The Cinematography Podcast Episode 192: Ben Davis

Cinematographer Ben Davis enjoys working on both big budget Marvel movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange as well as smaller films such as The Banshees of Inisherin, My Policeman, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Ben feels that the challenges of shooting large scale movies vs. small intimate movies might be different, but each film speaks for itself and needs to be told in a particular visual style.

Despite having a father, cinematographer Michael J. Davis, in the film industry, Ben began as a pro skateboarder in the 1970’s, where he spent a lot of time filming and photographing skateboarding. As a young adult, he visited his dad on a film set in the U.S. and he enjoyed it so much, he decided to try filmmaking as a career in the UK. Ben’s first job was as a clapper loader, working his way up to camera assistant to notable DPs such as Douglas Slocombe, Dick Pope and Roger Deakins. Ben became an established commercial DP, then director Matthew Vaughn asked him to shoot the action crime drama Layer Cake. The two went on to make the comic book/anti-superhero film Kick-Ass and the spy movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. Ben loved the idea of Kick-Ass- that anyone could make a costume and be a superhero- but he didn’t know it would set him on the trajectory of shooting comic book movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy. He met with director James Gunn who had a completed shooting script, and Ben liked that it felt completely different from other Marvel movies. After Guardians, Ben established a good relationship with the producers at Marvel and he’s been able to pick and choose Marvel movies he’s been asked to DP, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel. He particularly enjoys working on Marvel movies that involve world building and origin stories, to establish the look of any future sequels.

Ben and The Banshees of Inisherin director Martin McDonagh have enjoyed working together regularly, beginning with Seven Psychopaths, then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. When McDonagh called him about shooting Banshees, Ben agreed before even reading the script, because he knows McDonagh’s scripts are lyrical with humor sprinkled into the drama. They were shooting during the pandemic, so the two had to spend 10 days quarantined in a house together, which was a great opportunity to talk through and visualize the film. McDonagh knew that he wanted a period piece about a remote, gray and dreary place, but he wanted to bring in a more colorful palette, so costume design became important to bring in more colors.

Ben was surprised by how melancholy the Banshees script was, but he also enjoys sad things. For Ben, The Banshees of Inisherin is about male conflict and how men are terrible at resolving grievances. The main character, Pádraic, is devastated when his best friend Colm suddenly decides to end their friendship one day, for no apparent reason. The only sane voice in the film is Siobhán, Pádriac’s sister. Since they live in a tiny island community off the coast of Ireland, with little else going on, Colm goes to extreme measures to keep Padriac from speaking to him.

Ben found Banshees difficult to shoot emotionally and physically, with everything shot on location on a couple of small, uninhabited islands- Inisherin is not actually a real place. They had to build all the sets for the movie from scratch on the coastal Atlantic islands, so everything had to withstand powerful winds and storms. The wide landscape vistas Ben shot were influenced by John Ford and Terrence Malick, and he enjoyed going off independently in the early morning with a camera to shoot small intimate aspects of the island. For the night exteriors using moonlight, Ben couldn’t use large equipment like cranes due to high winds. He used old techniques of lighting black and white, making shapes with mesh over hard light.

Find Ben Davis

The Banshees of Inisherin is currently playing in theaters.

My Policeman can be found on Amazon Prime.

Close Focus: Alec Baldwin, who accidentally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza on the set of Rust, is suing the armorer, first AD, and others.

Ben’s short end: Weird: The Al Yankovich Story is just pure joy. It’s a fun parody of the musical biopic genre. Currently available only on Roku.

In the side discussion about the Wilhelm Scream, the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast gives a history of it.

Illya’s short end: On Chartable, the podcast tracking system that shows downloads around the world, The Cinematography Podcast ranks high in the TV and film genre: #4 in Indonesia, #5 in Ireland, #6 Israel, #2 Estonia, #1 Colombia, #8 Poland.

Speaking of Poland, the Camerimage Film Festival is taking place this week in Toruń, Poland and is all about celebrating cinematography. In Poland, cinematographers actually get residuals.

Listen to Ben’s new horror series Catchersavailable NOW only on Audible!

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Instagram: @thecinepod

Twitter: @ShortEndz


Podcast Credits:

Producer: Alana Kode

All web and social media content written by Alana Kode

Host and editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman

Instagram: @illyafriedman @hotrodcameras

Host: Ben Rock

Twitter: @neptunesalad

Instagram: @bejamin_rock

Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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