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DOP Ben Nott is currently in pre production on Roland Joffé’s $27m 'SINGULARITY', shooting from November to January in Queensland.
DOP Ben Nott has been working in the biz for the last 20 years, starting in TVC’s before gravitating towards American series television (including The Lost World series, shot in Australia in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s. From there, he progressed to made-for-tv movies and then on to features.
Despite his move to features, he’s still keen to work on “anything that’s interesting”. He “adores
documentaries” and is still keen to shoot TVCs when available.
Ben describes his true passion as “narrative filmmaking,” and suggested that “given the right project and support, I’d be interested in directing a film, for sure.”
After so many years in the game, he’s well aware that directing is “a massively detailed process,” not to be taken lightly, and requiring a clear vision, the ability to adapt and compromise and extensive people management skills. He describes filmmaking as “like a military operation. There are so many pieces to the puzzle.” For a DOP, it’s just their own department. For a director, it’s all of them.
With DOP credits including Tomorrow When the War Began, Daybreakers and Accidents Happen as well as many others, we asked him what he wished directors knew. The first thing he mentioned, as a factor which should be considered by both directors and location managers, is “an appreciation of natural light.” As a DP, he’s often hired after the location scouting, but wishes he was on board earlier. He believes that if locations are scouted “with light in mind, then the job of making a beautiful looking picture on an exterior location is made a whole lot easier.”
Similarly, the schedule should be developed according to the available light, as it makes a huge difference to the vista depending on whether it’s backlit or frontlit.
According to Ben, “producing a film is in the same level of difficulty as directing a film. Producers have an enormously hard job.” They need to know all of the facets of filmmaking as well as having the ability to control a budget.
Having worked for so long in the industry, “it’s immediately obvious who’s experienced and who’s not, and who seeks counsel [from the departments and those with production accounting experience] and who doesn’t.” Some producers who don’t have the skills try to do the budget themselves, and the result is a huge gap between the script and what the budget allows for. If there are a thousand cavalrymen mentioned in the script and there’s a budget for twelve, then there’s an “inequity in the vision.” Sadly, equivalent events occur frequently.
Ben believes that “if there was work to go into a vocation for skilling up, it’s producing… It’s a very difficult role,” and there should be a great appreciation for those who are good at it. Andrew Mason, producer on Tomorrow When the War Began is one such person according to Ben. “He’s incredibly smart and a great filmmaker,” and this resulted in a “fantastic and incredibly well-made film.”
As a DP, Ben “meets a brand new bunch of people on every job,” and with Stuart Beattie, a very experienced writer directing for the first time, he found someone with a deep appreciation of filmmaking and narrative. His limited technical skill was “made up for by defining performances of characters.”
Ben’s now working on the $29m SINGULARITY which begins shooting in Queensland from 8th November through to the second or third week of January. The production then moves to India for a further five weeks. The production was originally planned for the UK instead of Australia. The film is being directed by Roland Joffe (City of Joy, Scarlet Letter, The Mission and The Killing Fields).
There are many different styles of directing that Ben has encountered. Joffé for example, not only has a great understanding of story telling but also the mechanics film making. There’s “incredible collaboration and he certainly has a vision for the film, and a vision for the way it’s photographed.”
Joffé is also “incredibly adept with the transition between scenes. The start and end frames of each scene are the most important, in between, he’s open to suggestion.”
With films heavy in VFX on the other hand, they’re likely to be highly storyboarded and “the parameters of the frame have already been defined.”
When asked what he knows now but wishes he had known from the start, he paused. “I wish I knew how to deal with people as I know how now. It’s about people management. It takes a billionth of a
second to synapse an idea, but communication is the key to success.”