Filmmaker Q&A: Vincent Casalaina

St. Francis Yacht Club Heavy Weather Laser Slalom

Sailing small boats on San Francisco Bay in the summer is hard work but when you combine the big breeze with the short course slalom racing, it becomes a challenge just to get around the course. I was able to include bites from virtually all of the competitors. Using lots of GoPro footage, which brings the action up close and very personal. “St. Francis Yacht Club Heavy Weather Laser Slalom” is about capturing the excitement of sailing the Laser in these tough conditions and finding the voices of the competitors who could tell that story with conviction.

What was your inspiration for creating the film? I love sailing. There is a really amazing synergy that takes place when it’s just you and the wind on the water. Combine that with the level of competition at a regatta like this one and you have all the elements you need for a great story.

What was the most challenging part of creating the film? Its always difficult when covering reality based events to make sure that you have the footage you need to capture the excitement and the interviews to drive the storyline. When you do this on the water at a major event you have the added constraints of not being able to get close to the competitors while they are racing (you don’t want to interfere in any way with their competition) and when you interview them, they are often pre-occupied with thinking about what they need to accomplish that day or what they failed to accomplish the previous day.

Add into the mix that shooting the racing on San Francisco’s city front is a massive chess game and positioning your shooting platform to capture the material in the big breeze and chop is challenging. A good driver and a solid boat to shoot from make all the difference.

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers? Sailing small boats is exciting. It's a sport for both the young up-and-coming sailor and the tried veteran. For example, in the film there were people competing who are in their 20’s and in their 50’s and each and every one of them had a story to tell that speaks of hard work and fortitude.

What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film? Being on the water and making sure you get everything you need for the day’s work. It’s the working in the moment, real time visualization and execution. There’s nothing like looking through the lens and seeing a string of shots that you know will end up in the final video. Seeing crash after crash I got to be an expert on how to capture the disaster.

Who (or what) is your inspiration? I’ve grown up with filmmakers like Warren Miller and John Biddle who took silent footage of surfers and sailors. They added some music and a script describing the action and created some really wonderful pieces of art. They always managed to drag you into the storyline by talking about the highs and the not so highs of the people on the water. I have a lot more tools at my disposal today, but it is still the same idea to find a compelling storyline and flesh it out with striking visuals and good sound bites. I aim for letting the sailors drive the narrative.

How or why did you begin creating ocean-focused films? I’d been working in television for more than 10 years doing multi-camera directing, but always loved the sea. When Leslie DeMeuse Disney asked if I’d like to help her and Phil Uhl on some sailing projects, I jumped at the chance. We won an Emmy for our coverage of the St. Francis Yacht Club’s Big Boat Series regatta in 1986.

Why did you choose to submit your film to the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival? This seemed like a perfect fit for the film. The Laser Slalom took place here on San Francisco Bay and I’ve been a fan of this film festival from its inception.

Is this your first time participating in an ocean-focused film festival? No. The Houston Film Festival had a special category for sailing films for a number of years. They even had a regatta for the filmmakers as part of the event. In addition I’ve entered my work in several film festivals in Europe that specialize in ocean related projects. My video of the 2009 SAP 505 dinghy World Championship was screened here in 2010.

What was the most memorable moment in creating the film? When I was interviewing the sailors before the event began, I got a real sense of the challenge that this short course racing would be. Watching them compete, I couldn’t help but remember what they had said, and all too often seeing their worst nightmares come true.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? I’m excited to see the Festival still so strong. It speaks well both of the quality of the Festival and of the growth and interest in the ocean and those that venture upon it.