Ben Simms is the director and executive producer best known for his work on the Bear Grylls franchise and director of the Netflix interactive series by WWE, Escape the Undertaker. ComingSoon recently had the opportunity to speak with Simms about his work on the special.
Escape the Undertaker is an interactive WWE-themed horror special in which viewers can aid The New Day as they try to escape The Undertaker’s Haunted House. Netflix released Escape The Undertaker on October 5.
Along with Escape the Undertaker, Ben also worked on You vs. Wild: Out Cold, the latest in Grylls’ series of interactive (choose your own adventure) Netflix specials which premiered on Sept. 14, this time taking on a mountain plane crash theme. Viewers help Grylls make choices like whether he should find food or build a shelter, climb over to the other side of the mountain or attempt to navigate through old tunnels, and choose which bug to eat.
Simms’ 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.” Simms was also previously Emmy nominated for a Bear Grylls interactive special.
Jeff Ames: What led you to become a director?
Ben Simms: I’ve always loved telling stories and I think in the back of my mind directing was something I wanted to do. I for some reason never really saw it as a “real” career. Of course I knew people had it as a profession, I just never understood how you got there. Until I sold everything and moved to LA and saw the process first hand did I understand it was something I just had to do and fully commit. I took as many jobs as I could starting at the bottom and worked my way up to eventually get the opportunity to tell the stories I wanted to tell.
What was it about Escape the Undertaker that made you want to work on it?
The Undertaker is such an iconic character and the initial concept just seemed to beg to be made as an interactive film. Together those were both very enticing. I didn’t know much about The New Day prior to the project, but once I got to know them as characters I couldn’t wait to work with them.
What was the most challenging aspect of Escape the Undertaker and how did you overcome that?
For a number of reasons, we were under a very tight timeline. Luckily the talent are all live performers so that was a huge plus. Our incredible crew was able to build and light every scene so we could essentially shoot almost as if it was a live show, yet still maintain high production value as well as the look and feel of a movie. In any production, you’ll always have budget and timeline challenges, but this was easily the fastest I’ve shot anything of scope.
Do you have any fun behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Escape the Undertaker?
I really enjoyed choreographing and shooting the fight scene. Having characters that are essentially their own stunt doubles was such a luxury. We had an incredible stunt team working in conjunction with the performers that knew their capabilities and how to push those. As a result of the timing between choices and the age demographic, we ended up really having to tone down some of the fight and lost some great moments to time… Hopefully, someday there will be a version of the full sequence.
What were some of the things you learned from Escape the Undertaker that you’re excited to apply to future endeavors?
You can always add to the back story. The Undertaker has a lengthy history of over 30 years and we were still able to fill in and add to some of the lore surrounding such an iconic character. If you stay true to the character and build upon that, it can be very exciting and can add a lot of depth to the character and the story.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
I’ve got a few things in development that haven’t been announced yet and I’m also looking for my next feature film. You can see what I have coming up next at www.bensimms.com or on my Instagram @ben_simms.