September 27, 2023

River Wild director and writer Ben Ketai

Director and writer Ben Ketai’s latest movie, River Wild, is a thriller inspired by the original 90’s movie The River Wild, but with a reimagined plot. In River Wild, a group of friends take a white water rafting trip that becomes a desperate fight for survival as they get caught in serious rapids. Things only get worse once they realize that one of their friends has a dangerous and violent past.

River Wild was shot in Eastern Europe in just 25 days with the added burdens of water, kids, and animals thrown in. With such stunt-heavy scenes, Ben worked with stunt coordinators and experienced river rafting guides to carefully storyboard the white water rafting sequences. The rapids in the movie really exist, and professional rafters practiced for weeks to know exactly where and how to shoot the sequences on the river. Ben had to make sure that the water scenes looked amazing, and he wanted to capture the power of the water as a raft is sucked through it. Fortunately, he had a long prep period with the cast and came up with an efficient coverage strategy for each scene. For the closer scenes with actors on the rafts, the production was able to use a special Olympic kayak training facility, where the water was shallow and could be turned on and off.

As a Netflix movie, Ben knew River Wild was set to go straight to streaming on the platform. Though there was no big marketing push, it crept up to number three and stayed in the top 10 for over a month, and River Wild became the third most watched movie on Netflix in August. Ben says he doesn’t mind making movies that go straight to streaming- he likes the idea that more people can actually watch things there. His show, Startup, also spread and charted well on Netflix.

Ben and Ben Rock worked together on a series for Crackle called Chosen that was shot in 22 days for six 30-minute episodes. Both Bens fondly remember it as a lot of fun, and Ben Ketai thinks the challenge of a short time period and less money keeps you on your toes and forces you to be creative. On Chosen, he had the opportunity to make mistakes- with less money, there’s also not a lot of people standing in your way.

Growing up, Ben always wanted to make movies as a career and would use his dad’s video camera to make movies with his friends. As soon as he graduated from college, Ben moved to L.A. Luckily, his mom casually knew director Sam Raimi’s mother, and she was able to give him Raimi’s contact info. Raimi was just starting Spiderman 3, so Ben was able to get a job as an office PA for Ghost House Pictures. After working at the production company and scriptwriting for a few years, they asked him to direct his first movie, 30 Days of Night- Dark Days.

River Wild is available to stream on Netflix.

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