My best friend is an alien 

9:15 p.m. Saturday,
April 10 at Regal
Winter Park
4:30 p.m. Friday, April 16 at Enzian Theater

Back in the early-to-mid-1990s, Amber Benson and Adam Busch were a couple of teenagers trying to find work in Orlando with Nickelodeon, by then the only Hollywood player left in town. Benson spent 9th grade at Dr. Phillips High School and moved out to L.A. just before Busch landed a role in the locally produced the Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. In 2002, she died by his gun.

Actually, Benson's character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the beloved Tara, was killed by Busch's character, setting off a firestorm of controversy -— Benson's character was gay — that only quieted with the show's nomination for Outstanding Drama Series from GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).

These days, Busch and Benson are dating, and have been for years. And as if their paths haven't been entwined enough, now they've co-directed a low-budget comedy, Drones, the first feature script from über-hip comedy duo Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, in which a regular-Joe office worker (Buffy's Jonathan M. Woodward) discovers that his best friend (Freak and Geeks' Samm Levine) is an alien.

"We fell in love with `Acker and Blacker's` writing style," says Benson. "They have this very Sturgess-esque, screwball dialogue that they are just masters of, and we loved what they were doing. They were fans of Buffy and our work, and they're like, ‘We'd love for you guys to be involved,' so we sort of became involved with ‘Thrilling Adventure Hour' `Acker and Blacker's monthly 1940s radio serial-as-stage play in Los Angeles`."

Benson's Preston Sturgess comparison is dead on. The retro feel pervades Drones, as in the course of about a week Woodward's Brian — the film never leaves the office confines — attempts to juggle a budding relationship with his version of Pam Beesly (played by Garbo-like Angela Bettis), as well as his own internal fight against upward mobility and the impending enslavement of the human race. ("Will I get a raise?" he asks his extraterrestrial friend.) The way the dialogue dances around the intent of every conversation — followed naturally by Benson and Busch's perceptive camera — is certainly a Lubitschian throwback of sorts, but it's grounded in a kind of mumblecore nowness that just manages to circumvent pastiche.

Levine, also a "Thrilling Adventure and Supernatural Suspense Hour" graduate, has done his part to get the word out on the film in his role as a sidekick on the brilliant online interview series The Kevin Pollack Chat Show, which has devoted hours on end to discussing Drones.

"I'm certainly proud of Drones," says Levine, who was seen last year as one of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. "I've known the writers for years now, I've known Adam and Amber for a couple of years now, and this was something more like, ‘Hey, a bunch of friends! Let's go make this movie.'"

Both Benson and Levine will be at the Florida Film Festival screening of Drones on April 16. Benson says she hopes to organize some kind of high school reunion while she's here, and Orlando's quite familiar to Levine as well.

"I was in Orlando shooting the Amanda Bynes blockbuster, Sydney White — and by blockbuster, I mean it was eventually rented by a half-dozen people at Blockbuster — so I got to spend about two months in the city," says Levine. "Whilst I was there, the Florida Film Festival happened, and I had a short film that completely coincidentally had been submitted by my friend and it got in. I quite enjoyed the city. Maybe I was just there at the right time of year."

For Benson, the trip might represent a victory lap of sorts. Just a few days prior, Drones screens in Los Angeles at a benefit for Dave Eggers' 826LA organization, where she hopes the godfather himself, Buffy creator Joss Whedon will be in attendance.

"He's on the guest list, so hopefully he'll be able to attend," says Benson, who, in addition to writing two other feature films, has also written several official Buffy graphic novels. "I was working with him on the Tales of the Slayer comics, and it was my first real, sit-down comic thing, and he took me to Golden Apple. He's like, ‘You gotta read this. You gotta read this.' He definitely gave me an education."


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