ja@pole_money: Interview with Director Ben Fitzgerald
3rd September 2020
Portrait of a young adult dancer.
I was lucky enough to get hold of Ben Fitzegerald, the director of this film, and ask him a few questions about how he made Pole Money, and directing in general.
MadeGood – Hi Ben, please tell me a bit about how you got into film making, and what kind of films you usually make?
Ben – My Dad is a 1st AD and makes commercials. I guess I’ve grown up with a video camera around since I was really young. Then growing up I’d get to go on set, Dad would put me on as an extra or whatever and I would get to hang around with him and make a bit of easy money. It wasn’t until I was maybe twenty, that I started thinking about film and wanting to do it. My best friend Jake, who is the cinematographer I work with, had a film school project and he asked me if I wanted to help him write and figure it out. I was like, ‘Sure’.
MadeGood – So Jake was only interested in cinematography, and wanted you to take care of the production and directing side?
Ben – Well, initially, he just wanted help with coming up with an idea, and it sort of evolved further than that. It was a terrible – what we made was awful, but it just sparked something. I was like ‘Wow, this is really fun’. Eventually I signed up to film school, and gave it everything I had. I really fell in love with it. Him and I have been making stuff together ever since.
MadeGood – How long ago was that?
Ben – That was four years ago.
MadeGood – What are you doing now?
Ben – Now I’m a director, I’m with a company called Exit Films, which is a commercials production company. I mainly do narrative short films and short documentaries at the moment, all with a social theme. Jake’s an amazing cinematographer and he’s my best friend, so we work on everything together.
On the side I do a bit of editing to make money and get by, and to fund all my own films. My production company’s really good, and hooks me up with free gear. They’re facilitating me to be able to do the creative work I want to.
MadeGood – When did you make Pole Money?
Ben – We shot Pole Money in November 2017, and it came out at the end of January I think, 2018.
MadeGood – How did it come about? Why did you want to make this film?
Ben – It came about through social media. I was on my explore page on Instagram and there was a photograph that she had posted of a tattoo on her stomach that said ‘Lucky Girl’. I saw it and I was like ‘wow, that’s a really full on tattoo’. I went on her page and saw how much of an interesting person she was. Her fashion sense, just a glimpse into her personality I guess.
Then I ended up seeing she was from Sydney. I remember I called Jake and I was like ‘What do you think of this?’ He was like ‘Woah, she looks really sweet. You should get in contact with her.’ So I sent her a DM asking would she be interested in meeting to talk, and maybe we could do a project together?’
It turned out that she lived literally one suburb away from me, so we met up for coffee and had a conversation. We clicked and had a really good rapport, she liked my films and was keen. We met up again and decided to make something.
MadeGood – You hit the jackpot didn’t you? She’s really smart, and interesting, and a very strong person. When making a film it can happen that you take the first steps but then it doesn’t really work out, but that didn’t happen at all, did it?
Ben – Exactly. In so many ways, like you said, of hitting the jackpot, and being lucky. Her turning out to be literally a suburb away from me, a two minute drive from my house. And that’s the thing, she’s such a strong personality, and she’s so clear about who she is and what she believes in. All I had to do was facilitate her to tell her story. I think one of the most important things with this film for me was to not project any sort of agenda. We found someone who was, like you said, this very intelligent, confident, also very sensitive and sweet girl and we gave her the platform just to speak her mind. That was my main goal in the film, just to facilitate her, and tell her story in the best way that I could without projecting any of my own thoughts, or anyone else’s. It was just something for her.
MadeGood – And it was just you and Jake who made the film, was it?
Ben – Yep. Jake does the grading, and then I do all the editing, the sound recording and sound design.
MadeGood – It looks like it’s shot on 16 mm?
Ben – Yeah, it’s nearly all 16 mm. A little sequence which is like a home video, that was on a VHS camera or a mini DV camera.
MadeGood – And I’m guessing that was Jake’s idea to shoot in film, being the cinematographer?
Ben – I haven’t shot on digital for two years now. Both of us equally love 16 mm as a format, it was a decision from both of us.
MadeGood – Is that quite expensive, filming on 16 mm?
Ben – It is, yeah! Really annoying.
MadeGood – Doesn’t that bring a lot of extra challenges with it? Because of how expensive it is?
Ben – One hundred percent. More the idea that, with digital you can just go on forever, whereas you have to be so careful with 16 mm, especially on such a low-end budget scale like we’re on. I think we had four rolls of film maybe. That’s all you get, it’s 44 minutes. You just have to be really careful, and very selective on what you decide to roll on. But from a directing standpoint, that’s my favourite thing about it. Especially if you’re doing more narrative work, where you have to be like ‘Okay, this is exactly what I want to do. Instil that discipline on yourself, rather than just wasting everyone’s time just shooting a million different things. You have to be precise.
16 millimetre can handle light, and handle colour, in a way that digital cannot. It gives a level of, I don’t want to say the wrong thing, a level of professionalism. It makes things appear more expensive and better than they are. It also enables you to shoot at times that you would never be able to on digital, and make it look good. You can shoot in the middle of the day and it can handle it.
I have very much fallen in love with the discipline that it gives you, as well as the look, I love the look of 16 mm, more so than 35 almost.
MadeGood – I think as a filmmaker it can be quite easy to want to do something bigger and better with the next one. The way you described making Pole Money was almost innocent, it was just like ‘Oh, I found this person and I contacted them, and we decided to make a film.’ I think that it is a great way to go about it.
Ben – It is. And I think for a film as personal as this, there’s almost no other way to have made it. Candy and I built a genuine relationship. My whole goal as a director in a scenario like this is to be honest and to gain the trust of the subject. She trusted in me that I would represent her the best way that I could. Therefore I got a really honest interview out of her and we had a really smooth experience. She ended up really happy with the project.
MadeGood – Would it be difficult to do that again? Because you’ve been through this process once, where you just met her by chance, and now you know in your head how it could have gone wrong. Directors often want go on and do bigger and better things.
Ben – Fantastic point. Creativity wise, on all levels of creativity across any art form, I feel like people would feel the same way. I get terrible, terrible anxiety, thinking about projects I’ve done, and I think about all the little things that just happened to have lined up, and how lucky I got every single time that it worked out. When I’ve got another project coming up soon, I think about it at night time and I’m like ‘Fuck, am I gonna get those lucky breaks?’
I don’t want to make the same thing again and I think that would be a mistake, trying to replicate the same energy.
MadeGood – Commercial projects aside, do you have any other personal projects that you’re currently working on?
Ben – I’ve a narrative short film I’m working on which I’m really excited about. We’re shooting at the end of April. It’s a two scene, three page script. Really short little scenario about how no matter where you live, whether it’s the city or fucking rural nowhere, in this age of the internet, young people cannot escape the societal pressures imposed on them be social media. Men and women equally. Women wanting and needing to be beautiful, and needing to be lusted after in particular, and men needing to be rich and popular and famous. It’s about three young kids who live out in the desert country, who commit a despicable act.
MadeGood – Wow, sounds dark.
Ben – Yeah, but it’s also a comedy, a dark comedy. We’re in pre-production, we’re almost ready to go. We’ve got both cast, we’ve got locations, wardrobe, we’re ready to roll.
MadeGood – Exciting. You’re nervous, I guess, from what you were saying earlier?
Ben – Definitely, definitely nervous.
I’ve worked with Jake so much and we’ve produced things together, I just trust him so much. We sort of boost each other up. I’d say it’s a really healthy director-DOP producing relationship. Working with your best friend, it’s great.
The main thing is you need to make sure it’s something you actually believe in, therefore it will always be worth the experience of making it. I’ve made the mistake in the past of being more like ‘Oh, I think people will really like this idea.’ Rather than being like ‘Do I actually care about this? Is this something I would want to watch?’
MadeGood – Thanks Ben! Great speaking to you. Can’t wait to see it when it’s finished.