Since shooting freeride mountain bikers in Utah, Allday director Matt Baron has seen a complete change of scenery in his second film for luxury outerwear producer Moncler. Now focusing on pro-surfing in the Hawaiian Islands, Matt talks about working with 17-year-old surfer Malia Ward, recording her reciting her poetry, and the challenges of shooting out in the open ocean for this film that launches today.
Could you tell us about the surfer? Who is she? Why did you pick her?
The star of our film is Malia Ward, the 17 year-old daughter of Pro Surfer Chris Ward who is quickly making a name for herself as a real shredder. Although Malia is an extremely talented athlete who is rapidly emerging in the surf world, she was a perfect choice because she had yet to have any major sponsors that would conflict being in our film. Malia was a true pleasure to work with because she has a relentless work ethic and bubbly, positive attitude.
Where in Hawaii was the film shot?
The film was shot on the North Shore of Oahu, a location which hosts some of surfing’s most notable breaks, including the infamous “Pipeline.” We chose Hawaii because we wanted to shoot in a beautiful, “summery” place that would deliver consistent waves. Although we shot in the off season, the North Shore’s “off season” waves are often way bigger than in other locations around the world. We were also lucky to have the swell pick up on the two days we were shooting.
“We wanted to capture Malia’s relationship with the ocean both physically and emotionally.”
How long did it take to shoot this film?
We shot the film over two days in two locations. Everything shot on the beach was at a location that I felt was nicer for that material and the rest was done at a better surfing spot.
Any funny anecdotes from the set?
When we launched the drone off the beach one time, a dog was close-by and instantly starting running after it and barking furiously. We flew the drone back and forth and laughed as the dog chased it all over the beach, as if he thought he could jump 30 feet high and catch it.
The other joke on set was that we would be bringing our underwater DP Don King on all of our future jobs, regardless of if was in the water. We would just push a large fish tank on wheels to a studio shoot and have Don King in his wetsuit, scuba mask and fins filming from it, as it would probably turn out better than anything we could do ourselves!
What are the main constraints with shooting in the Hawaiian waves?
This was my first time shooting anything that highly involved water and it proved to be quite challenging. You need the right waves. Not all “big waves” are necessarily ride-able. When those good waves came we needed to ensure that Malia was getting the opportunity to ride them, as there are a lot of surfers who want them. Our producer Andrew Runkle hired a “blocker” for this exact reason. Kai was 6'4" with a weathered “don’t fuck with me” face and must have weighed 250 pounds of solid muscle. He would ride alongside Malia and his stature would strongly suggest to the other surfers that was her wave. Other constraints included rain, and rapidly changing cloud patterns, but those are typical to any outdoor location job.
Since, I typically am the DP for all of my shoots, the main constraint for me personally was not being able to see the footage live as it was being shot. There was no opportunity to direct talent and camera once they had entered the water. Instead I had to be very specific with the shots I wanted my underwater DP Don King to get with Malia before they left the beach. I prepared for this by making meticulous storyboards to share with him ahead of time. Don was unbelievable. He would return from each 2-hour session with Malia and I would ask him if he had gotten some strong footage. He would shrug and casually say “yea, I think there are a few nice clips in there.” As I reviewed the clips I was blown away.
“As Malia says, ‘the ocean has a complex personality and different moods, just like a person.’”
For the drone, we reached out to Eric Sterman, a talented young filmmaker who is quickly emerging as the prime aerial cinematographer in Oahu. He was extremely enthusiastic and generous with his time and resources, coming to set both days when only hired for one. His experience shooting some of the world’s biggest breaks was crucial to getting the necessary shots to complete the film.
This is your second piece for Moncler. The campaign seems very cohesive. Can you talk about how your approach to this one was different or the same to Free Ride?
Although this film deals with a totally different subject matter, location and set of challenges, the approach was quite similar to that of the Freeride film. We wanted to make something cinematic, a film that was visually striking and would steer away from other typical things seen. This wasn’t meant to be a surfing “highlight reel,” by any means. It’s not a showcase of all of Malia’s technical moves over countless waves, but rather focuses on the experience of surfing as a whole. It is all about getting to the essence of what it feels like to be a surfer like Malia, the excitement that arises when entering the water, the anticipation of finding the right wave, and the empowerment that is gained when conquering the fears of riding it. That’s why the bulk of the film focuses on everything that happens before riding the wave. We wanted to capture Malia’s relationship with the ocean both physically and emotionally. We see tons of shots that focus on the power of the ocean both above and below water. As Malia says, “the ocean has a complex personality and different moods, just like a person.”
The voice over is very poetic and does a good job meeting the visuals. Was that written by her, you or the client?
Malia writes a lot of poetry about the ocean and after listening to a few of her poems I was inspired to get that meditative quality into the voiceover of the film. After we wrapped our second shooting day, Malia and I sat on the bed in her room with the lights dimmed and did the interview. I asked her to cross her legs and close her eyes and answer questions as if she were meditating and writing poems on the spot. Her responses were remarkably composed and mature coming from a 17-year-old. She had a beautiful calmness to her voice and delivered line after line of great dialogue. When she finished our sound recorder Rob Bluemke and I looked at each other and were like “dude… it’s going to be hard to edit this down in post!”
What’s next for you?
I just recently shot the last of my three films for Moncler. I am really excited about this one as we got very strong footage despite the challenges of shooting at night in a dangerous location with limited resources. Otherwise, I am in the middle of finishing a New Balance baseball commercial and have potential jobs with Madonna and Hugo Boss on the horizon.