Benjamin Wilt : From commercial filmmaking to short films

Benjamin Wilt is a commercial film director from Kentucky currently working on a new short film titled 'In Loving Memory'. With Ben's experience in commercial production, he has both the ability to build concepts for clients and shoot creatively; but the process of making a short film differs greatly from a commercial or promo shoot.

With several years experience under his belt, Ben has made several successful commercials for a variety of companies from the Creation Museum to the 'Ark Encounter theme park project'. Now he is embarking on a different path to get his short film exposure.

Ben is currently submitting his short film to festivals around the world. Find out how he has made the transition between corporate work and creative storytelling.

Interview with Benjamin Wilt

Iain: What do you feel is the key ingredient to making a compelling commercial?

Ben: At the risk of sounding clichéd, I would have to say that story is everything. Without a good story, nothing else matters and there's no reason for an audience to be engaged. I believe this to be the same for both filmmaking and commercial production. Having said this, I also believe that filmmaking is a delicate and complicated process where all elements must magically come together in a beautiful harmonious relationship. A good story can often be overshadowed and consumed by bad acting, poor production quality or simply the material being taken in the wrong direction. Sometimes, there's nothing necessarily shoddy or of poor quality within a production but based on the script, things weren't appropriately directed and once again, you've lost your audience. It's a fragile balance that you just hope you're able to hit as a writer/director. It can be downright terrifying (especially when you're about to sink your life savings into a project) but you work as hard as possible to be prepared and hope for the best. At the end of the day, I just try to tell a story that interests me and hope it strikes a chord with an audience somewhere.

Iain: What made you decide to create your own short film and where would you like to take it?

Ben: I decided to create a short film in hopes that I would be able to use it as a calling card when endeavoring to produce a feature. I wanted to have something under my belt that would showcase my ability to write and direct a film. I've made my living within commercial production and this has certainly proven a great training ground for my directing endeavors but I really wanted to produce a narrative piece. I wrote the script while dealing with the grief over losing one of my closest friends and though I'd written several scripts in the past, this was the first that I felt very strongly about seeing thru to the end. As a writer, I'm mostly interested in telling stories about the lives of people and how they deal with different life issues and this particular script just felt right. The hope is that we'll be able to see it thru to some good festivals where others will hopefully take something away from the story and frankly, see our ability to tell a compelling tale. I say 'our' because filmmaking is such a collaborative process and the final film has so many fingerprints surrounding it that I could never take full credit.

Iain: How did you approach the marketing challenge of your short film 'In Loving Memory'?

Ben: We're honestly still wading thru the murky waters of marketing but we have made strides in certain directions. We obviously created a website for the film ( and generated as much exposure thru those around us. We decided to pursue the film festival circuit first and then based on where this takes us, pursue other avenues of exposure. We've currently been accepted into two festivals and are waiting on the outcome of many other submissions. I'm a realist and honestly don't expect too much from the festival circuit as I understand it's great challenges but had to give it a shot. I'm now working to find other publications, journals and blogs that would be interested in featuring the film. It's admittedly a rough process to gain exposure in an already saturated market but we're taking it one step at a time and hopefully will find a voice somewhere out there.

Iain: How did you approach your 'Creation Museum Commercial'?

Ben: As I mentioned earlier, I've made a living doing commercial production over the past few years and the Creation Museum spot was one of many that I've been fortunate enough to produce. The nice thing about commercial spots is that you typically get a bit more money to play with than you would on a short film and this provides an opportunity to tinker. I've had the privilege of working with some great equipment and crew due to the budgets on commercial productions. I approach commercial production similar to filmmaking, I want to tell a compelling story and shoot it appropriately. The biggest difference would be trying to ensure that you've fully captured the marketing goals of the client and intertwine those within a story that people will want to see. Honestly, this at times means taking a more on the nose approach which is what I needed to do on the Creation Museum Commercial. They didn't want something too creative but rather, something that would showcase their facility in a way that would entice people to come visit. This may not satisfy all your creative desires as a director but it met the needs of the client and has proven very successful in their marketing efforts.

On the flip side of that coin, I recently had the opportunity to create a teaser for the same organization that was far more creative. They trusted me with this production because the Creation Museum commercial has proven so successful. I think that's something every commercial director needs to remember, the client is putting up a great deal of money to receive a production that will meet their promotional needs and this must be considered heavily by the director. On this project, the client needed something to promote their upcoming Ark Encounter theme park project and this lent itself to a much more creative approach where I was able to build a period looking set with a Noah's ark type figure. Once again, I got to tinker with some great equipment and post production processes and the spot has also proven very successful in their marketing.

Iain: Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future? 

Ben: To be honest, there are too many people to name here. I have a great number of filmmakers and actors (both current and past) that I admire and would count it a privilege if I were ever given the opportunity to work along side. This said, I've been greatly influenced by the work of directors such as Todd Field & Darren Aronofsky.

There are many actors that I think are wonderful and extremely talented. If I were forced to name a few that I'd specifically like to work with it would be people like John Hawkes, Vera Farmiga, Peter Mullan, Hilary Swank, Ben Foster, Michelle Monaghan, Giovanni Ribisi, Mads Mikkelsen. Just to name a few...
Lastly, I work with a wonderful Director of Photography (Nicholas Matthews) that is quite talented and I have every intention of using him on future projects but I don't think he'd mind my saying that we would both welcome the opportunity to work with Roger Deakins. Definitely a modern master of lighting and cinematography.

Iain: Are you interested in pursuing feature film work, or will you be shooting more shorts and commercials? 

Ben: I am absolutely interested in working on a feature film. I'm currently in the process of writing the script and once done, I plan to immediately begin the arduous journey of searching for the funds and the talent necessary to begin production. I don't currently have any plans to do another short film as I'm looking towards a feature but I really enjoy commercial production and have every intention of continuing to direct for commercials. I hope to soon find an agency where I can get signed and further expand my resume with larger scale commercials and music videos.

film industry network members