CinéArts Q & A with Writer/Director Ben Lewin of ‘The Sessions’

November 6, 2012

'The Sessions' promises to be one of the big contenders for acting awards in 2013. Featuring a breakout performance by John Hawkes as well as dynamic support from Helen Hunt and William H. Macy, this work of writer/director Ben Lewin is heartfelt, funny and inspiring. CinéArts' Frank Gonzales recently had the chance to talk to Lewin in a roundtable discussion about this very personal project, as he himself has struggled with the lifelong effects of polio. And like the film he directs, Lewin pulls no punches and makes no concessions to any debilitations he may suffer, or to any of the obstacles in bringing this story to the screen.

Frank Gonzales/CinéArts: How did you come across this material to create THE SESSIONS and tell the story of Mark O'Brien?

Ben Lewin: Well, I think it arose from an act of desperation on the part of my agent, who suggested, after some years of unemployment on my part, that I should write a sitcom about myself. I started working on a project called The Gimp, which really relied in turn on kind of a sense of political incorrectness and tastelessness. It was about a guy who traded the use of his handicap for sex.

I was just surfing the net looking for inappropriate material and I accidently stumbled across Mark O'Brien's article: On Seeing A Sex Surrogate. It really was total serendipity, and I think that by the time I finished his article, honestly, it was one of the only burning bush experiences I've had in my life! I felt this was my next project. That's the long and short of it. The best things seem to happen totally by accident, certainly to me.

CA: How did you line up the whole project once you had this burning bush experience? How did you move forward from there?

BL: I spent about two years writing the script with the crucial help and collaboration of Susan Fernbach, who was Mark O'Brien's girlfriend in the years before he died, and the real surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene, who shared with me in great detail her side of the story. Really, as a result of that, it became above all, a relationship movie, a journey of two people.

Then we had the burden of raising the money ourselves. We financed the movie entirely privately from friends and family, just kind of passing around the hat. Due to the subject matter it seemed pointless to send it to the usual suspects and hope for money. On the other hand, we had tremendous freedom because we had no one to answer to, which I can highly recommend.

For more of the Q&A, click here.

'The Sessions' opens at CineArts Theatres in November 2012. It's rated R for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue. For showtimes, and tickets, click here.


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