Filmmaker Q&A: Mike Gibbons

Swells and Storms

Set to the stunning backdrop of the San Francisco Bay Area, showcasing time-lapse photography, Swells and Storms is a music video that examines the joys and struggles of our intimate relationships and the restorative role that the ocean plays in so many of our lives. Mike Gibbons wrote the song and shot the footage with his wife, Louise. The film was shot 100% on GoPro cameras in collaboration with Waterlust. We talked with filmmaker Mike Gibbons about his experience creating Swells and Storms, which screens on Friday, March 8, at 7:00 pm as part of our 2013 Surfing Program.

What was your inspiration for creating the film? Swells and Storms is my first foray into filmmaking. I was inspired by my interest in developing the ability to write a song, record it, and then add a visual dimension to it, which ultimately would enhance the experience of the song. Swells and Storms is a really personal song to me, yet shares a very universal story. In the same manner, I wanted to shoot a video that captured the intimacy of the song in an ambiguous way that people could relate to--not focusing on me or my wife specifically, but rather on the story of a couple and the emotions that are expressed.

I also wanted to capture San Francisco and the Bay Area in a way that would connect with viewers familiar with the city. I love how much fluid motion there is going on here, between the tides and the fog, and the people all flowing through the city. Shooting with GoPro cameras worked perfectly for this, since sound quality was not a concern. Because the cameras are so minimally invasive, they worked well for the home scenes. Also, they are amazing for capturing time-lapses as well as for shooting slow-motion shots. This allowed for the ability to capture the fluidity of the San Francisco Bay Area that I was hoping to share with my audience.

Swells and StormsWhat was the most challenging part of creating the film? The time-lapses take a lot of time. And since GoPros don't automatically have an LCD screen or a viewfinder, I'd sometimes shoot a one-hour time lapse, later only to realize that I hadn't framed it quite right. I also wanted to try remaining as still as possible for some of the time-lapses, so that I could look perfectly still while the world moved around me. This was a fun meditation practice, but definitely a challenging feat to pull off! I also must credit Patrick Rynne of Waterlust for his editing, since he was the one who really made the final product flow with the music. I am just getting my feet wet with Final Cut Pro and was fortunate to have him around as my editing guru.

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers? A shared understanding of the ups and downs of our relationships and to convey the concept of how going to the water or getting outside plays a restorative role in our lives and psyches.

What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film? Getting outside and having the excuse to get out and watch the sunrise or the sunset, as well as starting to see the world in time-lapses. I really started to notice clouds and shadows through the making of this film.

Who (or what) is your inspiration? Life is my inspiration. There is so much to share that we can't articulate with words alone.

How or why did you begin creating ocean-focused films? I first came to the Bay Area in 2003, in large part to live near the ocean. I learned how to surf at Bolinas and then moved out to the Outer Richmond to brave Ocean Beach's waves for a season. I learned some great lessons regarding respect and humility out there. I also went cage diving with Great White Sharks in Gaansbai, South Africa in 2006. This inspired me to begin volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands. I also started playing numerous shows benefitting ocean causes during this time. The ocean is a huge part of my life and it only makes sense that my films would also convey that.

Why did you choose to submit your film to the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival? Swells and Storms was shot here in the Bay Area and focuses on the idea of getting out of the city and getting into the ocean in an effort to restore balance to our lives. The message the film imparts coincides with that of the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival (SFIOFF), so I'm hoping that the film will resonate with the SFIOFF community.

Is this your first time participating in an ocean-focused film festival? This is not my first time participating in an ocean-focused film festival. I was involved in the 2009 San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, as well as, the 2012 Mill Valley Surf Film Festival. However, this is my first time participating in a film festival as a filmmaker.

What was the most memorable moment in creating the film? We just had a great time shooting the whole thing. I particularly loved going out and catching the sunrise. I'll always remember driving around San Francisco on my motor scooter at the crack of dawn scouting for locations to shoot time-lapses.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? Just a special shout out to the folks at Waterlust who helped me develop the idea, provided equipment, and helped edit the final product together. Patrick Rynne in particular, was a huge part of this project from start to finish. He shot many of the scenes with us and truly co-directed the entire project. Thanks also to the folks at GoPro, who promoted the film as their GoPro "Video of the Day" sharing it with thousands of viewers around the world.

Look at San Francisco in a new way with Swells and Storms on Friday, March 8, at 7:00 pm.