My Fandom. My Story. is an ongoing series in which we explore how our fandoms have helped influence and shape our lives.
“Always remember – your focus determines your reality.”
One of my favorite quotes from the Star Wars saga happens to be from the oft-maligned prequel trilogy. Furthermore, the quote comes from the film most often, and undeservedly, criticized – The Phantom Menace.
The quote is delivered by Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Knight and Master to the first Jedi we were introduced to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away – the venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi. He delivers this line as a mentor to a young Anakin Skywalker, telling the Star Wars big-bad-to-be something akin to his future being malleable by the actions of the present.
Perhaps this quote is a little too profound. I would imagine that some people might even take offense to an individual taking control of their destiny. However, this line resonates with me to this day, and I have no shame in admitting it motivates me in tough times.
But aside from motivation, this line means so much more to me because the Star Wars films actually did determine my reality.
I’m a full-time cinematographer, crafting visuals for narrative films, commercials, branded web content, music videos, documentaries, and weddings. I’m driven by creating images that affect people in ways they may not really ever realize, but they feel it. It’s an intangible feeling, and one that can’t be created or willed to happen through any sort of camera or lighting technique. And it’s not a universal feeling either – its impact is unique to the viewer, just as we are all unique individuals in our own right. These little moments can leave an impact on our actual lives far beyond the fictitious worlds in which we experience th.
That happened to me many years ago, when I first crawled down the stairs to the basement where my dad was watching The Empire Strikes Back. I was maybe five years old (I don’t really remember exactly when this happened). What I remember is seeing Darth Vader striding into the Rebel’s Echo Station on Hoth, flanked by Imperial Snowtroopers, with the iconic Imperial March punctuating the Dark Lord’s arrival.
I was hooked. I like to say it was love at first sight. I didn’t often get hooked on things easily, but when I did, I would obsess to an almost unhealthy degree. I spent much of my childhood watching the same episodes of Beast Wars over and over again and I re-enacted scenes from Twister alongside the film almost daily. In my older years, that hasn’t changed; I’ve dumped more hours than I want to admit in online versus in NHL video games.
What followed was many years of watching these same films repeatedly, to the extent that my mom could recite the dialogue even though she’d never sat down to watch them all the way through. The extent of my obsession brought me to write my own stories in the SW universe. Fan fiction, as I would later learn the proper term. I also watched behind-the-scenes on DVDs for the first time when The Phantom Menace was released.
Here I was, an impressionable ten year old kid, watching other people create an entire universe. For a living. It was like the curtain had been pulled back, and I was introduced to this entire side of the films that I hadn’t really even thought existed. I learned that it’s an entire team’s job to animate creatures. I learned an entire orchestra created all this music that I’d forced my mom to listen to in the car on drives around town. I learned that one person was making all these decisions, and these people would just go about making his ideas happen.
Looking back, it was pretty obvious to me that the filmmaking bug caught hold of me from the first time I slipped that film into the DVD player. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that it really started much, much earlier.
I always go back to the first moment: Vader storming Echo Station. That first impression left a lasting impact on me that made me feel something I certainly didn’t realize being five years old. Watching those films took little me to that galaxy far far away and I don’t think a part of me ever returned. It was that intangible feeling. Those films made me feel something I couldn’t really put into words, and still can’t properly explain.
Learning that I could create those moments for other people – that I could give someone else the same experience I had watching Star Wars as a child – and I could choose to do this as a path for my life was the moment where everything clicked. I knew what my future could look like.
Chasing this career is far from easy. No job is ever guaranteed, every creative choice is agonized over, and financial security is far from assured. But it is the pursuit of those moments that keeps me moving forward. It is the driving force behind every decision, and the gentle push away from every whisper of doubt. It has guided me throughout the many twists and turns of this career, and I couldn’t be more grateful to this series of ongoing films that continues to inspire me every day.
“Always remember – your focus determines your reality.”
Ben is an award-winning DP from Seoul, South Korea, living in the Twin Cities. Ben has lensed numerous films that have been featured at festivals and in theaters across the country, including the award winning short films CLEAN CUT and SHEAR MADNESS, feature length documentary OUT IN THE COLD, and the feature length narrative MILES BETWEEN US. He has a bias towards naturalistic cinematography, particularly images that make you feel something, even if you don’t know quite what that feeling is. Ben is currently an instructor at the Institute of Production and Recording, and enjoys street photography and thumbing through Instagram in his spare time.