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Originally published March 10, 2013 at 4:23 AM | Page modified March 12, 2013 at 1:57 PM

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3-Minute Masterpiece winner goes on to bigger things

Young filmmaker Ben Kadie got his start with SIFF and The Seattle Times’ 3-Minute Masterpiece contest. As this year’s contest gets under way, we look at how far Kadie has come.

Seattle Times movie critic


Ben Kadie knew that he wanted to be a filmmaker in the third grade. With a friend, he started a fake film company called Slugco — because, he said, “production was so slow.”

Now, things are speeding up. At 17, the Interlake High School senior has completed 11 short films, and is finding his audience ever-widening. Since his film noir spoof “Sparks in the Night” won The Seattle Times and SIFF’s 3-Minute Masterpiece contest in 2009, his work has been shown at dozens of film festivals nationwide and internationally, at which he’s won numerous honors and prizes.

His latest film, the drama “The Painted Girl,” is beginning to make the rounds — and he’s submitting it as part of his college applications. Kadie says he’s applying to several schools and is especially interested in the University of Southern California and New York University, both for their film programs and for “a good liberal arts education.”

“The Painted Girl” has already taken him far from home: It was his submission for the YoungArts program, a national foundation created to identify and support the next generation of artists, and it won him a week in Miami earlier this year with about 150 other teens representing nine artistic disciplines. With other young filmmakers and several instructors, he made two films in a week, received feedback, and every night watched work by fellow young artists.

A nine-minute tale of a closeted teenage girl and her mother, “The Painted Girl” took Kadie in several new directions. Though he initially considered making it about a boy and his father, he realized that many of his previous movies had mostly male casts, and a female protagonist would be more of a challenge. The title role was written for his friend Emma Rae Johnson, but for most of the remaining cast, he did something new: held auditions, in the basement of his family’s Bellevue home, for experienced grown-up actors.

That process was nerve-wracking for a teen filmmaker, but richly rewarding, with Kadie watching how certain actors, reading his lines, could make even a small character complex. Throughout the filming process (which took place in Seattle and in Fort Casey State Park, with the crew of “myself and my parents and two friends who do theater tech”), he welcomed input from the actors, who would tell him “when something didn’t make sense.”

Kadie edited the film on his computer at home, adding special effects in postproduction. (The film’s main character is a graffiti artist, but all of the painting is done with visual effects. No walls were damaged in the making of this film.) He re-edited it after the YoungArts week, incorporating feedback that he’d gotten there. In the next six weeks, it’ll screen in film festivals in California, Idaho, Arizona, Mississippi and Michigan.

Though mostly a self-taught filmmaker, Kadie said he’s learned much from participation in events at TheFilmSchool, Northwest Film Forum, Seattle Film Institute and the locally based National Film Festival for Talented Youth — and from his supportive parents. Father Carl is a computer scientist, mother Nanci Vaeth is a theatrical costumer; both have contributed expertise to Ben’s work. (He’s also learned not to cast the family cat, Sparky, in his films — “he doesn’t take direction well.”)

Kadie’s long been a regular fixture in the 3-Minute Masterpiece contest; winning youth honors in 2007, 2008 and 2011 as well as the grand prize in 2009. He remembers attending the screening of contest winners in 2007, when he was just 11, with his best friend and collaborator Noah Hirsch. Nervous and excited, he was thrilled to hear an audience laughing “for our film’s ridiculous jokes.”

Outside of filmmaking, Kadie enjoys taking part in drama productions, but he’s pretty immersed in the movies. Recently, he loved “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and was fascinated by the story of how its then-twentysomething director Benh Zeitlin made the ultra-low-budget movie. Favorite DVDs at home include works by the Coen brothers and Monty Python.

Next up for Kadie, along with college decisions: a new film called “Suburbia Nights,” which he describes as a dark comedy — “a multi-plot story about one crazy night in the suburbs.” He’s working on the script and hopes to shoot the film before the school year is out. Looking ahead to the next decade, he said that he hopes to find himself after college with “some kind of job in film,” and still making his own independent movies.

The YoungArts week, he said, helped him take another step in the journey of becoming a filmmaker and an artist. “I really got thinking about which ones stuck with me and which didn’t,” he said, of the performances that he saw there. “The ones that stuck were sort of jarring, and a little bit out there and bold. I realized that I want to make art that has that sticking power.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or