Moment Invitational | How This Was Shot | Andrew Kearns

Andrew Kearns dives deep into underwater filmmaking and the challenges he faces while staying creatively inspired.

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We launched a film festival dedicated to the mobile creative, “The Moment Invitational”. 11 filmmakers made heartfelt, visually juicy short films with their phones. They each proved you can create incredible work with the devices we use everyday. We got to sit down with each filmmaker to learn just how they did it.

Andrew Kearns delivers a visual heartthrob with stunning underwater aesthetics and sharp sound design. “I’m Not Trying To Stay Comfortable” is a hypnotic allure supple with an intense ethical musing of our heart’s longing to step into the unknown. Kearns’ film is essential to have amongst rest of our Invitational group due to its gorgeous depiction of life underwater — a seemingly daunting challenge to overcome as a mobile filmmaker. We’re stoked to have sat down with him to pick his brain on how he shot his debut short film, the challenges he faced, and what sorts of tricks he uses to refrain from creative ruts.

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Shooting nearly the entire film underwater was a huge risk. How did that process go? What worked and what didn’t?

Both me and my talent knew what we were doing when we dove underwater for the shots involved in “I’m Not Trying To Stay Comfortable”. When I first moved to Hawaii, my pals and I would spend hours under the sun for weeks at a time surfing, diving, and paddling, so I could get the hang of water footage fairly quickly. It’s addicting! Meg, the main talent in the film, had been diving for a little longer than I had and understood necessary safety precautions and could hold her breath for a over a minute.

As far as gear, I only had one issue with the phone case that opened up while I was underwater, but luckily my iPhone was waterproof and untouched (though the lenses didn’t hold up so well!). I used an Axis Go case which helped tremendously as it’s such a solid product. I did, however, end up stabilizing the footage a lot in post because the current would be too strong at times.

All in all, the frustration was worth it.

How did you find all the sea life to shoot with?

Hawaii is rich and plentiful with sea life. People can easily spot sea turtles whales, rays, sharks, and large schools of fish at nearly every beach or bay on most days. There were times in the past were we surveyed certain ocean water by boat and saw dolphins going “free willy” in the middle of the water — so sick! Though it comes and goes. There’s no predictability, though you’re guaranteed to see at least something while diving.

What gear did you use to shoot underwater?

The Axis Go was my main piece of gear while shooting underwater. The few shots above ground in the beginning of the film were supported with a the infamous movie freely gimbal, which I loved, though I intentionally followed through with minimal shooting techniques. I did have a dome for the first few days of shooting, though I scratched it pretty immediately and no longer took use of it.

Does the “not trying to stay comfortable” theme something you try to apply to your own life?


This entire project has been a testament to my courageous move to Hawaii back in January of this year. My first time visiting Oahu was in October for fun, the second time was in November for a job. I then decided to take the leap forward into the unknown and move to an entirely new landscape than what I was used to. I soon found my love for surfing after weeks of hitting up friends to visit the beach. But before my first trip to the ocean, I was terrified. It’s nerve-racking for me to try something I’ve never experienced, but nevertheless still felt compelled to swallow my pride and jump into the unknown. Literally.

Now — you can’t get my out of the water. Whether it’s surfing, paddling, or swimming I’m all in. What was originally an uncomfortable feeling is now a lifelong passion; that was the ultimate goal when shooting this project. Though my friend, Meg, was the face of the narrative, the story still very much about myself. As I’ve said in the film, life exists outside your comfort zone. Just gotta send it.

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Who do you find as the most important or influential person in your field right now and why?

The few people that have always been a huge inspiration to me is Alex Strohl, Jared Chambers, and Chris Ozer. They’ve got clean, gorgeous work.

Lately, I’ve been increasingly in love with Joe Greer — who is not only a perfect example of what it means to be a photographer, but a friend. Someone commented on one of his street photos the other day on how loud his body of work speaks and what sort of implications that has to fellow artists. I want to be remembered for years worth of strong collections instead of a single epic image here and there. I aim to be timeless and sustainable.

What makes your eye for film stand out against the crowd?

What I think makes my work stand out against the oversaturated markets (at least in a way that I hope it does) is how nostalgic my work feels. I love bodies of work, seen both in film or photo, that looks like a cinematic screen grab from a movie. I want my work to emulate that same feel. I love going out on a mountain and taking pictures of my friends in nature; although that’s a very specific type of subject, that’s what I ultimately love to create. I work hard at getting better and better at it.

Some people tell me that my work has been consistently edited over the years and that’s what my an “Andrew Kearns photo”, though I don’t see it that way. I don’t feel like my work has been that consistent over the years so it’s interested to see how or when audiences tell me that.

What’s harder? Getting started or being able to keep going?

For me — getting started. Though, I’ve been tremendously better about this since I moved back to Washington. Every single feels like it has a purpose and I don’t intend on slowing down this progression any time soon.

I’ve been taking smaller steps to successfully enable balance as I get going with my projects, as well. I recently read a short blurb on productivity from some tech-wiz guy that deeply inspired me and has stuck with me ever since. He talked about how the simplicity of making your bed in the morning will greatly increase your chances of getting more “stuff” done that same afternoon; or even leaving your phone by your bedside at night and reading a book for an hour instead. Once I have a project in mind, I physically write down my goals and the steps needed to complete each goal, which has been proven successful. The quirky hacks in life add up. And once I’m down to crank the work out, it’s hard to stop.

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It’s not doubt that the creative process of filmmaking requires teamwork. What, to you, generates fruitful collaboration? And what do you do to enhance this collaborative process?

As a freelance photographer, I’ve primarily shot independently on most projects simply because the industry allows for that type of workflow these days. Though, lately, I’ve found that collaboration is what fosters the best creative ventures. I’m a photographer -- not a stylist or location scout — so, having those individuals assets to a team of rad creatives will only enhance the overall outcome of your project. It’s exciting to see the process from start to finish with a team of people who love creating just as much as you.

For “I’m Not Trying To Stay Comfortable”, I worked with my good friend, Meg, that loved surfing / diving as much as I do, so she totally stood my precocious visions for the film. It was a lot of fun.

When you feel creatively drained, what do you do? How do you stay fresh?

The easiest way to go about it is to do just… do it. Quit the excuses and put in the hours. Once thing I’ve found is I easily drain myself after working myself to tears and it takes me months to notice before it’s too late. You have to have some sort of balance! Like today — I filmed and edited a video, uploaded it to YouTube completed this interview, go on a 7-mile hike for training, and end the day with a beer and Mario Kart. You can’t have too much Mario Kart, but you can’t be working yourself to death either. Balance will immensely help any creative ruts. Find what you love and do it, then take a beer break (lol).

What makes a “good” film? Are there any must-have qualities you aim to portray with your art?

This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into recently. Films that get me inspired to go out and do stuff is what really keeps me going. There’s this fantastic company called Deus that produce super solid flicks about surfing and it literally gets me itching to be in the ocean again. Little to no narration or vocal commentary, just powerful visuals that show off life in the water. It get me stoked just thinking about it. If you’re interested, you should watch it my favorite, “I’ve Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” on Vimeo.

Any piece of work that make me feel something — anything — is rad in my book. Emotions move mountains, ones that make me take ACTION. The emails I get from people that tell me how I’ve inspired them to pick up the camera again or buy a plane ticket to travel across the world makes my heart so happy. I hope to always portray the same finesse.

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Thanks to Andrew for this amazing interview series!

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