Water: The Ultimate Unknown

By Ben Fox

June 16, 2014

Morgan Massen Water

For an invigorating view at the magnificence and power of the ocean, look no further than the recently released short film Water, by Morgan Maassen. A young, Los Angeles–based surf filmmaker, Maassen has traveled the globe to film the world’s best surfers. Yet Water, which was a recent staff pick on Vimeo, is unique. With its artistic emphasis on cresting waves and rippling tides, this film focuses less on human athleticism and more on the natural beauty of the ocean.

Renowned surf filmmaker and Patagonia ambassador Chris Malloy speaks to Morgan’s unique style within the filmmaker community: “I feel like Morgan is less informed by his peers and more by his own journey with light, composition, and storytelling. He is not so much about surfing as he is about the setting he’s in-- using the elements to capture a feeling and celebrate the environment.”

Sierra recently got in touch with Morgan to talk about his passion for the ocean and what it took to create this film.

Sierra: What inspired you to make Water?

Morgan Maassen: I grew up in the ocean. It means the world to me. I've based my life and adventures in and around it and can't go a day without seeing it. I'm incredibly fortunate to base my work around the ocean.

Sierra: How long did this project take?

MM: I started filming in Tahiti in August 2013. I shot more video for it in December 2013, in Hawaii, and returned to Hawaii in January 2014, piggybacking this project onto different commercial shoots and traveling. I sat down to edit it in mid-March and had it online after several days of editing.

Sierra: What do those locations mean to you?

MM: I spent a lot of my year in Hawaii for photo shoots and video projects, so I am constantly in the ocean and on its beaches. As Water is the culmination of over a year of work, I naturally had a lot of footage from the waters of Hawaii. Tahiti is one of my absolute favorite places to visit in the world. It has the most stunning ocean and mountains. I visit there several times each year, and I find myself more enamored with its beauty each time.

Sierra: What equipment did you use and what are some of the challenges you face when filming in the water?

MM: I shot this on a Red Epic in an SPL water housing. I used a Nikon 14mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/1.4 lenses. For shooting underwater, I was wearing Churchill fins and a mask and snorkel. There are many unique challenges when filming in the water. During this project I was mainly concerned about getting sucked over the falls and hitting the reef at Teahupo’o, not getting run over by surfers as they passed me by, and all the complications that come with putting a massive, heavy, and very hot camera in a tiny metal enclosure.

Sierra: What's your favorite part of the film?

MM: My favorite part would have to be when the wave breaks and then naturally fades to black, only leaving bubbles (1:18–1:30). A lot of people have asked if I used any heavy color-correcting or effects, when in fact all I did was minor saturation and contrast changes. That particular shot shows what inspires me most about the sea: it's the ultimate unknown, bending light and textures in ways that are indescribable.

Sierra: Tell me a little about surf videos. How are they progressing?

MM: Surf movies are progressing in ways that were unimaginable to me five years ago. The size and affordability of the Red camera, coupled with the democracy of the internet and advancement of modern surfing, has made now more exciting than ever to be a participant in surf culture.

Sierra: What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

MM: Truthfully? Nothing. I made the film for myself. I put it online to showcase my favorite thing in the world, with no ambition for it to succeed or cater to an audience. The fact that it was well received is super exciting though. To share what I appreciate most with the world and see it inspire people that can't (or haven't yet) experienced the ocean the way I do is always an honor.


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