Nashville Based Ben Skipworth, Co-owner of Inkwell Films has been a member of the StudioNow Creative Network since 2014. Along with Sam Siske and Ben Vaatstra, Skipworth and the Inkwell team bring creative storytelling to every single project. Today we talk to ben about creative motivation, story driven content, and closing the creative gap.
StudioNow: Tell us about your company, Inkwell Films. How did you get started, and what motivates you to keep it going every single day?
Ben Skipworth: Inkwell Films was really started from necessity. I had lost my job after layoffs at a studio and had to either scrap to keep the production dream alive or do something else. I’ve always been drawn to the power of a team and the collaborative nature of filmmaking. So, I put together the best team possible and we’ve been grinding ever since. Ben Vaatstra and Sam Siske make up the other parts of Inkwell. They’re also my best friends, so making good work with good people is what keeps me going.
SN: The tagline of the Inkwell is “Creating Uncommon Visual Media.” What does that mean to you and why is Inkwell so “uncommon.”
BS: So many companies worry about the bottom line and getting ahead that they lose sight of why they’re even working in the first place. I wanted to build something that made clients and crew feel as if they’re genuinely cared for and respected. No matter how big or small the project is.
I guess that’s the “uncommon” part. We don’t want a client to hit us up for one video and never hire us back. We want to make their on set experience and communication with us so different that they have no choice but to hang with us again. Also, the on-set experience for crew can be a mixed bag. We wanted crew to leave our set and be excited for the next time one of us call to hire them back. Hopefully, we’ve talked the talk and walked the walk when it comes to being “uncommon.”
SN: What fuels the Inkwell creative engine?
BS: Our team fuels the creative engine. Inkwell wasn’t conceived to be Ben Skipworth Productions. I played team sports from the time I was 7 years old and still play rec league, so the team aspect motivates me more than anything. If it were just me and my passions, I might get burnt out. There are days where I’m aiding Sam in pursuing his passions or Ben V’s projects or another friend we’re collaborating with.
There is such a thing as too many chefs in the kitchen, no doubt. I have seen our team meld and develop. There have been people that hopped on the train for a little while, but the ones that hang on to the vision and keep things on the tracks are going to be there no matter what. Knowing that your best friends believe in you and your vision fuels creativity like crazy. That goes for everyone. Having a team that loves and backs you is about as inspiring as you can get.
Also, movies. Lots of movies.
SN: You guys do a little bit of commercial work but also focus on narrative and short films. How is the approach to these two forms different or similar?
BS: Part of production may require doing things that just don’t crank your motor creatively. The quest as a creative is to try and find that balance between “work” and “fun work.” Most of the time though, “work” outweighs “fun work” and I’ve learned to dig deeper and find the how to be more creative on those projects. You can make any job “fun.” It comes down to your attitude towards it and how you tackle it.
A project could be about the most boring content with a talking head, but you can make the client happy on set, crack some jokes with buddies while setting up or catch up on what happened over the weekend. There’s always a way to make it fun! At the heart of what we do is storytelling. There’s an angle to every project and every person that can bring a story to life. I think narrative work and commercial work are more similar than people think. You’ve just got to dig a little deeper to find the narrative in the commercial world.
SN: How does your more “creative” narrative work inspire how you create branded content or commercials?
BS: They keep us going. Typically, most of the really exciting work pays nothing or next to nothing. Sometimes, you’ve got to do work in the meantime that may not be deemed as fun, but it’s your livelihood, so you make it fun. The little nuggets of creative freedom constantly recharge you.
Coming off those sets is such a nice little jolt that it revives your entire creative system. We want to treat every project as equals. Heck, it’s the only way we’ll ever grow. Even if a client thinks they’re video is no big deal, we always want to make them feel as if it’s the best thing we’ve ever worked on. After all, they’re helping pay our bills; we owe them a good time!
SN: In a recent blog post you mentioned and Ira Glass quote referring to “The Gap.” Tell us a little bit more about what the gap means to you and how it motivates you in your work. Do you think the gap will ever close?
BS: Oh, man. The guys hate me for this because I refer to it so often, but it’s peppered with so much truth! This video did more for me than anything I learned in school, any tutorial I’ve ever watched or any workshop I’ve ever attended.
As a creative, no matter what to what capacity you create, we compare ourselves to our peers. I really got caught up in that early on in my production career. I would think, “Shoot. That guy has already done a feature and he’s 25? And it’s an 8.4 on IMDB? He got this A-lister to be in his indie? No way I can do that.” But what I quickly realized is that there’s only one Ben Skipworth. I’ve just gotta do me.
The Gap basically claims that your skill level starts out in the basement and your taste is up in the clouds. So, my taste is JJ Abrams, but my skill level is Ben Skipworth. That can be disheartening, but with each and every project, your skill starts to get closer to your taste. And you can only bridge that gap with a volume of work. I’ve always felt pretty self-motivated and I’m not sure that’s much more that could motivate me than trying to close the gap between my skill set and taste.
The exciting part is that you can peak in so many careers, but, as a filmmaker, you can create a body of work that goes well into your dying breath. I’ll never actually close the gap in my work, which means I’ll be hammering away at my passion until the day I die.
SN: Do you feel like you got closer to closing the gap in 2015? What will you do in 2016 to close the gap even further.
BS: For sure! I think I’ve learned just as much about how not to do things from the bad projects as I’ve learned what I would repeat on the good projects. There have been failures and successes in 2015. The way to keep the failures in perspective is to learn from them.
I’ve learned so much in 2015 and I can’t wait to take that newfound bit of wisdom and apply it to mywork in 2016.
SN: Tell us one favorite creative moment of 2015 and one creative resolution for 2016.
BS: My favorite moment of 2015 was on set of our short film I directed and set to release in 2016, “The Sound Guy.” We had over 40 people involved between cast and crew that gave up their entire weekend for our big comedic venture. We were typically working from 1 or 2pm to well into 3 or 4 am most of that weekend.
On our second night, most of the crew had already worked a long, but really fun, day. We had just wrapped, broken down gear and packed up. I walked downstairs to backup footage and watch dailies with Sam, who DP’d our short and also co-wrote the script with me. Before we knew it, 7-8 crew members that had already been cut for the night walked downstairs and sat down. They had no reason to stay and they weren’t asked to stay, by any means, but their passion for our project made them want to be connected however they could.
We watched the sunrise and laughed until we cried as a crew that morning as dailies played. That’s a moment that I’ll never forget. That’s what keeps us coming back: an insane, shared, co-adventure with other likeminded individuals. Production, you make us laugh, you make us cry, and thou art a cruel mistress … but we just can’t quit ya.
Big thanks to Ben for taking the time to share with us. Be sure to check out Inkwell Films.