In the final talk of the Media and Communications in Action series, Polis hosted BBC documentary maker Benjamin Zand. LSE MSc student Greeshma Rajeev picks out some of the highlights from his talk.
- Try, try until you succeed
Ben stressed the importance of keeping going and trying new things. He tried music and TV before settling on documentary-making. Before landing a job, he made films on his own with a handheld camera and it was this demonstration of initiative and creativity that helped secure him a paid role. His first film portrayed the lives of Iranians living in Los Angeles. Although clearly an amateur production, it taught him things that help him to this day.
I believe that we all have something to take away from Ben’s “hustle” and his self-starter attitude, whether or not our interests lie in film-making. He emphasises the idea of trying new things and giving everything your best shot, but also being humble if it doesn’t work out.
- Venture into the new and unknown
Content producers can struggle to find the balance between covering subjects of interest or significance with what people demand to consume. Like any BBC producer, Ben has to get sign-off from commissioning editors to explore topics he is passionate about but by having his films on YouTube with large viewing figures, he can point to an interest and demand in his challenging subjects. Having created controversial documentaries such as The Other Side of Sudan and Meeting a Lebanese Drug Lord, Ben urges future filmmakers and media personalities to explore new topics that their audiences might not be familiar with. In the end, this is what will make them stand out.
While venturing into the unknown, Ben believes in creating and maintaining good relationships with the people he works with on a project. He prefers to work in small teams with people he knows and trusts.
- Make a difference
Ben believes in the power of representation and uses his documentaries to tell stories about people that might not otherwise be heard. He wants to represent reality and to help people all over the world understand each other. He also stated that he strives hard to be reflexive and unbiased. I believe that this responsibility should be shared by all media professionals. Working in communication lends us the ability to reach people and influence opinions, and we should ensure that we portray the truth and represent communities in a thoughtful way.
By Greeshma Rajeev