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Henry Behel | SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event
Henry Behel

Reyka Vodka’s “Made of Iceland”

Henry Behel


What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
An airshow commercial for the Central Coast Airfest in October 2018–a job I’m still pinching myself about, just in case it wasn’t real. I got called up randomly by the airshow director, who found me on Instagram… only problem was that he thought I was someone else! When I told him I wasn’t who he thought I was, he was nice enough to let me pitch on the job anyway, and the rest is history. It was an incredibly complicated and technical shoot. We were working with about 30 airplanes and pilots—often during an active airshow environment. The best part was directing the Cinejet, the airplane that recently shot on Top Gun: Maverick, in capturing aerials of the Canadian Snowbird Aerobatic team and a WW2-era P-38 over the Pacific Ocean. The film went on to win a Clio and a big award in the airshow community.

How did you get into directing?
I spent college and the following four years acting, producing, and designing in theaters in New York and Chicago. I moved to L.A. to on a whim to learn to fly and live in an airplane hangar. Being in the mecca of filmmaking reminded me of my burning desire to direct—dormant since I was a kid. I started making tiny passion projects and scheming how to use the pilot thing to launch a directing career. I built drones in my apartment and even mounted a camera rig in a backcountry taildragger—whatever it took to push the limits and make interesting work. Now that I’m directing, everything feels full circle—like I’ve found a passion that combines the creative and the technical sides of my brain.

What is your most recent project?
I did the launch campaign for a limited edition Air, Land, and Sea run of watches made by the Italian watchmaker Unimatic in collaboration with Hodinkee. Another wild ride—I personally flew the camera plane in formation with another plane as it raced a classic car – a 1979 Datsun 280zx – out in the desert. When we were sailing out to the Channel Islands for the “Sea” portion, a pod of two hundred dolphins were kind enough to show up to set. The best moments are always the things you can’t plan.

What is the best part of being a director?
It’s the absurd things you do that you could never have anticipated. I’ve built a runway in the Mojave desert, circumnavigated Iceland in four days, and flown a 100mph taildragger with a 1000mph F-16 fighter jet. There’s nothing like the feeling of making something really difficult with a group of passionate people. You start out with a ridiculous goal that feels impossible and then you figure it out step by step together.

What is the worst part of being a director?
One of the toughest things about starting out is not having enough money for all your big ideas. The budgets have been brutal, and often, ironically, the smaller the budget the more you’re expected to deliver. Passion and hard work can make up it most of the time, but it’s exhausting. One of my dreams is to make a sci-fi feature, and that ain’t cheap!

What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?​
I’m all-in on commercials for now, both as a director and a director/DP. I’m aiming primarily at high octane car work and action, but I love cinematic visual storytelling of all kinds. Long term, I would love to move into narrative—we’ll see where the wind takes me.

Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I’ve never had a real mentor and always wished I did. If I did have one, I wish they would have helped me learn to worry less about my career. Neil Gaimon said it best—when in doubt, make good art.

Who is your favorite director and why?
I hate favorites so here are three. The Coen brothers because of their ability to be deadly serious and completely absurd in one universe. Christopher Nolan because no one collides the epic and human scale better. And Wes Anderson because I’ve never seen movies that make me smile like his do.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Again with the favorites! I can’t pick just one so here are the ones that come to mind in no particular order: Thelma and Louise, Hot Fuzz, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Amelie, Lord of the Rings, Inception, Inside Llewyn Davis, Jojo Rabbit, The Favorite, and all the Mission Impossibles.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Portland, Oregon, the land of the endless rain, and I miss it all the time. Coffee never tastes as good as when it’s raining outside. I studied Drama at Vassar College, acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and comedy at UCB. I learned to fly airplanes and have also jumped out of them hundreds of times. My first jobs in the industry were in the art department (Shameless and a bunch of small commercials and Indie features), then I started flying drones, which exposed me to some huge sets before I was really ready (Allegiant, Red Bull Commercials, HBO’s Vice Principals). I didn’t enjoy the pressure of operating a flying Cuisinart above actors heads, so I took the camera off the drone and learned to write and shoot. Many, many iterations later, here I am.

How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
Aside from the daily dose of existential angst? Having all normalcy removed makes you miss the small things. Now that we’re starting to go back, every moment you get feels special. I’ve become much more grateful for the people in my life and the opportunities that I’ve had. The first time I got to be on set again, I cried I was so happy.


Unaffiliated: Contact Henry Behel via email