A Royal Piranha Profile: Jess Dowse, Travel Filmmaker


Jess Dowse

Is a traveling filmmaker who documents her journeys by creating beautiful videos.
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Sri Lanka

Her most recent work really caught our eye.  It’s a video she made while traveling to Sri Lanka that truly captures the spirit of the island.  We love her use of sound in the video.  It grabs you, pulls you in, and adds a level of intensity that wouldn’t be there if she had just layed down some simple background music.  Check it out…

The Daily Lunge

Jess is also the founder of The Daily Lunge, an enterprise she created that offers a blog and vlog featuring her own work.  She also frequently posts insightful tips for her fellow filmmakers.

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The Interview

She has an intriguing style that we think can be very inspiration to other vloggers and filmmakers, so we picked her brain about her entire creative process.  Here’s what she told us!

RP: How would you describe your style of video creating?


Flying by the seat of my pants?!… A lot of what I do is really run and gun so I have to make sure I’m always ready to shoot and follow a potential story or situation. Something amazing could happen at any second so I try to be aware of that whilst keeping track of an ever evolving narrative in my head.  I am editing in my mind as I shoot so I always have an idea of the kind of things I need and how I might cover them.  My style has really evolved from being very British and not wanting to get in anyone’s way or piss anyone off.  It’s well documented that you have to get up close and personal to your subjects to get great shots… and I really struggle with that. Especially when you’re making travel films, the implication is that you should stick your camera in everyone’s face and get your shot but I can’t bring myself to do that without some sort of communication and connection first.  So I find I have kind of developed a bit of a ninja style of shooting where I try to fade into the background and observe- you’ll mainly find me hiding behind trees or shooting through a hedge or something.  It does mean my films are a bit less polished and commercial than the braver folks out there… but now it’s sort of become my thing and I’m fine with that!

RP: Why do you think video is such a powerful tool right now?


For two reasons- one cynical and one reassuring.  One: time and money.  Generally, we have less time and we are less willing to give that time to something that doesn’t wow us, or shock us or teach us some profound truth…. just look at what’s on TV or what goes viral.  Video packs a punch that words take longer to deliver.  The public demand more and more in terms of what entertains them and video is the most efficient way of satisfying that at the moment.  Until virtual reality kicks in and then, I might be out of a job.
Two: Slightly more reassuring, community.  More and more people are creating video.  The world is getting smaller and people’s voices are getting louder- they want to tell their stories.  And pictures are the only way to communicate across language and culture barriers.  When you can hear what someone’s voice sounds like from half way around the world, and you see their street and hear them interacting with their friends and living their life you learn in a much more visceral way and you understand on a deeper level.
I love writing, but in this time starved moment, video is going to tell your story in a much more powerful way

RP: Do you do all your own shooting and editing and what equipment and applications do you use?


Yes, I am a one stop shop for everything film!
I shoot on a Sony A7Sii and I just got an A6500 so I’m hyped to get trying that out! Lens wise, if it’s not commercial work then I shoot on vintage primes because I want everything to look a little dirtier… nice lenses are just so clean looking.  But that’s usually what clients like, so they get the canon L series lenses!  I just got a Zhiyun Crane gimbal and it’s a massive help.  I’m not sure how I coped without it.
Then I edit on FCPX.  I adore this program.  It gets a lot of stick but for me it’s fast, it’s easy and it’s never held me back.  I honestly think your equipment shouldn’t stand in the way of what you make though… I made a whole 7 series of a TV show on a rubbish Nikon and a 50mm lens.  Sometimes having less makes you more creative. 

RP: How did you conceptualize your videos?


Honestly, I find it hard to conceptualize a travel film before I am out there experiencing it.  It sort of just evolves from what I see.  To a certain extent, I make it up as I go along but try and pick out patterns in what I’m seeing and shooting and I find that once I start looking I see them everywhere and it becomes easier to develop a story.  When we were on the train I shot loads and obviously it tracks a journey… perhaps it’s a bit of an obvious motif but it makes sense to have that as the vein of the film… it also seems a little dreamlike because the girl is observing this different world pass by her window.  Having some sort of structure like this in mind is super helpful!

I also think dreaming up ideal scenes is a great way to know what you’re looking for and when you’ve found it.  You need things to happen…. you need to see action.  It sounds simple but finding things happening beyond what you can construct with the people you are with, is very difficult.  Places aren’t filled with crazy goings on- most people are just walking about, eating, being normal… you need to hunt out the fun stuff, the bigger action.  I don’t always find it…. and then it’s a case of knowing this and editing the film with this in mind.

RP: What’s the hardest part about traveling with gear, do you have any tips?


Oh- it’s just so annoying!  I am always carrying cameras… I wear them like necklaces!  When it comes to traveling seriously I have to make it as easy as possible for me to take my stuff out because if I don’t I will regret it.  So I spent good money on a sexy Venque backpack that doesn’t look like a camera bag and I don’t feel like a dork wearing it.  I choose tiny cameras… I should probably buy a big serious camera but I know I wouldn’t use it much.  I take three vintage primes that are tiny and light.  I have my gimbal… which is the heaviest most annoying bit of kit… so I put it together and balance it and put in a side pouch so it’s easy to grab.  Ease is the key and less is more.  Sometimes I just go out with my camera in my hand and a battery in my pocket…anything to keep me shooting.  Having a lovely person around who doesn’t mind carrying your bag every once in a while is nice too! 

RP: Where did you learn your craft from?


A mixture really.  I wanted to be a video journalist so I did an MA in journalism at Falmouth Uni and that taught me the basics of everything.  We had to make weekly news reports with interviews and slick B-roll… the works.  They grilled us every week and we got critiqued by BBC cameramen and pro radio producers so that really kicked me into shape.  After that, I went to China to make a TV show for a year and there were no rules!  That meant I could experiment a lot and make mistakes without anyone caring all that much.  We had very little help making those shows, so again I had to do everything and I have kept that mentality ever since.  I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to work, teams are great, but it’s important to understand what everyone needs and how they work.  After China, I worked in proper TV so the rules came in and again kicked me into shape and pushed me to think more about what I was making and how and why.  Now I feel like I am learning more than ever.  I will never be done… this job isn’t ever going to be something I can finish or complete.  Technology just develops so fast and you have to keep up to date to even stand still! 

RP: What or who are your biggest muses?


This is a really tough one… I think it probably changes weekly!  I’m massively into photography and I guess I draw a lot of ideas from that.  I try to get to a gallery once a month and that usually refreshes my creative juices.  It’s a bit weird, but I find a lot of ideas for me come from reading.  I like reading about art and design and architecture and the way they speak about their processes help me think about mine in a different light and it gives me new perspectives. 

RP: What is the hardest part about creating videos for you?


I hate to say this because it’s a such a cliche… but I am my biggest obstacle.  It takes a lot to get over yourself enough to even try to compete in such a saturated market.  To think your stuff is even good enough to show your mum, never mind the whole world!  When I share something it’s like the business woman in me takes over and says ‘I don’t care that it’s not perfect, today is the deadline and it’s going online!’… and creative me just sits there terrified of what people will think and how well it will do.  I work so hard on my films and sometimes I love them, but only for a week or so, then I start to see all the flaws and how I could’ve done better, should have pushed harder, should have got this shot or that shot.  I dream of a film going viral or getting a Vimeo staff pick but I know after 3 days of it happening I’d think the film was rubbish and I could do better!  But not in a downer way… it keeps me getting better.  But to go through this process every time of making something is for sure the hardest part!

RP: What is your favorite outside piece of work?


This is a tough one…. I have to say though when I first saw Watchtower Of Turkey by Leonardo Dalessandri (https://vimeo.com/108018156) I cried! For ages, I had been trying to find something different and unique and until then I hadn’t found it.  When I saw this film I was floored.  I watched it back to back about 10 times and I still watch it now every so often…I mean, just thinking about it gives me tingles! Of course, now that style is very popular and we’ve all kind of killed it!  Now, I’m on the hunt for something different again.

RP: How do the locations you travel to affect your vision for your videos?  Do you have any examples?


For me this is fundamental.  If any element of the film doesn’t fit with the place you’re trying to capture something is going to feel wrong.  The music has to be right, the colour has to be right, the way you cut, the pace, the energy… it all should be dictated by the place and your experience of it.  I see too many travel films at the moment cut to dance music with big drops and so much energy and their shots are whipping and zipping all over the place… but the content is just still buildings or really mellow beach shots, or people walking… that needs different music.  Nailing music is the key for me.  I work with an amazing composing duo (http://www.twotwentytwomusic.co.uk/) that really get the way I shoot and manage to perfectly capture the tone of the places…. they make my films.  I’m not saying you can’t go against the grain of the place and make something amazing though- Tarantino can do it, so you definitely can!- but it has to be a very decisive choice that you shoot for and manage to pull off… otherwise, the film won’t work.

Jess has a diverse client base she works with via The Daily Lunge.  She is involved in all aspects of productions, from developing the idea all the way though the post production process.  She is increasingly working with clients to help strategize their own social media campaigns to get their digital content seen.  You can get a hold of Jess on her contact page.

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