A $7 frozen breakfast sandwich inspired Ohio University alumnus and filmmaker Ben Rood to spend nearly three years creating a feature-length film from scratch while he lived in his parents’ basement.
On the menu, Rood said, the sandwich looked so good – but as he watched the worker pull it out of the freezer, rip the packaging off and throw it in the microwave, Rood had an epiphany.
“I could have done that for 40 cents in my kitchen,” he said. “He just kind of took away the illusion of everything that goes into selling something.”
So, Rood went home, where he had recently moved back in with his parents, and told them he was going to make a full-length movie.
“They’re just way too sweet to say no,” he said.
Three years later, his indie horror film – titled “Don’t Run” – is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. The movie tells the tale of a young boy and a monster that will eat the boy if he’s not in bed every night by sundown.
But from Ohio, to California, to Ohio again, Rood’s journey to this self-financed film was one with numerous blips and bumps.
In 2011, Rood graduated from Ohio University, where he studied video production and screenwriting. He directed a thesis project his senior year, a Civil War movie called “A Campaign That Failed.” According to Rood, OU was like a “baby Hollywood.”
“When you’re growing up in Ohio and you want to make movies, you kind of feel like an outcast,” he said. “But you go to OU and you sit in a class full of all the other people that have the same dream. We’re all kind of in this race together.”
Outside of class, Rood also has created an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”-esque web series called “Partyheroes” with a bunch of his college friends. However, he cautioned that that one is definitely not worth watching. One thing that “Partyheroes,” did reveal, though, was his drive to create.
Eric Williams, an Ohio University professor in media arts & studies, taught Rood when he attended OU and noticed that same initiative. Williams said Rood was a talented storyteller, but Rood’s content sometimes raised Williams’ eyebrows – for both good and bad reasons.
“Ben was always kind of pushing different boundaries,” Williams said.
Rood’s thesis project propelled him to an internship in Los Angeles at Zoic Studios, an Emmy Award-winning visual effects company, after graduation. He packed his bags and moved to California.
His internship turned into freelance work. But Rood, who was interested in directing, said the visual effects work he was doing at Zoic was like a foreign language to him – he was starting from scratch next to professionals who had been in that specific line of work their entire lives.
“In a city where every single person is super talented, you really have to have the sharpest knife in the drawer in every single department,” Rood recalled.
When the work at Zoic soon dried up, he said he also quickly realized his savings were disappearing.
To make ends meet, Rood took a job as a landscaper and installed trees at Ellen DeGeneres and Ryan Seacrest’s mansions for a rate of $10 an hour.
Around this time, he talked to a woman who encouraged him to buy a digital camera and start making his own movies instead of trying to break in at the ground level. Rood decided to go for it with the 20 bucks he had to his name.
“You can only get so far, but you’re going to hit a ceiling,” he said. “If you really want to break through that ceiling, to the top tier, you have to be able to give yourself that shot. It’s expensive for other people to give you that opportunity.”
Williams talked about the concept of breaking into the industry and the importance of being a self-starter as well.
“A lot of it has to do with the mindset of what it means to break in,” the professor said. “Today, people will watch media despite the budget, if it’s a good story. They don’t care if it’s made for $1,000 or $1 million.”
Over the course of six months, Rood said, he and a group of friends got together, pooled their resources, cast actors, built sets and props, and made a short film.
But a year and a half of monotonous tree installation had taken a physical toll on Rood. At an important meeting with potential investors, he said, his leg gave out and he collapsed on the floor. His injury forced him to move back to Ohio.
“All of these forces had been kind of working against me,” Rood said “It felt like I had lost every single resource I had.”
That realization he had one morning when he was grabbing breakfast, however, catapulted him back into the world of filmmaking.
“If you want something, really want something, make a plan and go for it,” he said. “In my experience, it’s way harder to cope with not trying for something you’re passionate about than solving the thousand problems it will present.”
In spring of 2016, he started the script. Nine months after that, he started shooting. He then found some editors who liked what he had to show and would edit the film for a cheaper rate if they were able to work at their own pace.
To earn money, Rood also took six months off from “Don’t Run” to attend a fire academy so he could work as a firefighter.
And following some advertising, he was able to put the movie up on Amazon Prime Video. He said he’s already received an offer to make another movie, with a real budget this time.
“It’s the product of hard work,” Rood said. “Nothing worthwhile happens overnight.”