“Ok, you’re killing me”, is what Pierce Michael Kavanagh writes to me when I ask him for the names of the people in the photos he sent me to accompany this article. And it’s not because he’s a rude guy by any means, he’s just constantly on the go and most likely sleep deprived as he works on his latest project, which he’s poured his blood, sweat and tears into for almost a year. Sporting an impressive beard, this San Diego native spends most of his waking moments living and breathing his adoration for the ocean. As co-founder of Misfit Pictures, a small production company that produces sea-centric films, in 2012 he founded the San Diego Surf Film Festival, which has allowed him to provide a platform for others who are truly dedicated to the surf film genre.
Following the success of their film, Manufacturing Stoke, which played at a mulititude of ocean-themed film festivals around the world, Pierce and the crew behind Misfit Pictures continued to explore the relationships between individuals and the ocean, with their latest venture, What the Sea Gives Me (WTSGM), which is set to be released late August. When I ask him what the inspiration behind the film was, he simply replies, “My love for the ocean.”
At the time they decided to film WTSGM, Pierce had been shooting footage for a bodysurfing film in which Pierce delves into very personal account with the ocean. This got him thinking about documenting a broader spectrum how others truly feel about the ocean and hence, WTSGM was born. In a sentence to summarise the film’s synopsis, Pierce says “Swim with the oceans’ ambassadors and discover the soul of the sea.”
“After every interview, I walk away shaking my head thinking this film is going to be amazing and I am truly blessed.”
Shot in the US, predominantly in California, New England and Oahu, the film features about a dozen “saltwater-coursing-through-their-veins kind of people.”
“Individuals who all have very intense ties to the ocean, whether it be through art, photography, fishing, diving, surfing, conservation, academia or activism.” There were 4 people in the production crew that included Pierce, his wife Petra, his partner at Misfit Pictures, Geoffrey Smart, and Gage Hingely who was in charge of the underwater photography. Given that Misfit Productions is an independent company in its early days, Pierce and the crew put out a pledge via Kickstarter with the goal to raise $9000 to cover the funding and resources for the film. Not only was the initial goal met, but it was exceeded and they received a total of $16,000 from people who believed in the project and kindly donated their money to show their support. But the generosity did not stop there. Pierce comments, “I believe it definitely takes a village in regards to independent filmmaking”, and the crew were privy to a great deal of support along the way. “Since we have been traveling extensively, people have shared their homes, meals, smiles, cars, couches and encouragement with us. To be honest, WTSGM really reflects on a beautiful, ocean-loving community.”
Deciding on the various individuals featured in the film was a combination of Pierce drawing on people he had grown up with, as well as research and people who were referred by friends. “It’s quite an eclectic mix, but all of them share an undying passion which borders on the unexplainable. That was my job—to get people to explain their soul, in a sense.”
“After every interview, I walk away shaking my head thinking this film is going to be amazing and I am truly blessed.” Pierce comments that working on this film and meeting so many inspiring individuals throughout the journey has renewed his faith in humanity and he says, “The selflessness possessed by a few needs to be followed by many.”
I ask him if there was anyone whose story had a profound impact on him and he reflects, “The biggest impact this film has had on me by far was meeting Andre Barbieri. He is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.”
“He suffered a tragic accident, but has battled back with inner strength that has me confounded. Whoa…give me a second.”
When it comes to discussing the challenges that the crew encountered along the way, Pierce prefers to not think about them and tends not to focus his energy on the negative. However, he does give me some insight into one hiccup that springs to mind. He reflects on one such incident involving short battery life on some new equipment he was working with on the south shore of Oahu.
“Our oceanic family is an amazing group and if anyone is going to make a substantial impact on the planet for the better, it is going to be us.”
“I whined for about 2 minutes and then took the morning off to bodysurf and think about how good I had it. It turned out to be one of the best days during the shoot. My wife must have been there in spirit, calming me down.”
The Misfit crew spent months traveling from one location to the next and given the ocean backdrops that the crew worked amongst, you could say that it wasn’t such a bad work environment. Pierce cites Oahu as one of his favourite locations and tells me, “Give me a pair of swim fins, warm water and a firing shore pound on Oahu and I’m set” and although this sounds like an idyllic location for work, it was not always this glamourous. To alleviate individual expenditures during filming, the crew moved in together for a while and they were still late on rent. Pierce also admits to “basically being broke and surviving off peanut butter and jelly. Nothing that we aren’t used to.”
But after all that is said and done, Pierce tells me that it’s been an incredible adventure and he believes that WTSGM will offer its viewers something truly special. “Our film is a thoughtful swim with the gatekeepers of the ocean. These are our brothers, sisters, mothers and cousins that are truly remarkable and their stories need to be told.” When he speaks about the film, Pierce’s enthusiasm and belief in WTSGM is obvious. Like a proud father, he cannot conceal his pride in what he and his crew have created and says, “Our oceanic family is an amazing group and if anyone is going to make a substantial impact on the planet for the better, it is going to be us.”
Naturally, Pierce hopes that the film will be well received by its audiences, but he couldn’t be happier with the current state of independent surf films and believes that surf cinema is authentic as it has ever been. “I run the San Diego Surf Film Festival and the independents have taken back control from the corporations.”
When the film is roaring and ready to go, they will be having the World Premiere at Bird’s Surf Shed in Pierce’s hometown of San Diego, which will then be followed by a quick tour before it makes it debut in film festivals around the globe. It will also be available for download so that everyone can enjoy it, wherever they may be.
The camera has stopped rolling for now, but Pierce’s never-ending fanaticism with the ocean continues. Not that long ago, he was is Israel teaching kids how to surf, so I’m sure he’ll continue to surprise and inspire us with his oceanic escapades. When I ask him about any future projects he has planned, he says, “So many it makes my head spin, but I will always return to the sea.”