I recently got the chance to sit down with Ben Davies, cinematographer and film student at Screenology. His cinematography work on the Star Wars fan-film, Star Wars: Eternal, is attracting a significant amount of attention online. Not only did I get an insight into the production of the film but also an in-depth understanding of his artistic decisions. He also spoke freely about his inspiration and why he wanted to become a director of photography (DOP) in the first place.
Before moving to Bristol, Ben had great success making and showing films locally in Shropshire. Entering many competitions and getting his short production Entrapment screened at the local independent cinema Kinokulture in Oswestry. A film initially made as part of his A-Level film studies course, therefore, produced within the confines of a specific brief (homage a genre of your choice). It shows Ben’s ability to, even with an insufficient budget, create a film that exceeds financial expectations and expand his horizons as a fluid genre filmmaker. Occupying both the director and cinematographer roles – like many of the auteurs he was imitating – worked well for him on this smaller scale shoot. But after progressing to bigger productions, he quickly realised he wanted to focus all his efforts on becoming a director of photography.
Ben shared in great detail his experiences as a DOP (both practical and theoretical, in particular, the unconscious effects of cinematography. This topic came up when Ben explained his ritual before a single frame is even shot, “I’ll go up to people and just stare at them. They’ll look back at me and just be like what the fuck are you doing?” His evident reasoning behind this is eye-light. As he describes, “it’s the window to the soul, the glint you catch in someone’s eye as they look at you. It’s something I will always spend time on getting right” And rightly so it can tell you a lot about a character. For example, if the eye-light is more central then you, as a viewer, are likely to feel more sympathetic. Whereas, a character without the glint – Darth Vader, for instance – has the opposite effect. An interesting method, Ben explains, for imitating sadness and creating catharsis is “lowering the light which emulates the build-up of tears before someone cries.”
Another hot subject for discussion was Ben’s preoccupation with movement (as seen in the interview). He tracked this fixation all the way back to the beginning of his filmic adventures; explaining that contemporary films overuse the trait lowering it to a gimmick. He admits “I have fallen into the trap myself. If you look at Entrapment, for instance, we did the movement to imitate Hitchcock and that style of filmmaking. But if you take that aspect away, what you’re essentially left with is a gimmick; it doesn’t add any story development to the piece.” A source of inspiration he explains is The Shining: “It’s one of the first films to use a steady cam, and you can tell! They use it a lot. But it’s done tactfully instead of being used as a gimmick.”
Visit Ben’s Cahootify where you can view all his films I’ve mentioned and more. I look forward to seeing what future projects he will DOP and who knows there might be a review of two on here sometime soon
Love & Peace