Reel Talk: Russell Brownley

Russ Brownley is the guy behind the camera in De Passage, the latest release from Reef. It’s a 23-minute epic that pays homage to a bygone era while following Reef’s surf team through exotic waters. To get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how it was made, we asked the filmmaker himself. Here’s what Russ had to say:

You just finished up De Passage. How did that project come about? 

Mark Tesi, the Creative Director at Reef, and I just started brainstorming ideas before a shoot we had last year in Tahiti. We wanted to show Tahiti in a different light than what we had seen of it before. I had been watching a ton of old Jaques Cousteau films and was enamored by the color and style that he used. We pretty much just used that inspiration as our platform and went from there.

I have always been interested in 60s travel culture and wanted the film to have that look and feel…as if you were watching a commercial to come and vista the “far off distant land of…” in 1963. That’s really where the color and creative direction came from. We also didn’t want it to feel bright and sunny either, like how we always see the tropics in film, so that’s where we wanted to add a layer of darkness to the creative direction…hence the portraits and darker color palette.


How is it working for a brand on a film project?

Reef is a wonderful company and has a great platform to work with, from their amazing surf team, to their product…and we really wanted to make sure this project not only represented the brand in the most creative way possible, but also left room for what Mark and I wanted to bring to the table creatively. Working with a company like Reef also opens up amazing resources like team managers like Shea Perkins, and a huge creative team behind the scenes. In the end, I loved having Reef back this project and would for sure work with them in the future on other projects.

Reef Crew Tahiti 2

Was it different than other projects you’ve done in the past? 

I work primarily as a commercial and documentary Director/DP, so projects like this are so fun and allow me to be as creative as possible…which I love. I’ve directed a few surf documentaries like “Gum For My Boat,” “Promised Land,” and recently shot on the Switchfoot Documentary “Fading West” as well as directing a surf film for Reef years ago called “Cancer To Capricorn,” but this film was different because we really got to make sure the creative direction came out the way Mark and I wanted it to.

In the past, surf films that I worked on were all about the action, but this one (even though there is amazing surfing in it…) we were really able to focus on the overall creative direction and then just fill in the blanks with amazing surf action. I loved that dynamic and hope to do more projects like that in the future.


You really had full creative control? What are you hoping to communicate? 

That was one of the best parts of this project. Mark and I had almost complete creative control and were able to make it look and feel the way we wanted it to. I came up with a general look and operated the camera a lot for the film and then Mark really chimed in on the over all creative and music direction of the film. He even composed a lot of the sound design throughout as well.

I just wanted to pay homage to some of my favorite directors and adventurers and then bring my love of surfing into the mix as well.

What filmmakers inspire you most?

Wes Anderson, PT Anderson, Jaques Cousteau, Spike Jonze, Micheal Gondry. In the surf world, I love stuff that Dustin Miller, Scott Soens, Jake Riccioti, Jake Burkhart, Chris Bryan, Nic Mclean, Cyrus Sutton, and Sterling Spencer are doing.


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

Surf Films are a bear to undertake, just because the crews are smaller and budgets usually aren’t huge. I just think that you need to approach projects like this with a clear vision and then fill in the blanks with incredible surfing along the way.

What film equipment and editing software do you use?

We had an amazing partnership with Red Cinema on this film which was amazing. We shot the majority of the film on Red Epic and then some stuff on the Canon 5D here and there. Then the film was cut on Adobe Premiere and color graded by my amazing colorist, Matt Fezz in Sydney. He colors the majority of the projects I work on and has such a clear vision of the look that I want.

What’s next for you?

I’m directing and DP’ing a ton of commercial stuff in the near future…and at the same time we are already starting to gather more footage for the next project with Reef! We have already taken a few trips and have a few more planned. Mark and I are always thinking of new ideas and are stoked to just get started on the next creative endeavor.

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