UNI alum finds success filming for Beyoncé and other celebrities
Ben Hagarty got his start in video using the University of Northern Iowa’s camera equipment in Lang Hall. Over a decade later, he’s built a successful videography career that has included working with major celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Chris Brown and Alicia Keys. His work on Beyoncé’s 2019 documentary “Homecoming” earned him a Grammy win and several Emmy nominations.
In spite of working with so many big names, Hagarty, a 2011 UNI graduate, has never let the celebrity status of his clients phase him.
“People are always asking me for advice, and a lot of it comes down to treating celebrities like people,” he said. “They expect the people working with them to be professional. This allows them to let their guard down and collaborate in an effective way.”
In 2018, Hagarty got the opportunity to work with arguably his biggest celebrity name client to date. As Beyoncé prepared for her headlining performance at the Coachella music festival, Hagarty was there to capture the process with video.
“I worked with an incredible team to capture the journey leading up to that live performance,” he said. “Not only was I a part of documenting what was happening behind the scenes, but I also got to join the team that filmed the live show. The footage you see in the documentary — I got to shoot some of that. So wild.”
As soon as the Coachella performance wrapped, Hagarty caught a flight to Europe to join Beyoncé and Jay-Z for their On the Run II world tour as their videographer.
Of course, none of this happened overnight. Hagarty grew up in Cedar Falls. He attended Hawkeye Community College then transferred to UNI for the electronic media major, which was the predecessor to the digital media production major.
“One of my friends took the program,” said Hagarty. “He could rent all the camera equipment, and I think we shot a video with it. I was like, ‘You have access to all this stuff?!’ That was a big draw. I could get my hands on the gear and learn. I didn't know what the program was totally going to entail, but I knew I could figure it out one way or another. I just need to get my hands on the gear.”
Then he went to work.
“I was constantly making random things, doing contests — like for the Doritos Super Bowl commercials,” said Hagarty. “We were in Lang Hall just making videos all the time, testing ideas, and it was a cool, cool period of time.”
Hagarty identifies associate professor Francesca Soans as the faculty member who made the greatest impact during his time at UNI. Soans, who still teaches in digital media, remembers Hagarty well.
“Ben stood out because of his passion for media production that motivated him to seek out and create opportunities to make media outside of course assignments,” she said. “Ben constantly challenged himself in creativity and skills and inspired others to do the same.”
Today, Soans continues to use a documentary Hagarty made in class to teach her students.
While Hagarty had never been the biggest fan of school, he found himself genuinely enjoying many of his assignments in his electronic media courses.
“What I didn't realize at the time was I was learning a lot of communication skills in the way of how I approach people and how that can really play into your career,” he said. “Speaking to people and connecting on a personal level is one of the biggest factors behind my success to date.”
One influential moment for Hagarty came when he attended Fast Forward, an annual event put on by the Communications and Media Department. Hagarty recalls hearing one of the speakers, UNI alum Mark Steines, who had moved to Los Angeles and gotten a job at Entertainment Tonight. As he listened, Hagarty realized someone like himself could make it in Los Angeles.
After college, Hagarty focused on music. He played drums in a band and later became part of a rap group. He lived in his parents’ basement and created a studio space for his own music and others’. Hagarty credits his music background with helping him get more into video, especially in the music industry, because being an artist gave him a unique understanding of what other artists wanted for their video and photography needs.
“Once I realized I have more value from a cinema side, I leaned fully into it, and I never looked back,” he said.
At the same time, Hagarty began setting aside money to move to LA. He was convinced if he wanted to make it big, he was going to have to make the trip.
“I started taking trips out to California and connecting with certain people and seeing what was possible out there,” he said. “Eventually, I saw a window of opportunity, and so I started saving up a lot of money for me to make that move.”
Hagarty first moved to Los Angeles in 2015. He spent more than a year crashing on an air mattress at a friend’s house and taking any job that came his way, including projects that were unpaid.
“It was a lot of saying ‘yes’ to any opportunity,” said Hagarty. “If someone around me had a side business or if there was someone who invested in a taco shop that needed someone to shoot a new beer, I'd shoot it. I didn’t care if it was cool or not. I was just trying to make people know my capabilities.”
When Hagarty started getting more traction and working with more big-name celebrities, he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 2019 Fast Forward — a full-circle moment that Hagarty describes as surreal.
On the podcast’s first season, he interviewed creators who have worked with Selena Gomez, Post Malone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and others. After becoming a Canon ambassador, Hagarty partnered with Canon to shoot the second season of his podcast. Hagarty hopes the 12 episodes will start to be released at the end of January.
“Helping creatives is probably the thing I love the most out of everything,” he said.
Hagarty also just moved back to Iowa and plans on running his business from Cedar Falls, so he expects to spend a lot of time flying back to LA for work.
While the idea of working on feature films or even short films never appealed to Hagarty in the past, he’s become more interested in the idea recently. No matter what route he chooses to take, he plans on having a lot of fun while creating.
“I've always done whatever is exciting at the time,” he said. “If it seems fun, I'm gonna do it.”