Live in Levi’s
1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professionally directed work was a branded fashion film for the clothing company For Love & Lemons. It was released in 2016 and screened at the Milan Fashion Film Festival.
2) How did you get into directing?
I got into directing via editing. I was attending USC’s Peter Stark Program when producer Joel Michaels gave me a job working as an apprentice editor on Terminator 3. I spent a year hunched over a flatbed learning how to edit dailies on film. From there I worked in cutting rooms on a number of studio and independent films absorbing everything I could. I think those years in editorial were an even better film school than USC; they gave me the confidence and know-how I needed to start making my own short films.
3) What is your most recent project?
I’m currently working on a 360 VR dance film with the brand Champion. I think VR is such an exciting, and challenging, medium because for the first time in the history of cinema we’re getting rid of the rectangle. Instead of directing the viewer’s gaze though composed shots, you’re putting the viewer inside an experience, and that viewer has the ability to look wherever they want. VR is an entirely new medium which we’re only just beginning to understand, but it’s going to fundamentally change the way we tell, and experience, stories. I think it’ll also force us to radically re-think advertising.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
The best part about directing is that every job is a crash course in something totally new. You get to collaborate with really smart people and figure out how to solve a particular problem, whether it’s creative, logistical, or technological. You’re constantly learning on the job.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
The worst part about directing is that every job is a crash course in something totally new — and there’s never enough time to figure everything out! Sometimes you have to be comfortable with it feeling like a pretty messy experience where you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
My goal is to work with innovative brands to create compelling content — whether it’s a 30-second commercial or an immersive experience — with a special focus on dance and stylized movement choreography.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
When I was growing up, my grandfather introduced me to so many great films from the golden age of Hollywood; I remember seeing my first Busby Berkeley film and being totally blown away. Berkeley — who was a director as well as choreographer (42nd Street, Girl Crazy) — is one of the most underrated, and visually inventive filmmakers in the history of cinema. If you don’t believe me, check out his musical number “Lullaby of Broadway” from the film Gold Diggers of 1935, a 14-minute film-within-a-film about a young woman living in NYC who parties all night and sleeps all day. Berkeley broke the proscenium and intuitively understood how to put the audience inside his musical numbers; I think he would have been right at home working in new mediums like VR.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
One of my favorite commercials is Marin De Thurah’s “Life Changing” for the UK National Lottery, inspired by the true-life story of British runner Jenny Meadows. Why? Because it’s an incredibly moving story that grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go. You can check it out on YouTube.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Bakersfield and later went to a boarding school in Santa Barbara where I began to study Japanese. After years of making regular trips to Japan on exchange programs as well as living and working there after university, a good friend and I started a small company called Arch Pacific. Our focus was building multi-lingual websites for Japanese companies that had a presence in the US. My interest in film didn’t begin until much later, but even today, I feel like my exposure to design thinking — including user experience and interaction design — definitely influences my work as a commercial director.
Robin Benson, CoMPANY Films
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