Director Dean Bennett’s answers!

Posted on Apr 13, 2010

Dean Bennett, who has directed 11 episodes of Heartland so far and is putting the final touches on the Heartland Christmas movie in the editing suite with Editor Ken Filewych as you read this, took some time over the past few days to answer some of the questions that were asked last week. Click though!

He really had a good time doing this and said it's enjoyable being able to communicate directly with the fans of Heartland.

So enjoy reading his answers and watch for our next crew member next week. I know she is going to be very popular and will generate a lot of questions...

Until then!

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Q: Hey Dean, Who's your favourite character on Heartland? Why do you like them?
Posted by: Annie on April 06, 2010 at 09:31 AM

A: Hi Anne.  I'd have to say that my favourite character is Amy because of her love of animals.  I too love animals, having grown up with pets in the house and then later working as a ranch hand.  Amy is so honest and open and sensitive to the natural world.  You already know that Amber Marshall is the perfect actor to play Amy since she too has a deep sense of connection with all the animals she is asked to work with.  What a gift to the show!

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Q: Hi Dean! You do a great job on Heartland. My question is, what is your favourite horse to work with? Love Heartland and you do a great job!
Posted by: Jann on April 06, 2010 at 10:45 AM

A: Hi Jann.  If I tell you which is my favourite horse then all the other horses might get jealous - but I do have a soft spot for Spartan since he's been there from the start.

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Q: Greetings, Dean! Thanks for agreeing to answer fan questions like this. Even though you're a behind-the-scenes guy, we wouldn't have Heartland without you. Here is my question: With the volatile and unpredictable weather that can affect Southern Alberta at the drop of a hat, what do you do to maintain continuity from shot to shot?
Posted by: TC on April 06, 2010 at 10:45 AM

A: That's a perceptive question TC.  Yes indeed, Alberta weather is volatile and unpredictable.  We work hard to schedule our days in the order they appear in the show whenever possible, but as you might imagine, that can be hard to maintain with all the different actors we have and their tight schedules.  We do check in with the weather forecasters regularly and sometimes change a scene from an exterior to an interior if we can.  I have one other trick that helps a lot and it comes from my background as a cameraman.  I try to plan every exterior scene to be shot with the sun behind the actors.  It's called backlight, and it's the most flattering for the actors but it also helps when the clouds come in.  The director of photography can have the lighting crew put up a backlight quickly and it will look a lot more like the real sun stayed out than if we shot with the sun on the actors faces.

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Q: What is your favorite location to shoot/direct in? The dude ranch, the ranch house, the barn? Or is it somewhere completly different, like somewhere on location (plane crash, Ring of Fire, etc.) Keep up the great work! Congrats on directing episode 101 (and many more) as that was the one that got MILLIONS hooked on an amazing show!
Posted by: Peg on April 06, 2010 at 10:54 AM

A:Thanks Peg.  That's a hard question to pin down because our Production Designer, Rick Roberts has created such a beautiful collection of sets to shoot in.  I think that the ranch itself, set in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is probably my favourite.  It's so beautiful and fun to be out in the weather.

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Q: Hello Dean, you do an awesome job on Heartland. I'm sure it's always fun to work with the cast members we always love to see in Heartland. I'm always interested in what is going on behind the scenes... And now I think, there is my chance to ask you something. Let's see. Oh yeah, I have a good one. Do you have to dole out some tough love sometimes if one of the actors can't handle something on set or did it always works? And if yes, how? Thank you so much, Dean. Hope you're enjoying your time without filming Heartland that you can keep up your amazing work in the end of May when you're going to shoot Season 4 (YEAH! LOVE IT.) Greets from Germany, Tiishirt (:
Posted by: Tiishirt on April 06, 2010 at 11:17 AM

A: Thanks Tiishirt.  We are very lucky on Heartland in that we have a world class cast of professional that know their lines and come to work having done their homework on the scenes.  By nature I like to nurture the creativity of others rather than demand absolute adherence to my ideas and, although we sometimes have different takes on a scene we always arrive at a playable idea.  I love working with actors and thrill to what they bring to the process.  It can be incredibly fun!

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Q: Hi Dean. First I have to say that Heartland is a wonderful series! My question is maybe a little stupid but can you describe a typical day on set and more precisely what does your job involve? Thanks so much. Best wishes from France.
Posted by: Charlotte on April 06, 2010 at 11:24 AM

A: Bonjour Charlotte.  My job is to take the script and break it down into all its component parts (the shots and tone of the scenes) and then make sure that all the parts will work in a seamless whole later when you see it broadcast.  A typical day for me starts well before the sun comes up.  I review the scenes for the day and look at all my plans for shooting one last time.  I arrive on set early to work with the assistant director in placing any vehicles or animals that may be in the first scenes.   At crew call we rehearse the first scene and I show everyone how I plan to shoot it.  The set is then turned over to the Director of Photography to set the cameras and lighting.  The actors go back to finish hair and makeup.  We then shoot the scene when everyone is ready.  This entails the actors repeating the scene over and over to get their performances on camera just right.  We then move the camera around for all the remaining shots in the scene, and the actors repeat the scene over and over until all the shots are "in the can."   We then move on to the next scene and repeat this process until we wrap.

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Q: Hi! What was one of the hardest scenes ever to get your cast to do??thanks!! keep up the great work!
Posted by: Isabella on April 06, 2010 at 11:44 AM

A: Good question Isabella.  The cast generally love challenges.  It's part of their nature and it keeps them feeling creatively involved.  I'd have to say that for me the hardest scene to shoot was the start of the Hudson Derby cross-country race that we shot near the end of season 2.  The episode was called "Dark Horse."  We had set up a large crane to hold the camera above the start line.  We had skilled wranglers working with all the horses and our cast is pretty horse savvy too but we were not quite sure how the horses would react when the riders raced to the start line to climb aboard.  Needless to say, it was a bit of a scramble and took some real courage on behalf of the cast.  Fortunately, due to skilled wranglers, stunt people and our fearless cast it went off without a hitch but it certainly gave an adrenalin rush to everyone involved.

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Q: Hi Dean! What is your favourite part of being one of the Heartland directors? In other words, Is there anything unique about working on Heartland instead of a different show/movie?
Posted by: Francesca on April 06, 2010 at 01:35 PM

A:  Hey Francesca.  I think we have a very special cast who love what they do as much as I love what I do.  When you couple that with a world class crew, our spectacular locations and all those beautiful horses, hey, it's hard not to have a smile on your face all the time.

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Q: Hi Dean. I was wondering if it is hard to work with the horses, you know, (to get them to) do what you want them to do? thank you for taking your time to answer our questions. :D
Posted by: Rachel on April 06, 2010 at 01:48 PM

A: It's a good question Rachel.  Hopefully the horse behaviours all look simple on TV but actually it takes a lot of work by our wranglers to train the horses to do the things the scripts ask them to do.  I used to be a ranch hand myself and rode every day for a couple of years (long ago) so I have a general sense of what the horses can do.  I also love the challenge of adapting the way I shoot the scenes to match what the horse can do, rather than expecting the horse to somehow read my mind (and the script) and do something that goes against its nature.  If you are patient and work with the wranglers you can get some spectacular results.  We have one of the great wrangler teams in the world lead by John Scott who has worked with a lot of Hollywood's greatest legends.

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Q: Hi! How did you get into directing?
Posted by: shannon on April 07, 2010 at 05:32 AM

A: Hi shannon. I wanted to make films since I was a kid but was only able to pursue it in my twenties.  I worked my way through a number of positions on the shooting crew until I became a Director of Photography.  Over the years I directed a lot of television commercials and photographed several different television series and was eventually given an episode to direct.  That was on a show called "Tom Stone."  I then turned my sights to directing full time and now that is all that I do.  And I love it!

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Q: You do an awesome job with Heartland! Since I'm part of an amateur (heavy emphasis on the amateur) film group that will be shooting an attempt at a feature-length movie this summer, I would like to know: what is the one thing (quality, habit, etc) that you appreciate/want most in an actor or crew member? Is it punctuality, focus, having coffee always on hand? Hopefully if I have an inside perspective I will be able to make my director's life just a little easier! It's hard enough for a bunch of amateurs to make a decent production--we don't need an insane director on top of it all...
Posted by: Key on April 07, 2010 at 12:30 PM

A:  Hey Key!   I wish you all the best with your movie.  It is so much fun to work together with others in such a creative field.  You have already pointed out two of the best habits to have.  Yes, punctuality is one of the biggest problems for amateur films being made.  I recently heard (just this week) of a low-budget film where the cast were up to three hours late without even phoning in.   But once everyone's there I think that focus is the biggest area to help your director.  You wouldn't believe how much goes on in a director's mind all day long and when people are eager to help, quiet and respectful, and not too quick to come up with dozens of ideas that might only confuse things more, it can be a great help.  I would encourage you and your friends to be respectful of a new director and not undermine their vision by only offering suggestions if asked or quietly whisper to them at a quiet moment when they can think - like when you offer them that coffee:)  Good Luck on the shoot!

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Q: Hey Dean, Thanks for your amazing contribution into the Heartland series!... oh, and movie! Well, I guess I better get this out of the way: what's your favorite comfort food? ... like what do you snack on when you're doing a massive amount of Heartland work? Thanks for taking the time to answer these fan questions!
Posted by: Twe on April 07, 2010 at 01:07 PM

A:  Hi Twe.  Other than coffee I'd have to say that I have a weakness for potato chips.  It must be all the fresh air...

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Q: Hey from the US! I want to start off by just saying I have never enjoyed a show like I have with Heartland. I liked the books, but the show is even better, even though I have no experience with horses whatsoever. ?I know that directing a show is hard, so my question to you is what is the most arduous/challenging part of directing Heartland? Thank you for answering our questions!
Posted by: Nicole on April 07, 2010 at 01:09 PM

A:  Hi Nicole.  I love what I do so I seldom run into arduous situations but I think that TC put it best with the question about the weather.  When you're having a great day and you're half way through a large scene and you look up and see a thunderstorm coming over the hill... that's challenging... okay, maybe even arduous!

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Q: hi Dean:D well we don't often get to hear about the people behind the scenes of anything really, so this is fantastic!! thank you in advance for all of your time an effort:D i think heartland is awesome and you having anything to do with heartland makes you an idol in my books!! so i don't really know very much about what a director would do, but i can imagine it being very stressful at times. So what do you do to help cope with stressful situations, while keeping a good atmosphere on set???
Posted by: countrygurl twin on April 07, 2010 at 01:11 PM

A:  That's an interesting question for me, countrygurl twin.  I think that stress is the biggest killer of creativity so I've made it a major challenge for myself to learn to view the world through a different lens than I used to.  As the director, I set the tone on set and I have opportunity to really look at everything that happens as an opportunity to make a choice.  I can look at it as a problem or an opportunity.  That big dark cloud full of rain coming over the hill can be very frustrating... or an opportunity to run and get a cup of coffee and enjoy watching the earth getting replenished.  And if I stay calm, usually everyone else relaxes and we make better decisions.

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Q: What is your favorite episode of Heartland ever? Thanks for directing the best show ever!!! hi from the USA!
Posted by: Margaret on April 07, 2010 at 03:10 PM

A: Thanks Margaret.  My favourite???  Probably "The Haunting of Hanley Barn" early in Season 3.  That was just great fun.  But wait until you see the Christmas Movie.  I just finished the edit and I think it might be my new favourite!

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Q: I'm a huge fan! Your job is very important, and you do it very well. Was filiming the Heartland movie a way different experience than filming normal episodes?
Posted by: Nicole C. on April 07, 2010 at 07:37 PM

A: Good question Nicole C.  It was different in that we reached further than we have before and although I can't tell you what it's about I think I can say that it felt a lot bigger and was filled with some big challenges.

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Q: Hey Dean :) - If you could work with any actor/producer..etc. you desired..Who would be your choice?
Posted by: Lyndsay on April 07, 2010 at 10:15 PM

A:  Hi Lyndsay.  Wow.  I don't mean to dodge your question but I love working with any actor who is an open person and loves the challenge of finding the truth in any problem and embracing the unknown.  But hey, you asked, so... wouldn't it be marvelous to work with Meryl Streep!  She's so fun to watch in everything she does.

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Q: Hi Dean! It is great that you let yourself be chosen to get asked questions! Thanks, my question is:?" If you could change any thing about heartland, if it is a character, setting arrangement, the barn, ANYTHING, what would you change?!
Posted by: christie on April 08, 2010 at 06:31 AM

A:  Hey christie.  I'd love to see even more animals other than horses being worked with by Amy.  I love the horses but I think it would be fun to see her have to adapt her skills to other creatures once in a while.  And hey, she could still ride Spartan over to treat them!

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Q: Hey Dean...first off I loved all the espisodes you directed...I personally think you have a pretty cool job!! I'm looking forward to the Xmas movie...totally stoked!! All the questions above are awesome, so I think I'll go totally unrelated to Heartland: Who in your mind, is the director that you most model your style after? That you have found inspiration from? Why? That's it Dean, Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions!
Posted by: Dalaigh on April 08, 2010 at 11:17 AM

A:  Hi Dalaigh.  That's a great question.  I don't know that I model my work after any one director, but I love to watch Ang Lee's work and I find Alejandro Inarritu's films to be very interesting.   Jane Campion is always up there too... but there are so many more.

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Q: Hi Dean! Here's my question: As I understand it, a movie director has pretty much total control over how a story is told. Is it the same on TV? Meaning, do you find yourself making a lot of changes from the script as you go? Thanks for answering these questions!
Posted by: tina_p on April 09, 2010 at 01:05 PM

A: Hi tina_p.  good question.  Generally in television the director is there to bring the script to the screen as written.  That being said our writing team always address any story concerns we might have and either adjust the script or talk us through it so we are "on the same page.  We do have freedom as directors in how we stage the scene though and how we shoot it.    Thanks to everyone for your great questions and I look forward to "seeing" you in Season 4!

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Thanks Dean!