Alumni Spotlight: Benjamin Odell '04

January 02, 2018
Odell headshot

The Alumni Spotlight is a place to hear from the School of the Arts alumni community about their journeys as artists and creators.

Benjamin Odell is currently partner of 3Pas Studios with Mexican comedian and director Eugenio Derbez. Derbez is Mexico’s most beloved comic star and his previous movie, Instructions Not Included, made over a 100 million dollars worldwide becoming the highest grossing Spanish language film of all time in the US, and the second highest grossing film in any language in Mexico. 3Pas Studios has a first look deal with Pantelion Films, the joint venture between U.S. entertainment studio Lionsgate and Mexican media conglomerate, Estudios Televisa. 3Pas Studios also has a first look deal with Universal Television to develop drama and comedy for network, cable and digital platforms.

3Pas Studios has a deep slate of movies in development including remakes of the French movie The Valet and the Korean film Miss Granny (to star Derbez’ daughter, Aislinn) as well as the original dramedy Ponce about a man who shows up in modern Miami claiming to be the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon who spent his life seeking the fountain of youth. They are also developing an animated version of Speedy Gonzalez for Warner Brothers amongst others.

Odell was previously Head of Production for Pantelion Films. In his role at Pantelion, Odell developed and produced films aimed at the Hispanic market in the US as well as for Mexico and Latin America. Amongst others, he produced the inspirational true story, Spare Parts starring George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis and Marisa Tomei and the coming of age comedy, Girl in Progress, starring Eva Mendes, Derbez and Patricia Arquette.  

Outside of his role at Pantelion, Odell also produced Un Cuento Chino (a Spanish/Argentinean co-production), starring Ricardo Darin (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) and written and directed by Sebastian Borensztein. Chino was the top grossing Argentinean film of 2011 and one of the highest grossing Argentinean films of all times. In its international release it has broken box office records for Latin American films in both Latin America and Europe. It won the Argentinean Academy Award for best feature and the Goya, the Spanish Academy Award, for Best Latin American Film.  It has won numerous festivals including the grand jury prize and audience award at the Rome Film Festival.  

Prior Odell produced the art house Spanish language thriller, Sangre de Mi Sangre. Sangre (under its then title, Padre Nuestro) won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival (2007) and played at New Directors/New Films at Museum of Modern Art in New York in the Spring of 2007. It was released by IFC. SANGRE received two Independent Spirit Awards nominations, for Best First Feature (for which Odell was nominated) and Best Screenplay.  

Odell lived in Colombia, South America from 1992 to 2000. He first worked as a freelance journalist before becoming a Spanish language television writer and screenwriter there. As a television writer, he created and wrote over 300 hours of Spanish-language narrative television including the first ever action series, Fuego Verde, which was one of the highest rated series on Colombian television. He also co-wrote the Colombian political satire feature film, Golpe Estadio, which was nominated for Spain’s Academy Award, the Goya, in 1999, and was Colombia’s nomination to the Oscar in 2000. It is still one of the highest grossing Colombian films of all time.

Odell is also an educator. He has taught screenwriting and production at Columbia University and The New School in New York City and has given lectures in filmmaking all over Latin America and Europe. He was a contributing writer to the film anthology, Swimming Upstream, A Lifesaving Guide to Short Film Distribution, published by Focal Press and for the professional textbook Producer to Producer about the art of low budget filmmaking.

Odell holds an MFA in film from Columbia University where he graduated with honors.

Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?

There were so many faculty members who inspired me—Ira DeutchmanMaureen RyanRichard BrickMichael HausmanNick ProferesJune SteinDan Kleinman. That said, Eric Mendelsohn, with whom I took a directing class, was the only teacher I’ve ever had who taught us how to create through feeling instead of thinking. He really forced us to work from the gut. While I am a producer and not a director, it was one of the most miraculous experiences of learning I’ve had in my life, and I take that with me into everything I do.

How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?

Endless ways. While I was at school, I gained the concrete tools to produce movies. The film program believes that every student, regardless of his or her concentration, should learn to direct, act, and write. As a producer, it allowed me to understand the various processes from different points of view. The impact continued after school. I made two movies with Columbia grads, Chris Zalla ('04), with whom I won the grand jury prize at Sundance, and Patricia Riggen ('03). I workshop scripts and rough cuts with friends from my class who live in Los Angeles. I speak to several of my professors, including Ira Deutchman and Maureen Ryan, on a regular basis. They still give me advice. 

What were the most pressing social/political issues on the minds of the students when you were here?

9/11 occurred in my second year of classes. It informed a lot of our conversations from that point forward. It forced a lot of discussion about points of view and perspective.  

If you could revisit any piece you created during your time at the School of the Arts, which would it be? Why?

I wrote and directed a mockumentary about Columbia’s 250th birthday for the anniversary. The thesis was that Columbia was built as a back lot in the 40s. It took us through a history of all the movies shot there and how when production slowed down in New York in the 90s they turned it into a working university and gave it a fake history. We screened it right on the quad on several massive screens during the 250th celebration. Ten thousand people watched it and shared in this common experience. I’ve never had that size of an audience in one screen since. It was fun!

What was your favorite or most memorable class while at the School of the Arts?

June Stein’s acting class where we all had to act in each other’s scenes and humiliate ourselves. Michael Hausman’s producing classes where he would teach us how you get an A-list star to show up on set on time when he’s being a diva (you treat him like the kid he is and call him: “We are paying you 15 million dollars and we expect you to be on time for that kind of money.” It works.) Any of Ira Deutchman’s or Maureen Ryan’s producing classes. But my favorite was Nick Proferes’ master directing class. Twelve students, all were close friends, putting on scenes in a little theater down town and then shooting them on video. It was intense, difficult and soul stretching. And it led to some epic conversations at a bar around the corner.

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