Life Of Briand - Ben Briand Interview
Author: Darryn King
Monday, 28 April 2008
Ben Briand would never claim to be a master of his craft. He’s amused and almost embarrassed when I pluck a particularly flowery phrase from the publicist’s press notes. “My ‘unorthodox visual style’! Where’d that come from-”
The press notes are right though. The showreel of Briand’s TV commercial work, which he screens for me before the interview, spans an eclectic range of genres. He goes from bubbly sentimentality in an ad for Contiki, to clownish beer-juggling slapstick in an ad for Ballantines, to his ad for Night Tennis, which is more like an adrenaline-fuelled dance music clip, albeit a short one. He even brings ingenuity to his commercial for the Toyota Camry, a gig which you’d think would generally be a paint-by-numbers affair.
But maybe this cheeky refusal to conform to any one style is what, paradoxically, unifies his work. “I like blending visual languages,” he says. “I’m really interested in things not fitting into categories – it’s not like you have gallery installations and video art over here, music videos here, documentaries here, feature films here.” If Briand’s analogy conjures the image of a video store, it’s no coincidence: he worked in one when he was younger. That, he says, was his “master class in film” – he never went to film school, and doesn’t think he’d want to.
Briand’s love of taking film styles apart and reassembling them to make something new is probably best encapsulated in his one-hour pilot Hammer Bay. It’s the product of Briand taking out the MTV One80Project competition last year. With the commission from MTV, Briand was free to push conventions to their limit. “I didn’t know, actually, if it was going to work,” he admits. But it does work, in a way that evokes the quiet eeriness of Twin Peaks. Hammer Bay explores the murder of a schoolgirl in a beachside town through the lens of a film crew. Like the aforementioned series, the murder is only one strand in a tangled web of secrecy that ensnares the whole town, and then the film crew themselves.
Winning the competition, Briand was grateful for the opportunity to push forward on Hammer Bay, but the project has left him in a curious position for a filmmaker: “What’s weird about that is, I’ve got a one-hour film, but I haven’t even got a seven-minute short film that I can send to festivals.”
Briand appears in the pilot playing himself – further blurring its line between fiction and reality, but also perhaps reveling in the opportunity to visit a sleepy little town entirely of his own creation. “Originally, I was into performance and acting, but I became more interested in not being immersed in someone else’s world as a character but creating one, and setting up the boundaries myself.”
I ask Briand what knowledge he would most like to impart to aspiring filmmakers, as someone in the industry. He considers this carefully.
“I don’t know at what point you feel like you’re in the industry, or someone who can give a pearl of wisdom from high above. There’s one thing that I read in a Paul Thomas Anderson interview… When he was starting out, the biggest advice that he was given was, don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re wrong. I guess that’s why I never really wanted to go to film school, I was worried that somebody would tell me that I was wrong.”
He wouldn’t tell any of his students they were wrong would he-
“No, I like to think I was always encouraging.” Stella, a member of the Cherub Pictures family who has crept into the room to use the computer, is a former student of Briand’s – she nods in agreement. Brian narrates the action for the benefit of my transcription: “Background of shot: Stella nods head.”
You can check out samples of Ben’s work, including the trailer for Hammer Bay, on the Cherub Pictures website.