Unknown Origins

Ben Thornley on Filmmaking

October 10, 2020 Unknown Origins Season 1 Episode 10
Unknown Origins
Ben Thornley on Filmmaking
Chapters
1:10
What inspired and attracted you to becoming a Filmmaker?
7:53
What is your Creative Process?
12:36
What are the key skills needed to be a Filmmaker?
14:22
Lessons learned: Pitfalls to avoid & keys to success?
15:24
What is your vision for the future of Filmmkaing?
Unknown Origins
Ben Thornley on Filmmaking
Oct 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 10
Unknown Origins

Traveling through America and tasting the magic of Hollywood led Ben Thornley down the path he has since excelled in—creating inspirational content for delivery over a global platform with thousands of clients from Madagascar's rainforests to Mumbai's streets, where his films have been viewed by over a billion people. Ben provides a perspective on his creative process for filmmaking. 

https://www.sitcomsoldiers.com/

Web: www.unknownorigins.com
Twitter: UnknownOrigins9
Instagram: unknownoriginsuo77

Music composed and performed by Iain Mutch.

@2021 Unknown Origins. All rights reserved.
 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Traveling through America and tasting the magic of Hollywood led Ben Thornley down the path he has since excelled in—creating inspirational content for delivery over a global platform with thousands of clients from Madagascar's rainforests to Mumbai's streets, where his films have been viewed by over a billion people. Ben provides a perspective on his creative process for filmmaking. 

https://www.sitcomsoldiers.com/

Web: www.unknownorigins.com
Twitter: UnknownOrigins9
Instagram: unknownoriginsuo77

Music composed and performed by Iain Mutch.

@2021 Unknown Origins. All rights reserved.
 

Roy Sharples:

Hello, welcome to the unknown origins podcast. Why are you listening to this podcast? Are you an industry expert? Looking for insights? are you growing your career? Or are you at your friend, helping to spar your old pal on? I created the unknown origins podcast to have the most inspiring conversations with creative industry personalities and experts about entrepreneurship, pop culture, art, music, film and fashion. Traveling through America, and tasting the magic of Hollywood led Ben fondly down the path he has since excelled in creating inspirational content for delivery over a global platform with 1000s of clients from Madagascar with rain forests, to Mumbai streets, where his films have been viewed by over a billion people. Ben provides a perspective on his creative process for filmmaking. Hello, and welcome, Ben, what attracted you to become a filmmaker in the first place?

Ben Thornley:

Well, I was always into music from a very young age. That was my sort of first real obsession. So for the first maybe like 10 years, going through school and everything, I was trying to balance being a what I thought was a professional musician, with everything else that my friends were sort of playing football and doing what a young lads do. And I was, God maps out looking for European airports with venues nearby so we could crash in the airport after the after the gigs. And that sort of introduced me to this whole world of music, I met different bands. And I think in 2002, I was on tour my friends band, and they went through America. Every day, it was the same we get off with load into the venue, we play a gig and then we traveled to the next city. And one day we woke up. Today, we're gonna go through Hollywood and making music video. And that was I was hooked to see seeing that process happen with one of my favorite bands. At the time, there was no real, proper outlet for videos, you know, YouTube wasn't started. And then three years before YouTube GOT GOT registered in 2005 content was so hard to come by. And it was just so exciting seeing videos from your favorite bands, and DVDs and anything you could get your hands on. And when I realized I could sort of bypass having to work as a band and still be involved in the music industry. It was a real revelation to me. So I so I started making videos. And I was really just trying to figure out what I was doing at that age, but a lot of cold to me. And I started making videos just on my own and single peep as a single person, and then my mates would show up on set and people who added value would stay and we would keep going as the team got bigger. Yeah, and that's what sort of introduced me to it really, it was I wanted to be in a band and I still do that, you know, I still still write music but it just everything fell into place on the video side of things I got the guy who directed that video in Hollywood that day turned out to be a really good mentor off army. Yeah, he would show me what kits to buy, how to do things how to bring it all back to the UK and I mean sort of two or three separate trips over to America to to learn different things and then just got set up and started started going really it was just there was no film school there was no proper way in learning from assistant and going through the ranks I was just yeah, straight in by a camera off you go

Roy Sharples:

a proper Do It Yourself ethos, by doing it in your own style and pace, embracing challenges, accept and failure, persist in the face of setback, and learning by doing as the path to mastery, and creating without fear.

Ben Thornley:

Absolutely. And it just flowed straight in from the band I was doing, you know, we're doing probably like 50 to 100 gigs a year, all over Europe, all over the UK. And that those sort of sensibilities just flowed through to the film. Yeah, that's amazing. And all the concepts as well. I knew all the bands so I could phone all of my friends up and say Do you want a video made?

Roy Sharples:

What was it about Hollywood that made it magical and inspired you just to get up and make something happen?

Ben Thornley:

I mean, I guess it was just the people were whether I say Hollywood, it was just a crappy warehouse in Hollywood. It wasn't it wasn't by any stretch. You didn't feel like a big shoot or anything, but it just it just felt I'd always wanted to see America. A lot of my favorite bands were from America at the time. And I tried to arrange trips three or four times and it always fallen through or something had happened. So this was my first time there and you know, the cook We were sleeping in the van every day. And I was just amazed at that. So I think I think anything would have amazed me at that age, you know, to go and see all that and experience it all. So it wasn't, it wasn't anything you'd look back on and think it's an incredible studio or anything, it was just, that was the age I was inspired. And it was just, it was really good. Just feel like you're being a part of something, you know, these guys were my age, they were in their van drove around America trying to meet their band work. Yeah, just felt like I could sort of get in and out a little bit and get inspired, and then say that back and let it multiply. I was never really thinking that I'm gonna set up a company, I was just thinking, what what cool videos can I work on the ring around all my friends bands, and, and some, there'll be some terrible, obscure bands. The first one I remember one we made, drove the van around to the back of my school, we had a theater in there. And the drama teacher guy was going to help me out, we loaded all the kit and got the band in and we shot a whole music video and load it out before the school even realized, so kind of the early ones. And that that guy actually the drama guy still works for me now. So it's crazy, really the amount of people we've picked up along the way, since 2002. And almost all of them still work with us. So it's, it's you know, everyone's more like a family. Really? Yeah, we're working people. And you know, it's got its good points. This goes back to

Roy Sharples:

what is your creative process band? In terms of how do you dream up new ideas? How do you develop those ideas into concepts? And then how do you turn those concepts into actualization?

Ben Thornley:

It definitely varies. I think the first thing is, is almost like a extraction process, you've got to extract as much information out of whoever is commissioning the video. You know, it's tough to understand people, even when people say something, they might not, they might not mean what to say in and you've got to be you've got you've got to translate what they want, really so. But from there, once you've extracted all that out, we like to sort of build enough framework that everything's guaranteed to have the results. But we like to leave enough room to find the magic as we go. So the more we were finding the videos, we're planning more almost, we're being too constrained by those. If we had a full shot list, everything was mapped out. And we didn't deviate from that we find sometimes those videos won't be in as special as the ones where we did have that leverage to just do whatever we want and go outside the box. Sometimes we do videos where there's nothing in place, we turn off and we make something amazing thinking, how can we get that balance? How can we get enough framework to make everything work but have enough sort of magic to maneuver as we go. So things weren't set. And that's what we do. And we just we find that balance, and it's different for every project is different for every person. And if there's a lot of CGI involved, we can't wait like that. Really, you've got to have everything set up beforehand. And we have a team of three people really who the main creatives behind everything. Yeah. We like to brainstorm everything and get get it down on a treatment, which is the document you're handing to clients before they will give you the green light. Yeah, yeah, it just depends on each person. You know, different people were very lucky because we ended up working with people over and over and over again, people who come back to us so once you build up that rapport and you know people and they trust you it's a different process. But yeah, that getting on the same page, that's that that's the toughest part and

Roy Sharples:

creating, designing and making new things with childlike imagination, and discovery, by seeing the unseen and navigating the journey to get there through rapid ideation and experimentation that evokes magic and delight, dreaming up what doesn't exist, and turning your imagination into Visual stories that spread. The other theme that's coming across really strong band is your focus on creating unforgettable experiences. When you connect emotionally to people by providing personalized, unique experiences, alchemy happens and your audience become loyal. Make what you provide matter to people by creating trust and making people feel good and connected to something bigger. When you put your audience authentically at your brand's heart and show up where they are, you make a difference by truly understanding and synthesizing their desires and to providing unforgettable experiences.

Ben Thornley:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And that's a big a big part of people come to us and and they'll say, Oh, that was the experience was the best day of my life. So blows my mind. You know, every time it's an experience when you come through the doors, and not just comments and get the end product and then you can get it on TV or whatever it is. It's it's growth everyone's growing at the same time, it's really Yes, we have a more, the lines are a lot more blurred between people's roles. A hierarchy than a normal film set, everyone's delving into each other's roles and sort of come to these unspoken agreements over many years, you know, what we like to push for ideas that are just outside of our comfort zone, yeah, and try to push ourselves to achieve them. People don't want to see you trying to do something that you've never done before. And you know, trusting you with the song, and all this stuff, we feel that it's a really good way to grow. And as long as you don't screw it up, which we've not done yet. It's a really, it's a really good way to sort of grow your craft and learn new things and don't want to be doing something day in day out. is boring, you can easily do and it's just a formula. So yeah, experiment with fire and water. And yeah, try and do things that we've never done before.

Roy Sharples:

Could you walk us through an example Ben, where you've taken the client brief, you've developed the idea and concept, and then you've brought that to life.

Ben Thornley:

And so normally, we get a song, and someone comes to us say, this is the song. And this is how much money you want to spend. And he would give us a little bit of an idea, or maybe there's no idea, we would go away and brainstorm after that initial conversation, and just try and come up with as many ideas as possible, get as many ideas on the board as possible. Yeah. And then we go through them with a fine tooth comb and figure out what's doable, what's not doable. And just nail that down into work. Ideally, a single page treatment, something, I like to think of things, if you can get them into a single page, and you can explain it like that, then it'll work well in a music video, because you don't wanna make things to to the applique. Invariably, we'll hand in a like a, you know, a 20 page thing for that. And they'll give it the green light, or they won't, some people, it's where it's like tends to be people who bands are a bit more established, maybe they've got a bit more confidence that they kind of let you go with it. Small bands are bands to start in bands who are don't maybe don't have the confidence, they can be a lot more controlling. And you know, they don't maybe trust you fully yet. Yeah. It can be it can make that process very drawn out to start ideally, for me, I just like to download all the information in there, and then just go make the video because it's, that is the hardest part just getting that communication, right? Yes.And that that section, that pre production set, you know, sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes days, and you've got to go and shoot it. But that that is really where the you figuring out because after that they've been greenlight the project, your onset a nd it, it's your you're doing battle, then you're in the you're in the belly of the beast. And yeah, you don't want to be arguing over different bits with them are trying to figure out too much one a solid plan in place. So that's the shoe, the edit, and then and the delivery in. And you know what I love, I love that whole process once you get over figuring out what they want, and you can get that information. It's just surreal. It's a really cool process to go through. I think when we first got into filmmaking are obsessed with the technology like what what can what's the latest camera, what what's going to give us the best look what's going to give us the best lighting and all this side of it. And once you get up to a certain standard, I feel like all that melts into the background. And the main thing you focus on is what you put in front of the camera. That's what gives you your production value, you know, the talent, the people who are in front of the camera, and the lighting that you use in every set that you've built, the location that you've brought the technology, you need to be on top of it, and you need to understand it, but it's a tool at the end of the day. And it's Yeah, I don't want to get too bogged down. It's a lot of directors that I see on big big jobs and they have no understanding of the technology at all. They just worry about that a little bit and then they rely on heads of department they rely on the DLP were a lot more engaged than that and we go through this technology with a fine tooth comb but it's like it's a mountain sort of bad guys not being you know, I think one point we spent 50,000 pounds on on a camera package and we're going all in we thought we need the best stuff in Germany. We need the best we need the best cameras the best this the best that and it broke down on us about a week into using it rang up the Germans you know that the camera's not working like what? So try this. Try that plugin The Ethernet cable, send us the report, in the end, send us the camera back, send the camera back, oh, it's unknown fault, we should, you know, it's a problem with with this cat. So, in the end, we got reached out to buy another camera manufacturer ended up being Ambassador with them, we ended up returning this camera and getting the money back. And it was a it was a, it opened my eyes a little bit, you know, because we we ended up spending a lot less on what some people were saying is an inferior camera package. But we got such good results with it that speaks for itself. And you know, I, I don't like to put too much emphasis on the technology. It's about what's in here. It's about your ideas and all that side of it.

Roy Sharples:

So what are the critical skills to be a film director

Ben Thornley:

is similar to life really, isn't it? Got to have a good vision, you've got to be a good communicator, good team player, but attention to detail, got to be able to add value to whatever, whatever you're working on. It's like anything in life, everyone's got diff like I might work with a director who's top of his game is completely the Oba you might not have any of those skills and competence out. So it's each to their own, really you've got, you've got to create your world and the skills that you need. These days, you got to be a businessman. So yes, if you want to be working in industry, you've always got to be you've got to do everything we can. People come in coming out of uni are coming out of training and brown and be a director is gonna walk into that job you've got through the, through the ranks, which is one massive leap in technologies is all the stuff we used to do our accounts now. It was just Excel lists, this list is endless, this list is out and just do everything. Nowadays, you got to do everything digitally to solve it accounting practice, data, tax digital, I spend months of my life trying to get VAT receipts back from shops, just give them just give them a standard VAT receipt, that is a virus it is not because it doesn't have the VAT on it. Wish I could have set it to take care of all that stuff. So all I need to

Roy Sharples:

worry about is just making videos, Ben, you're in a time machine and it's going backwards. What advice would you give to a younger man,

Ben Thornley:

just getting getting people around you who you enjoy spending time with you know, they're going to you're going to be going to be spending a lot a lot of time with these people. And it's a it's tough, if you don't get on with them. I had a lot of problems with my back and my shoulders and all that stuff, you know, lugging gear day in, day out. And I probably tell myself to get into hot yoga about 10 years earlier. Get some flexibility, look, concentrate on longevity of your body and all that side of it. But I've got quite a before the virus that I was in the gym every day trying to strengthen my back strength, stretch out going to solder every day. And obviously all that's been shut down now. But that's the big, big emphasis of my day, like being able to keep doing steadycam keep carrying all this stuff. Now I've got all the COVID stuff. But you can't work as closely with assistance. It's I've got a big emphasis on just trying to make sure my body doesn't deteriorate any further, which is a big problem. Really. Yeah. Yeah. But other than that, you know, I think you just have to make your own mistakes that you learn from mistakes and different successes. So I thought I don't think I'd change any, anything that I've done really, just keep keep doing the same. If you're a small or filmmaker, a young filmmaker looking to break into the business. Try and meet someone like I did, who can be a bit of a mentor to you and can give you some hands on good advice. You know, just following someone who's just trying to sell your course,

Roy Sharples:

that sound advice Ben, on the importance o mentorship. Engage with industr experts and immerse yourself i the domain. Reflect on thing from your past. Captur knowledge and insight, recor expert opinions, rea publications, discover context use collaboration, and seek hel to find reference, synthesiz and gain inspiration and also t Accelerate Your Progress an growth. Okay, then you're bac in that time machine again. Bu this time is going forward What's your vision for th future of filmmaking? And wha do you see as being some of th key opportunities

Ben Thornley:

you spend a lot of your time working on things that amounts to nothing, so just really die? So the stuff that is meaningful. Yeah, I think a lot of people talk about that, like 8020 split 20% of what you spend your time on leads to 80% of the productivity and just just dialing that in, you know, Matt trying to figure out what I want to be spending my time on. I'm very, I'm very, very happy with the, the way everything's going and, and the work that we're doing, I want to just keep keep doing that, and just trying to figure out, you know, suck off the processes that aren't serving us and focus on making things and doing things where we have a work experience program, actually, when we bring in anyone who, who just wants a day on set, we'll bring them in, we introduce them to every department, and that's excellent. That's one of the best ways to really get to get to know you know, what you want to do. Try it, try it for a day, I was not suited to school or anything like that. I just kept getting the same. The same report, Ben tries really hard, but just doesn't seem to grasp. I was very hands on I wanted to see things like to feel things he was explaining to me just wouldn't, it wouldn't go in. Yeah. I think that's about it. Who knows what the technology is gonna change who knows? filmmaking how much it's going to evolve, it might be completely unrecognizable in 10 years, it might be the case that it's a one man thing is thinking to a box. And those ideas become a film. The way technology is going, it's unbelievable, isn't it? So keep a finger on the pulse and try and keep along with the journey.

Roy Sharples:

You have been listening to the unknown origins podcast, please follow us. subscribe, rate and review us. For more information go to unknown origins.com Thank you for listening

What inspired and attracted you to becoming a Filmmaker?
What is your Creative Process?
What are the key skills needed to be a Filmmaker?
Lessons learned: Pitfalls to avoid & keys to success?
What is your vision for the future of Filmmkaing?