Wheels and Waves: I’ve been thinking about the powerful capabilities of action cameras and action filmmaking. Three years ago I did an interview on this blog with Roberto Studart, a Brazilian filmmaker. The interview remains one of my favorites. His shots of downhill skateboarding on mountain roads are breathtaking. Here’s the clip again, for your enjoyment:
Roberto has done more, including some incredible surfing shots. Catch his work on Vimeo.
Action cameras and underwater camera housings allow big wave surf photographer Sachi Cunningham to capture stunning visuals of surf. For more on Sachi, see Inside the Mind of Sachi Cunningham on Vimeo.
Nuno Sá Pessoa, film director at Skookum Films, is a true global visual storyteller. Educated in Denmark, based in Portugal, and working extensively in Brazil and the United States, Sá Pessoa knows firsthand what it means to collaborate internationally.
“Cinema, as any other art,” says Sá Pessoa, “should have no boundaries. It’s a global language and the more you know of the world and its people, the easier it is for you as an artist to express what you want in a way that can reach each and every kind of person.”
Are there common visual storytelling elements that span various countries and cultures? “I was born in Portugal, studied in Denmark, and have lived and worked in Brazil and the USA. All four countries,” says Sá Pessoa, “are as different as their cinema, and all four have consciously or subconsciously influenced me in every aspect of who I am. But considering that the USA is the biggest melting pot of the world and the biggest ‘exporter’ of cinema, I would say in a very general way, that it’s the one I can relate to the most, because that’s my aim as a filmmaker, reaching the world.”
After beginning film school in Portugal, Sá Pessoa transitioned to Denmark’s The European Film College. “Art and culture are intrinsically connected,” says Sá Pessoa, “and at The European Film College they meet as in no other place. Teachers and students come from all four corners of the world, united by their passion for cinema and with an urge to create. It’s a highly practical course and I think that’s essential if you want to pursue a career as a filmmaker. Studying there definitely allowed me to both culturally and artistically broaden my horizons and it has set the stage for what I wanted for my future.”
Sá Pessoa’s most challenging film project? “Terra 2084 was my biggest challenge so far. It’s a sci-fi short in which I tried to express my thoughts and feelings on the situation the world and Portugal in specific are going through right now by combining it with sci-fi and fantasy. For that reason it was artistically challenging.
“At another level it was economically challenging,” says Sá Pessoa, “since I wrote, directed, produced and edited it on a virtually nonexistent budget. But, as in other projects, the striving to make it is greater than the economic boundaries, and the effort was taken ahead by the whole cast and crew in order for the film to be completed.”
“I can’t say I have a favorite film genre,” says Sá Pessoa. “It ranges from different genres which are in some way connected, such as horror, fantasy, thriller and sci-fi. Maybe the easiest way to sum it up is to say that one of my biggest influences is the original Twilight Zone series.”Twilight Zone, the (1959) – Complete Series
“In a general way maybe I want my audiences to take away from my films what I took from The Twilight Zone: deep and relevant messages which are delivered to the audience in an unconventional way that makes us travel to a different dimension at one level and yet very similar to our own in its essence.”
“For the action shots I would tie myself to a car with mountain climbing equipment, where I was, literally, one inch from the ground at 60 mph.”
Brazilian filmmaker Roberto Studart shot Curvas e Ladeiras, a skateboard adventure about four girls in breathtaking downhill action in the mountain towns of his country.
“I love the Curvas e Ladeiras project,” says Studart, “because it was shot in real underground conditions and the end result is so nice. Brazil is a huge country and we were all over the place. We had to carefully plan our logistics to overcome the really tight budget. The idea was to have four girls, sexy, fun, fearless, travelling around Brazil in search of downhill skate action.”
We Got Very Good Life Insurance
“So we got very good life insurance and picked small towns near mountains, where we could just block the streets ourselves with a team of PAs and no paperwork. At critical spots, we also had ambulances with paramedics on the set. After all, we are crazy, but very responsible.
“We basically worked with two Mark III cameras. For the action shots I would tie myself to a car with mountain climbing equipment, where I was, literally, one inch from the ground at 60 mph, while a professional skateboarder would operate the second camera, riding with the girls.”
I Was So Low…
“I knew I wanted to get as close as I could to the ground, because most of the material I had seen at the time, on this subject, was shot either on GoPros or from car mounts and cranes, and they were never that extreme. There were times I was so low, my hands actually hit the asphalt. But that was key to really show the intensity of our speed and create a vibrant piece of video.”
Storytelling Is Critical
Are there common storytelling threads in the widely diverse culture of Brazil? “This is a very difficult question,” says Studart, “and I’m not sure to be honest. We artists tend to fall in love unexpectedly, instead of thinking rationally, but, I guess, if you avoid boring minds and ‘Best Sellers’ you have a better chance of running into good stories.
“This may sound too romantic, but in Brazil, where films are still run by authors instead of executives, this is it. We fall in love, we raise the money and we shoot it. Of course we need distributors or TV networks to launch our products, but if your material is unique and you’re aggressive enough, you have a good chance of succeeding.
“Brazil is struggling to find its role in the world. Our democracy is just thirty years old. There are crucial social issues that need to be debated. At the same time we are so passionate, sexy, and we have a very good sense of humor, so, somehow, all these aspects are printed on our way of telling stories.”
Affordable Camera Technology
“Another thing to add is that video making suddenly became so interesting after the improvement of affordable digital cameras. Now we can basically shoot anything and do it beautifully. It’s just a matter of finding something interesting, pointing our cameras to it and, suddenly, it’s happening. It’s pure creation. That being said, it’s no surprise how we’re blown away when finding amazing content on the web.”
Studart attended film school in the United States. Did that give him any advantages? “I don’t really believe in ‘film education,’ says Studart. “I believe in meeting interesting people at film schools. That makes a lot of difference. You have to be in good schools to meet these people, to live this environment of experimenting together, discovering together.
“Plus, when you are a student, especially in the U.S., it seems that all the doors just open for you. I remember getting plenty of film stocks for free, color grading, locations, crew, everybody wants to help you with your little short films and that’s the best way to learn.”
Push Your Limits
“In Brazil we have a totally different scenario. Resources are scarce, and with no money there’s no industry. You really need to push your limits and your creativity to counteract the lack of investments and get your work out there.
“From this December to March 2015 I’ll be shooting an eleven-episode TV series about three surfers who have pioneered paddle surfing in Jaws, Maui, Hawaii. Then I’ll shoot my first feature film based on a Chilean novel, for which I’ve bought the rights. The adapted story takes place in Brazil, though.
Studart believes the future of filmmaking in Brazil will be sunnier. “Investments and federal government support are growing, more schools are popping up, and we’re setting up co-production agreements with important countries. It’s a long process, but I feel we’re getting there.”