Director and Executive Producer, Ben Simms, is best known for his work on the Bear Grylls franchise, including You vs. Wild: Out Cold. His latest project, Escape the Undertaker, is a Netflix interactive WWE-themed horror special in which viewers can aid The New Day as they try to escape The Undertaker’s Haunted House. Ben serves as director and we wanted to hear all about it.
Benn’s directorial work can be seen on Running Wild With Bear Grylls, which features celebrity guests that join survivalist host Bear Grylls on perilous adventures. It was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for “Outstanding Structured Reality Program.” Ben was also previously Emmy nominated for a Bear Grylls interactive special.
PH: If you had to choose, which scene was your favorite to work on in Escape the Undertaker?
Ben Simms: One of my favorite scenes takes place in Undertakers control room midway through ‘Escape the Undertaker.’ We worked really hard to pull off an appearance by Paul Bearer, Undertaker’s old manager, that felt true to the story. It was a lot of fun to play with frankenbiting what he was saying to fit our story.
PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the series.
Ben Simms: Kofi discovers a secret passage and wanders into Undertakers control room. He finds out they’ve been being watched since entering the house. This is also potentially the first time our heroes (and the viewer) have encountered the Undertaker.
PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?
Ben Simms: We shot this scene primarily on Sony FX9’s but also had a master shot we captured with a Canon R5 shooting at 8k so we could oversample, which was helpful for a lot of the post VFX. We had multiple practical monitors as part of the set design we populated later in post. This was a fun challenge as we were showing what was happening in different rooms simultaneously.
PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?
Ben Simms: Of all the scenes, we had the least amount of time to film this sequence. We ended up not even having the two characters in the room at the same time so we had to use a lot of sleight of hand to make it work. Technical challenges included tracking what was going to be happening in the monitors and how that timed out in real time with what the other characters in the story were experiencing if you decided to make a choice that would have led you down their branch of the narrative.
PH: What was the dialogue like between you and Escape the Undertaker’s showrunner regarding this scene?
Ben Simms: The showrunner Rob Buchta and I both knew there was a safe version of this scene where essentially Kofi could just be passing through and we’d give the viewer a bit of a peek behind the curtain. Together, we decided to instead really go for it and include a choice point as well as add Paul Bearer, both of which really enhanced the story. Luckily our script supervisor Sarah Willgrube is amazing at tracking our multiple different versions of this scene and keeping our various versions of story lines straight.