Today we’d like to introduce you to Kenji Bennett.
Hi Kenji, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I’m currently a cinematographer working in LA, but a few years ago I couldn’t have predicted my life leading here at all. I started undergraduate at UC San Diego as a Structural Engineering major. Even though I was passionate about photography throughout high school, I never saw myself pursuing the arts as a career. At the start of my freshman year of college, I joined TTV, a film org on campus, and was soon spending every weekend and all my free time on student film sets. I became so invested in my film projects and elective classes that at the end of the school year, I sat down with my parents and advisors and decided to officially switch majors from engineering to Visual Arts. I spent the rest of college dedicating myself to learning about and creating as much film work as possible. I studied every aspect: screenwriting, acting, editing, sound, lighting, color, film history, but always knew there was one element of filmmaking I loved more than any other, being behind the camera. I prioritized being the director of photography or camera operator on other students’ sets.
After graduating in 2019, I moved to LA without much of a plan. I first started to get on set again by volunteering as a grip on AFI student sets, where I gained valuable connections and real-world experience. Eventually, I also started working at AFI part-time for their equipment checkout center. Around the start of 2020, I decided to switch from G&E to working in camera, mostly as either a 1st or 2nd AC, though I still occasionally work as a gaffer. The months of March to July were quiet, but since then work has picked up again. I worked on my first feature in New Mexico in July/August and since then have mostly been on commercials and narrative shorts. My dream is to be working full-time as a director of photography on narrative features, and despite there being setbacks on shooting my own work during the pandemic, I believe I am on the right track to achieve my goal.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have been given the resources and opportunities to work in a creative field that I love. Even if my life hasn’t gone exactly as planned, there have been no major setbacks. I owe everything to the people in my life who have supported me and taken chances on me. Those who raised me, like my parents, teachers, friends, and community. My peers who have brought me onto sets and taught me how to do my job well. Every set I’m on is unpredictable and challenging in new ways, but that’s what’s exciting about working in the film industry. Each day is opportunity for growth, learning from mistakes, learning new techniques, learning how to work with others, learning new ways of looking at the world by seeing how someone constructs it on screen. I’m definitely not making as much yet as I would from a different profession, but the amount of personal fulfillment and life experience I get from my job is priceless.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
As a cinematographer, I am responsible for the visual storytelling of a film. That involves deciding the framing, composition, lighting, color, and movement of every shot, as well as how those shots cut together in sequence to convey plot, emotion, and mood. Because I am still early in my career, I am still always trying new things and haven’t settled on a particular style yet. That may possibly never change. At UCSD, the focus in my classes was on film theory and experimental artwork, so I was always encouraged to push the boundaries of the medium. Some of my past films have been surreal, magical realist, documentary or dance pieces. The projects I’m working on right now are more grounded in their narratives and method of storytelling.
I am also obsessed with color and tend to include strongly defined palettes in my work. I was born and raised in Sacramento, California. I am half Japanese and half white and am Buddhist. A lot of my personal work is concerned with identity and looking within to see how we perceive ourselves and why. One of my previous films is a documentary interviewing mixed-race Asian Americans and how we interact with the world and vice versa. The film I’m most proud of is my undergrad thesis, Another Place, a 30 minute short that follows a writer struggling with his decision to leave the world he knows behind. It took a massive amount of time and effort to create, but I am hoping my future work will be at a caliber that will make this film become only a fond memory.
We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
I feel like I’ve always been a lucky person. Things seem to work out for me. For example, I haven’t received a single parking ticket in the past four years (everyone in LA reading this knows how lucky this must be). I’d like to think that in a way we also create our own luck and that I find fortunate situations by being available for those opportunities to find me.
- Website: www.kenjibennett.com
- Instagram: instagram.com/kenjibennett
- Other: https://vimeo.com/kenjibennett