, he felt more suited to writing and me to directing. That’s when we founded Stonestreet Studios in Chelsea.
AG – What is it that you would like to contribute to the industry as a studio? What is your overall vision and mission?
Alyssa Bennett – Simultaneously, I also created a conservatory for the program I came out of at Tisch Drama, to help actors bridge themselves to the industry, learn from immersive training on real projects in our film studio – which we have been developing and evolving for 25 years now. That’s what we’ve done at Stonestreet, created a place where where we can also train our colleagues of the future. We don’t call anyone students here, even though I consider myself a student for life, we just call them Stonestreeters, as we want to get them out of the classrooms and their heads, working, creating and being storytellers with unique visions whether they are just actors, writers, producers, directors, or hyphenates. We have launched acting and directing careers from our films from people like Miles Teller, Selma Blair, and Rachel Brosnahan.
AG – As film watchers, what seems to be the recurring theme or subject matter in the films that your studio produces? What are the things that you look for in film stories you consider producing?
Alyssa Bennett – We look for characters, untold stories, and what I would call a weird mix of dark, light and humor. It’s hard to put a finger on it, because we are always looking for something new and different while still grappling with big universal issues and concepts. We like to see characters with vulnerability and strengths and create some form, beauty and poetry to conflicts and dramas around us.
AG – You just celebrated your 25 Anniversary, congratulations. What do you plan on accomplishing in the studio’s next 25 years?
Alyssa Bennett – Coming from a family that had a good dose of dysfunction in one of it’s members, I luckily, had a father who was a poet, and through example showed me the way to find some form, relevancy and beauty to the chaos through poetry. I think our plan is to continue doing just that in new and surprising ways through the films we make. We have a few projects we have been developing for features and series, and now that we are finishing “ReRUN” which we just wrapped with Christopher Lloyd, we are looking forward to a new chapter working together as a team.
Stonestreet holds a ‘behind the scenes’ talk series with working artists in the business. This can range from actors, directors, writers, editors, and producers. One of the key values of the conservatory is teaching the students how to navigate from auditions to post-production while taking risks and evolving as creative storytellers. The aim is to act as a transition between more dogmatic theatre training to working in a professional and collaborative environment. The opportunity to hear from working artists in their field, through an informal and intimate conversation, has become an invaluable part of the curriculum. Bryan Cranston was the most recent guest.
Background on the directors:
Gary and Alyssa Bennett, a married couple, founded Stonestreet Studios, an independent film production company creating pilots, web series and Micro-Movies often known for it’s millennial content and talent. Through their character driven films and pilots, they often explore socially and culturally provocative issues. Gary O. Bennett & Alyssa Rallo Bennett, writer/director team/producer, work ranges from socially speculative feature films like Rain Without Thunder, starring Jeff Daniels, Linda Hunt, Ming Na Wen, Steve Zahn, distributed by Warner Brothers, to socially conscious films such as The Pack aka Smoking Non-Smoking, distributed by FilmRise, starring, Luci Arnaz, Elizabeth Moss, both theatrically released and garnering critical acclaim and awards in over a dozen international and domestic festivals.
Current projects: The revamped and modernized take of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, starring Christopher Lloyd, wraps production at the end of June. See Deadline article here
Website – http://stonestreet.net/