Growing up in West Bloomfield, Ben Ketai developed an appetite for action and a love of storytelling at an early age.
“I’ve always been obsessed with storytelling,” said Ketai, a California-based film director, writer, and producer. “If you ask my parents, they’d say that as early as I could talk, I wanted to tell stories, as early as I could draw, I wanted to draw stories, and as soon as I was old enough to write, I wanted to write stories.”
According to Ketai, he started out with a JVS video camera when he was about nine years old and was inspired by films such as Tim Burton’s Batman. He was also influenced by growing up in Michigan.
“Creatively there are few places with more mood than the Detroit area – the seasons with gloomy weather, growing up backing to woods which fuels your imagination…and the proximity to downtown Detroit, with such beautiful architecture. In high school, I was able to shoot beautiful stuff with my friends in abandoned buildings in Detroit – inspiring, moody films.”
He attended the former Andover High School where he met his wife, Rachel. After graduating from University of Michigan in 2004 with a double major in film and psychology, Ketai moved to Los Angeles, where he got his start working for another Michigan native – famed filmmaker, Sam Raimi.
“I had the typical gritty LA story – waiting tables, bartending, and working for Sam learning the full breadth of the film industry,” said Ketai. “I started out in a mentor-internship program and was promoted into a paid position working 12-hour days. I learned how to tell a story, run a set. By 2009, it was time to spread my wings and fly. I didn’t sleep the first 10 years I was in LA.”
Since that time, Ketai has worked on many projects, including The Resistance, Beneath and Chosen – but his most popular project to date is StartUp, a crime drama series that originally launched in 2016 on Sony’s streaming service, Crackle, and is now on Netflix. He said, “I enjoy working on psychological thrillers and dramas – exploring darkness in our own hearts, the study of the human mind, good versus evil.”
StartUp explores the complex web of cryptocurrency and the dark net, with a starring cast that includes Adam Brody, Edi Gathegi and Otmara Marrero, as well as reoccurring roles by actors such as Martin Freeman, Ron Perlman and Mira Sorvino.
“We filmed in Puerto Rico, but StartUp is centered in Miami, and focuses on the effect tech has on this corner of the world and how we behave as humans and treat each other with this power,” explained Ketai. “We had to do a lot of research into cryptocurrency and tech, but I really enjoyed the research of other cultures that went into this series – such great stories.”
Ketai and his wife have two sons and live in Santa Monica, California. He acknowledges that working as a filmmaker with long hours and travel can be extremely challenging when it comes to work-life balance – something the slower pace during the beginning of the pandemic made him appreciate. However, the recent success of StartUp has opened new doors and created new opportunities.
“The thing about any kind of success is that now you really have to work hard because of the cool opportunities people send your way. About 25 percent of the potential projects I have out there now involve Detroit. It’s a dream to return to Michigan and bring film back to Detroit.”
Story: Tracy Donohue
Photo: Sye Williams