Ben Simington, Director and Executive Producer for web series, Precious Cargo, brings an impressive resume to the team. Currently teaching full time, he previously wrote film criticism for Mubi.com, worked for various film festivals and more. We had the chance to chat with the director about his experience in the industry and his time on set of Precious Cargo. Check out what he had to say below!
netTVnow: Can you give me a brief background on yourself?
Ben Simington: I graduated from Wesleyan in 2001 and was a graduate assistant with the film department there until 2004. I took a year off doing different odds and ends but ended up volunteering with the Austin Film Festival and SXSW, in a very low level kind of programming there. I then moved to NYC to help a friend of mine with a video teaching gig where we got to make movies with really young kids, kindergartners sometimes, and run this after school video camp.
I then got a job with an independent distribution film company and worked with them for several years. After that, I got a job at a high school teaching video basics to students who have learning disabilities and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past six years. Knowing I had all this experience in video, Lauren (Singerman) and Dano (Madden) approached me and that’s how I got brought onto Precious Cargo!
netTVnow: How did you go about casting the children in the series and what was it like getting to work with them?
BS: We really were incredibly lucky. A lot of the adult actors were hired from knowing Dano, Lauren or Sasha (Kaye), but the kids were a very different story. For the most part a lot of them were found through Backstage. We had a day of auditions that was a majority of child actors. Anton, who appears in the second episode, was the son of a friend of Lauren and Dano’s and knew he was going to be a great option from the get go and he did a great spot in one of our funding videos. But everyone else was basically someone we found through postings online and we just really lucked out with children being super professional and really ready to work and give it their all.
netTVnow: Is this your first web series and what was it like directing this kind of medium? What were some challenges you found in filming?
BS: Yes - this is my first web series. There were tons of challenges, there was a really immense learning curve and definitely one of the largest projects I’ve taken on. I’ve previously helped friends in film shoots and web series about five or six years ago but they had a different production value, crew size and scale/scope compared to Precious Cargo.
We had the opportunity to hire a Director of Photography (DP), a cinematographer who had some really great equipment and a team of gaffers and grips that was beyond our initial plan.
Even just setting up for our first shot of our seven-day shoot, in that moment, working with and trying to wrap my head around 30 different people between cast and crew who were all doing different things and meeting many of them for the first time at the moment was totally daunting. But I think our team did a really great job of maximizing our time and getting everything done that we needed to. There were so many things that needed to get done that there wasn’t really time to let myself get overwhelmed.
What was it like on set during those seven days?
BS: It was surreal. It was really energizing to do it [laughs] until you get home and faceplant into bed. But we planned it so that we had ten hour days but of course you have stuff to do before and after filming for certain members of the crew, so they were really 12-hour days plus commuting. The experience was both stressful but really energizing.
netTVnow: Were there any last minute changes that had to be done or any issues you had to work on the day of shooting?
BS: Sasha had accompanied Lauren, Dano and I for location scouting on a majority of the locations we ended up filming in but there were some that she wasn’t with us. So there were some spaces that even our DP hadn’t seen yet so that was a situation where the day of shooting, I’d have an idea of how to use the space and our DP had a different idea and would discuss what would actually work and why. Which definitely kept us on our toes.
netTVnow: In your opinion, why do you think web series are becoming increasingly popular?
BS: I think people are dependent on getting content from internet-based platforms and just being around our devices all day.
I think the length and our attention spans have a lot to do with it too. With things being so easily watchable during a commute or a break. But the things that’s really cool about this now is that there are so many fewer rules about creating web series in terms of the format you need to follow, the script structure and all that. There are so many situations that you get to explore with being part of web series.
netTVnow: Any advice for someone looking to get into directing?
BS: You know what? Just go for it. I second guessed myself a lot before this project, but I think having an intense shooting schedule and just diving right in really urged me on to do great things [laughs]. Not to toot my own horn, but it forced me to get it done. I really owe a lot to Lauren, Dano and Sasha because i don’t think I would have done something like this without them. So get out there and just do it!
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