OCEAN – at the edge my creative process

Still capture from my short film O C E A N

I shot O C E A N on the first day of working for myself full time. It was a personal and professional project that I wanted to produce in order to mark the day for myself, and also challenge myself with a new style of filmmaking. Over the years I’ve had loads of practice being behind the camera… but for this project, something needed to change. Suddenly I was no longer the author, but also the protagonist of this story. The actor and the director. The narrator and the subject. Today I want to share the film with you, and walk you through my creative process behind creating it.

Firstly, I wanted to connect the occasion in my life to something in the natural world. Something that metaphorically and visually could represent the new chapter I was embarking on. My love for the ocean, the peace-of-mind that it provides me, and the sun rising over the horizon bringing with it a new day were the perfect combination for me to do this. I decided to shoot the majority of the film on a 35mm lens (Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART to be precise ) which allowed me to use a focal length that was tight enough to provide hierarchy to the subject framed, but wide enough to still show the setting and context around me.

I developed a story board and shot list to emphasize the narrative I was trying to portray – the beginning of an adventure that brings one to the edge of their comfort zone. Right up to the point of the unknown. In addition to the shot list, I also pulled some images for inspiration mostly to give myself an idea of how I wanted to compose each frame and also to give me an idea of lighting. At this point I also had already chosen the music I wanted to use. Anyone who knows me as a filmmaker or creative will know just how important music is to my creative process. The music builds up, and as emotions change in the music, so does the tone of the narrative in the script.

One of the biggest challenges for me in shooting this film came in its cinematography. Until this point the majority of my camera work had emphasized the movement of the camera around a subject. In a way I consider that to be my creative style, as I see the camera as an extension of the human eye… and as people we move through and occupy space. The difference in this production was that for the first time I would be filming myself, which means I could not also move the camera. In this case, by moving through still frames, composition and visual narrative became incredibly important. How do you take the viewer through a series of scenes that can still encompass a change of location, or a movement through space without actually moving the camera?

I tried to do this through two techniques. One is scale, and the other I don’t know the technical term for but I’m going to call it visual reveal. With regards to scale, I tried to place myself at different proximities to the camera, getting closer and closer as the script developed and became more and more personal. Using the 35mm lens helped a lot in this. As you’ll notice, all the scenes through which I am walking are filmed at a further distance. It’s not until the subject sits down that we get closer. It’s a shift in the energy of the film – from one where the subject exists in the world, to one where the subject becomes the world. As for the visual reveal, there is a point in the narrative, one might call it the climax, where the script reads “So today, on the first sunrise of my next chapter, I came here”. This is the first time we actually see the subject’s full face. Finally the story literally “has a face” to it. While this might not be considered movement in the physical sense, to me it is a shift of energy that allows us to leave the physical world, and enter the imaginary. The personal questions and resolutions start to reveal themselves, as a pivotal moment where we as the audience feel like we are starting to understand the subject on a personal level too. You will also notice that the music shifts at this point to a different tone, and the melody becomes more engaging.

Lastly, one thing I want to mention here is coloring. As you can see there is a strong contrast between the colors the subject is wearing and the surrounding environment. The subject’s jacket, however, matches the tones of the sky – or the sunrise, or the new day… or the new chapter. Do you see what connection I’m trying to make? In contrast, everything else has a bit of a cooler tone to emphasize this. Color grading is something I am very new to, but I was quite pleased with the results of this one.

Now that I’ve spoken about the process. I want you to watch it, and tell me if you can see the connections between the final result, and the process behind how I thought of it…

Apart from the creative side of the film, I would like to take moment to discuss the deeper meaning and message behind it. Ultimately it is a commentary on the importance of taking risks in one’s life. About finding the courage to literally “dive-in”, pun intended. People love the beach, but many fear the ocean. Where the waves hit the shore can be understood as the fine line in our lives where comfort and discomfort have a conversation. A conversation that we as the subjects of our own lives get to moderate and ultimately get to live within. For me, this film will serve as a reminder to always push the boundaries, right up to the edge of the unknown. For you, I hope it makes you question what your own boundaries may be, and ask yourself what happens when you take away those boundaries and follow your heart.

This was a really new type of filmmaking that brought with it challenges that I learned from. It’s the direction I would like to push my work and of course I would love to hear your thoughts about it!

As always, thank you for being here!

Zain

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