Sven Dreesbach is a phenomenal filmmaker based in Los Angeles who teamed up with Robot Koch & Delhia de France to create a music video for their acclaimed song ‘Dark Waves’ (which was recently featured in the mid-season finale of How to Get Away with Murder). The music video is full of oceanic-based, dark imagery that goes very well with the tones of the song. “The moody atmosphere for the video was primarily set by the tone of the song. Robert Koch, the artist behind Dark Waves, approached me a while ago and told me about the back story behind how the song came alive in a dream while he was asleep,” Sven told us. “The blurry images he saw in his dream were involving dark mysterious shots of the ocean and also involved the lonesome surfer we follow around in the video. He pulled up one of my previous projects as reference for the overall atmosphere and basically asked me if I would be interested in creating something that feels similar for Dark Waves. I didn’t have to think about it much. Of course I was in for it. Particularly because the song was perfect for these kind of visuals.”
Looking at the video, you would probably guess that it was shot using “traditional” methods. You would be wrong. Sven instead opted to film the entire video on iPhone. “Two of the main reasons for choosing the iPhone over other cameras was its ease of use and flexibility. I was looking for a way to create images in the water that would slow down time to a level that would contribute to the dreamy and mysterious tone,” Sven said. “The new iPhones were simply a great option in regards to shooting slow motion in 1080p. This feature improved a lot compared to earlier iPhones. It’s just amazing to see this happening inside your smart phone, thinking about how a feature like 120 fps in 1080p just wasn’t available to consumer cameras at all not long ago. Another point obviously was the fact, that we shot this without much of a budget and the iPhone just has a better cost-benefit factor than professional camera gear which would have cost us a grand per day at least.”
Clearly many Sven’s shots were taken in the water, which means he couldn’t just jump in with his iPhone. He needed specialized equipment. “For the shots inside the water we used the latest underwater housing from Watershot. Grant Burton, the owner of the San Diego based company was kind enough to provide us with the latest production model of their housings. They are the only professional option in this category and worth a shot for anyone who wants to shoot action inside the water.”
When not in the water, Sven employed the Beastgrip, developed by Vadym Chalenko. “[It] comes with two lenses and optionally a 35mm adapter that enables you to use SLR or Cinelenses in front of your smart phone. The Beastgrip is a fine camera cage that turns any smart phone into a camera that’s attachable to any kinds of professional setups from Tripods to Steadycam rigs. We used it with a Manfrotto Fig Rig Camera Stabilizer which was perfect for a smaller camera setup like this. We also had a bunch of Olloclip lenses that were very quick and easy to use.”
In addition to the iPhone hardware, Sven opted to use Filmic Pro for his recording software (an app that I also strongly recommend). I was very excited to use Filmic Pro for the first time, because I heard and read good things about it. Neill Barham of Filmic provided me with the latest betas and gave us outstanding 1 on 1 support. My friend Steven Holleran, who is a DP, and who also came along with me, mainly ending in front of the camera though, had worked with Filmic extensively, even on feature films he shot, before and was able to give me a quick tutorial on how to use it. As most things iPhone it’s fairly intuitive though.
“Obviously due to the compressed nature of the footage which the iPhone captures, every way to maintain or increase quality of the files matters,” Sven continued. “It’s a great app that gives you a lot of control over the iPhone’s camera that you don’t have when using the standard iPhone camera app. Filmic enables you to turn the iPhone into a professional camera, with almost complete control over exposure and focus.”
Still, despite the form factor and ease of use, shooting in the environments that Sven did for this video was sure to introduce challenges. “The footage we see in Dark Waves was entirely shot during a 4 day trip along the Central Coast in California. I’ve been to the same locations before and knew my way around a bit already. A major challenge when shooting surf would unsurprisingly be timing. You basically need, well, waves! Luckily the timing ended up being perfect and we were able to capture hours of footage in and outside the water. That’s also one reason why Dark Waves is only one part of a project I called ‘Two Birds’ and that I am about to finish with a second film.
“This Moment (the second film) will have more of an advertising look but will also deal with surfing and what surrounds it. I guess the biggest challenge of all was going through the entire footage that we shot afterwards.”
Though slow motion has a lot of advantages when portraying mood, working with slow motion footage isn’t the same as working with traditional frame rates. “When you are capturing 120 frames a second, everything looks different,” Sven explained. “A moment you would usually not notice if it was shot with the usual frame rate suddenly reveals itself in an entirely different way. You are basically stretching time like you were using a magnifying glass on it and this requires a lot of patience when you are back home sighting the footage. You don’t want to miss those little moments that suddenly appear much bigger, than they actually are. Water and the Ocean are the perfect subjects for slow motion photography because it moves very fluidly but also really fast and it’s hard to impossible to notice all details without having this ‘special eye’ on things. Obviously slow motion also helps staging a particular mood and add a certain weight to the picture. It’s great that the iPhone shoots in 4k now, but neither Dark Waves or This Moment would have any similarity to what they became if it wasn’t for slow motion.”