Introductions: David Benedek

A couple of months ago I was digging around my desk and found some interviews that I've been wanting to out into the world. So I created a segment on this blog called, Introductions and it's really gotten some traction. Especially with the first interview being with photographer, Jon Humphries.

Next up is one of my other friends that I've had a good opportunity to work with and you might know him if you are in any snowboard circles. May I introduce to you, David Benedek for your consideration.

David Benedek was known for being one of the best freestyle snowboarders in the world and also for his impressive film production skills. He also headed up his own film production company, Blank Paper with his brother. They were responsible for such films as “91 Words for Snow” and “The Gap Sessions”. Currently he's studying film direction in Germany.

Who is David Benedek?
I am always a little clueless of what to say in the typical "What do you do?" – airplane conversation. I guess these days I'm mostly a student since I'm attending film school here in Munich. But these past few years I've actually spent a large chunk of my time on graphic design projects... so yeah, I don't really know what it is I really do. 

Oh, and I also used to be a professional snowboarder until not too long ago...

What were you before you were a pro-snowboarder? 
Well, I started snowboarding almost 20 years ago, so it’s been a very blurry transition from simply being a kid to turning pro. It’s not like I was a different person before getting paid to ride. 

Did you always dream of going pro and how did you choose this gig?
I definitely dreamed of turning pro pretty early but I'd say it wasn't a really an actual goal until later in my teens. The closer I got to finishing school the more realistic of a possibility it seemed to become. It was pretty clear at some point that I’d try snowboarding full time.

What doors has snowboarding opened for you?  
Wow...a lot. Mainly it was the luxury of having time to experiment and figure out what I am really into. A lot of things I found interesting I was able to get in touch with through snowboarding, whether it was product design, film, photography. There was always someone around to teach me and someone else to trust me enough to work on something real. And of course, in a way the credibility I had from snowboarding helped people trust me on other things. One disadvantage: they trusted me no matter if I knew what I was doing or not, so it’s been a bit like a public learning experience.

A lot of people think your lifestyle must have been pretty glamorous. What do you honestly think?  What have been the high sides and the low sides.  Everything in between?  Let’s hear it.  
As a pro snowboarder? I mean, that lifestyle can definitely be pretty amazing. You get paid to travel with your buddies and do what you love...and the few responsibilities are fairly easy to handle. So it doesn't really get any better.

Once you get to the top and people start paying you real money, shit does get a little hectic, of course. Some of those top guys now have crazy schedules and literally no time off...home for about a month a year, living in planes, tic-tacking between meetings, contests and film shoots. And if all those responsibilities keep you from actually snowboarding, no one cares: next time you are on your board, you’d better show some next level shit.

Then again, if you don’t want to retire from it, you can have the most laid back lifestyle in the world.

The main low of the whole thing are potential injuries. At today’s level it’s pretty certain you’ll get hurt at some point.

Afterbang, Lame, Robotfood, In Short, 91 words... What are those all about?
Oh man, some of those seem ancient now, haha...

So - those are snowboard films I made or was involved with in the last decade. In 2001 I was lucky enough to be part of a few people who co-founded Robot Food. It wasn’t really a film production company but more of a collaborative group that worked together on a few very successful snowboarding films. That’s how I ended up slipping into film making and art direction, come to think of it.

I ended up being Robot Food's art director, to some extent anyway, and that again led to designing snowboards which again led to whatever I am doing now.

After Robot Food split up I co-founded another production company in Munich, Germany which I am still a part of but we mostly work on commercial work these days. Our last full-length snowboard film was "In Short" which came out in 2007.

Favorite trick ever?
That really changes every time I go out. Unfortunately I don't get to ride that much anymore, but my skateboard is a pretty good substitute.

As a pro-athlete did you have any input on the products you endorse?  Design, graphics, the whole kit and caboodle.
Yes, depending on the company and the product. Especially if they were signature products. On my board graphics, they pretty much let me design those by myself right away, even though I wasn’t a professional designer at all. Not sure if that was a good idea or not but there's no way I could have learned this quick otherwise. It was really fun because I was in the fortunate position that I wouldn't have to make any compromises....and even if I knew they wouldn’t like it I could just wait until the very last second of the production deadline and they didn’t have a choice to but to run my graphics, haha.

Did you control any of your own marketing or have an opinion on how you are portrayed personally or professionally?
I’ve never really had a manager which is a good and a bad thing. Good, because I learned a lot and I was always 100% in control of my portrayal and my decisions. Bad, because I could have been dictating this interview to an assistant in my Lamborghini otherwise. But really, I’m glad I did it myself. There’re 30-year old ski racers that don’t even know how to book a hotel room by themselves. Fuck that.

I remember you telling me about your architect dad and your brother introducing you to snowboarding.  Who else inspired or inspires you now?
I think I simply tend to be influenced by people who approach something differently than I would. So mostly I get inspired when I discover a thought pattern that’s new to me. On the other hand I am full of shit because it really inspires and touches me to look at purely beautiful objects. I used to think that beauty was simply an ornamental and superficial quality but lately I've been thinking more and more that it's a core emotional value.

Or maybe I am just superficial, not sure.

How did you get into film and film production?  
Well, I've always had an interest in photography. And then, snowboarding and being around film makers simply got me into it. We started Robot Food because we felt that we could make better or different films than what was currently available. Film making was only a secondary intention in the beginning, to me anyway. Then, over the years I got sucked into it to the point where the film making became more important to me than the riding.

If you could come up with a job description of what you do what would it be?
I would like to say creative direction. Because that seems the least limiting.

What makes you an expert on what you do?
Nothing at all, haha. But maybe that's a good thing, too. I used to think that I needed to settle for one specific discipline to do decent work but I think it's actually an advantage to be around different people and disciplines. Just not to get stuck around the same type of inspirations.

What do you love or hate about your work?
Well, not being an expert in any field can make working on something a lot harder or slower, simply due to the lack of routine. That's what I find most annoying I guess. It feels like I am constantly doing things I have never done before...

Of course, that's also the biggest benefit.
I might get an assignment to design a watch for 2 months and then for the next job I get to spend 3 weeks in a desert directing a commercial... so the routine doesn't get old. And that's great.

What other ways do you stay creative?
Does skateboarding count? I think besides my film and design work, that's all I do these days. Although my skateboarding is very far from creative.

What is the secret to your success? In other words, if you could boil it all down to one or two things, what would it be?
Hm, there’s always so much randomness in how things go, so I think most important of all is to have adjustable goals. Just to be flexible and not worry too much if things don't go exactly the way you planned. Besides the obvious facts I think success is simply an emotion that you communicate to others, verbally or not.

That being said, I usually know where I'd like to end up. And knowing where you want to go is half the battle i think.

"I used to think that beauty was simply an ornamental and superficial quality but lately I've been thinking more and more that it's a core emotional value."

So what's new: What are you working on right now?
Well, I just finished a 3-year project of writing and designing a book about the current state of snowboarding. Kind of glad that's over but the reward has been amazing, too. It's almost sold out and it's received a shitload of design awards which i am really stoked about.
Check the book out here.

And as for future projects: As I said, I am a student now so for the most part I am going to school or helping pitch projects for our production company. Other than that I am writing a script for a fictional short film that will be shot in late September. Pretty excited about that actually. One more thing I haven't really done before. 

Has your ethnicity and/or nationality affected your professional work?  What have been the main challenges?  What have been the main advantages/disadvantages?
Yeah, definitely. Spending so much time in the US and Japan raised my awareness of people’s differences or similarities a bit. Mostly, it changes the view of yourself: you are not the center of the world. In my snowboarding career it has been an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. Coming up in the US scene as this random kid from Germany was harder, but after that the differentiating factor definitely helped. On the other hand, even kids in Germany think I am from the US sometimes.

Five things you can't live without and why?
Family, friends, girls, music, physical activity

What’s a day with David like?  Ballin' or workin'?  Details dude.
That really depends on what time of year and what type of work. Three examples: 

1) Shooting a film or commercial:
Get up super fucking early. Work your way down a confusing list of shots. Be freaked out if they make any sense. Go to bed super late and tired.

2) Going to school:
Get up at 8, School at 9. Listen to mostly interesting teachers talk about film. Lunch, then usually watch a movie in one of the school's theatres. Out of school be 5 or 6. Go skate for an hour and catch up on non-school work. Then maybe go out for drinks.

3) Design:
Sketch up some crappy designs, bum out on lack of talent, then meet for coffee. Back at my computer I move triangles and squares around until I accidentally end up with something that doesn’t look too bad. 30 minutes later I’ve convinced myself it wasn’t an accident.

4) Right now:
Get up pretty early. Scribble down ideas for a short film. Bum out on lack of experience, then meet for coffee. Scribble down some more until I think tomorrow will be a better day.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting to get into the various things that you’re doing, what would it be? What problem does this advice solve or alleviate?
Haha, that’s a good one. I really don't know. I guess simply follow your heart and try to find what you love or you think is exciting. And be persistent and patient. It'll take time. In many ways I am still waiting and have been for years. Do whatever feels most exciting and things should work out at some point.

You tired of the bro scene?
No idea what that is :)

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