Sharpshooter: A knight of Malta
When he was eight years old, Ben Borg Cardona found a dusty Pentax 35mm camera and fell in love. Barrie Smith interviews the Maltese producer and cameraman about his country and his work
With its generous tax incentives and even more generous sunshine, Malta is a lure for European production. Producer-shooter Ben Borg Cardona invites us to join him there
Name: Ben Borg Cardona
Occupation: Producer and director of photography. But as a filmmaker, you wear many caps
Age: 30 Family: I just asked my girlfriend to marry me (she said yes). So, at the very beginnings Languages: Maltese, English
Where did you grow up?
London born, grew up in Malta, where I live today. It's the heart of the Mediterranean with direct connections to wherever I need to be.
What training have you had?
When I was eight years old I found a dusty Pentax 35mm camera and fell in love. My dad shot pictures for a student newspaper, and he taught me the basics. Since then I have never put a camera down. At 18 I started as a photojournalist for a national newspaper. Then I was lucky enough to become the international stringer correspondent for AFP. Current assignments.
Where, doing what, shooting for whom?
We run a local production company, Pineapple Media, mainly focusing on advertising but we also do feature film services. Our assignments vary from day to day, working with advertising agencies on television commercials for local and international markets. Once we even shot a thousand Romans storming an ancient stronghold! Most recently, we finished a large production for an international airline. It was a five day shoot and loads of locations around the island, and some stunt work. It was a lot of fun.
How did you get into video production?
It seemed the natural progression from still photography. All I know how to do is capture images, understand how they should be lit, where the camera needs to be for the story, what lens conveys the emotion. So with Roger Zammit, my business partner, we set about creating some promo trailers which showcased our talent in production, from there we got our first production job.
The Maltese equivalent of a “Roger Corman” school of filmmaking – a super high concept, ridiculous low budget TV show with a DIY approach to getting the job done.
It’s a stunning country to shoot in, the quality of light is breathtaking
Where did you get the name for your company, Pineapple Media?
Somewhere at the bottom of a pint glass, a brainstorming session with Roger Zammit.
Does the Maltese government encourage production for local companies and foreign units?
The Malta Film commission is extremely supportive of film production on the island but, at present, we're more geared towards film servicing as opposed to film production. There's money available for independent productions here, but there is a push happening here for more local film production.
Foreign productions coming here are eligible for a 27% cash rebate amongst other incentives to shoot on the island. This year alone we have had the new Michael Bay film, Director Luc Besson has been here, the Assassin’s Creed video game and a few others.
If you are importing purchased or rented gear, does Maltese customs sometimes make life difficult?
Being an EU country importing and renting gear is usually problem free, if it's coming from within the European Union. When coming from outside, some delays are to be expected. Usually our biggest concern is shipping times, because everything has to come to Malta by plane so shipping costs and delivery times vary greatly.
Foreign productions coming here are eligible for a 27% cash rebate amongst other incentives to shoot on the island
Where have you been for the last few years?
I’ve focused on building the production company, producing larger projects, building a creative and technical team around us, whilst working as a camera op on some of the features and TV series that have been shot on the Island.
Have you been busy?
Busy is kind of an understatement right now. We’re constantly shooting and creating new ideas. It’s a very exciting time, coupled with the fact of my recent engagement, planning the wedding…I’m a bit hectic.
Given Malta's geographic location, is all year round shooting possible?
I've shot 365 days here. It’s a stunning country to shoot in, the quality of light is breathtaking. There’s an old line that Malta enjoys 300 days of sunshine per year. I don’t know if it’s exactly 300, but it’s damn close.
If the light is so clear and abundant in Malta, what do you do for artificial light to balance fill light on talent?
The light in Malta is sometimes very tricky. In winter the light is lovely and seldom needs much help to make subjects look good — just a normal bounce usually does the trick.
In summer, it's a different story. The sun stays much higher in the sky and is very harsh, causing horrible shadows for most of the day, so I use strong top diffusion and bounce light.
Are ocean winds a problem when working with large exterior sets?
The winds and the first rains, definitely! Obviously, it depends on the time of year the shoot is scheduled. If you shoot around September, then you are chancing it a little. I’ve seen a few sets suffer weather damage over my career, but fortunately never any serious injuries! The island is 27 kilometres across, so we are prone to varying weather conditions.
Do you travel much in Europe and North Africa?
On assignment, yes. For leisure, not as much as I’d like. Malta has fantastic travel links to getting to where the job is, so it isn’t an issue. When my schedule allows, I tend to take the bike to Sicily for a couple of days.
What types of productions have you mostly shot?
The majority of what I shoot are promos and commercials. I’ve also worked on international TV series, features, music videos and documentaries.
What are some of your foreign credits?
On large scale productions – Dovekeepers for CBS, Saul: The Journey to Damascus, but one of my proudest jobs is the Maltese feature Simshar, which was shortlisted for the foreign Oscar last year.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
The Red Epic Dragon.
Do you have any criticisms of the Red system? Any improvements you can suggest?
I love the Red, but ultimately, like the Alexa and every other camera out there, it’s just a tool and only as good as the operator behind it. Improvements? Even higher frame rates at 6K would be useful for some jobs, but between that camera and our post production work flow, if it can be thought or written, we can film it.
I love the Red, but ultimately, like the Alexa and every other camera out there, it’s just a tool and only as good as the operator behind it
What is on your equipment wish list?
A full set of master primes — every DOP’s dream.
What useful piece of gear do you wish someone might make?
It seems that there’s already something out there to solve any issue you may face. There’s so much great gear out there right now.
Best thing about your job?
I am lucky enough to be able to do what I love.
Worst thing about your job?
There are negative aspects, as with anything. Working 18 hour days as a norm, the business side of running a company. But it’s nothing I despise, I’m just happier looking at life through a lens. Your dullest assignments? Talking heads against a white backing, then the client asks me to make it more “dynamic.”
Your hairiest assignment?
You get into some interesting situations as a camera op, from hanging over a fake wall, shooting a hand held top down shot of a battering ram smashing against said wall, to being underwater with a speedboat racing over your head. Health and safety is taken into account for everything we do, so hopefully there is little risk. But scariest? When you look through the lens, you’re always that little bit removed from reality. I’ve never really had that “holy shit” moment.
What country would you most like to shoot in? New Zealand: the light looks amazing. And Iceland too: I would love to shoot that landscape.
- Ben Borg Cardona
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web: www.pineapplemediamalta.com