Polish born and Australian raised, Ben Lewin has always had a passion for photography and creative writing. After a briefly diverting career as a criminal lawyer, and through "sheer accident" he would up at the British National Film School and began working in entertainment, "never to return to normal life again," he says. "By the time I was properly grown up," he adds, "it was not a question of choice any more (if it ever had been). I simply didn't know how to do anything else, at least nothing with income potential. What now fuels my career is one part inspiration and three parts desperation." "The Surrogate," with the stellar John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy, is Lewin's fourth feature. He hopes audiences have a "deeply satisfied smile on their faces," by the end of the film; "I expect laughter and tears."
What's it about? The true story of a severely disabled poet, and a professional sex surrogate-cum-soccer mom who takes him on a remarkable journey to manhood.
Director Lewin says: "I do not intend for the film to have any message as such, but simply to resonate with the viewer as a true and authentic experience, not only for the fascinating characters in the story, but for each person in the audience who remembers the pain and joy of sexual awakening.
"In my experience, the single biggest challenge in turning this story into a movie was getting people to read the script, with a view to financing it, particularly those people whose profession it is to read scripts and finance movies. I decided instead to go out to people who had never read scripts and never financed movies, and who were, in the end, excited and stimulated enough to write the checks."
Has he had any breakthroughs or inspirational moments? "Perhaps, as a director at least, a moment of humility (as a writer, I'm probably still full of myself). I think I discovered that if you have a good story, a good cameraman and good actors, you have the crucial ingredients for a good movie, and that all the others milling around, including the director, are essentially there not to screw it up. This may be a broad and unfair statement, and it probably doesn't apply to a lot of films. However, the most inspirational moments for us, in my opinion, were when the entire crew, including myself, stood or sat hypnotized by the performances unfolding in front of them."
In the pipeline? "'Bridge of Sighs,' a psycho-drama about a condemned man who, as a last act of decency, changes the life of his executioner, and 'I Do,' a wild comedy about a serial bride who meets her match in the mother of all wedding planners."
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
Keep checking here every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.
Watch "Breaking Lessons," the documentary about "The Sessions" subject Mark O'Brien, below: