Ben Bruton-Cox Talks Music for Videos and Other Filmmaking Secrets
Mar 25, 2018
Ben Bruton-Cox is a British filmmaker who specializes in corporate videos, documentaries, and weddings, among other genres. Thus, he has a unique insight into choosing music for videos of all genres. As you'll discover, music sets the mood and tone of a film. The right tune draws an emotional response from the audience and heightens the scene.
From his philosophy to his influences, find out what's driven Ben to make movies since the days of VHS. You'll come away with a few ideas about how to structure your next movie and what goes into putting together a soundtrack.
Tell us your story. How did you get started in filmmaking?
I got started with a camera when I was about 6 years old. My adopted Grandfather, as I affectionately knew him by, bought a mini-VHS based camcorder. It was huge and a shoulder mounted system. After my Dad allowed me to play with this precious (and rather expensive bit of kit) he soon realized I was looking at the world very differently and living on a working farming the middle of the Cotswolds gave me lots of opportunity to film animals.
Before cat videos were popular on YouTube it was cows, in my mind anyway! Although we couldn’t really edit any footage from it in a precise was (think 1987 technology for a moment) I managed to setup two VHS machines together so I could create the crudest of cuts with this very basic tape-to-tape method. I LOVED this process just as much, so I quickly realized this was the thing I wanted to explore further.
Are your drawn to any particular style of filmmaking? If so why? (weddings, documentary, corporate, etc?)
This is an interesting question, I film all of the above. I am recognized where I live as being one of the more popular which is great and I can’t complain at all. Weddings are tricky and yet simple in their premise — however if your execution and the preparations are not up to standard thats when people get wrong it wrong and botch a wedding film.
I am fiercely in the camp of ‘you don’t set anything up’ for your shot, we are there to document their day not to setup their day. The reason I maintain this ethos in my wedding filmmaking, is because when your client (the bride and groom) view their film for the first time, they will be able to know when they had to do something in order to get the shot, which brings them out of the narrative you are trying to create you loose their emotional link to the film.
I have always said on my podcast “Our Week in Video” that if you can nail a wedding you can nail pretty much anything at this level — and I maintain that. You have to create a trailer, capture a corporate live event, a ceremony as well as make a c.30 minute film for a couple to get emotional about. There are not many jobs this demanding. But if you have the experience and love filming emotional people then weddings really are a good source of inspiration.
Corporate is completely different in most cases. Some companies, and it depends on your client, want people looking into the camera or interacting where the camera is obviously present. They will ask for a movement of a person to be done again, they will want to get the art director in to make sure their product looks its best, whereas I am making the image look the best it can and telling the story that will be work for them and their product, there is not that much ‘documentation’ for most of my clients.
So its almost chap-and-cheese in terms of the two styles. I am still building the angle to my business and although the profits are clearly greater within the corporate world I don’t feel I have cracked it yet, but i’m not too far off.
Being from England, do you find English filmmaking to be different from the States? Are there any stylistic differences that you notice?
Well firstly, I have not filmed a wedding in the States so it's difficult for me to comment on that. However, I have worked out your way on a couple of feature films in New York State immediately after I graduated from University. The only thing I can really say is, that the British are very ‘stiff upper lipped’ people. The cliche is true for the most part.
Our cousins across the Atlantic are so much more laid back and happy go lucky, again for the most part. I have a couple of American based corporate clients who have branches in the UK, and filming for them is great, but again it falls into the corporate side of things so they are happier being in front of the camera.
Rich, my co-host on Our Week In Video, and I always look at American wedding trailers and are in awe of some of your locations. The sun is always out, everything is different and it does appeal hugely. Whereas we know all the venues around us and its raining most of the time.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Who/what are some of your influences?
Well my training is in the narrative form, so I am a great film goer. I love following directors, DP’s, and even editors, seeing their work and how it compares to others they have been involved with. But if I think about weddings, Rich Shelton inspires me, my camerawork and cinematic movement have got so much better because of his work getting better.
Ben Walton too, what he creates for his age and experience is mind-blowing, Rich and I quite often say off mic, how much we would like to knee-cap him, as he is too good. Jeff Wood I admire a lot as he make wedding films in a very story-like way, and he keeps kit down to the bare basics, so I admire how he creates a story.
But I genuinely think those three are the best in the UK at the moment. I have a great little clique of people here in the UK and sometimes there is amazing work to be viewed. So really take inspiration from films, directors you love and your peers you respect — you can’t go too far wrong.
You now co-host a podcast called Our Week in Video, which we were honored to be guests on the show a several months back! How did all that get started? Why podcasting?
I have a craving to push myself all the time and learn all the time, I want to be the best at what I do. So I listen to copious amounts of podcasts on the road and in the office whilst editing. Podcasts like The Digital Convergence Podcast, if I had to choose one, inspired me to do it. The host Carl Olson’s dulcet tones and invaluable information with leading filmmaking professionals made me think I need to do one.
But I would only do it if it could be more manageable, podcasting is hard, and I wanted a ‘water cooler’ type one where Richard I shoot the breeze and talk about what we experience in the past week or more as REALLY no week is the same i.e. less editing in general. But I also wanted to hear about the wedding filmmakers a bit more — like minded individuals and I didn’t feel there were any podcasts out there.
I feel that wedding filmmakers or videographers or cinematographers, however you label them are looked down upon. I do not — I worship the ground they walk on, whether they are good or otherwise and I am in awe of them and what they create. So I wanted to bring awareness and big them up and podcasting was the best place to do it in a learning capacity.
Why not YouTube most people ask me? Well that might change one day, but going back to my earlier point, I have a tonne of work on for most of the year and doing more video editing and uploading just wasn’t a feasible option, plus i have the face not dissimilar to the backend of a baboon so that had to be considered too.
Have you learned anything about yourself and your filmmaking through podcasting?
I have realized how laid back Rich is! Honestly it's tough getting him on the show sometimes. But it's great on some levels, nothing seems to get to him, whereas I know I am more uptight. Going to public school in England, I am very competitive in everything I do. I get a little competitive about and podcasting. I don’t feel I have cracked yet. Honestly I just want to get wedding filmmakers respected and I think as time has gone on I want acknowledgement of this.
Doing a lot of wedding films, do you ever have trouble communicating with the bride and wedding party? Have you had to learn how?
No not really. Not anymore. However, when I was very young I had a stutter and a lisp and was bullied greatly at school. This continued until I was in college years where I studied filmmaking. Over the four years I got a waiting job at a nice restaurant in Cirencester again in the middle of the Cotswolds.
I learned how to act with couples, businessmen, families, pensioners and I began to read people, how they wanted me to behave, how well they wanted me to interact with them when they were on a night out. This was so invaluable to me and suddenly after 6 months in this job my shutter had gone and my speech impediment was on the way out too.
After that time I realized what I needed to do to converse with clients and couples, and I must admit, when I meet a couple for a pre-booking wedding conversation I have never had them not book me — 9 years now, and I have the waiting job to thank for that for bringing my confidence out.
What is one piece of advice you would give a filmmaker just getting started in the industry?
If you are starting out. Honestly, watch everything on YouTube by everyone relating to your business you want to get into. Listen to podcasts, I know at least two that I like ;) and get inspired and think about how you would do things. But with weddings specifically, possibly the most obvious thing is to target the venues with your Google SEO. I did and now I have 500 enquiries per year and I can pick and choose which couples and venues I want to film.
Keep your branding fresh, make your website easy for people to navigate, don’t go in cheap as couples sense it and will barter with you — don’t do it — hold your ground. I got luck with my breaks working in the US immediately after University finished, not many people get that lucky, but you need to earn your own luck. Network with people not on Facebook or Instagram, get Google on your side. 3 years is your goal. You will either make it or not within 3 years.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between music for videos?
Music is the 2nd narrative for any film/video. Music has the ability to change the tone of any production completely. I love watching on Youtube the reedits of Trailers, where a well known horror film is reedited to a rom-com and a biopic pic is turned into a suspense film.
Of course these have be reedited and skills are involved doing this, but the music they used to create these grossly misleading trailers is so important to set the atmosphere they want to convey. Music can also be ingrained so deep into our psyche that you might hear a film score or track in the car or on the street but it will instantly take you back to that scene that you are familiar with and if like me you obsess over scenes with scores you might even be able to mouth along with the dialogue as the music is playing.
Music is possibly the most powerful singular tool in the filmmakers arsenal and it needs to be chosen/performed/created perfectly to tell your story justly.
What’s next for you? Anything fun coming up?
Always, a tonne of stuff coming up. I want to get back to my roots within narrative form, so I have penned a little short film to be shot in 2017, budgets obliging of course. But asides from that, weddings, corporate, podcasts and trainmen videos are the order of the next 12 months.
What are your latest favorite SS tracks?
"Evolving" by Adrain Walther
"Aftermath" by Ryan Stubbs
"Through Fields" by Be Still The Earth
Check out Soundstripe to learn more about choosing and making music for videos.