Huddersfield’s Best Kept Secrets is a monthly feature kindly sponsored by entrepreneur and philanthropist Prof Graham Leslie CBE. Here we meet award-winning film producer, director and writer BEN SWEET who has worked with some of the best in the business.
By his own admission film producer, director and writer Ben Sweet has had an unusual career path.
Ben joined Huddersfield Town at the age of 10 and achieved every schoolboy’s dream when he later signed a professional contract with the club.
Unfortunately, his football career didn’t take off and he drifted into non-league in his 20s – and that’s when he stumbled into the world of TV and film.
His career really took off when he cheekily asked Only Fools and Horses star David Jason to read a film script he’d written. David was impressed and agreed to direct it and the result was a multi-award-winning film which swept the board at the Monaco International Film Festival.
Ben’s film career has taken him around the world but now he’s firmly grounded in Huddersfield and helping inspire and mentor the next generation of filmmakers.
Ben, 43, based at Brooke’s Mill in Armitage Bridge, said: “My career path is certainly a bit random and it’s something that just happened. I certainly didn’t plan it! Things have just happened and evolved and I love every minute of what I do.”
Ben, who has a partner Diana and two children and two step-children, grew up on a council estate and went to Newsome High School. He worked hard at school but academic success didn’t come easily.
A lifelong Terriers fan, he signed schoolboy forms at Town and hoped to make a living from the game. He left school with just two GCSEs – in PE and drama which may, with hindsight, have given a hint about his future – and was an apprentice at Town under managers Neil Warnock and Brian Horton in the 1990s.
Football was a way for the young Ben to make a name for himself but his dreams were in tatters when Horton broke the news that he was going to be released after his two-year apprenticeship ended.
Ben asked the boss to let him stay on to train for another two weeks just to keep himself fit. “The idea was I wanted to show the gaffer he’d made a big mistake,” recalls Ben.
“For that two weeks I worked so hard and wanted to prove him wrong. At the end of the two weeks the assistant manager, Dennis Booth, called me over and said: ‘The gaffer wants to see you before you go.’
“I wandered down the corridor not knowing what to expect but Brian Horton said: ‘In the last two weeks you’ve shown me you deserve a chance.’”
That chance was a professional contract and Ben went on to play for the youth and reserve teams but, like so many, he didn’t make the grade. He left Town in 1997 and dropped out of the league, playing for Cambridge City and Grantham Town.
“I never wanted a 9-5 job,” said Ben. “I never wanted a ‘proper job’ and I’ve always done whatever it takes to make sure I didn’t have to have one.”
Ben was preparing for a trial with Neil Warnock at Plymouth Argyle when he found himself on the cricket field at Armitage Bridge.
He came across a photographer, Simon Mooney, who must have recognised him and asked if he was a footballer. Simon was filming a TV commercial and ended up hiring Ben to feature in a commercial for Sony PlayStation.
“It was just a bizarre twist of fate but that’s how it started for me in film,” said Ben.
At the time Alan Rickman was filming Blow Dry in Dewsbury and Ben landed a job as a stand-in runner. “I just took to it,” said Ben.
The drama series Where the Heart Is, filmed in and around the Colne Valley, came to Armitage Bridge and Ben got a job. He learned quickly and from there he became an assistant director and began to establish himself in the industry.
Ben also turned his hand to writing and he wrote a script for a film All the Way Up. He found himself working on set with David Jason on the TV detective series Frost when he dared to approach the star. Or, at least, he approached the star via his driver.
“I gave the script to his driver and asked him if he would hand it to David when he was in a good mood,” said Ben. “The next time I saw David he called out: ‘I want to see you in my trailer.’ I was convinced I was in trouble.
“David said he loved the script. He said if I could raise the finance he would direct the film.”
Still not fancying that 9-5 job, Ben got some investors together and the film became a reality featuring big name actors Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty) and Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently).
The short film won acclaim at film festivals around the world and won six Angel film awards at Monaco.
Ben had to make sure David got to Monaco as the actor was to be presented with a lifetime achievement award. Little did Ben know his own film was to grab the limelight too.
Ben recalls flying home sat next to David Jason on a British Airways flight. Towards the end the captain came over the tannoy with the usual thank you message and there was a pregnant pause before the captain added: “Lovely jubbly.” The plane was in uproar.
Ben went on to work with some of the film greats including Danny Boyle (three times!) and Tom Hardy and has worked in legendary studios including Pinewood and Shepperton.
By 2015 and successful in his film career he wanted to give back and help encourage young people into the industry.
He launched Film Buddy, a mentoring and training company, to help young people get into jobs in the film industry.
“There was a gap between young people leaving education and getting a start in the industry,” said Ben. “I thought we could help secure these entry-level positions.”
Film Buddy started working with universities, mentoring students on a one-to-one basis, finding out their hopes and ambitions and helping them prepare winning CVs. Film production companies quickly recognised Film Buddy as providing “job-ready” talent and opportunities started to flow.
The pandemic brought a jolting halt. It meant the company had to pivot and switch online and there were live Q&A sessions over Zoom with industry professionals.
Since the pandemic, the company has taken off and capacity has doubled. Film Buddy now works with many universities across the country from Southampton to Northumbria and Durham.
Ben and his team of freelance industry experts work with literally thousands of young people and the mentoring and support continues after graduation for as long as they need it.
As well as working in higher education, Ben has now teamed up with Kirklees College and also hopes to work with schools to inspire young people throughout their journey through education.
“It’s all about inspiring young people and getting them to believe that the film industry is something they can get into,” said Ben.
The local area has provided a dramatic backdrop for TV series including Peaky Blinders, Jericho and Jamaica Inn along with the likes of Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack. Hollywood A-lister Samuel L. Jackson was in the county in January filming the latest Marvel movie.
That means the film industry is right on the doorstep, making it more accessible than ever.
Ben added: “I was born on a council estate. I didn’t have a great education but I have had 23 years in this industry and if I can do it so can anyone else. All you have to do is work hard and believe in yourself.”
For more on Film Buddy visit the website HERE