Somewhere in Los Angeles California, four friends are struggling in their careers, and all are on the edge of a midlife crisis. Case’s music is disregarded over and over again, with no record label signing in sight despite his best efforts. Liana is stuck being a news anchor for less than reputable news outlets, which she knows she should have left behind by now. Shani knows she is worth more than she is being paid yet is afraid to stand up for herself. Henry is in the dismal position of realizing that he has simply chosen the wrong profession. The characters of Better Than Yourself, the latest film by actor and Tip-Top Productions producer Ben Stranahan, believe that the answers to their career problems can be found during a weekend getaway. What happens, however, when everything they have ever wished for inexplicably comes true?
“I chose to make Better Than Yourself in part because its storyline is extremely relatable, and it was a very Covid-safe film shot all in one location. I was intrigued by it from the beginning,” says Ben. “Some of the best movies out there start with a premise that feels just one step removed from our own lives and then shake it up so that we, the audience, are immediately pulled into what could be. How many of us have ever wished we had different jobs? All of us, right?”
He laughs, then adds, “I do love my own job, of course, but along the way I have had days just like everyone else. The point is this: with Better Than Yourself, everyone will be able to relate to at least one of the characters.”
Ben says the power of the film lies in the relationships and the characters getting exactly what they wished for when they are at a mountain cabin. Why, exactly, is that happening, and is it really what they wanted after all?
“All of the characters undergo deep emotional journeys as they grapple with their lives and the mystery around them,” says Ben. “The film forces all four friends to think more about when to be grateful for what they have and when to take the responsibility to seek more for themselves.”
Ben and his cast members, who included Noah Baron, Anita Kalathara, Rob McGillivray, and Krystal M. Harris, spent a lot of time in the mountains, working together to bring out the emotional and psychological complexities of the script. It was crucial to the success of the movie that they capture the friendship of the characters, their inner turmoil about their careers, and their shock when everything they had ever wanted was suddenly in front of them.
“While we did a lot of group work together, when the cameras weren’t rolling, you could often find each of us sitting under a tree or along a river, going over the script and getting into the mind of the character we were playing,” Ben remembers. “I was surrounded by true professionals who knew that they needed to bring their A-game to each scene to make it believable. It was a tremendous effort by everyone, and I think audiences are going to be pulled into it and kept guessing about what is really happening.”
Better Than Yourself is one of the first high-concept mysteries that Ben has produced and acted in. Since graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, he has built a sizable portfolio of award-winning films and TV series that include Mean Dreams, which starred Bill Paxton, Sophie Nélisse, Josh Wiggins, and Colm Feore and premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes and as a Special Presentation at TIFF. Mean Dreams was ultimately sold in more than fifty countries and released theatrically in over ten countries. Ben is the producer of the psychological thriller Population Zero and of Calibre, which was nominated for four BAFTAs and won for Best Actor for Jack Lowden. Ben is also the producer of The Midnight Anthology, starring Clancy Brown. Its pilot premiered at the New York Television Festival in 2015 and won the Artistic Achievement and Best Director awards.
His most recent works include Castle in the Ground, starring Imogen Poots, and The Inventor, an animated feature about Leonardo da Vinci that was written and directed by Jim Capobianco and stars Marion Cotillard, Daisy Ridley, and Stephen Fry.
Ben is thankful that unlike the characters in Better Than Yourself, his own career is going just fine these days. “No weekend trips to the mountains for me anytime soon!” he assures. “I definitely learned from their problems in the film that it is very important to recognize what I should be grateful for. Sometimes getting exactly what you want is not what you really need to have happen. Instead, you should be content with how your life is going but always aiming to grow into your best self.”