But “Something in the Dirt” sets itself apart in both form and context: shot during COVID (and with all the restrictions therein), the film follows Levi (Benson), a down-on-his-luck schlub moving into a Laurel Canyon apartment complex while he plans his eventual escape from LA. There, he meets his neighbor John (Moorhead), a fellow lost soul looking for companionship (or something to do).
The two get their wish when mysterious objects start floating in Levi’s apartment, and the pair decide to make a DIY documentary about it, leading them down threads that include interdimensional wormholes, gravitic anomalies, and the conspiracies behind the construction of Laural Canyon itself. Along the way, the documentary they’re making bleeds into the movie we’re seeing until the lines between both become suitably blurred.
It’s a film inextricably born of its COVID-era circumstances: Just two guys, a script, some cameras, and the help and support of a tight-knit group of producers and creatives, including longtime friend and producer David Lawson. And, for its exploration of the way loneliness and isolation can lead us down some spooky modes of thought, it’s a vivid reminder of the social incubators in which dangerous conspiracy theories have gestated the last couple of years.
Around the time of its virtual premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival (Benson and Moorhead’s first), I sat down with Benson, Moorhead, and Lawson over Zoom to ask them about the film’s symbiotic relationship with COVID, the way it approaches LA as a setting for supernatural hijinks, the way DIY filmmaking has changed since they started, and more.
Okay, so COVID hits, and you guys realize you want to do something with this time of isolation and limited resources. What made you decide to make a movie during COVID, and what made you decide to make this one?
DL: Just like everybody, for the first couple of months, we’re trying to figure out how long this is going to last. So we decided to get something together so as soon as it becomes safe again [to go back to theaters], we’re right out of the gate. We had two projects that were in the final stages of being greenlit that actually got pulled because of COVID. So we think, okay, we could start those back up and have a couple of other things going. Then, as spring turned into summer, we saw that this wasn’t just going away.