Director of Figg & Date and key player at Mann Bros. Media, Ben Mann has done it all. From acting, to writing to directing, Mann has done it all. Learn more about his work in Figg & Dates and see what's next for him!
netTVnow: How did you get involved with the series Figgs & Dates?
Ben Mann: My company Mann Bros. Media launched an initiative called Mann Bros. Originals to help get creative projects like web series or shorts, off the ground. The idea was to help shoot a pilot episode of a great idea on little to no budget and pitch it for a fully commissioned series. The idea came off the back of my first web series which I directed in New York called (NOT) Brothers – we made this for practically nothing and it was received so well that we wanted to do it again, although we simplified the idea so that it just focused on a short pilot or teaser. Rachel, however, came to us with more than a pilot – but they were such shootable bite sized episodes of what was a much bigger series that we had to go for it.
NTN: What was the directing process like for you?
BM: The series was so beautifully and vividly written that realizing it on screen was a treat. My crew and myself worked very closely, we’re all brothers, to ensure that we made the very most of each and every shooting day – and the biggest part of this was time management. The sets that I like to lead require a huge amount of communication from everyone and are extremely collaborative so that everyone feels a part of the product. It was a privilege to direct all of the actors involved in the series, all trained professionals who not only respect the craft but also have a huge amount of love for Rachel and this meant that they all just simply wanted to be there.
For me as a director I don’t work with storyboards – I have a pre-planned idea in my head based on the script, the actors involved and the location information – from there I let the moment dictate the rest. Once we’re in the space with everything set I’ll lead a few informal rehearsals to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of shape and spacing, and then I’ll drop the cameras in and we’ll have a crack at it. The first few takes are always the best for both cast and crew as things are most fresh, so I’ll start with long and wide takes and then from there punch in for close-ups. And all episodes in this series were short and sweet so we were mostly able to try out lots of different ideas and do as many takes as necessary.
NTN: How collaborative were you with Rachel Marwood?
BM: The entire process was extremely collaborative with Rachel who co-produced the series with us. She was instrumental in casting, location scouting and sourcing most of the ingredients for each shoot that it made my life so much easier in focusing more on the content for camera. Rachel and I had become good friends too since meeting in the summer of 2016 and she was one of the first people I thought of when sharing our Originals idea. Suffice to say she went away and wrote this entire series in a very short space of time.
NTN: You've mentioned working in web series before, tell me about your first experience in web series and what you learned from that project to this one.
BM: The idea is everything – if you nail that and it’s interesting enough then no shoot (no matter how small or large or complicated) will ever be dull. I collaborated closely with two New York based actor/writers, Brett Epstein & Andy Gershenzon, who had come up with a wonderful concept for a series but didn’t know how to realize it on camera. The big difference between that series and Figg & Dates was that (NOT) Brothers was mostly improvised, which was a process I loved as I came from an improvisation/acting background. What it taught me, though, was a great deal of patience and my time management skills improved substantially. With Figg & Dates we were blessed with such sharp and precise writing that the words dictated almost all of the action. This allowed us to find the shape of every scene very quickly on its feet – and from there we were able to get creative and just have fun.
NTN: What is it about the web series medium that appeals to you?
BM: For me it’s being able to tell these stories in a short amount of time, communicating an idea as directly and efficiently as possible without over doing it. The other big thing is the creative control – sometimes, and in our case, a web series can be produced on a relatively smaller scale in that wonderful do-it-yourself manner, and that means retaining a huge amount of control over the process and the content. Also, in this contemporary Netflix-binge-watching world you are working against very little patience from the viewer, so say what you need to say and do it fast.
NTN: As a director, are there any key difference in filming for web series and other mediums?
BM: Size and scale are the key things here, both web series I’ve created have allowed me to be ambitious but in a manageable and tangible way, using only the essential ingredients to tell the story and nothing more. Time will change based on medium too – generally the longer the script the longer the screen time. For us, we work on so many different projects that we don’t currently have the time to invest in larger mediums, so the web series format suits us just fine.
NTN: You've mentioned Mann Bros. Media, can you tell me about that?
BM: Mann Bros. creates all kinds of video content, from promotional videos and recording live music events to web series and documentary films. We specialize in all aspects of production from concept all the way through to delivery - we’re a one stop shop. It’s also a family run group, we’re all brothers.
NTN: That's amazing, so what would you say a typical day on set is like for you?
BM: Our sets are extremely relaxed, first and foremost we want everyone involved to feel comfortable and at ease. The key to an efficient set is being prepared and covering all your bases so that you can get the very best out of the time you have. The other important factor is communication – so long as everyone (cast and crew) knows where they should be at any given time and what they should be doing then you’ll be fine. If they don’t, then they probably shouldn’t be there.
Rachel is as efficient a producer as they come, so between her and us we were able to never put a foot wrong when it came to management and logistics. A typical day on set for me and my crew involves being the first to arrive and the last to leave. It will also involve plenty of coffee and plenty of breaks. Personally, I always get very obsessed with timings because I never want to waste anyone’s time because as an actor on set, I’ve been there, which is why I can usually be found almost always staring at my watch.
NTN: What advice do you have for aspiring directors?
BM: Directing is a wonderful process and I, in fact, only found it through acting. This served me in good stead because it helps me now to relate from both sides – I’ve found that there’s a lovely synergy that exists between the director and the actors as essentially you all want the same thing. I would say ask as many questions as you can always, even to yourself, and always trust your first instinct and see where it takes you. Not to mention listen, to both your cast and crew, as everyone is there to help make the product the very best it can be.
NTN: Any upcoming projects to share or anything else to add?
BM: Stay tuned on the Mann Bros. Originals front, we’re working right now on a very exciting mockumentary all about the amateur dramatics world, shot in the style of The Office. We’ve also just launched a new website and folks can check it out at www.mannbros.net.