Filmmaker Feature: Ryan & Dylan of The Granite Stoke
Dylan Ladds and Ryan Scura of the blog, The Granite Stoke, create short documentaries about people in New Hampshire who surf. Most people bypass New Hampshire on their list of surf destinations, however, this region contains a tight knit crew of surfers with a concentrated variety of waves in a very small stretch of coastline. And Ryan and Dylan have taken to finding some of the great stories around their area and documenting those to share with the rest of the world.
How did you get started in filmmaking? What was the draw for you?
Ryan: The original appeal was just having fun with my friends. We could make movies about anything. We made a movie about littering for a science project, we tried to make “Bond” (James Bond) movies. We made a movie instead of studying for our freshman midterms. As I grew older, I became more interested in the visual art of filmmaking. I also really like the element of time and how that affects the way you perceive images.
Dylan: Ryan and I started making films together in seventh grade. Working with your friends, throwing around crazy ideas and trying to bring them to life. It’s really an all-inclusive medium – which I didn’t really know at that time, but that is one of the main draws for me.
Formally trained? Or learn as you go?
R & D: Both. When we started in middle school, all the knowledge we had was from the movies we watched and from experience. We made films consistently through high school, and then we went to college. Ryan took as many film production classes as he could at Middlebury, and majored in studio art. Dylan studied film/animation/video at the Rhode Island School of Design. We both graduated last spring.
What's the most important thing you have learned as a filmmaker? Any lessons that keep coming up that you still have yet to master?
R: I always come back to the importance of story. A story is manifested in different ways, but what I often concentrate on is the pacing and structure of the visuals. Also, especially with this project, I’ve found it so important to get out and film as much as possible. It’s easy to say the waves aren’t good or the light isn’t right, but you just never know what you are going to get and I learn something every time I go out to film. In terms of lessons that keep coming up, it seems more like a constant stream of things. I feel I have so much to learn about each aspect of filmmaking and it’s really exciting.
D: I’m not sure if this is the most important thing I’ve learned, but it’s the first that came to mind. I’ve learned that – for me at least – you have to have a conversation with the film (or any piece of art), a back and forth. If you don’t listen to it and simply try to make what’s in your head, frustration soon takes over.
I still have tons to learn about filmmaking, so there are definitely lessons. I can think of one that is somewhat specific to this project. Making a video that will be seen primarily on the internet is very different from making a video to be seen in a theater setting or something like that. All filmmakers are faced with this today – it’s just the direction of media right now. I do a lot of sound design for our films, and as much as I hate it, I listen through my laptop speakers while I work rather than my nice Sennheiser headphones, because most people are probably going to see and hear our videos on a laptop. It also affects the length of the videos. People are much more likely to start watching a three minute video than a seven minute video. It’s a lot to think about – what if they watch it on an iPad? What’s the best thumbnail image for the video? What time of day should we release it?
When shooting, what are you looking for? Is there a certain approach that you take to each project?
R: I try to find those human moments, moments when people let their guard down and are really themselves. I also think the natural environment is a big part of a surfer’s life so I look to film people as part of the landscape. When we have time to think about a project, sometimes we’ll try to shoot in a specific way to emphasize certain aspects of a person and/or their style, but also things are happening really quickly and often we just have to react to things we didn’t expect.
D: We rarely stage anything when shooting for the documentary, so we’re always on our toes. We’re always seeing through lenses, so we look for interesting perspectives, engaging compositions. In the words of Mickey Smith, “Subtle glimpses of magic.”
For each short film that we make, we try to create something that conveys the person/event/place very wholly. In other words, we try to think about everything simultaneously – shots, editing, sound design.
It seems as though most of your videos have a nice storytelling aspect, highlighting a certain person. Why do you think we as humans are so interested in other humans?
R: I think we are interested in other humans somewhat because we are all so similar and can more easily empathize with other people. While we are all so similar, I think it is the differences that we find so intriguing. These differences can be large cultural differences or more subtle differences in attitudes.
D: We are all the same species, but there are endless differences between people - it’s impossible not to be interested.
What makes a good story?
R: There are all different kinds of good stories, but with what we are working on, what often appeals to me is honesty. I am compelled when people really open up and let people get to know them. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, it’s more about connecting with someone and learning something you wouldn’t have otherwise.
D: The ultimate question… I’ve decided the answer is different depending on whom you ask. Personally, I have no solid answer. Compare my Granite Stoke work to my senior film from RISD – I think they are both good stories, but they are very different. I think a good story means paying attention to pace, and also giving it room to breathe. Don’t force it – let it develop on its own.
Tell us a bit about your website The Granite Stoke. What is the goal for the site? Who is involved, etc?
R & D: The Granite Stoke is the name we chose for the project as a whole, not just the site. The site, however, plays a very important role. When we started the project, we decided to make short films as we go, and we needed an outlet for that. First of all, it keeps people interested in the project (we hope). It’s fun to let people know what we’re up to. Secondly, making short films allows us to sift through and familiarize ourselves with the massive amounts of media that we gather. That way, when we go to edit the final documentary, we have already worked with most of the footage beforehand. Much better than collecting hundreds of hours of footage over a year and then having to figure it all out at the same time.
With the amount of blogs, especially surrounding surfing/video, how do you guys aim to stand apart from what others are doing?
R: We’re really interested in the people here in New Hampshire. Sure, we get good waves sometimes, most places do, but these people are surfing all the time, regardless of the conditions. We are more interested in the entire surfing experience than just the act of riding a wave. We aren’t trying to get the best action shots, we’re just trying to communicate these people’s passion and the incredible community that exists here.
D: I think one of the main things that helps us in that area is our location. When I tell people about the project, most of them start by giving me a very skeptical look. “That exists?” “New Hampshire has coast?” “Isn’t it cold?” Our most recent short film, “Salmon Theory,” got a lot of attention on the internet, and I think that was partially due to the content – seeing surfers in the snow. It’s uncommon and impressive.
Tell us a little bit about the surfing community in New Hampshire?
R & D: People have been surfing here for over 50 years and a number of the original pioneers are still around. Most of those surfers are good friends because they were always surfing together and they were some of the only ones in the area for a long time. There’s been a huge boom in popularity recently, though, and it’s incredible how many surfers are here. There’s still a tight group on the coast, and there are a lot of surfers that live inland who make up a larger NH surfing community. All these people from different generations have different jobs and hobbies, but come together because of surfing. All the shops are friendly with each other. Everyone’s just so stoked.
What is unique about New Hampshire that most people may may overlook or may not know?
R & D: With the shortest coastline in the US, all the breaks are concentrated into a tiny area. You are more likely to run into the same group of people and that’s a part of why there is such a strong community of surfers here. Also, being somewhat under the mainstream surfing radar, NH surfers have fewer distractions and can have a more pure surfing experience. It is more just about the waves and riding and being with your friends. However, there is still localism here and contests and the newest gear and people trying to go pro and photographers and video cameras. Actually, in many ways, New Hampshire isn’t that different. The thing that is most often overlooked about New Hampshire is that it isn’t particularly unique. It would be more unique if there weren’t any surfers here. If people weren’t stoked about surfing, that would be weird.
We have coast… and good surf. Most people don’t know that. Even people that live here.
For more of their work and videos, visit http://thegranitestoke.blogspot.com/