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Ben Vogel: “Know how to do everything but don’t always do it all”

I always say that I am just a vessel for other people’s great work, I merely allowed their message to be captured and put it into digestible and entertaining documentary films. However, I won’t downplay the importance of documentary films because they allow for people to absorb and understand complex movements in a more familiar […]

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I always say that I am just a vessel for other people’s great work, I merely allowed their message to be captured and put it into digestible and entertaining documentary films. However, I won’t downplay the importance of documentary films because they allow for people to absorb and understand complex movements in a more familiar way. For instance, the All Star Cheer and Dance community’s governing body uses Black Girls Cheer as part of their D.E.I. training. I hope this doc will help generations of Black girls and women in the sport of All Star Cheerleading.


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Vogel.

Ben Vogel is a Emmy nominated filmmaker based out of Montclair, NJ. Within his work Vogel seeks to leverage the power of visual storytelling to make a social impact by creating cross-racial empathy. He has been making documentaries for 10+ years in both the entertainment industry and independently.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

This all started for me in 2007 when I took an independent studies program in high school where students could choose the topic of their final project based on their interests. I decided to make a documentary called The Cult. The documentary was about my swim team. I followed 3 of my teammates throughout the year and pulled back the curtain on the tight-knit swimming community. From there, I decided to continue my visual studies at Savannah College of Art and Design. After that, I moved to NYC and worked for Life+Times.com under the company Scheme Engine. I worked alongside them and RocNation from 2011–2017; within that timeframe, I filmed a documentary called Shot in The Dark alongside director Dustin Nakao Haider and Producer Daniel Poneman. The doc was eventually released on Fox Sports 1 in 2018 and was nominated for a Sports Emmy in 2019. After shooting Shot in the Dark, I moved away from the entertainment industry to pursue topics that weren’t necessarily in the spotlight. Since then, I’ve worked on independent projects like Alone With: Hussein along with funded doc shorts like Black Girls Cheer, which opened the relationship with Tim Heitmann, Executive Producer, that led me to work with Double Good, the company I currently work with.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

Hmm, tough one, I have A LOT from my ten years of filmmaking, and depending on the day, I would have a different answer. One that has always stuck with me is when I was filming rehearsals for the first OTR tour, and I was with Beyoncé as she watched Jay stage “Tom Ford”. She was dancing and jumping around, then all of a sudden, she came towards me, pushing, and saying something I couldn’t understand because the music was so loud. I freaked out and thought she was telling me to get out of her face, so I scurried over to the side and stayed low key the rest of the day. Later that night I obsessively reviewed all of the audio files and realized that she was saying, “MOSH with me!!”

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

From 2011–2017 I worked with Roc Nation onLife+Times and we filmed a bunch of content. I got to hear the thoughts and processes of some of the most creatively inspiring artists like Quincy Jones, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Kygo, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Pentatonix, Santa D’Orazio, among many other greats. Not really sure how much I’m able to share about my experiences with these artists but I feel like someone needs to do a ten year anniversary documentary on Life+Times. Overall, the most interesting person I have interacted with is Coach Lou from Shot in the Dark. He is a force to be reckoned with. The stories are endless so I’d recommend watching the film to see what I mean.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Pre-pandemic, we were a week away from filming a documentary highlighting the importance of adaptive sports pertaining to high schoolers and young adults. The teams at my production company, Home Alone Studio, and our umbrella company, Double Good, were super bummed when we had to postpone the story. The goal was to release the film by July 2020, the 30th anniversary of the ADA. As we all know, the pandemic froze everything for a while and we are unthawing slowing and finally moving back into pre-prod on a couple of other projects. We are working alongside the STEM program, Science Olympiad, to develop a documentary focused on the importance of inclusion and diversity in the young scientific community. I am always working on my personal doc series, “Alone With:” In the young series I explore rising artists who add to the social conversations of today. Hussein Smko, a dancer from the Kurdish region of Iraq, was my first subject. His career has blossomed beautifully in NYC and he has the most incredible story of overcoming violence, war, and hardships.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Malcolm Gladwell & Adam Curtis: People who feel the world on an energy wavelength, they understand the present time as a compounded force and see the multiple causes resulting in one effect and how that effect strings through generations.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

Right now, we are finishing out a campaign for the documentary Black Girls Cheer. Double Good digitally released the campaign February of this year and has shown continuous support of the organization by raising 5K+ dollars (so far) for Black Girls Cheer’s HBCU scholarship fund using the film as a promotional piece. Dr. Sharita Mathis Richardson, founder and CEO of BGC, decided to start a scholarship fund for cheerleaders of color who plan to attend a Historically Black College or University. The campaign featured Dr. Mathis-Richardson and her colleagues speaking to the positive impact an HBCU experience has on young Black women.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Wrapping up a seven-year-long doc, Shot in the Dark, I was eager to explore and invest my creative abilities into amplifying other underexposed and meaningful causes and movements. When I learned about this grassroots movement in the Allstar cheer world, I was instantly curious. The final trigger was the support and funding from the Executive Producer of the film, Tim Heitmann, Founder and CEO, Double Good, to whom I am super grateful for the opportunity to film meaningful stories and focus on the art.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I always say that I am just a vessel for other people’s great work, I merely allowed their message to be captured and put it into digestible and entertaining documentary films. However, I won’t downplay the importance of documentary films because they allow for people to absorb and understand complex movements in a more familiar way. For instance, the All Star Cheer and Dance community’s governing body uses Black Girls Cheer as part of their D.E.I. training. I hope this doc will help generations of Black girls and women in the sport of All Star Cheerleading.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Any movement like this can support the overall Black Lives Matter movement via education, civic engagement, and capital support.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Know how to do everything but don’t always do it all.
  • Take time to learn all steps of the filmmaking process. This will make it easier to commute as your team expand or will allow you to be in control of any vision you have if funding is a stress point
  • Contracts are key and don’t have to be fancy.
  • Can be as simple as a simple list of exceptions and agreements, make sure you do it over email!
  • Socializing/ networking is just as important as creating.
  • Many artists (including myself) are introverts and would rather be at home creating than out socializing or networking. This could limit you in the future, so much happens with human connection and expanding your comfort zones.
  • Barter your talent with ppl that need you and you need for them but don’t give your time away so much you can’t focus on yourself, even if you are doing enough to pay the bills.
  • Helping others is great but you have to learn to take time putting in work on yourself, like updating your online presence or studying your craft. Don’t burn out by always overworking!
  • Learn to meditate / reflect on your work.
  • Don’t burn out by always working, take time for you and keep your foundation strong!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Don’t turn your back on local or global issues. No one is above the consequences. Everything affects you one way or another. Our society, our world, is a domino effect that will eventually land at your door. Ignored issues don’t go away. Small actions and changes go a long way on a local level, magnifying to a global scale.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Ava DuVernay: Her ability to address hard, complex topics while developing a beautiful and entertaining piece of art is unparalleled. She’s like the Maya Angelou of film.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“An artist is not paid for [their] labor but for [their] vision” James McNeill Whistler (I altered the pronouns used)

It means that I need to have confidence in what I do and appreciate the 13 years(almost 1.5 decades) of experience that allows me to know the route to do something quickly, and it is worth an exchange of capital.

How can our readers follow you online?

– IG — @ben_vogel

– Twitter — @bennyv_

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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