Meet the filmmaker: Mark Waters
Mark Waters is part of the award winning team behind ‘Uncommon Ideals’ – the short film that touched the global surfing consciousness in late 2011 winning big from the London Surf / Film Festival to San Sebastian as well as being shortlisted for the Surfer Poll Awards and international Vimeo Awards. Unsurprisingly, he’s had a busy year so we caught up with him just before he set off on a 4-month trip around Asia to find out just what makes him tick…
// Tell us a bit about yourself. How old are you? Where did you grow up? How did you get into surfing?
I have walked the earth for 27 years, with my childhood to late teens spent roaming around the southern most tip of Africa, searching for perfect waves, with the best crew on the planet!
From the age of 12, I fell in love with the sponge – that shaped my friends, my passions and the reason I am giving this interview… It was not riding surfboards that fuelled my love for the ocean… it was bodyboards. I chose to be a bodyboarder because it was the water sport that provided the thickest barrels and the one that got you flying into the flats off the back of a driving air reverse, with a massive grin burning on your face… back then surfing was not so much about air moves and heavy barrels… it was more big turns and long points breaks
15 years on, surfing has evolved, creating a boardsport that is more dynamic than ever, creating endless possibility for taking off later and getting heavier barrels before exiting with huge air moves. With this evolution in the sport, I now ride all kinds of boards… whatever board suits the conditions… All boardriders are in the water for one thing… because it gets them stoked!
// How did you get started in filmmaking and why? Did you study filmmaking formally or are you self-taught?
Filmmaking for me has been a natural progression since my mid teens and I am self-taught. When I was 16 I got a video camera, so me and my friends could film each other in the water. This was a way in which we could see how we ride and work on our technique. To be honest, at that age I was never the guy on the beach filming because I could not stay out of the water, so the filmmaking thing didn’t actually become a physical passion until I went travelling when I was 20. My love for the ocean inspired my choice for travelling, and travelling inspired me to document these experiences. With all the free time provided from this lifestyle, I experimented with so many different styles of shooting and editing and eventually combined all the knowledge and experience into the style I have today, which is constantly evolving. Instead of going to film school I invested the small amount of money I had into getting myself equipment, so I could get practical.
// Where do you look for inspiration? Who are your major influences?
Everywhere I look is inspiration… life inspires me!
I am not a planner, I prefer things to flow so my work tends to take a natural direction. Planning things tends to interfere with what is naturally happening and I tend to miss out on the natural moments that are happening all around. I like to have an outline of what it is that I need to achieve and let nature and circumstance do that rest. I find if I let my life flow with what it is that is presented in front of me, everything becomes clear and inspiration takes over. I’m not inspired by anything in particular… my thought process for stories and shots are usually strung together from multiple experiences I have had in my lifetime.
// How do you feel about your work being seen on the big screen versus online in a digital format?
Having your film screened on big screen is amazing. When your film is being shown to a sold out audience on a screen that is bigger than your house, you start to realise that your vision has made an impact. Online is great for independent filmmakers to showcase their work. Everybody now has an outlet to have their work seen by the world which is great. On the downside, we are almost spoilt for choice. I miss the days, when a new surf film was released after months of anticipation and having all the boys spread out around the TV, getting pumped for the next surf! We would watch those films over and over again, never getting bored. Online films seem to have an expiry date. They are released, then they fly around the net for a few weeks maybe even a few months but they are soon pushed aside by all the new films that have been put out there.
Uncommon Ideals / London Surf / Film Festival Shortie of the Year 2011
// What equipment do you use?
The right equipment for the job. I shoot a variety of things and each project has its own unique set of tools. My personal kit consists of a full Canon 5d mkii kit, a selection of glass and a GoPro HD 2. I have never sold a camera so I still have my old cameras such as a Panasonic HVX 200, Sony Z1, an old little handy cam and a bunch of Polaroid cameras.
// What do you think makes a good story? How do you set about translating that onto the screen? What is your starting point?
A good story for me is one where all the elements connect. When creating a film or even watching one, I am looking at every aspect, such as the cinematography, light, story, edit, grade, sound design and music… its all gotta flow. I believe everything in life has an algorithm, whether it be writing stories, composing shots or sequencing an edit. There is always a rhythm that works. If it’s not working sometimes you can simply change a word, re-sequence an edit or change the soundtrack and all of a sudden it works. I am never truly satisfied unless all the elements complement one another.
I work as a director, cinematographer and editor and I tend to work on many projects where I fulfil all the production positions, which gives me the freedom to evolve the process through a natural progression which I love. With this freedom my translation methods can be fairly simple… I have a basic outline of what I want to achieve and then go out and find the initial shots, which evolve the process of the next shots. This creates a sequencing method that is used as a shot list and a timeline for the edit which is built in my mind way before I sit down at the computer. Everything can change once the edit starts as this is the process that can help truly define the mood of your film.
// How much of the process do you think is creative and how much do you think is technical?
The creative side of filmmaking is my drive but a balance of both the creative and technical process is equally important to achieve exactly what you want to project. First comes the creative thought process and the technical knowledge is utilized to bring that creative thought to life. When I first got into filmmaking I concentrated on the creative side of storytelling with the technical side taking a back seat. It was only once I started stringing pieces together and criticising my work that I began to realise how important the technical side was, to achieve what I wanted, so I spent more time on learning all the technical skills.
The difference between the two is that just about everybody in the world can learn the technical side of image making but I like to think creativity is something we are born with. Photography is a internal emotion and visualisation that happens within and the camera is your tool to express it… Once it all clicks, the possibilities are endless!
// What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given when starting out as a filmmaker?
Good advice is hard to give and hard to come by! I guess the best advice I could give is to just get out there and do it. Make mistakes and learn from them. Figure out what your strengths are and work on that and let those strengths branch out. Always try and see the world through a camera, even when your camera is stashed away at home. A little tilt of the head sending a flicker of light will leave you smiling and keep you searching
.// What are you working on at the moment.
Right now I am in the planning phase of my latest project. My girlfriend and I have taken off on a four-month trip around Asia. We will be travelling overland through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and then cross over to Northern Sumatra where we will be hanging with orangutans and hitting the Mentawai Islands, before missioning through pretty much the whole of mainland Indonesia, many of the Islands, jungles, cities, temples, Volcanoes etc. The word natural progression, has been dancing around in my mind for some time and that’s exactly what I want this film to be. It will have the freedom to take its own direction, as the adventure unfolds in front of us. I have a rough outline of where we are going and what I would like to feature, as well as the look and feel of the film… the rest I will leave to nature and circumstance!
Travel and surf have been two of the biggest impacts on both my life and filmmaking progression, so this will be an adventure that will give me a canvas to express and translate the amazing lifestyle that surf/ travel awards watermen with.
// Where are you doing this interview?
All over the place!!!
// Mark Waters is inspired;)
NB: He’s definitely not the Mark Waters that did all those Hollywood chick flicks!!!
Check out more of Mark’s work at markwatersfilm.com