The Big Con: Convention Accounts
Interview with Ben Syder from Asylum’s “Sherlock Holmes” at 221B Con
Some things are better late than never!
221B Con is a convention covering everything Sherlock Holmes. From BBC Sherlock, The Great Mouse Detective, the Russian silent movies, Psych, House, Elementary, the original source material by Arthur Conan Doyle, and everything else in between, it’s wonderful for all Sherlockians. They even cover other fandoms like Doctor Who, Hamilton, Welcome to Night Vale, and so much more.
I wrote a review of 2015’s 221B Con which you can see here!
Actor Ben Syder attended 221B Con in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015 as their special guest. He played Sherlock Holmes in the 2010 film Sherlock Holmes by The Asylum studio. They’re the same studio that made Sharknado. I lovingly call Sherlock Holmes by the name “Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs,” and it’s a fun movie that I go to when I’m having a bad day.
I had the joy to sit down with Mr. Syder and discuss making of the film, working as a writer and actor in theatre, and his favorite kinds of casts to work with. There’s also the all-important question of his favorite dinosaurs!
Check it out below.
Hi! I’m here interviewing the wonderful Ben Syder. First and foremost, welcome to Atlanta, Mr. Syder!
Thank you very much.
You were in this wonderful life experience—and I call it a life experience, because my friends kept urging me to see this movie—which was The Asylum’s Sherlock Holmes. I finally watched it about a week ago, and I loved it.
I’m glad you liked it! I’m happy that people can find the humor in the daftness of this one.
For someone who hasn’t seen this version of Sherlock Holmes or as we call it “Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs,” how would you explain to them the plot of the movie?
It’s a mockbuster. I think if you’re expecting sort of serious Holmes, then you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re looking for a movie that’s a bit of a daft homage to it, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are dinosaurs in it for a start! You go in with an open mind and enjoy the film and the fun of it. Without spoiling the plot, it’s essentially [about] monsters terrorizing London which in itself is pretty bizarre. Sherlock and Watson are trying to discover a logical explanation for these illogical beasts that are terrorizing London.
Like you said, it’s a mockbuster with Sherlock Holmes. Did that make it more fun to work on opposed to a very serious version of Sherlock Holmes?
Yeah! It was pretty intense, because it was filmed in such a short period of time.
You said in your Q&A [panel at 221B Con] that you guys filmed it in thirteen days? That’s crazy!
Thirteen days! I think it’s all the more crazy, because as I said, it’s not like “Okay, we’ve filmed here before. We’ve used this location. There’s a facility nearby.” This was taking a bunch of kids from America [the film creators from Asylum], taking a bunch of kids from Whales [the actors], and throwing them together in the corner of a rural field, and say, “Right! Okay, let’s make a flim!”
It was a lot of fun, because people bonded together like you said over the subject matter.
I played Sherlock a bit more like the straight man setting up Watson’s reactions. Poor Watson’s the butt of lots of jokes from me which is a great dynamic.
Those were some of my favorite moments which were watching Mr. Gareth David-Lloyd’s reactions to stuff!
Actually, I’m a Doctor Who fan, and I watched Torchwood. What was it like working with Gareth David-Lloyd?
He was great! We’re both from a very similar part of the world. I’m from Cardiff, and he’s from Newport which is about thirty minutes apart. As it happened after filming, it was his birthday. We went back to Cardiff from London, and he lives beside my local pub. I was thinking, “You’re kidding me! This is crazy! How have we not met before?”
He’s great to work with! Those comedic moments for me and part of the reason I think this film is really entertaining is his small reactions and his big looks of bewilderment, his raptor gestures about the monster. I think to do a film like this, he didn’t take himself too seriously. You really go, “Right, got to make the most of this situation.” I think he’s a really talented guy. He’s really great to work with.
Since you guys didn’t take yourselves too seriously when filming, do you feel like you put a lot of yourself into Sherlock then?
I mean a little bit, because they wanted a younger version. I think also we tried to focus on the chemistry between the two [Holmes and Watson]. If this was a TV series, you would have a whole arc showing Holmes warming to Watson. Here, you have a 90 minute movie. You want to see that bond between them earlier in the film.
Don’t get me wrong when I say that it was fun, because it is fun subject matter. Because it’s a tight schedule, because you want to get the job done, you do take it seriously. You can’t mess around and lose a day.
You were saying in the Q&A that you did a lot of theatre work as well. What were some of your inspirations with writers, actors, or even family that made you want to work in theatre and movies?
In terms of family, my mom is a poet. She’s had a passion for creative writing her whole life. I was a bit of a writer when I was younger, but my focus became performance, performing other people’s words. For the last few years, I’ve started writing alongside the acting. Funny enough, the writing is actually taking off to an extent. It’s been not quite stifling the acting. For example, myself and my co-writer Johnny had some success for the BBC. We were working intensely on this sitcom for eighteen months that it became difficult to audition for acting roles. I think I’m trying to find a way to balance. The whole purpose of writing was to write roles for me to act in.
So for someone who might be starting out in a career for writing or acting, what’s some advice you would give them?
I think in terms of playwriting, what’s great about writing plays is you have more freedom than say the restrictions you might have for a sitcom or a feature film. You have this strict structure and need things to be quickly paced. In theatre, there’s a home for any length of plays. You could have a five minute play-
Ten Minute plays. One acts.
Full length plays. Whatever story you want to tell, you don’t have to go, “Well, I need to pad this out. I have to fit this structure.” So with people starting out writing, I think plays are a great way to start. I think you can find a character’s voice really well. A big thing that helps me- I’m sorry I’m rambling now.
No! I find this interesting! I was a Threatre Major and a playwright. This is really helping me!
You’ve probably had this experience yourself which is getting your actor friends to read what you’ve written. You’ll see and hear what’s come off the page properly. You’ll be surprised by the way they deliver things.
And what you hear in your head is so different from how other people say it.
Absolutely! Sometimes, that can inspire you to have a different take on it. The second sitcom I did with my co-writer Johnny was called Oh Brother. In a nutshell without rambling to sum it up for an American audience, it was a bit Arrested Development meets Modern Family. I say it was more Modern Family, because it was more in that tone of a lot of heart, quite a feel good show. It was more Arrested Development, because the entire family—there’s two families here—are nut jobs in their own right. The two central brothers are kind of like the Jason Bateman’s. They’re kind of caught amongst the whirlwind of these idiotic families.
When we were writing on that, it was such a large cast. We only had about six months to work with the BBC. I don’t think we really made the time to round all of these characters so well. It was a bit of a two hander [a play written for two actors] with all of these supporting characters. It was partially written as parts for myself and for Johnny. It was also a huge family piece.
When I sat down with the cast who kindly offered to come and read for us, it changed our perspective entirely! That’s what made it more Modern Family. Before, it was more risqué. It was like Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of tone. But we realized how much heart there was simply from the actors’ performances. There were some lovely relationships between say the grandma and the nephew.
Do you think it’s easier to write smaller pieces say for like you and Johnny, or is it easier to write for an ensemble?
That’s a really interesting question!
Sorry! I’ve gotten off my questions! You got me talking about theatre now. I never get to talk about theatre anymore.
No, it’s cool. It’s cool!
Well, the two things I’ve been talking about have been sitcoms. In terms of theatre, we have written things more for smaller casts. Why your question is so interesting to me isn’t about cast size. The first play we wrote was called On the Bench. That was a cast of four. When we did the sequel called Benched, we retained a small cast, but in scope, it became a lot bigger. It was a courtroom drama. There were lots of flashbacks, more to do for characters. It was a bit more of an ambitious project to take on.
That’s the excitement of theatre. You can leap from some small ideas of a few people chatting on a bench to a massive ensemble piece.
As an actor, do you prefer working in smaller casts or working with bigger ensembles for either TV or theatre?
For theatre, I think it’s quite nice to have smaller casts. I mentioned in my Q&A when we did Macbeth, we had multi roles besides the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The other four actors in it did the rest of the roles. I like that. I like that you can give a lot of attention to the group and get the right balance for the relationships.
In terms of film, you accept that with screen work sometimes there’s a huge cast you’re a part of. You’re one cog in the machine and find your overall relevance to the piece.
I enjoy both, but for theatre, I think smaller’s great.
I did a play. It was a two hander just me and this other girl called Stitching. It was a very dark piece, but it was very funny as well. It was great for the two of us to try and fathom this relationship between the two of us and find the humor in this very dark subject matter. It was great to get to sink your teeth into it and really bond with another actor.
Is 221B Con your first convention?
How are you enjoying this fandom world?
It’s unreal. I think it’s a brilliant environment as well. I said to Crystal [one of the 221B Con Directors] that it seems so positive. It’s a very vibrant kind of place.
This is my favorite convention. I grew up in conventions, and this one is by far the most positive especially for women.
I heard! I was chatting with one of the ladies at breakfast. She was saying how at other cons there can be a feel of uncomfortableness for female attendees. This one feels so relaxed. It seems like everyone is having a good time, having a dream. It’s really great.
For my last question, let’s bring it back to Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs. If you could have one kind of dinosaur as a pet, what would it be and why?
As a pet…
As a pet. You keep it forever. It’s Dino-Fido.
I was asked in the Q&A about my favorite dinosaur, and I said it was a pterodactyl. So while that would be good to be able to go out and ride on that wherever you’d like, it would be cool, but I should choose a secondary one as well. Hmm.
I was told I wasn’t allowed a brontosaurus!
I will allow you a brontosaurus. It’s like the Pluto [Mickey Mouse’s dog] of dinosaurs.
That would be great then! You could just have this viewpoint of everything. I think that would be a nice pet. What was that cartoon- oh! The Flintstones where you could ride down it like a slide. That would be fun! You could have a pool somewhere. Get your brontosaurus. Slide down it.
You know, slide down twenty feet from the top of a dinosaur. You’ll be fine! You won’t get hurt!
[Laughs] So much fun!
Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Syder. I would love to talk hours of theatre with you, but we don’t have time for that today.
It was no problem at all. It was nice talking with you.
221B Con is April 7th-9th with plenty of badges still available. You can find out more information on their website at 221bcon.com!