Under the Influence: Ben Campbell

By Ben Campbell

Cut+Run Editor Ben Campbell takes a hard look at the things that creatively shaped him.

When you really look at where you've got to today, professionally and personally, and start to muse on how it happened, there are some things that begin to stand out. Little patterns that now make it fairly obvious why you do what you do.

I've been working my way to being an editor since I was 22, but before that I had no real concept of what the job could be. It certainly was not an option our careers advisor gave us at school.


Heather Campbell

My great great great aunt was painted by Sergeant. Her niece E.A.S. Agnew was a painter and my mum followed in her footsteps. She is an artist and is full to bursting with energy and love for everything she does.

She would pick us up from little school in Wales on stormy days in her Talbot Mantra Rancho and drive us to the coast, where she would park as close to the sea as possible so the waves would crash over my brothers and me in our little Aluminium box. North Wales is full of interesting characterful places; private model villages, lighthouses, all-night singalongs at The Black Lion, and the magical Portmeirion.

I remember a school trip to London aged 13 and a visit to see the Hokusai exhibition. Our teachers thought the it was all about his idiosyncratic Japanese landscapes and waves. They forgot that he was also responsible for many hardcore pornographic images; man and woman, woman and woman, woman and octopus. "Holy f**k" I can still hear Mr Hartley say, wide eyed! We fell about laughing. See Tampopo where Hokusai's sexual imagery must have had an influence on Itame's great film.

My mum was majorly into Bonnard, Hockney and Paul Klee and was also instrumental in introducing me to the great masters. I always loved the drama of Caravaggio's painted scenes with their rich colours and dramatic framing, Turner with his incredible use of light, and Francis Bacon's beautifully discordant portraits, and Ralph Steadman's wicked, staccato drawings.

As an editor it is crucial to understand good framing, light and colour, essentially what makes a frame work in context. Although the great artists can give you a lot of guidance, it was really my mum's strong tutorship from very early on that tuned my eye in this respect.


The Drums

My brothers and I boarded at a small school in North Wales so we were tied to the various activities they laid on for us; Tennis, Ping Pong, Judo, Rugby, dry slope skiing, choral singing and perhaps more significantly, the drums, taught by the eccentric Maddigan and Mr Davies!

One of the obvious things that unite us editors is music and more specifically an unusually high percentage of us seem to be drummers. Maybe it's because we are drawn to the control this gives us. I loved listening to the greats: John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon and Buddy Rich. Editing is all about control - the control and manipulation of your footage and sound. The drums give us a good grounding in musicality, which is essential when editing. We are constantly cutting up bits of tracks from Mozart to Lil Wayne.

Rhythm is essential too. But it's not just about beats and rhythmic cutting. It can be more about the rhythm of the way people and things interact. There is always a rhythm in conversations and language in general, see Woody Allen's Husbands and ?Wives, Kramer Vs Kramer and In The Loop. The rhythm helps us comprehend. Make a shot the wrong length for an action and you can disrupt the viewer's ability to comprehend. The sound designer and film editor Walter Murch explains how humans understand things in the excellent In the Blink of an Eye where he writes about blinking as a way for us to process information.


Prince Rogers Nelson

The music I listened to growing up has been very important in my development. Thanks to my cousin Hugo's influence, I went to see Prince and the Revolution at Main Road in Manchester aged 13.

Prince Rogers Nelson is the best pop musician of all time. He diversified into the film world too with Purple Rain and the bizarre Under the Cherry Moon but it was his truly individual musical style that I love. On Dirty Mind Prince played all the instruments (bar a few riffs from Dr Fink), wrote and produced himself in his own studio. My brothers and I had all his albums from For You to Diamonds & Pearls and could sing all the words. I think knowing that he had so much control over his craft made me think that it was possible at all.

Music producer is one of the few comparable jobs to an editor and I am always fascinated by the producer's role in the music making process. Prince was my first experience of this.

I was lucky enough to have had an eclectic musical upbringing. Our music teachers would one day have us writing elementary madrigals and discordant classical modern and the next bashing out rhythms on one, two or three drum kits. Our choir master, Rhiannon Davies had tiny hands and banged away at her grand piano barely able to stretch one octave. She taught us discipline, musical structure and the importance of listening.

Music and sound design have a huge impact on the picture and can break or elevate it, see the brilliant Berberian Sound Studio. There are some tracks I am desperate to lay to picture. When you hear it it just screams to be juxtaposed to something! I am currently loving listening to the rhythmic developments of Brandt Brauer Frick. A good musical education whether that's from the street or the classroom cannot be overrated.



Lawrence

When I walk out of a great movie, I feel like the stars have realigned, like a reset button. Chronologically I would have to cite: My seventh birthday party at Threatre Clwyd's tiny cinema watching The Dark Chrystal. The spooky images of Oz and Henson's creatures have stayed with me.

I also saw An American Werewolf in London at a friend's house aged 10, some of us were younger. A brilliant and disturbing mix of comedy and horror with the awesome metamorphosis happening to Bad Moon Rising by Credence Clearwater Revival. We had to walk home across the bay in Anglesey but someone got scared and ran, leaving my little brother stuck in the boggy stream. The sounds of his screams still haunt me to this day.

But it was Lawrence of Arabia that had a huge effect on me. I love Lawrence's refusal to toe the line, and his staunch loyalty to his "native" friends. David Lean is the best, and, of course, an ex-editor. He started his work life at Gaumont as a tea boy (didn't we all?!) and moved on to cutting news reels and then movies before he began co-directing with Noel Coward. I love the epic scale of A Passage to India and Dr Zhivago full of intense passion and disaster. Melodrama, music and drama!


The Church Mice

To me, it is the earliest influences that have had the most obvious and dramatic effect on me professionally. There's honesty in the way you react to things as a child and I try to remember this in my professional life by relying on gut instinct where possible. My favourite children's book was The Church Mice by Graham Oakley. There is always the main plot line happening in the foreground: The main protagonists are kidnapped by some scientists to be sent to the Moon in a spaceship, but for me the real enjoyment came in the background of some of the larger illustrations; some mice were flirting, mini mice played tricks on each other, some were doing headstands, playing chess etc. I think this has had a lot of influence on my childish sense of humour, it taught me that it was ok to be silly.

I was drumming in a Hip Hop band when I was at Goldsmiths and the rappers would occasionally end up back at our Camberwell house. I remember them reading these books then laughing out loud, "I'm feelin' it man, I'm feelin' it!" This reveals the serious attention to detail needed to really grab hold of your imagination effectively. As an editor, you want the viewer to feel it but not necessarily notice it. The same level of detail is required in filmmaking and editing.

More recently I loved Desert Queen by Janet Wallach based on the letters of Gertrude Bell. I love her sacrifice and strength of character against the odds. I can not cite this as an editing influence but more an attitude to life and work: Where there's a will, there's a way.
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