Willow Creek is what Sven Dreesbach calls a “proof of concept and workflow” for an eventual surf film he’d like to make – but, as it stands, it’s a short film that achieves a lot in its own right. Shot with an iPhone 5s and color-graded using Davinci Resolve, Dreesbach produced a very moving piece of cinema that has an erie but mystical vibe to it - thanks in part to the Ry X track Shortline accompanying the film. Sven was gracious enough to talk with Fstoppers a bit about the hows and whys behind crafting this stunning short film.
Dreesbach is a freelance digital compositor and colorist, but he has recently turned his talents toward photography, filmmaking, and directing in particular. From his website bio: “His experience as vfx artist in the movie and broadcast industry includes working with high profile directors like David Fincher, Joseph Kosinski, Michael Bay or Carl Eric Rinsch on their commercials and films such as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, where he was part of the Academy Award winning visual effects team. His credit list as visual effects artist also includes award winning TV commercials for the top international ad agencies and their clients such as Mercedes, Heineken, Sony and more recently, Apple to name a few.”
I asked him to explain a bit about why he created Willow Creek and here's what he had to say:
When I first set foot into the Pacific with a surfboard under my arm, a whole new world opened up to me. Not only was I immediately fascinated by a sport that compared to little else, it also had a huge effect on me as a photographer.
For the night owl that I am, it's not easy to get up before sunrise and throw myself into the cold ocean. But once I’m out there, it's magical.
Imagine paddling out to the lineup in the twilight, while a gentle off-shore breeze shapes perfect waves, and watching the darkness slowly fade away. And as soon as the sun comes out, the break turns into this spectacular play of the elements: the wind picks up, the water glistens in the early light, and the ocean spray turns every wave that is slowly rolling towards shore into a sight that often enough makes me think of chariots of fire.
And of course, all this happens during those early hours that are so interesting to us as photographers.
But there's another side to surfing: one that's perhaps less idealized… less romanticized. With Willow Creek, I wanted to show the darker, more mystical side of the force of the ocean, and how a few passionate souls still achieve to embrace these forces despite the chilling circumstances. Willow Creek was a good first step in capturing this eerie side of surfing, and I am already working on other ways to drag the viewer into the water with me.
When it came to the technical side of creating Willow Creek, budget constraints were an obvious first motivating factor in choosing to shoot with the iPhone 5s, but the fact that it could shoot slow motion HD video was a key decision for Dreesbach. He also found a solid underwater housing for it which was very beneficial as well. “The iPhone housing obviously costs a fraction of what [an underwater] housing for professional cameras go for, and for me it just turned out to be a fun way to shoot slow motion footage as an experiment and create a short film,” he told me, continuing, “besides its quality and handling, the housing comes with a wide angle lens, which is essential for action sports photography.”
Sven also explained why he didn’t just use a GoPro camera – the greatest reasons being the GoPro’s size, shape, usability, lack of screen (on his GoPro3), and low battery life compared to the iPhone’s shallow DOF and focus-lock feature were a no-brainer for him to just use the iPhone with an underwater housing by Watershot. He prefers using the GoPro as an “attachable” for views from his surf board or snowboard helmet. “That's what the GoPro is just perfect for,” he told me. Sven was in the water for around 90 minutes and got all the footage in about four hours due to shooting in slow motion. He plans on shooting a few music videos and commercials combined with a lot of lifestyle elements in the near future.
Have any experience yourself with filming in the ocean using your phone's camera? We'd love to hear about it in the comments.