By Yashaswi Dixit
We caught up with Ben Semanoff (FMA '01) to congratulate him for his incredible feat -- an Emmy nomination this year for only his second time directing! Ben has worked as a Steadicam operator and now has two directing credits under his belt - both for the show Ozark. We were so excited to have a chance to connect with him!
Q: Hi Ben! First of all, we would like to congratulate you on your Emmy nomination this year for directing the “Su Casa Es Mi Casa” episode of Netflix’s Ozark. It’s super exciting and well-deserved.
What was it like to work on Ozark, especially considering that the show is your first directing credit?
Working on Ozark has been the highlight of my career for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s a wonderful environment to work. Jason Bateman sets a tone for the set that demands a high level of technical skill and excellence, but an equally high level of enjoyment, compassion for each other, and pride in our work. In particular my relationship with Bateman, as his camera operator, has been incredibly fulfilling. He’s been a mentor, friend and an incredible collaborator. And yes, he gave me a rare opportunity to advance and cut my teeth as a director. It’s been quite an adventure.
I noticed that you’ve worked as a camera operator and Steadicam operator for some really amazing shows over the years – The Leftovers, The Night of, Billions, Outsider – as well as films like Creed and Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Can you tell us about your career trajectory and the projects you picked?
In general, I’m not sure how much we get to “pick” projects in this business... especially when coming up through the ranks. Often projects pick us because we are trying to foster relationships. When you spend 12-14 hours a day at work, I think the most important thing is enjoying the people you’re going to be spending all that time with. And yes, if you work hard those people will keep hiring you… and if you’re lucky they will start working on bigger and better projects, and as a result so do you. But the luxury of choice takes many years to reach, and I’m only just getting there!
What advice would you give to current Temple students or recent graduates?
Well, I think the best thing is to be open to any opportunity, and whatever that is… excel at it. Too often the expectations of college graduates, let alone film students, aren’t managed. The chances of graduating and becoming the next Steven Spielberg are slim to none. And often this is what will prevent you from achieving any level of success in the business at all. Instead, be eager. Look for any opportunity to break in with any kind of work. Office work at a production office. Production assistant work on set. Anything. And no, it won’t be glamorous. But work hard and demonstrate your competence, and I promise you’ll be given bigger and bigger responsibilities. And before you know it a door will open, and it might not be the door you expected. But be open to reshaping the image of your future as these opportunities present themselves… and although the path might meander… you’ll get to where you should be and a place where you will shine.
What are the ways in which you are staying creative or busy right now?
Well, fortunately I’m just returning to work. But throughout the pandemic I focused on a couple things. First and foremost, the film business is rough on family. I’m on the road about 40 weeks a year. So being home for 6 months straight was kind of amazing. Outside of family time, I focused on a lot of projects around the house. I’m pretty handy, and as with filmmaking, these kinds of projects demand a lot of trouble shooting. But the big project was my son’s Bar Mitzvah. It was originally scheduled for October, but we assumed that it would ultimately need to be done virtually and that I’d likely be called back to work by then. So we advanced the schedule to August and produced an unbelievable virtual events. In addition to the 4-camera, live switched broadcast via YouTube Live, we produced several videos ahead of time that would be sprinkled throughout the event. Our goal was to produce an event that was entertaining and memorable and I think we knocked it out of the park.
What is next for you in the coming months or year?
My goal in the coming year is to finish the transition from Camera Operator to full time Director. Making transitions like this are difficult, especially when you have a family to support. In addition, the pandemic is adding a special sort of challenge to this initiative… and to the industry as a whole. However, I have a wonderful team of managers and agents, and hopefully the Emmy nomination can help as well!