Reel Talk with Leah Dawson

20 06

Leah Dawson spends half the year in Oahu, filming live professional surf events and the other half of the year travelling the world looking for creative outlets and exploring the ways to live a truly holistic and non-toxic life, rooted in a deep connection to the sea. She is getting more familiar with filmmaking as opposed to strictly camera operating and after watching a cute little short about her favorite old surfboard, Peanut Butter, we asked her to share a little bit about her journey through the world of visual storytelling. 

How did the Peanut Butter clip come about? Who and what inspired you to make it?

A friend of mine has a half-hour girls surf tv show on the local Hawaii channel OC16.  Each month she asks me for content, and I knew right away that a story would evolve when I found “Peanut Butter” under the house I am living at. I am mesmerized by single fins of all shapes and sizes, yet this particular one under the house felt special.  I started filming with the idea to capture the beauty of the board amongst the sea, and my clear adoration for the board. I had gathered beautiful water and action footage, but the story needed to be told. That’s when the collaboration started. I had just made a new friend, musician/poet Michael Franti, when he was playing a show out here in Hawaii. I showed him the cut of the surf footage, and he started blurting out the story nearly word for word as it transpires in the film. We shot the sand story on his last day in town, with the idea to tell a story that universally touches people’s hearts.

Describe the challenges of putting yourself in your own video? What do you like about it?

It’s definitely challenging to make a film about yourself, as the intention is not to boast, yet to humbly express. There’s a fine line between when your’e on both sides of the lens, yet with Peanut Butter, it had to be a story between the board and me. The story wouldn’t be the same had I written it all alone, yet that’s what I like most about it. I enjoy working with footage of myself as well, because it makes me more conscious of my expression and style. I love the endless canvas as well.  

What filmmakers inspire you most?

In the surf realm, both Nathan Oldfield (the Heart and the Sea) and Cyrus Sutton have elegantly captured the sense of spirit of surfing I seek to reveal in my work as well.  Its not about the industry, or the fame, its about the ride, the appreciation, the art, the expression. In the mainstream world, my father Kim Dawson, who is an independent filmmaker, has always inspired me to choose fulfilling projects, to reach out and go for it, and to never quit. And thats a really important part of filmmaking.  

What is the most important thing you have learned about shooting? Editing?

Most important lesson in shooting–preparation leads to success. Filming in the water requires camera prep that cannot be skipped over, or a foggy lens is all you get!   Also, from a creative standpoint,  I always do my best to create unique artistic angles, and to take my time getting everything I envision.

Most important lesson in editing: don’t get attached to the footage! Because an edit is always going to need to be cut down. I sometimes get emotionally connected to clips and it becomes challenging not to keep them in an edit!

What film equipment and editing software do you use?

The last couple films I have made have all been on the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition, edited on Final Cut Pro. I look forward to soon expanding my personal equipment, to include a great DSLR and eventually a film camera along with the film some day. I am also a live camera operator for a number of webcasts/broadcasts of Professional Surfing, including the Triple Crown, so a great deal of my time behind the camera has been on a HD broadcast camera setup that weighs twice my weight…

When composing a shot, what is it you are looking for?

I love drawing lines, finding a balanced frame, and I absolutely love Color! Vibrant color is so appealing to me when I shoot, it must be why I feel so drawn to filming in Hawaii.

What are you goals for filmmaking? 

My goal for filmmaking is to be a source of inspiration to people around the world to appreciate life, live to its fullest and healthiest, and to find adoration for nature and the environment. Ultimately, I think media will be the way our world reunites to global sustainability. The more we communicate with positivity, the brighter this world will become.

See more of her work here: 

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