I have been continually intrigued by the work of filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. They have written and directed a series of low-budget (basically DIY) genre films brimming with ideas and constructed with distinctive filmmaking sensibilities. Having spoken to them about their previous film, Synchronic, I was happy to connect again to discuss Something in the Dirt, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022, and will be available for the public in November. Listen here and read what they had to say about their latest project, including what came from their deep dives into some wild topics for this unique vision.
Following our shared understanding of how The Simpsons is a cultural touchpoint for so many, we began discussing the film. Recognizing its singular nature, when asked about specific design elements such as an ashtray, which is key to the film, Moorhead noted how important it was to land on an object that could feel real, like something that’s found, yet fitting for the film’s unique tone.
Having shot for over a year before Benson and Moorhead would go on to direct episodes of Netflix’s, unfortunately, now-canceled Archive 81 as well as Marvel’s Moon Knight, it came down to having what they believed was the whole movie and then realizing the opportunity that could come from bringing in the many inserts seen in the film. These little moments help further bring the viewer down the rabbit hole set up by the filmmakers. Still, it was an arduous process as far as doing the research and obtaining public domain footage, let alone “becoming experts in copyright law,” as noted by Benson.
Expanding on the areas that move past the main narrative, Moorhead notes how the cutaways were the only elements not originally in the script. It allows the film to feel a bit more expansive and build off the documentary setup. Additionally, the use of various talking heads not only builds intrigue but adds a bit of levity as well.
As far as where this story came from, Benson and Moorhead explained how it functioned as an exploration of documenting the supernatural and what one would do with this. The thought led to the idea of two people making a documentary to have a strong argument better set for making an impact. This has even more weight when considering how much more in the limelight conspiracy theories and alternate sources for how people come to believe the world works in the past few years, from when the film was conceived to its current release.
Benson added, “Part of the conception of this movie was our own self-consciousness of how the ideas presented in our prior films would be received by the people. You build these science fiction mythologies and just hope people take them as purely science fiction.”
Keeping that in mind, in relation to Something in the Dirt, having done deep dives on topics such as UFOs, the way the world has evolved has led to finding further fascination with these ideas that something is hidden within the published documentation out there. “It can create a sort of obsession,” the directors noted.
“Our weird internet deep dives were luckily very broad at the time,” Moorhead adds, as an assurance that the fascination with this material stayed on track for the sake of making this specific film work. “You find some really wild stuff,” Benson explains, noting how it’s not only intriguing but actually rewarding to see the quality of the footage one can find when digging in.
When asking about how important it is to maintain a certain distance from the audience as far as giving into questions many may have about Something in the Dirt and their films in general, Benson notes how ambiguity is not necessarily something major for them to hold onto. With that in mind, it’s more about making the film in their voice and feeling it’s okay for the viewer to take from it whatever they believe they got out of that experience.
As far as how Something in the Dirt crosses over with Benson and Moorhead’s previous films, they note how it is much more connected to the world of The Endless and Resolution and is very much designed to be watched multiple times. It comes through in easter eggs as well as thematic elements and the directors look forward to viewers diving in and hopefully figuring out more of those connections.