Movies are Ben Howard’s special interest. The Trinity Catholic College Auburn student, 14, referenced his favourite, 80’s sci-fi classic Back to the future, and others in the 2016 Tropfest entry about himself, living with autism, and his love of drama.
Ben’s Filming the Movie was among 16 finalists judged by a panel of Australian film talent that included actors Simon Baker and Rebecca Gibney, and Moulin Rouge! cinematographer Don McAlpine at the festival held at Sydney’s Centennial Park on February 14.
Audiences took to Twitter to share links to the film, which was directed by Home and Away alumnus Jackson Gallagher and includes scenes with Ben’s former teacher Alex Rowe who teaches students in the ASPECT (Autism Spectrum Australia) support unit at Trinity.
It was Ben’s first film premiere. There he met Mel Gibson and comedian David Collins, and took a photo with the man known for getting stuck in a tree in fireman costume in the AAMI insurance ads.
“I was most excited to meet a guy called Adam,” Ben said. “He played Neil in the AAMI adverts. I went on stage with Mr Rowe and Jackson and with the other actors as well. It was a great honour to me. It was my dream come true.”
Ben said he didn’t speak until he was four years old. Now he recites the lines from his favourite movies and monologues with ease – and a big dose of talent.
“When I was little I would just make a lot of sounds,” he said. “I started to make clear words when I was four, and at five I talked too much.
“I love acting so much. What Mr Rowe said in the interview was that when I perform it’s like my Autism just disappears. As soon as a monologue finished I was back to Ben Howard. That’s how it feels for me.”
Mr Rowe has a background in acting and drama therapy. He first recognised Ben’s acting talent when he noticed his penchant for reciting movie lines, and encouraged him to perform monologues in class.
“One day he came in and said I’ve got something to show you, you’ve got to bring the iPad and film it,” Mr Rowe said.
“That was the Shia Le Bouf ‘Just do it’ clip. If you put the footage of them next to each other, the facial expressions, the hand gestures, the steps walking forward and back are identical.
“He nailed it, and when he finished performing he snapped out of character. I forgot I was watching Ben. That is what every actor dreams of doing – a complete character transformation.
“You can have a conversation with Ben and he’ll answer you with a line from a movie,” Mr Rowe said. “Ben shows some amazing talent and memory skills. He doesn’t really have a sense of self-consciousness. When you put all of that together you have a pretty good performer.”
Ben’s filming the Movie was born when Gallagher and Rowe saw Ben play a robot student in a Shopfront Theatre production. The film took home a pineapple, with Josh Groom winning the best editor gong at Tropfest for the project.
Ben said it took just one day to film the scene in which he plays Marty McFly on Sydney’s northern beaches. “What was my favourite part of the film? When I played Marty and Mr Rowe played Doc. I also really liked the bloopers and outtakes,” he said.
Watch Ben’s Filming the Movie below.