Ben Cohen is the Associate Director of Video at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He has been directing, editing, and producing content with emerging and iconic artists for over ten years.

KitSplit: Tell us a little about your work.  

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Ben poses with Reuben Kleiner, the Director of Photography at BAM

Ben: I am currently the Associate Director of Video at BAM, working with a talented team to create video supporting BAM’s mission and engage our audience. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my personal heroes, including Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Ira Glass and many more. I also get to meet and connect with new artists as well, there is always  new work being developed and everyone is taking awesome risks here. We document performances, collaborate with the artists to create content, produce live streams, trailers, and recently we have had a foray into experimenting with virtual reality.

K: How would you describe your style?

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The Brooklyn Academy of Music after dark

B: Verité documentary and street photography influence a lot of my work as a visual storyteller. I’m often shooting with hand-held cameras and improvising. At BAM I have the privilege of working in a brand identity that was originally designed twenty years ago by Michael Beirut. It’s exciting that we are constantly developing new ways to capture and share the work appearing on our stages and screens.

K: What have you been working on lately?  

B: We just finished a live stream of Ken Burns and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in conversation with NPR’s Michel Martin. They shed new light on race in America from both historical perspectives and what is going on today. It was an incredibly profound and important evening and I’m glad we can share it with audiences that didn’t get to be there in person.

K: What’s a piece of yours that you’re particularly proud of?

B: I directed a shoot of Tweedy live at BAM last year. Growing up, there wasn’t an artist I paid closer attention to than Jeff Tweedy, so for me that was a huge honor. It was on the same day they released the album and a special evening for everyone involved. When it was over and I saw the response from other Wilco fans, and from the band, that was really special.

K: Can you tell us a little about your process?

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Ben films Questlove and Ben Greenman discussing the history of electronic music

B: I fell in love with video production in high school because I was making things for fun with my friends. I still think my process today is driven by getting involved with other people and seeking out meaningful collaboration. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a chance to work with incredibly talented people as long as I can remember. Luckily, I get to do that every day at BAM where there is a great creative team behind everything. Also, probably because I always wanted to be a journalist, I tend to put a great deal of value on research. I wear a lot of hats, I can shoot, edit, animate if I need to. I know where my strengths are and I try to focus my energies accordingly, but I’m not afraid to get a little DIY when a situation calls for it, such as when I shot, directed, and edited a music video in less than twenty-four hours (NSFW).

K: Can you give us a general overview of the gear you typically use?  

B: I shoot video on DSLRs and I own a Sony A7s Mark II. At BAM we get to use a lot of different kinds of gear including robotic cameras, switchers, our new VR rig. A lot of our recent multi-cam work is shot with Sony F5s. I’ve designed robotic camera systems, configured large video storage systems, set up live stream encoders. If the stuff wasn’t so expensive I would grab a screwdriver and take it apart to figure out how it works. I love gear and I try to avoid getting too attached to one piece.

Ben Cohen QuoteK: What is your most-used piece of gear?

B: Shooting over the past couple of years it would be a Canon 5d Mark III, but I’ve quickly fallen in love with my new Sony DSLR. The Panasonic AG-160 is a workhorse for us at BAM, and has the nostalgic feeling of a DVX-100 – same form factor.

K: What’s your favorite piece of gear?

B: The most intriguing piece of gear I have used is our VR rig. It involves six Go-Pros shooting in every direction and feels like an experiment every time we use it. When I bring the footage into post production, I get to see what we shot for the first time. In digital production workflow that is the closest sensation I’ve had to developing film in a dark room. I hope the format sticks around.

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Ben directs “A Human Being Died That Night”

K: Can you talk a little about what inspires you?

B: I get to see so many great works of art at BAM: some of my favorites have been Einstein on the Beach, Sans Objet, and our annual BAMcinemaFest. I can’t quantify exactly how that impacts my own tastes, but it’s vast and huge. I think the most inspired craft of storytelling I’ve ever seen is TJ Jagadowski and Dave Pasquesi’s weekly improv show “TJ & Dave” at Improv Olympic in Chicago. When I lived there I went to see them perform nearly every week for more than a year. They create right in front of you from nothing except their own experiences and truths. Their patience and total commitment to their character development is the ultimate exercise of what bare essentials you need to tell a great story.

K: What’s the best piece of advice you got when starting out?

B: Never stop learning.

K: What advice would you offer to other folks just starting out?

B: You can break the rules but you can’t ignore them.

Check out all of Ben’s gear on KitSplit!

Written By

Simone Kovacs

Simone is the Social Media and Community Outreach Coordinator for KitSplit.