Here at Mission Digital we love to celebrate talent. Over the coming months, we’re looking to sit down with the emerging talent of the UK film industry and hear their stories. How did they get a foot in the door? What did it take to get up and running?
What follows is an interview with Stuart Bentley, a DOP Mission has worked closely with over the last few years. He is a quietly-driven cinematographer who recognises that to achieve the best results on set, you need to have a team around you willing to give it their all. This is an ethos that gels completely with what we do at Mission, and has always been the basis for our strong working relationship.
Your background is pretty unusual in comparison to most, in that your attendance at NFTS came after filming skateboarding videos. You hadn’t had any experience shooting narrative content, but your showreel was so extensive and your attitude so enthusiastic that it served as your golden ticket – tell us the story of what originally ignited your passion for film.
I got my first skateboard when I was about 12 and was just massively into it – every spare minute I was out skating – one day my friend arrived with his dad’s Hi8 camera and I just remember being so excited by it… Even though we were terrible at both skating and filming we were obsessed with it, and would make little Hi8 videos and edit them together on two VHS machines.
So it was those early days that spurred you on?
That’s right. I did an art foundation course and a lot of photography at Stafford college then moved to Manchester to study fine art, but I still spent a lot of my free time shooting skateboarding videos. I was studying photography and paintings and learning about composition etc.
And after graduating, you had a string of truly envy-inducing opportunities!
That’s right, a lot of amazing opportunities came my way. I started making a few little videos with friends who got sponsored skateboarders so was working with brands like Etnies, Emerica etc. We would go to Barcelona, New York, wherever, and we’d be 8 or 9 people sleeping on the floor of a hotel or flat but I was travelling around the world with my best friends, skateboarding and filming, amazing times.
I started working as a freelance cameraman, just shooting EPK’s and similar with the VX2000 I had bought. Making promos for friends bands or just whatever work I stumbled upon really. At that point it was still a hobby as I was working in skate shops to pay the rent etc but the jobs got more interesting.
I shot a skate film for Red Bull with Dan Magee and I met Matt Fox who came along to help us do a little bit of lighting and grip stuff.
And it was upon Matt’s recommendation that you made the decision to apply for the NFTS?
Yeah, that’s right. I turned up to the open day and submitted my application, and then I was asked to come back for an interview. I think Brian (Tufano BSC) liked the fact that I just got out there and shot, and that I wasn’t waiting around for someone to call me for work. I moved from Manchester down to London – before film school I had never really learnt about lighting, but during my time there I was able to see how other DOPs had achieved certain things. I loved getting involved in the technical side of filmmaking.
While I was still at film school, some of the guys I grew up skateboarding with were starting their own careers in film they were hooking me up with junior directors who were shooting pop promos over the weekend. I got to play with different kit, meet a new pool of people and started building a body of work. I signed up with an agent who had seen my work on Promo News in the last couple of months at the NFTS.
Tell us about one of your most rewarding projects.
Working with Shane (Meadows) on This Is England ‘90 was the closest I ever got to the spontaneity of filming skateboarding again. Shane would just go with the flow and grab these performances in a way that I have never seen before. All the mechanics and trappings of your normal TV drama were left behind. It was amazing. He’s got a track record of incredible work so people trust that he’ll get results, and working with him meant I was afforded the same freedom too. I loved it.
Any words of wisdom for us?
I will attempt a link between skateboarding and filming… The interesting thing about skateboarding is that the main goal is always to progress. If you’re not a skateboarder but you’re watching people do it, you’ll see them falling over and making mistakes, and you might assume that it’s because they’re not very good. But the truth is, when you see someone fall off a skateboard, it’s not necessarily because they can’t do the trick. What they’re normally trying to do is adapt it.
Skateboarding all about progression. It’s never enough just to learn a trick; you always want to expand on it, link it with other moves or improve it. You’re desperate to learn the next variation, and you’re always trying to figure out in your head what comes next; it teaches you the art of patience. You’re so desperate to land the trick that you never give up. It consumes you. I suppose in a way that’s similar to making films. You can’t necessarily just nail everything in the first take and you you can’t always just get the shot you want; you have to be patient. You have to wait for things to happen. It’s sometimes hard to keep hold of that patience and focus, but in the end it is immensely rewarding, and I’m still in love with it.
In the coming months Stuart looks to continue his work in drama, commercials and feature films. He also likes to keep himself involved with interesting short form projects that test his creativity and present new challenges.
Stuart is represented by Lux Artists (www.luxartists.net)
This is a new feature on the Mission Digital Blog. If you’re a cinematographer or know of one who we should talk to for an article, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.