Go behind the scenes of ‘A Pebble in the Pond’ with Ann Benson
Ann Benson is no stranger to being in the spotlight. Ann Benson hails from Dallas, Texas. Her background consists of two very different worlds: theater and finance. She studied drama at SMU and the University of Texas, going on to host a children’s show, Small Fry Varieties, and acting in countless advertisements as well as musical comedies and other productions.
In Manhattan, Ann joined Merrill Lynch as a traveling spokesperson and created the industry’s first free Investing and Savings Educational Seminar Program for Women. Recently, Anna and her work partner, Paul Howard, have created Ann Asks; a show that aims to inspire, in a time when the world seems to be in disarray and A Pebble in The Pond.
Here’s Ann Benson and her experience working on A Pebble in the Pond.
Q&A with Ann Benson
Tell us about your history in filmmaking. How did you get started?
My first experience in producing was a children’s television show on WFA channel 8 in Dallas it was called “Small Fry Varieties.” Would you like me to sing the theme song? (Laughs) Along with that production which we did weekly with local children, I did TV commercials in Dallas and projects for various promotions. I also did theater; I did a review called “Bottoms Up” that later went to Las Vegas.
Who were your biggest artistic influences growing up?
As a little girl it was Shirley Temple, you see I’m old! (Laughs). I also adored Irene Dunne and Barbara Stanwyck. Oh, and I absolutely loved Clark Gable! I was such a big movie fan I would spend all my spare time and every spare dime I had at the movies. It was just my world… still is in many ways!
What drew you to the new documentary A Pebble in the Pond?
Paul. It starts with Paul. He asked me if I would like to do a project with him and asked me what kind of show I would like to do, and I told him the kind of show I needed to do was something where we could be around good people who were helping other people and doing it because they cared about people, not for the glory or spotlight. From that we created something called “Ann Asks.” For the Ann Asks series (Available on YouTube) I talked with various people who were doing wonderful things to enrich a lot of lives. We had done I think four shows when Paul found out about Operation School Bell and he suggested that it be our next episode, so together he and I went to see what Operation School Bell does. We went to Universal Studios (where the event was held) and where we were stunned to see 200 children be helped.
We saw children being given clothes, shoes, socks, underwear, backpacks, toys, books- everything they needed to start school. Paul and I cried we were so touched by watching all of this happen. These children felt like it was Christmas and it brought them such joy and to see it in action, was overwhelming! Initially, we thought it would be our fifth episode, as I said, but actually we started hearing and finding out so much about this fabulous organization called Assistance League (Operation School Bell is their signature program) that did so many other wonderful things besides dressing children whose families couldn’t afford the clothes, that a short film was not going to be good enough, so Paul instead suggested that this might be a feature length documentary, and that’s how we have A Pebble in the Pond!
You’re both an interviewer in the film and producer of the film. Was it difficult to juggle these different positions?
In a word, no. I loved it, I loved having input, and working with Paul is the biggest pleasure because he treated me not only as an actor but as someone who is also a producer and I’m very grateful. I loved interviewing all these people and digging into their lives. I found that they were open, honest, and thoughtful, and I miss them all! I want to call them up to check in and find out how it’s been going, and I hope that our film has helped them and will help others!
That’s why we think it’s so important to stress the importance of ripples. Everything we do seems to go out into the universe and touch people in different ways. It really is a feel-good movie, and I think that what we’ve done is making people feel good, certainly that’s been the feedback. I know from the reviews that individuals have written that they love the film, they had a smile on their face when it was over, and they were touched by all that they learned and how many people are helped by this marvelous organization, Assistance League.
You have a theater background. Do you find this experience helps you to connect with your interview subjects?
I was on a show on NBC a few years back where we pranked the young people, and I guess that may have made me more comfortable talking to people and certainly live theatre, which I did a ton of, also helps. Though I think I come by it naturally, as I am outgoing. I love people, I am interested in people, and I like helping people, so it’s just me it’s a part of me. I’m comfortable interviewing people and as I do it, I honestly forget that there is camera there because I’m just having a real conversation with another person.
Was there anything cut from the film that you wish had made it?
No. I wanted to see things cut from the movie so that people would love it and not get tired sitting there watching a two-and-half-hour movie. Paul on the other hand loved every minute of it, and if you ask him that question, you’ll get a very different answer because there was nothing that he wanted to cut. I understand that you create relationships with the people you are working with or filming, but in the end, I’m glad Paul created the film that is now available for people to watch. It’s tight and exciting and I’m very happy with it as it is!
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
What comes to mind is that I was the national spokesperson for Merrill Lynch and enjoying that job I discovered that there was a big need to help women out in the country, so I created an educational program to teach women how to manage and invest money. I did it all with no budget!! I didn’t know that you needed a plan, I just went out and did it without any real help from Merrill. I created “Fashion in Finance” and used department stores to present the shows, and they helped me immeasurably because I had no budget! I managed to do everything I needed…I think that this was a real professional achievement because it was the first of its kind and addressed the needs of women and I’m very proud of that.
I have to say that the children I raised and the husband that I have and the happy family that we are, that’s my biggest achievement in life!
What about a professional setback? What did you learn?
I think there’s been times when I was offered a job that I really wanted to do and because of family I couldn’t accept. I learned though that there would be something else that I would like to do that would come along and would fit perfectly in with my family. You can have both!
Were you surprised by anything you learned during the film’s interviews?
I was less surprised and more humbled by the things that I learned! I love the people I met through the movie. I love the fact that there are so many people out there who fight adversity and never give up and always try to achieve. It’s beautiful and I’m also thrilled that there is an opportunity to address their needs, we did it through this film. Anyone who watches this film will come away knowing there’s this unique extraordinary organization of volunteers who work like it’s a real paying job, but it’s not, they are volunteers for these people who need help. I feel so privileged to be a part of the making of A Pebble in the Pond because we are able to show you all the good happening and the big and small ripples being made, changing lives.
What do you hope audiences will take away from A Pebble in the Pond?
I hope audiences will be inspired, and I hope that people who are watching will want to do something for somebody else. I hope that people who are in need will see this film and want to contact the Assistance League.
I hope everyone goes away feeling enriched, feeling happy, knowing that there are people out there helping and people who they could help in some small way. I love the film because it makes so many ripples; there are so many directions the film goes in that will attract different people, and I think that really this is a feel-good film that everyone should watch especially if they need a break from all the bad news out there!
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I’d like to go back to Ann Asks and do shorter films again and interview individuals I find interesting, people who are helping. I have a subject in mind that I’d like to explore, and I told Paul about it, and he liked the idea, so that could be our fifth episode of Ann Asks. We took a long rest due to Covid, and it’s time that Ann Asks gets back to asking a few questions and bringing some more joy to audiences!
What advice do you have for aspiring documentarians?
If you have a subject that you care about that you’d like to explore, that you want to know more about, go for it because there are no limits to what kind of documentary you can create or what story you can tell! If you’re a filmmaker who found a subject that really tickles your fancy, that really makes you go, “I want to know more!” I urge you to do it! I’m not telling you that you’re going to get rich doing it, but you will get a tremendous amount of satisfaction, I sure have. You don’t know where your subject is going to take you, and it’s your own personal adventure that you’re putting on film, so do it, share your passions and adventures with the world!