Ben Snyder & Ari Issler
screenwriters to watch
Long time friends and collaborators, Ari Issler and Ben Snyder have teamed up to write, produce, and direct ﬁlm and television projects. Ari and Ben’s feature film directorial debut 11:55, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and went on to play the Seattle Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Austin Film Festivak and the Aspen Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. 11:55 will be in select theaters this summer. They are currently developing a mini-series for Lionsgate/C4 London, an original series for T.I., as well as writing a feature film based on the solo-shows of John Leguizamo.
Ari Issler is a filmmaker and cinematographer. He has shot documentaries, feature films, commercials, and music videos over six continents. Ari recently was a co-producer on Crown Heights (Sundance Audience Award 2017). He is also a member of the International Cinematographer’s Guild (IATSE 600).
Ben Snyder is a playwright and educator. His plays have been produced at Center Stage NY, P.S. 122, The Vineyard Theater, Crossroads Theatre, The Apollo Theater, New York Stage and Film, and at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Ben is a member of Labyrinth Theater Company. He was the Story Consultant for the award-winning documentary The Wolfpack. For the last 15 years, Ben has taught theater and writing courses in high schools and colleges.
Ben & Ari Credits: Writer, Director
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
Ben: In 1999 Ari approached me to collaborate on a short film he wanted to make, which we never completed, but liked working together enough to keep writing. Our first feature that we wrote, made the rounds, and landed us a few jobs adapting books to scripts.
Ari: A long time ago, Ben and I studied the structure of Disney’s The Mighty Ducks. We then wrote a tragic drama based in a Brooklyn public school. No one wanted to make it but it led to some screenwriting work.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
Ben: I’ve learned countless craft lessons from classes, books, mentors, seminars. As far as craft, learning about sequencing as opposed to the traditional three-act structure was a huge revelation.
One guiding principle that has informed all my work is that I need to believe it works as both entertainment, but also that it matters in some larger way to the world.
Ari: Write what you believe in. That’s a true cliche.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
Ben: If a scene is extra hard, that’s usually a red flag for a larger problem. Do I really know my characters? Do I know the world? Is this the scene that should be happening? Should this scene exist at all? I don’t tend to force things, but try and listen closely to what’s causing the block.
Ari: There was a time when if I was writing something I didn’t believe in I would procrastinate til 2am and then turn to adderall. I’ve replaced this with belief and green tea. I do miss the sunrises though.
What was a major turning point in your career?
Ben: Completing our first feature film “11:55” was a major turning point. I felt a lot pressure to do that – like doing it would make me feel more legit as a filmmaker.
Ari: I’m fortunate enough to do a bunch of different things so the word career never feels right to me. Making 11:55 was an incredible experience. Our first feature is the sum of our creative relationships of the last 15 years of NYC’s theater and indie film world. So many incredible people helped make the movie possible.
What are you working on right now?
Ben: We have been hired to write a few TV pilots and are developing a new feature.
Ari: We have been developing a mini series with Channel 4 in London and Lionsgate. Writing a pilot for BET exec produced by TI. And finishing up a draft Birthright, our next film.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Ben: Brazil, Delicatessen, Do the Right Thing, This is England, A Celebration, Kung Fu Hustle, Another Year, The Past, Dheepan
Ari: Two movies that made me want to make movies when I was 13: Do the Right Thing and Clockwork Orange. Two movies I saw twice in the theaters in the last few years: A Prophet and A Separation.
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
Ben: Asghar Farhadi, Mike Leigh, Jacques Audiard, Michael Arndt
Ari: Ben. He’s my number one teacher and motivator. No matter what’s going on, he’s always very excited about storytelling.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival:
Ari: I’ll let Ben take this one.
Ben: One of the most memorable moments of my numerous years attending AFF, was going to hear Michael Arndt’s give a talk titled ENDINGS: The Good, The Bad, and The Insanely Great. That talk, which is not to be missed, was a huge “aha” moment for me in storytelling, and skillful filmmaking. There are so many snake oil screenwriting gurus out there, and to get the chance to listen to someone like Michael, a true master of his craft, break down his process and insights, was incredible.