SKUNK'S BEN STREBEL ON SKATEBOARDING HIS WAY TO THE TOP.
It took two attempts to interview Ben Strebel - who recently joined the roster at Skunk London - because he is such an engaging conversationalist. The first chat roamed across all manner of interesting topics without ever quite arriving at a discussion about Strebel himself, and so we found ourselves sat for the second time over coffee in Soho with a jointly-declared determination to stick to the point.
The son of a DOP and a graphic designer, he became used to his toys suddenly disappearing when he was a child and his dad suddenly spotted its potential as a prop. This - and his father's frequent absences as he filmed around the world - gave Ben an askance view on the glamour of film-making.
Deciding that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, Ben made his first film when he was 11. Something he describes as "being about a golden sword and having lots of guns and blood."
At this point, our resolve weakened and we had a lively fifteen minute discussion about gun culture in Switzerland ... none of which is relevant to this profile but it was really interesting.
Once we'd set the world to rights once again, Ben described how it was his passion for skateboarding that guided the next phase of his film-making journey. Using a little DV camera with a fish eye to capture the action, Ben and his friends filmed their teenage antics.
The camera was still in his hands when the skateboard was no longer beneath his feet and he continued experimenting while at university in Edinburgh.
After a stint VJing which led to him joining Madness on tour, Ben joined forces with Dylan - another aspiring director - and began making promos out of a studio in East London.
There wasn't much money in it so they worked out how to make it pay in other ways. A promo for Phoenix shot in an hour which earned them the princely sum of £250 won them recognition and a slew of awards.
On the back of its success, they were signed to a production company. However, they were still making promos for very little - and after losing money on one project, his partner decided he'd had enough and Ben was obliged to go solo.
His co-director's background in graphic design had steered their work in that direction but, untethered, Ben was free to explore broader aspects of film-making which led to opportunities in the world of TVCs.
There are really smart people writing the scripts and having ideas,.. especially in this country, you know - you've got some of the best creatives and they are coming up with incredible concepts.
He's philosophical about the differences between promos and commercials, feeling that although you give up a degree of freedom when you make the transition, you gain a lot too. "There are really smart people writing the scripts and having ideas,.. especially in this country, you know - you've got some of the best creatives and they are coming up with incredible concepts."
This leads to a lengthy discussion about the cultural differences found in the different countries of Europe and it turns out the Swiss director is a bigger fan of the London advertising scene than the English journalist... go figure.
Ben's big break in the UK came with a film for Missing People (above) from which he drew every ounce of emotion from a fraught script. It fascinated him as a storyteller: "I was drawn to the exploration of what happens when a mum and her son are separated for whatever reason... and the difficulty they have reconnecting."
Once again we go off at a tangent; this time about the way older people are treated in this country as against the other places where Ben has lived.
There was just enough time after we'd finished dealing with that to ask him why he'd opted for Skunk. It turns out that he'd been urged to speak to Kate Taylor by a number of different people in the business and when he met her, he was beguiled:
"She's got the practical background and she doesn't bullshit. Because of that, people trust her. If she says yes to something, she will make it work, and she knows she can make it work, and she can make it work really well, and she has this charm."
To find out more about Ben Strebel, contact 'charming' Kate Taylor on 020 3176 7720 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alongside Matt Gooden - his partner of twenty-seven years -
Ben Walker has created some of the best commercials of all time. In this podcast, he discusses his career and Who Wot Why - the start-up he recently co-founded.