Today we’d like to introduce you to Ben Mullen.
Ben, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
My mom used to drive this old GMC family van. It had a ladder on the side, a little tiny TV in it, mood lighting– the works. In the very back was a small tinted rectangular window that could slide open. I spent hours and hours looking through the screen of that open window, pretending that everything outside of the car was part of a movie. When my eyes needed a break, I would slide the window shut.
When high school came, I got lucky: there was an amazing after school program that taught all things filmmaking– from conceptual theory to physical production. As a 13-year-old in high school, I was taught how to load film, pull focus, light, set design, run sound, and etc. We took a lot of college classes and made a lot of experimental films. We would make one film as a class of about 30 people every spring, and you couldn’t direct unless you’d done every other crew position. It was magical.
After high school, I went to USC to continue my education. But at that point, I was mostly skipping class to work on set. I was a camera assistant for about 2 years before one really tough shoot where I realized I sucked at pulling focus. After that, I only took Cinematography jobs– whether they paid or not.
Can you give our readers some background on your work?
I’m a cinematographer. I work with directors to execute their vision by using cameras, lights, and eyeballs (mine, and my crew’s). I help plan and organize the film when it’s still on the page, and then I work together with the other creative artists on set to create and compose the aesthetic of the film.
I shoot all types of media– anything that can be put on a screen. My favorite projects to shoot are feature films, but I also very much enjoy commercials, shorts, music videos, and experimental films. I’m inspired by art that makes me forget my physical context. I love projects that are completely immersive– when I’m so enraptured by the content that I am not thinking about how I’m watching a bunch of made-up characters in a made-up place.
When I shoot, my goal is to simply see what’s right in front of me, and make a decision about if it’s right for the story, or if it needs to be adjusted. It’s extremely hard to do this, as when planning the movie I’ll have thought about the content so much, and have some precise idea about the lighting, or where the actors will go, or what have you. But then, standing there behind the camera, the clouds have covered the sun, the actor wants to start in a different place, and we have 5 minutes to get the shot. It’s my job to stay present and make sure this new creative concoction is doing justice to the story and the original conceptual ideas discussed with the Director and the rest of the team.
Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
Money is tricky. Especially for freelancers, especially in Los Angeles.
I have been burned many times by picking money over art– opting for a paid commercial over a pro bono project that ends up getting awards, into festivals, etc., etc. I’ve learned that no matter what, follow the artistic path, not the greedy ones.
In order to be picky about the projects I choose, I have to be extremely conscious about my finances. I want to be able to pick projects by what they are vs what they pay. I use an app called YNAB (You Need a Budget) that basically teaches you how to budget your money and acts as an abacus for your bank accounts.
I wish I had better advice or something that didn’t sound like an ad for an app. No matter how much money you have, if you don’t figure out the right way to spend it, you’ll always be stressed. It can be annoying to get into the habit of it but it’s certainly worked for me.
What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
All of my work is available to watch on my website, or on my Instagram.
You can also check out the website to the feature I spent most of the year working on– Firstness, directed by Brielle Brilliant.
- Website: benmullen.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @benmullen
Personal Photo – Shot by Alexa Viscius