Directors interview: Ben Eine

17 Dec

Jaco and Jacques interviewing Bernard Fontannaz, founder of Origin

Jaco Smit (Producer, Director & Writer for Film & Television) has worked in the film industry as an assistant director for a number of years. He has worked on numerous local and international film and television productions including Starship Troopers, District 9, The Runaway, Hopeville and Wild at Heart. He recently started the production company Testify Films with long time friend and director of photography, Jacques Koudstaal.

1. Before Origin Canvasses, did you know Eine or his work at all?
When we were approached to do the project the name “Eine” rang a bell. I’d done a graphics design project many years back and decided to use “Graffiti and Tagging” as the subject matter. In this I stumbled upon Banksy, and indirectly unto Eine, who had worked alongside Banksy for many years. I also got to know more about Faith47 as one of South Africa’s leading street artists, who Ben invited to collaborate with on The Origin Wine Canvas. When I started doing research on Eine, I soon realized how famous he had become predominantly because of the Twenty First Century” piece that now hangs in the White House.

2. What was your goal with this project and how did you achieve that?
It was always a simple premise for the documentation: Eine is an artist, capture him doing what he does best in the most visually pleasing way, and try and get inside his head, which is what we achieved – a documentation of Eine capturing the essence of Fairtrade on an ENORMOUS canvas, with a beautiful result.

3. You shot on a Canon which doubles as a stills and video camera? What were the motivations for the equipment/technical decisions made?
We decided to shoot on the Canon 1D and 5D HDSLR’s. The camera’s are cheap, and allow us to spend more on lenses to make the product look very filmic and high-end. We believe in the HDSLR’s, and it pays off every time. We also had to capture the entire process on a timelapse which called for a dedicated camera to shoot (from the same position) for six days as Eine worked. We used the 5D with an Interlometer-timer, and took 1 frame every 5 seconds, for 6 days. Those frames are then animated to create the time-lapses.

4. What was it like working with Ben?
I’m always nervous when I meet a “subject” for the first time. It sounds very crude but the fact is as a process of documentation, Eine was the subject, and we were the “flies on the wall”. We had to get him comfortable with us, and try and recognize his method as soon as possible to get the most footage out of a given day, but also to get enough to create a “storyline” for the “documentation”.

Ben is an truly visionary artist, but over and above that it was truly a pleasant experience to work with him. He is a natural in front of the camera, and carried and narrated the entire process for us. All we needed to do was to point the cameras in the right direction, and he’d supply the very colorful and excitable goods.

5. Were there any hiccups/difficulties?
The duration of the project was the only real variable. Ben was initially hoping to complete the project in 2 or 3 days, but it later became 5/6, which basically pushed out production. The scaffolding also proved quite a challenge as it was pretty high, and we needed to get gear up and down to keep up with Ben. He zips around the scaffolding like a 16 year old gymnast!

Things started getting tense towards the end . . . Ben had been working four days straight. Time was running out as he had to be back in London, and it was starting to takes it’s toll. We saw this, and in a way had to back-up a bit, giving him space to do what he needed to do. He was amazing. I’m sure many people would normally give up under these kinds of circumstances, but he stuck to his guns and finished in style. I think he also had food poisoning the last day. We only found this out after he’d left, as he’s too much of a pro to complain about anything!

7. What did you schedule look like for those five day. I imagine criminal call times?
We tried to be there as early in the mornings as possible to try and get the “sunrise” type lighting. This was important for the timelapses, as well as staying till after 18h00 in the evening tosunset behind the wine tanks. The days were very long, but lots of coffee, great hospitality at the Origin site and Eine great sense of humor helped us get through it just fine.

8. You could see the reactions of people as the work progressed. How was that?
People were astounded that one man can write so neatly freehand, and due to the scale of the canvas, nobody could really make out what it said. So people were totally dumbstruck by the meaning of it all, pacing up and down trying to figure it out. People from the neighboring farms and the highway nearby would specially drive in to come and take pictures.

9. Your own feelings about the project?
This project is really one of a kind. Testify Films feels really honored to have been involved. You meet someone like Ben Eine, and you go through this emotional journey as he creates a new piece, also the turmoils of creating a piece of this magnitude. It was an unbelievably satisfying experience as a filmmaker, something I hope to experience again.

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