Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
I’m based in San Francisco. Northern California born and bred.
I got into film-making in high school but my first foray into paid work was through surfing, another big passion of mine. After college at UC Santa Cruz, I linked up with a local filmmaker and began filming pro-surfers in town which led to amazing travel opportunities across the globe chasing swells and perfect waves. I learned a ton during that time but felt like I wanted to tell more diverse stories than surfing media had to offer so I went back to school and studied documentary film-making in a really unique MFA program at UC Santa Cruz called Social Documentation. It was there that I really fell in love with cinema and its potential to influence policy and change lives.
How did you get the Hipcamp project?
The spark for this project was an audio clip of Wallace Stegner reading his Wilderness Letter from 1960 that I happened to find on YouTube quite randomly. The moment that I heard the tone and texture of that clip, I knew I had to make a film with it. The film was always a passion project and Avocados and Coconuts, the production company I work with, helped make the film a reality over a year of filming when we could find time. Additionally, we were doing some work with Hipcamp at the time and the idea for the film felt like a perfect pairing for their brand and company ideals so we pitched it to them as well.
Early versions of the film were quite different but the film took on a whole new meaning and power once Trump was elected and his administration began an attack on our public lands. Hipcamp created a wonderful petition campaign connected to the film to help raise awareness and change policy regarding the massive threats to our wilderness spaces.
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
Since this was a passion project we used whatever cameras were available. Most of it was shot on RED but we shot a few things on an Alexa Mini and a DSLR in a water housing as well. My essentials are the tools that are the best ones to tell the particular story. Some require small and light camera packages with natural light others require bigger crews with more equipment and lighting.
My style is definitely rooted in documentary realism so I love a beautiful handheld look and feel and the ability to move around subjects with ease. To maintain a cinematic smoothness and considered framing the DPs I work with like to use gimbal based camera systems like MOVI with a ready rig. Sometimes we’ll shoot with Steadicam as well.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
I wrote and designed a film treatment to pitch the project.
The themes from the treatment were fleshed out into a paper edit on a big slab of butcher paper. From there, I put together a shot list based on the paper edit and tried to capture as many of those shots as possible while still finding some fresh things to better what we originally thought we could get. We were fortunate enough to shoot this film over the course of a year so we could edit a cut and sense what we were missing or what could make it better and then go out and shoot very specific things to be efficient with production.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
I’m not sure it’s different than other filmmakers but as much as possible I really try to stay in-the-moment and focus on the now. There’s so much that goes into film-making that it can be really overwhelming to compound everything. I find that centering myself in the now, helps me connect with others in a calm, collected way and make clear decisions in high-pressure situations.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
I wouldn’t do anything different. I worked many different film jobs coming up in the business and each one has influenced how I work and direct. I’m feel so fortunate for all the experiences I’ve had coming up and I wouldn’t want to change that. The key is to put in your time, make some mistakes, learn from them and come back even stronger the next round until you feel you have a solid foothold.
What’s the one secret tip, go-to trick that you use often that takes your work to the next level?
I tend to rely heavily on collaboration and feedback through the whole process. When I was starting out, I tried to do everything myself and didn’t seek out feedback enough. I mistakenly thought I knew better. The key for me is to find team members that are super passionate about what they do and are way better than me at their individual craft. I trust my gut and make firm decisions but I utilize my crew’s expertise and feedback constantly so the whole process becomes a conversation and collaboration. Usually that means everyone is happier, production is more rewarding and the project turns out better than I could have imagined otherwise.
What has been the hardest part of doing what you do?
This job is always in flux. This is one of the hardest and best things about the job. Each project challenging and rewarding in different ways and you never really know exactly what you’re going to get. You have to love the constant change but it can be tough at times not necessarily knowing what’s next.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
The best part is all the amazing friendships I’ve cultivated through film and the people I’ve met along the way that I never would have met otherwise.
What are some of your favorite stories or web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by?
I’ve recently been watching and re-watching Italian Neorealist and French New Wave films along with other works inspired by those movements. I’m inspired by the movements’ quest to be more realistic, truthful and less contrived, often shooting on-location, outside of a studio, with non-professional actors. One of my favorite recent films, The Florida Project, is heavily influenced by those movements.