How many days have you forgotten? A conversation with Gnarly Bay.
In a small studio in Westerly, Rhode Island, two filmmakers are doing what they love: living each day as if it were their last.
Their names are Dan Riordan and Dana Saint, of Gnarly Bay Productions.
If you’ve visited their Vimeo page, then you know that the power of their films lies in their ability to translate huge emotions through slight moments and even slighter gestures.
They don’t milk grandiosity out of their images; instead they find a way to transport a viewer to places and into stories that may seem out of reach. They make those stories seem lived in, just around the corner, accessible. To us here at Story & Heart, that is the heart of what “authentic” footage can be.
This, as Dana describes in the film “Choice”, is how these two filmmakers celebrate the “magic in the mundane”.
Far from any commercial or client expectations, “Choice” is a deeply personal account of Dana’s time traveling through Mozambique and South Africa. Magnificent but measured, “Choice” is the kind of short film that serves as an inspiration to struggling artists, if only because it seems like Dana told his story exactly as it was meant to be told.
Though Gnarly Bay has worked with the likes of big pop stars, car companies, and healthcare services—building commercial clout from one end of the continent to the other—the films they share on their Vimeo page they affectionately refer to as their “passion projects”, which is maybe a nice way to say the films didn’t make them any money.
He explained his motivation:
“If you don’t...put time and effort into creative projects, and projects that you actually care about, then you’re just going to get burnt out. So, the more we do stuff on our own time, and stuff that we care about, and that really moves us, it’s just going to only enhance everything else.”
As many young filmmakers (including us at Story & Heart) did, the folks at Gnarly Bay got their start in wedding videos, but soon realized they wanted more out of their art. Yet, a small production company can’t grow on “passion projects” alone, and, as Dan admitted, it can be tough to find that balance between “realism and idealism.” Dana agreed:
“People get into this industry because they love doing what they do. ...But as you start making money and you get into that beast of an industry, you can get swallowed up like that. Your time is sucked in, and if you don’t make that effort to do what you love, you could end up hating what you initially loved.”
“...We do our personal projects and put them on Vimeo purposely to help steer the ship. The idea is that we’re holding onto the hope that we’ll get more and more of those jobs...more jobs that come through that we actually give a shit about.”
Some of us may just be starting out, looking for some motivation or advice, while some of us may be lost in the aforementioned “beast of an industry”, our inspiration waning. Days, weeks, years can get, as Dana said, "swallowed up like that."
So how do keep that from happening?
Here are 3 things any storyteller can do every single day to make sure that day is one more you won't soon forget:
1. Embrace what you already love.
A few years ago, Gnarly Bay created a series of shorts, each one detailing a particular season.
The origins of the videos aren’t really all that out of the ordinary. Dan and Dana just picked up a camera to film people they love. As Dana told it:
“We’ve been extremely fortunate to have just an amazing group of friends. ...And maybe that’s what people respond to, is the fact that our group of friends is down to go in the middle of the winter, throw 30 Christmas trees in a pile, and light them on fire. And if you’re there, you have that energy, people hanging out."
"Just the bond of people enjoying themselves, and you’re there with a camera, you’re gonna get magic.”
In other words: love translates. There’s no way to understand where your passion went if you don’t know where it already is.
Which may explain why Gnarly Bay devotes so much film to exploring the process of artists who, as Dan and Dana discovered, have managed to find true happiness through their art. One such person is Sarah DiNardo, an architect of alien landscapes made completely out of rolls of masking tape.
For DiNardo, creation is a physical process, a labor of love that inspired Gnarly Bay to want to not just see how she ticked, but try to figure out how someone’s livelihood could also support their more deep-seated artistic needs.
“If we can get inspired by a story, that just makes the process that much better, but if the story can be inspirational to others, that’s pretty awesome. Because for people to watch a video and be sitting on some sort of skill, or sitting on something that they want to do or might be afraid to do, if you see some random girl rolling tape and following her dreams and loving it and realizing that doing something she loves is a beautiful thing, then people that would watch it and be like, ‘I’m going to learn to play the guitar tomorrow…’”
“Whatever your roll of tape is...roll with it.”
“Ordinary people can be extremely inspiring. You gotta let people talk and hear what they have to say. Look at Ken Delmar: he paints on paper towels, and that’s kind of cool. Maybe he’ll help somebody not be afraid to try something new, or try something they love, or do something that they love.”
Seriously, look at Ken Delmar:
He didn’t set out to make paper towel paintings, but when he rolled with it he found a whole new wealth of inspiration.
2. Go. Now. Grab that camera and begin.
This is another way of saying:
You have no excuse to not start filming. Because once you start, you may find that you can’t stop.
“The creative process almost inspired us to kind of do more, get out there. Do more. Just constantly film stuff. That’s kind of an exciting thing: if you’re gonna capture and make a video, you’re going to want to do cool things, and you’re only going to have more fun doing it.”
Dan summed this up:
“The biggest advice for somebody starting out is: go do what you want. Do it. Get your camera and go do exactly what you want. If you liked what you did and then you edit it, then it’s going to translate, it’s going to jump out of the screen. People are going to enjoy it, and it’s going to perpetuate your career.”
3. Keep searching.
“If you want to get cool shots, you keep searching. It gives you an excuse to get up at 6 am to film a fisherman, or go walk down some weird alleyway that you normally would 100% not, because you want to see what’s down there, to see if there’s some crazy old lady at a sewing machine or something…”
While we’re still waiting for that biopic on the crazy old sewing machine lady, we do have the beautiful film “a story for tomorrow.”
We asked Dana where this film started.
“At the end of your life, you look back, and it’s essentially one long story. The moments that you see and care about...that’s all that really matters. We all become just a long story...you want it to be a good one. Right? ...If we know that now, moving forward, we realize that we want to make this as bad-ass as possible...You can make it whatever you want.”
Dan used some Eddie Vedder lyrics to clarify:
“The more days that you live that you won’t soon forget, the better your story’s going to be. So go out and do things that break the norm, and break your routine...because you’ll actually remember that day. And if you remember a bunch of days, then you’ve just created a long and beautiful story.”
Remember what you hold dear, forget your fear, and never hesitate to let your life’s story take you down paths you’ve never anticipated.
Now it's your turn. What's one day you soon won't forget? Go ahead and share in the comments below. You may want to check back daily to see what kinds of days you may have missed.