In this instalment of Meet the Creatives, we speak to filmmaker Greg Dennis. He tells us how in-water filming can enhance your production, and reveals the moment in his career that turned out to be much scarier than his encounter with sharks…
Greg Dennis is a filmmaker with a passion for storytelling and the ocean. His career has led him across the globe to reveal narratives that might otherwise go untold, whether it be the emergence of surfing in a remote fishing village on the coast of Madagascar, or the connection of tribes and wildlife at an elephant sanctuary on the plains of Kenya.
Greg is a twice receiver of the prestigious Vimeo Staff Pick award for his most recent film Looking Out and The Blue Time just a couple of years ago, which was also selected for the National Geographic Short Film Showcase.
What do you do?
I’m a filmmaker who specialises in filming in the water.
How did you get started?
I’ve been taking photos since I was 16 and studied documentary photography at Falmouth University. When I left I knew I wanted to carry on taking photos so I got a bar job to pay the bills and began telling everyone that I took photographs to see if anyone had a job or project I could take on. I kept being asked to make a video which I had no idea how to do, so I stumbled my way through making a few and then people kept asking for more videos. I taught myself from there but also learnt a great deal about the world of production when I worked with a production company called Sideways for a couple of years. I’ve now been freelance for three years and have been lucky enough to travel all around the world to tell stories and work with fascinating people.
How did you get into in-water filmmaking?
Before I was making videos I had bought a surf-housing for my stills camera as I loved being in the ocean and wanted to combine that passion with my picture taking. When I got into video it was a natural progression to take a video camera into the water and attempt to make some surf films.
What do you like about it?
I love surfing but have never been amazing at it. Taking my camera into the water allowed me to be right in the action on days that would have been too gnarly for me on a board! I get the same stoke from getting a great shot in the water as I do from riding a great wave.
In-water filmmaking highlight?
To name one is difficult! There’s both adrenaline-rush moments and really tranquil moments that come to mind…
I think my highlight combines the two. When in Hawaii myself and Harry De Roth (professional surfer I was filming) met a spear-fisherman who offered to take us on his jet ski to swim with some sharks a mile or so off shore. We pulled up 50m away from a boat that runs tours to see sharks and we jumped in (it wasn’t as hasty as that makes it sound…). I thought I was going to be pumped with adrenaline and really scared, but to my surprise I felt calm and confident, swimming up to sharks, diving down to be on their level. It was a really special 20 minutes or so. The resulting footage can be seen in my film COLOUR.
What’s your scariest moment with the camera?
Scariest was probably being washed over a slab in Scotland on a fairly chunky day! I went to dive under an incoming wave, my housing hit a rock as it was so shallow and then the wave took me right in over the rocks. I couldn’t actually believe that neither me nor the camera/housing were hurt or damaged. I swam back out to the lineup!
What type of productions use in-water filmmaking?
Anywhere that a viewpoint from on or under the water’s surface is going to help tell or enhance the story and experience for the viewers. I’ve shot in swimming pools for commercials and instructional videos. In the sea also for commercials, narrative pieces, surf films and documentaries. Having a camera with a large sensor and a proper lens offers so much more than anything you’re going to get from a GoPro.
What can it add to a production?
That different perspective. Energy. A more intimate feel.
You’ve got heaps of energy. How do you keep going through a long shoot?
Keep warm by wearing more neoprene than you think you need! Snacks. Water. Laughter? You’ve gotta be having fun.
In the next instalment of Meet the Creatives, we speak to scriptwriter Alex MJ Smith. He explains how his shattered dreams of rock stardom led him to write for comedy shows and brand films, and how a script helps the whole production run like clockwork…