Director Jack Bender tells King’s about making great TV

Last week, television and film enthusiasts at King’s Academy got the inside scoop on directing from American television and film director, producer and former actor Jack Bender.

Best known for his work as a director on LostThe Sopranos and Game of Thrones, Bender talked about his path to becoming an acclaimed television director, how he keeps the creative juices flowing after five decades in the business, and what is was like to direct that episode of Game of Thrones

Born with a creative bent, Bender has had a life-long passion for painting and sculpting, but it was acting he felt he could make a career out of. Despite guest-starring in some of the most iconic television shows of the 1970s, such as All in the Family, he soon realized that being behind the camera was truer to his nature than being in front of it.

“I made that internal decision and committed to directing,” said Bender, addressing a full house in the Abdul Majeed Shoman Auditorium.

A lot has changed in the television and film industry since Bender began his career. Technological advances have seen TV screens at home get bigger, more people are using their phones to watch shows, and streaming sites – such as Netflix – have changed the game.

“It’s really about storytelling, not so much the medium,” Bender explained. “It’s all the same now. The difference is, as a storyteller and a writer, producer, director or actor, you get maybe 10 episodes to tell a story, which means you can take your time and really get into the depth of the characters.”

Pursuing a career in a field that you are passionate about is entirely possible, according to Bender, even in the television and film industry. “We’re living in a time where kids are making movies on YouTube and they’re getting watched and that’s great. Every opportunity you have to explore and do what you want to do, do it. Do theater, act, direct, write, do television, do film. The more you do it, the better you’ll be at it and it’s a great thing to do.”

When asked how he continues to be so enthusiastic about his work, despite some shows that he laughingly admitted weren’t that great, he replied: “I guess it’s just my DNA. But, I never walked into a situation not trying to do my best. It’s just not in me. For me, it’s always a combination of fear of failing and also just wanting to kick butt and make it great.”

That was the attitude he took onto the set of Game of Thrones in Belfast when invited to direct the last two episodes of the show’s sixth season, which presented some of the most gripping scenes and extraordinary milestones of the series.

“I thought, wow, what am I going to do when I go into that world,” said Bender, “and all these people have been doing this great show – that some people consider the best show in the world – what am I going to bring to that?”

“Well, I brought myself, and my vision,” he continued “I listened to all the great people, I had good ideas, and ideas that weren’t so great, and I made the best episode of Game of Thrones I could.”

“I think the older you get, you do improve if you keep loving what you do. If you keep the flame burning you can keep that passion and enthusiasm, and I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way.”