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 Filmmaking Thoughts

I had a teacher once tell me: “Do what’s important to you, that way you’re more likely to do something you will learn from.”

In filmmaking confidence is a terrific attribute if you have it. When I started making films I had almost zero. Maybe none. I’m not even sure I have it now. What I have is a sort of found comfort level with what I’ve learned through the years and the skills I’ve developed through the filmmaking process. The thing is, don’t worry and fret if you don’t feel confident, so few really do and the ones who say they do aren’t really telling the truth. Confidence is not essential. What is essential to making films are ideas and drive: do you have the ability to get out of bed and move forward with your idea? It’s as simple as that.

Also, don’t run away from insecurity. Embrace it. Everybody has insecurities and they never leave no matter how much you think you know. If you reach a point of being perfectly secure then you should start worrying.

One of my favorite quotes is from a scientist whose name I do not know. It goes like this: “Being a scientist means living on the borderline between your competence and your incompetence. If you always feel confident then you aren’t doing your job.”

In filmmaking you’re uncovering an idea the entire time you’re making the film. So much is being revealed to you bit by little bit, shot by shot, scene by scene and edit by edit. There is so much you don’t and cannot know and as a result you’re forced to live in insecurity.

The only escape is to work in television where there are no surprises and everything is known from start to finish.

It’s perhaps a given that as a filmmaker you want at your side a director of photography with an eye you trust but for me, what I have found even more important than the eye, is to find someone who has a finely-tuned ear.

The documentary film is the medium of listening. Listening is how I originally find the stories I embark on and listening is how I build these stories over the life of the film. Every contact I make informs me of my subject; every interview I conduct teaches me about the film I’m making and helps solidify the story as does each cut of the film that I listen to.

When we’re shooting the film, the DP must listen to the words of the “interviewee” as acutely as I do so that he can frame the lens and adjust the shot to every nuance of the person who is speaking. A good DP can have a dramatic effect on the words being spoken by syncing the movements of his camera with the physical movements and emotional inflections of the person on camera. At the same time, a DP who is only “looking” through the lens can flatten the emotional moments by remaining static and by his or her inability to really hear what is being spoken. The cameraman cannot be a passive observer—if the director is moved by what is being said so too should the cameraman.

Ideas travel through the subconscious atmosphere just like viruses travel through our physical atmosphere—both are searching for the same thing: a good host to take root in.

The challenge for the artist is to recognize the idea when it lands as most ideas arrive: as foggy impressions, barely formed and with just a hint of their real potential.

My first impulse after getting an idea is to test its merit with friends or colleagues but I’ve found this can be a fatal mistake. How do you explain something that is barely an impression, that is a stranger even to you, the one it landed on? It’s difficult if not impossible which is why it’s so important to keep ideas to yourself. Ideas need time and their development makes no earthly sense whatsoever. They’re similar to innocent children whose natural instincts haven’t been tainted by conformity.

And they are just as wild and delicate as children. They develop in a non-linear fashion, at their own speed and time and within the realm of insecurity. So many of the ideas I get at first make so little sense that many seem foolish and sometimes even ridiculous. What I’ve learned is to gently follow them around putting little emphasis on immediate results or immediate clarity. Let them simmer, coagulate and develop before putting anything on them, before imposing upon them a conventional framework.


Director Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys) follows a group of extraordinary adventurers—surfers who began searching for bigger and bigger waves, pushing the boundaries of performance. Featuring Greg "The Bull" Noll, whose determination to surf Hawaii's "unridden realm" earned him his nickname; Jeff Clark, Northern California's lone frontiersman who, after discovering the massive waves of Maverick's near San Francisco, rode there alone for over a decade; and Hawaii's Laird Hamilton, the prototypical "extreme" surfer, an athlete/innovator considered the best big wave rider who ever waxed a board.