Beast, a coming-of-age digital series about a young boy in search of his missing fisherman father, won director Ben Strang the Grand Jury Award for Independent Episodic at SXSW. Set on the haunting yet starkly beautiful Smith Island, MD, the pilot episode quickly dives deep into a thrilling mystery and the setup for a season to come. We meet Daniel, a distraught, but determined teenager who just wants to know what happened to his dad after a mysterious disappearance at sea. Interweaving sci-fi components and grounded social drama, the series sets up a unique take on the age-old question: When is it time to give up and move on?
Always on a mission to tell honest, connective stories, Ben wanted Beast to feel like a documentary without looking like one. In other words: As close, human and real as his numerous street photojournalism projects, but not leaning so far into the documentary aesthetic that the visual design felt accidental. To get there, Ben worked with David Bolen as DP, a long-time friend from film school. Together, the two had spent the first years of their careers shooting documentaries.
Achieving Beast’s sensational yet grounded look was simple: Ben and David shot the series on location in December, capturing starkly mysterious winter visuals of the remote fishing islands along the Chesapeake Bay. Working in such a remote setting, the pair relied on a small but nimble camera crew and shot nearly all of the film in the 45-minute golden-hour windows before sunset and after sunrise.