Ben Berman is a writer/director working primarily in the comedy television world. He has worked closely with Tim & Eric, Jon Benjamin, Zach Galifianakis, Scott Aukerman, and Will Oldham. Berman started as an editor for the Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and went on to direct the pilots and series for Jon Benjamin Has a Van on Comedy Central and Comedy Bang! Bang! for the IFC television network. I'm A Mitzvah is his first venture into more sincere and serious drama.
I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is like an hour north of Philadelphia. I went to film school at Temple University for film and media arts.
That is a really tough question. I used to play around with my parents’ home video camcorder before I could even remember, really. I would always make little videos with my friends or by myself. I used to love spending time doing that. From a very early age I knew that I wanted to be involved with filmmaking, movie making, or working with cameras at least. It was never a thing I wasn’t going to do.
We had a small number of VHS tapes in our house that we would record from TV. One was Raiders of the Lost Ark and another was Ghostbusters. There are just a small number of movies that I had from childhood that I was into, but for me it was more just doing it myself.
I definitely consider I’m A Mitzvah! as my first film. I made a short film for my senior thesis class, and looking back, it’s not that great. It was a learning experience.
Themes. There was a rabbi in that movie, and I learned that this is a comfortable place for me to work – in like things that skew a little towards Judaism. I could make fun of Jewish beliefs. It gave me a little confidence if anything. I definitely learned how to work with crew and how not to work with crew, because I think I had pushed people a bit too far, and I definitely learned from that.
I was in my bedroom. It was in the early evening, and I was just kind of hanging out on Facebook killing time. I got a phone call, and at that time it felt like something was special. It was like 5 or 6 PM, and I got this phone call, and when the phone rang, I knew what it was and that it was going to be great news. I called Josh Cohen, my co-writer and producer of the movie, and all I said into the phone was ‘Sundance’ over and over like twenty times.
The film is about a young American man, who goes to Mexico to retrieve his young friend’s body, and there is a problem with the flight that day and it gets canceled, and he is stuck out in Mexico with his dead friend. He tries to come to grip with his best friend’s death, while also celebrating his life.
Well, there’s two things. A few years ago, my really good friend Josh Cohen went to Hawaii by himself. It was a fairly dark time in his life, and he was drinking and popping some pills. I thought to myself, there’s a fifty percent chance he doesn’t come back from Hawaii alive, which is a ridiculous thought, but there’s also some comedy in that idea. Then I thought about his mother, who is almost a cliché Jewish mother type. I just thought she would be so deep in mourning, so debilitated by the loss of her son, that she wouldn’t be able to do anything, and wouldn’t be able to go get his body and have it shipped back, so she would ask me to go, knowing that we were good friends. I thought, what would happen if I really was in that situation. What I would do? I imagined I would be in a state of not quite denial, but some sort of emotional detachment. I would try to celebrate his life, while trying to come to grips with his death. Also, which kind of goes with the emotional detachment, my mother passed away when I was really young, and I remember I had this feeling at the time of her death. We were so well prepared for her death, and I was so well prepared when she died. I wasn’t okay with it, but it just didn’t hit me. So, I brought that idea to I’m A Mitzvah!
You hear success stories of people having a short in Sundance, and getting attention, and people wanting to hear feature ideas or wanting to attach you to some feature films. That’s certainly what I hope to get from it. I’ve already gotten so much from the experience. It’s been so rewarding, and if this is all that happens, I would be absolutely thrilled.
What’s literally next for me, is a comedy show, which I direct and produce. It’s called Comedy Bang! Bang!, and it’s on IFC. We’re about to start shooting the third season of that show. We are going to shoot twenty episodes starting the last week of January. So, that will take me through May or April, and then after that, I really want to focus on a film.
Writer / Director