Filmmaking and Freediving Inspiration and Tips

Finding the Quiet Below

Freediving and Filmmaking Inspiration and Tips
by Mathilda de Villiers

“I think freediving is the one thing that can totally calm down everything in my head. Just completely thinking about one thing at a time” – Emmett Sparling

Taking a deep breath in, submerging yourself underwater, diving down into the abyss below, and putting all your trust in yourself. You feel the immense pressure building as you’re diving deeper, all the while ignoring the voice in your head that’s screaming for you to stay above the surface in order for you to stay alive. Freediving opens up a whole new world in the depths below. It opens up a whole new understanding of our bodies and minds.

Our bodies, with the correct training, are capable of so much more than we think. Freediving goes against our natural instincts. It calls for a deep understanding of what happens to our body when it’s submerged deep underwater for minutes at a time without air and how our senses react to that unnatural state of being. Our minds are capable of being pushed far beyond what we think it’s capable of. For our minds, in the end, control everything.

Diving down, down into the blue abyss, interacting with the wild creatures that roam under the surface of the water, is a choice that a select number of humans on this planet make. Those that make that choice and that stick with it for long enough to become experienced divers, get to a point where they are able to experience a series of adaptations that translates into their dive reflex. It is how the body aids itself in breath holding and immersion in water. It allows the free diver to handle pressure and depth better, allowing the body to more efficiently use oxygen by increasing the body’s capacity of carrying oxygen through the blood system.

“You have to be hyper present, hyper aware.” – Chelsea

Emmett (@emmett_sparling) started freediving a little over a year ago, after he was introduced to it by his good friend, Chelsea Yamase. Since then, he has improved at an unprecedented rate, according to Chelsea. Since he started, he has taken his camera down with him and has created incredible underwater content. But it has been a difficult process to get to where he is today. “Underwater photography is challenging.” Since he has gotten more comfortable underwater, he has worked on various projects together with Chelsea and Josiah Gordon where they have created breathtaking images and films. The three of them are close friends and they understand each other in the working environment, whether that be on land or in the world of breath holds.

Josiah & Chelsea. Photo by Emmett Sparling

Chelsea (@chelseakauai) grew up in Kauai, Hawaii and today freediving is a huge part of her life. But she didn’t always spend her free time holding her breath underwater. Her path that led her to that world began with her scuba diving. But when she started to be surrounded by free divers it didn’t take long for the sport to take over. “When you see someone just hanging out at the bottom and they’re just dancing and interacting with whatever wildlife is there…it seems so easy and so blissful. I just really wanted that feeling,” she says. 

Josiah (@josiahwg) started his underwater journey through spearfishing while he was living in Hawaii during his college days. “Freediving has always been a very meditative thing, and it’s all because of breath,” he says. He explains it in the way that when you free dive, you have a lot less space to think, so you enter into the meditative state where you’re not thinking about anything.

“The only thing you’re thinking of is what’s immediately in front of you. There are no distractions, there’s nothing else.” – Josiah

Photo of Chelsea Yamase by Josiah Gordon

Tips for getting started with freediving:

  • Always make sure that you never push yourself further than your own capabilities. Starting a new sport always requires safety measures, especially one that can potentially be dangerous. If you’re starting out with people who are more advanced in their training than you, then it could make you push yourself unnecessarily. So it’s important to stay true to yourself and your limitations. “Educate yourself on what happens in your body when you’re doing this. [Develop] that knowledge and comfort and self awareness,” Chelsea says.
  • Invest in a course. As much as you can learn from others, going on a certified course teaches you about the biology of your own body and capacity as well as all the breathing techniques. On top of that, being surrounded by professionals in the learning phase also gives you an important sense of safety, giving yourself more space to learn and grow the talent. 
  • Always dive with a buddy. This is paramount in creating a solid safety net. Chelsea recently took Emmett to a spot in Hawaii where they went diving in a cave with sharks. She says that she would not have taken him there half a year ago. She only took him because she knew that he was comfortable doing it. Diving with a responsible buddy that won’t push you unnecessarily is also vital. 
  • Stick with it. Of the free divers that I have spoken to, not one of them ever said that freediving was easy when they started with it. It’s the type of sport that you really need to stick with and push yourself with to exceed. You’re not only training your body, but you’re training your mind in a big way. Personally, from what I’ve learned, is that that’s the biggest lesson to be learned – the training of your mental capacity. Because if you’re diving down into a cave and you start to freak out mentally, that’s when accidents happen that can end badly.
  • Be patient. Freediving opens up a world that is unique and you need to allow your body to adjust to the underwater world. 

When Chelsea started, she struggled. The level of comfort and expertise she has today – that came with years of practice and dedication. It first took her getting comfortable being in the water, then followed by her developing her techniques.

Photo of Chelsea Yamase by Emmett Sparling

Being a filmmaker under the surface:

  • Having a good report with the person you’re shooting with is probably one of the most important things when it comes to shooting underwater, according to Josiah. He says that it’s a lot harder than what it looks. Knowing your own limitations as well as the model’s limitations is key because if you are both not synced up with one another, then it can take up a lot of time figuring that out and timing your breath holds with one another. 
  • While you’re still above the surface, work out a game plan. As soon as you duck down, you’re not only having to think of the composition – you’re having to be aware of your breath hold and your body. There is already a lot to think about, so if you have an idea of what you’d like to achieve before you head down, it makes the process that much more seamless.
  • As a model, it’s vital that you know what you look like underwater, because as graceful as Chelsea makes it look, that’s not how people usually look when they’re submerged in the deep blue, according to Josiah. It’s actually quite a challenge to make yourself look that graceful and it comes with a lot of practice.  
  • Know your equipment and its limitations. Josiah says that on a recent trip that he did with Chelsea and Emmett, they dove down so deep that his housing started making a crackling noise and that the buttons stopped working. Knowing where those limitations begin is crucial, but it also allows you to create content you may not have known you could get if you didn’t allow that push. Their equipment got through unscathed, but they also knew where they could push it to.
  • “A lot of the process is inspiration,” Josiah says. Inspiration from other creatives and from other images online. Often, for him, a quick search that comes up with an image he likes that he would like to try and recreate or make his own is how he comes up with an idea.
  • Keep in mind that when you’re diving down with a camera and underwater housing, you’ll be expending a lot more energy than you would without it. A housing floats, so you have to push it down with your own body. One trick that Josiah and Emmett have both used is to add weights to the housing, which makes it a bit easier on the diver to go down with. What’s important to remember with added weights, is that your housing will not float anymore so there’s an added risk of it being dragged to the bottom if you let go of it. 
  • Underwater photography and working with housings are both very challenging skills. A lot of people think that having the gear alone is enough, although it requires a lot of persistence and dedication, just like freediving. 

Josiah and Chelsea have worked together for a few years and they have developed an extremely natural way of knowing what the other person is capable of underwater. They have a strong love for the water they immerse themselves in and they know how the other person works, making their creative time together seamless and enjoyable. “No matter what the chaos is going on around me, [that’s] how can I stay in that really centred place with my mind and with my heart,” Chelsea says.

Photo of Emmett taken by Josiah Gordon
Audio Version of the Freediving and Filmmaking Blog

Launching as a filmmaker in 2020

Breaking Into The Travel Industry As A Filmmaker

by Mathilda de Villiers

Today, the industry of videography has many players. The competition is fierce. The creativity and quality levels are at an all-time high. So if you’re wanting to start a career in filmmaking, whether it’s commercial work or a dedicated YouTube channel, how do you make sure that you stand out? How do you make your mark? Do you cower away and run? Or do you step up to the challenge?

Ten years ago, if you yearned to learn about filmmaking, video editing or anything related, you probably chose to attend a college or course. Today, all you have to do is click on the search bar in Google or YouTube. There isn’t much that you can’t learn online anymore. This, of course, has its pros and it has its cons. Sitting next to another human being is sometimes a better way of learning a new skill. Getting critical feedback is crucial to developing as an artist. But if you don’t have the funds to invest in years of studying, the gift of YouTube can take you very far. In the end, it really does boil down to personal preference, where your life has landed you and most of all – whether you have the true drive behind what you’re aiming to achieve.

I sat down with two highly successful filmmakers based out of Cape Town, South Africa, to hear their stories and what they had to say about starting a fresh career today compared to when they first started. In the last decade the game has changed, the gear being used is far beyond the scope of average and the creators out there are operating at a very high skill level. But don’t let this demotivate you – there is still a lot of space for new players in this world. There are just a few key things that will be needed to make you into a successful contender. Bryn and Naude share their knowledge and their insights into what will make you stand out.

Bryn North, originally from Zimbabwe, started his career roughly seven years ago. He has been living in Cape Town for roughly a decade and even though his work usually takes him over international waters, he still keeps Southern Africa as his base. Through his tangible passion for his craft, he made his mark as an incredibly talented filmmaker and has traveled and worked with other creatives such as Sam Kolder. But it didn’t always look so clear and simple for him. It took a life event where he injured his ankle to catapult him into learning how to become a multi-talented filmmaker through teaching himself through the vast expanse of YouTube. And back when he clicked, searched and watched, the world of YouTube hardly looked as full-bodied as it does today.

Naude Heunis’ career has taken him to many locations around the globe, but his work has mostly been focused on Africa, and he has worked for large corporations and brands as a filmmaker and photographer, including Rhino Africa, PolarPro and National Geographic. He has spent many years learning how to navigate the African wild and recently co-founded Behind The Scenes of Nature(*LINK), an organization dedicated to telling the stories that might otherwise get missed through dedicating time and resources into less-established communities affected by the global climate crisis.
Bryn never went to film school. Naude attended a film school in Cape Town. Today, they are friends and they have also worked together on projects with one another. They are both highly passionate about what they do as individuals, which is the first key to making it a success in this day age, according to Bryn – no matter how you learned your craft.

Be passionate

“If you’re passionate about something then you don’t mind the hard work. The hard work will come naturally. When things feel hard and you give up then you’re not truly passionate about it,” Bryn says.
Otherwise, you’ll never want to put in the work required to make a mark in this industry. It takes hours upon hours working on his videos and on projects for clients. And it’s not always easy, he says. It might not always be easy work, but if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and you’re passionate about it, the time you spend won’t ever feel like a lot of work in any case.

Passion projects

These are what keeps those fires burning – the passion that ignites the work. Sometimes when a passion becomes a job, you can get caught up in the end game and let the journey of creating slip away. For Bryn, passion projects are a big part of what he does because it allows him to at times take his own path, step out of the norm and show off his skills in the exact way that he chooses to.

Don’t let social media calculate your worth

“Starting out…if your video or your post on Instagram doesn’t do well, it doesn’t mean it’s not good. So look past that,” Bryn says.
You have to remember that you’re starting now. No matter who else you’re looking at on social media, know that it probably took them about 4 to 5 years to master their craft. It doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s so hard to not get defeated because we have access to everyone and everyone’s lives. But only the good,” Bryn says. No one is showing you the horrible side of things. So it’s so easy to compare yourself when everyone is putting up these amazing things when no one showing you how hard it is or the hours that they’ve put in.

Master your craft

This doesn’t mean just enjoying what you do and doing it well. Choose a part of your medium and do it really, really well. This, according to Naude, will set you apart and will make people notice you.
When Naude first started out as a filmmaker, he was at the forefront when drones first came out. He picked one up, knew that there weren’t a lot of people out there doing it and he decided to run with it. He became really good at flying and shooting with a drone that bigger clients started noticing him.
In the same breath, however, he said that it’s equally as important to understand every part of your medium and how it works. For instance, if you want to become a cinematographer, you need to know how to not only be behind the camera, but also how to direct, how to produce and how to edit.
For instance, if you don’t know how editing works, while you’re out there shooting, you might miss many shots that you’ll need once the editing process begins.
“[It’s] not necessary [to] be good at all those things but dabble in it so that you know what it takes to do all those things,” Naude says.

Take risks and get uncomfortable

Naude and Bryn’s paths might be paved differently, but the way they lay their foundations is clear. They weren’t scared to risk it in order to make it. They weren’t afraid of the unknown – they allowed their ignited passions to guide their way forward.
There’s a saying that goes, “you’ll never know unless you try.” After speaking to both of them, I noticed that there was a common thread. They are both rooted in what they do. They have passion and they know their own self-worth.

Find your unique style

It’s easy to look towards others and do as they do. It’s another thing to look, learn and make that style your own. This is just as important, according to Naude. He says that he learned a lot from his mentor over the years, but eventually he took the knowledge he gained and turned it into his own unique style.
And that’s what allows you to stand out above the rest – the value that your work will give to your clients. And whatever you do for or with clients, make sure that you do it to the absolute best of your ability. Because if you impress a client once, chances are they’ll dial your number again for future jobs.

Through all the hard work, the failures and the successes, these two creatives have found their footing in the industry and they have made it their own. To do so, one thing rang true – if it’s a true passion, everything else will follow.
So if you’re sitting there, still wanting to take this world on, you should be filled with hope and not despair. It’s easy to get demotivated and intimidated, but it’s important to put all of that aside and run with what truly ignites the fire inside. Yes, the industry might be saturated. Yes, the talent pool is large and the players are strong. But this doesn’t mean that the work that you put out isn’t good. It doesn’t mean that there is no space for new talent.
This world of filmmaking is exciting, it’s more alive than ever and it’s an incredible feeling to break into something as rich as digital storytelling. Let the passion come alive and allow that fuel to carry you through to your goals.

Bryn North

Naude Heunis