Here at DN, we find ourselves continuously gripped by the free-flowing kinetic style of Ben Dean’s filmmaking. Dean is a Los Angeles-based director who imbues everything he works on with a sense of speed and urgency. His latest short film Flipper’s Skate Heist is a branded spot for Dr. Dre set around the Official Chronic Skate. The plot of the spot follows a group of masked individuals who set upon themselves the task of stealing the skates from a high security truck. The trick isn’t obtaining the skates however, it’s escaping with them. Dean places the audience right in the action, creating the sense that the camera is on skates too as it rushes in tandem with the thieves whilst they seek to escape the pursuing security guards. Check it out below, after which you can read our interview with Dean about the evolution of his direction and the desire to bring his signature style to one of cinema’s most tried-and-tested scenarios, the heist.
How did you first become involved with this project?
Through Danielle Hinde at Doomsday. She reached out to me about this project as she felt like it’d be right up my alley. And she was right. It’s got roller skates, robberies, Dr. Dre… all the right ingredients. So shout out Danielle. I put together a treatment and pitched it to Jimmy Iovine and his wife Liberty Ross, which was an honor. They liked it, so we got to work after that.
I was super excited to explore how I could add my own unique spin to a heist, which is one of the most tried and true tropes in the history of filmmaking.
It’s an incredibly action-packed short, what did pre-production look like? How much planning did it take to execute?
Although it’s not your regular bank, jewellery or art heist story, I still wanted to treat it with the same level of seriousness of high stakes as any other heist. So I was keen to get down to Mexico City asap after winning the pitch to begin scouting and prepping. I wrote an initial script and flew down a few weeks before shooting, then had to rewrite and adapt to our locations, so there was a lot of prepping and rescouting there. Mexico City is full of incredible locations so it was tough choosing and having to lose a few. Overall though it was like a puzzle that we had to figure out. Then we boarded everything up, thoroughly choreographed each scene and rehearsed with our skaters a couple days before shooting. It was all pretty hectic but an absolute blast. Shout out to our stunt skaters down in Mexico who crushed it!
Is it challenging bringing your kinetic style of filmmaking into the format of a spot?
I think the theme of the spot lends itself well to my style and I was super excited to explore how I could add my own unique spin to a heist, which is one of the most tried and true tropes in the history of filmmaking.
Are there any filmmakers or artists that influence your filmmaking style?
Patrick Golan, our DP, and I really wanted to capture that raw unfiltered camera movement and energy to make the heist feel as real as possible, so we referenced an older Xbox commercial shot by Greig Fraser and directed by Garth Davis that does it brilliantly. Also, the irreverence and rawness of Romain Gavras’ video for Justice’s Stress was referenced a bit.
What was it like working with Dr. Dre on his scene? He’s a great screen presence. Was there any improvisation?
It was an absolute pleasure and honor working with Dre. And kind of a crazy feeling, too. I’m a country boy from rural Australia who had The Chronic 2001 on repeat throughout my teens and it’s Dr. Dre! Haha. He’s such a nice man. He played the piano for us on set which was super dope. Overall though he was super professional, focused and really brought it. We had a couple scripts for him which he took and then improvised a lot. We collaborated as we were shooting on what lines were working best.
What tech/equipment did you use to capture the skaters on the move so closely? Was it difficult to pull off?
We really wanted the viewer to feel immersed in the heist, so we worked with former pro rollerblader and camera operator, Connor O’Brien, to track the skaters on his blades, getting up close and personal with them. He nailed it. We only had 2.5 days to capture all the heist scenes which was very ambitious so we made the decision to go fully handheld with some locked off long lens shots and made it all work. We also custom made a rig attached to the skater’s leg to track the skates close up and used a drone in the market. We planned to use the drone more for complex, tight spaces and to weave around the chase, going through our skater’s legs and above buildings, etc. but ran out of time.
I really wanted to capture that raw unfiltered camera movement and energy to make the heist feel as real as possible.
You mentioned going handheld and using long lenses, what specific kit did you use? A quick rig run-down would be awesome.
Alexa Mini, Super Speeds, B-speeds, Normal Speeds, Optimo 24-290mm, EZ-1 30 to 90mm. Then we did a 35mm film print.
You’ve worked across so many different forms of filmmaking, from docs to dance to narrative shorts, what do you enjoy about working in each of those different arenas?
What I enjoy most is the journey of learning how to tell new stories, learning new approaches and different techniques of shooting. Then figuring out how I’m going to apply my style to these different forms of filmmaking.
Do you feel like your approach to directing has evolved over the course of your last few shorts? If so, how?
Yeah for sure. I always want to be evolving, learning and getting better. I’m constantly wanting to put new spins on familiar stories and spread my wings at trying new stuff. With every project you learn something different and with bigger budgets come more opportunities and possibilities to explore things on a larger scale.
What can we expect from you next?
I recently signed with Doomsday here in the USA and Division back home in the Australasian market so look out for new stuff soon!