Ben Simms (pictured, above) is the director and executive producer of You vs. Wild: Out Cold, a new Netflix interactive film that follows survivalist Bear Grylls, who is left in the icy mountains following a plane crash. Struck with amnesia, Grylls tries to save himself and the pilot from the harsh winter elements.
Simms also directed the Netflix interactive film, Escape the Undertaker, which features the wrestling legend. Here, he talks about his career and recent work.
Tell us a about your background?
“I grew up in the Midwest and attended college at the University of Minnesota, where I graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. I always had an admiration for film and television, but never really appreciated the fact that it was actually something someone could pursue as a career. Until I sold everything except what I could fit in my car and moved to Los Angeles, did I realize it’s really the only thing I wanted to do.
“A close friend of mine worked in production and said they were looking for another PA and asked if I wanted the opportunity. I said, ‘What's that?’ I was intrigued, showed up, did my best and never looked back. I spent years trying to learn how to do just about every job on-set, so at the very least, I could speak everyone's language and understand everyone's roles. Eventually, after years of working on anything I could and finding my creative voice, I found myself directing and producing the type of projects I loved (while) growing up.”
How did you get involved with You vs. Wild: Out Cold?
“I’ve worked with Bear Grylls and executive producers Rob Buchta and Liz Schulze for years on various projects. When they told me about the project, I told them that I had to do it. I was lucky enough to have been able to direct the entire first season of You Vs. Wild, so when I heard that fans wanted more, I couldn’t say no. It's always exciting to revisit a world you've created and to expand on it. Especially when the challenge is to go bigger and better.”
Explain to us a little bit about the needs of the project?
“Well, we had to consider the success of the first season and how we could build on that. That involved coming up with new perspectives and story ideas that were fresh, but also stayed true to the You vs. Wild world from Season 1. Priority one was to elevate, not just in story but in scale and production value as well. In addition to that, the challenge and also the fun of interactivity is dissecting the best way to tell the same story in many different ways, all equally compelling. Once the framework is laid out, this project in particular requires you to be willing to adapt and sometimes pivot, as we're shooting in extreme conditions in extreme environments. Oftentimes, if you can embrace those challenges, the outcome can be even better than expected.
“Once we've captured everything, one of the biggest needs of the project is definitely a strong post team. The process, as you might expect, is quite elaborate, when compared to traditional titles. I'm lucky to work with co-executive producer Mark Stelljas and post sup Dana Parsons, who do an incredible job putting it all together.”
What gear did you use?
“We shot on Sony F55s as our primary three cameras. For some sequences we used the Canon R5 on a Ronin, usually shooting in 8K in order to oversample. Aerials were a combination of the DJI Inspire 2, shooting at 5.6k RAW, in addition to shooting out of our helicopter. We also used a mix of lightweight Kessler Crane Sliders and other specialty rigging in order to get cameras just about anywhere we needed in such a harsh and remote environment. I also use some custom built monitoring set ups with Small HD 503 ultralight monitors and Teradek wireless systems built into a compact, weatherized unit.”
There must have been a number of challenges for a production like this?
“The weather and the environment can always be a challenge. At the same time, our location was also one of our biggest assets. The environment was a major character in this story. We shot almost entirely with natural light. As a result, looking ahead and threading the needle in terms of getting the light we wanted, while also dodging or embracing weather was a challenge. Luckily our 1st AD Jeff Simms is master of efficiency, and we have such a great shorthand that once the initial roadmap was laid out, I could worry about the story and content, knowing he’d keep the train on the tracks.”
Where can we follow you online?
“I’m primarily on Instagram at @ben_simms, and my website is www.bensimms.com. There you can find what I'm working on next. I almost always have something in development, love meeting collaborators and am currently looking for my next feature script to direct.”