Born and raised in Etobicoke, Ben Sprenger is currently pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto. In third year with a penchant for automotive engineering, Ben consistently goes above and beyond to bridge his learning with action: whether it was recently competing as a finalist for Infiniti Engineering Academy or leading the design team for UofT Formula Racing. As an avid advocate for interdisciplinary approaches, Ben avidly pursues his passions of film-making. As an award winning filmmaker, his stop motion short film was featured in the Vancouver International Film Festival last year. Road to Colombo is his most recent documentary.
*This article is the second part of a two part interview series covering Ben’s filmmaking work and his personal life. Read Part One about his recent documentary, here. In this article, I had the pleasure of talking to Ben about STEM and filmmaking.
C: I find it super fascinating that you study engineering and are passionate about combining it with your love for film making. Throughout the past few years, tell me more about how you’ve been able to explore that intersection between bridging creative artistic expression within or with STEM.
B: There is quite a bit of room for creativity in STEM – in fact, I would say that the most successful people in STEM are those who are most creative. When you are trying to dream up solutions to unsolved problems, you need to be willing to make a clean break from convention.
There are so many different ways in which I get this sort of “scientific” creative thinking through schoolwork and extra-curricular activities. The best example of that is an team which I am currently a part of called Formula SAE, in which we design, build, and race a small formula-style car in competitions. It pushes me constantly to try and dream up new solutions for the design of different parts, and when I go to competition, I get to see the completely unique designs other students came up with to solve the exact same problems. Every team does things differently and it really encapsulates the spirit of creative thinking in STEM.
However, I do think that there is a big difference between creativity in STEM and creativity in the arts. In STEM, you are limited to some extent by the laws of the universe, and you are trying to slowly push the boundaries of the box of our current knowledge outwards until we completely understand the universe. In the arts, you aren’t really concerned with the same rules because you are trying to elicit an emotional response.
That type of pure freedom was missing during the first little bit of my degree. I had to look outside my classes for opportunities to get that blank slate. Initially I was working on personal artistic films and just posting them online, but it was hard to find the time to do both that and engineering projects. I started to look for a way to blur the lines between my interests and found that there are several funds/competitions/opportunities through the University through which you can pursue research with the goal of an artistic end product. This was a great stepping stone from which to start my documentary work. That whole experience convinced me that there is so much room to use emotional media like film to present scientific arguments. There is also so much to gain from an artistic perspective by approaching art with some of the scientific perspective. Just look at someone like Shane Carruth, who made one of my favourite films ever (“Primer”) after quitting his engineering job. All his films have this certain ‘scientific’ aspect to them that makes him a one-of-a-kind in the industry.
C: Delving a bit more into your background with film making, was there a particular moment that sparked interest in that area? Perhaps better phrased, what influenced you to fall in love with film making and why do you love it so much? Why was film the medium of expression go to ?
B: I’m the type of person that likes to have a million different hobbies and pursuits on the go at once. As a kid, I dabbled in pretty much every art there was and loved them all. When I started doing film, what I loved about it was the way in which it combines so many different artistic skills into one end product. Writing, editing, cinematography, acting, composing… When you see the credits at the end of a movie you get a glimpse at how many different people have a hand in the final product, and how many creative disciplines are involved.
C: Do you have any other life tips for those interested in film or those trying to pursue their passions but are having difficulty bridging their various interests?
B: As difficult as it is, I think the most valuable advice is to worry about the effort level you put into your work and not the final outcome. I am constantly dissatisfied with my own work and it takes an enormous amount of conscious effort to remember that the only way to become satisfied is through continuous efforts to improve. It’s important to remember that most people pursuing something they are passionate about feel this way all the time. And if you ever have those moments where you are truly happy with something you have made, hold on to that feeling as motivation to get through all the future creative struggles you will have. The other huge piece of advice that I would have is to get multidisciplinary. Practicing work in other fields will enormously impact the quality of what you create. There’s a saying that goes something like “To be an interesting person, be an interested person”. Read everything you possibly can on every topic you possibly can, and have your hands in many different fields at once. You never know how the skills you gain in one will impact another.
Ben’s eloquent words about fearlessly delving into your passions and looking at marrying multi-faceted approaches within our daily lives is so wonderfully expressed. I really enjoyed learning from Ben and hope you did too. To stay updated with his work, check out his Vimeo, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Instagram!