Florian enjoying an epic encounter with pilot whales in the Mediterranean
Our latest Videographer of the Month, Florian Fischer, needs no introduction. His work as the creator and lead cinematographer for Behind the Mask is now legendary, and alongside his team of talented freedivers, photographers and videographers, he has produced many amazing short films that have taken the dive industry by storm.
Florian skills in post-production and his work as a filmmaker are immediately evident in all of his work, yet it is not just these attributes that make everything he produces so popular. Every Behind the Mask film combines amazing underwater footage with an awesome soundtrack, but most importantly they all tell a story about a famous dive destination or animal encounter that really make the viewer feel part of the experience. To do this, Florian includes plenty of drone footage and shots of divers interacting with wildlife, and the result is always the same: When you watch anything that Florian creates, you feel like you are on the boat and part of the team, and in my opinion, that is the key to his success.
We recently got the chance to chat with Florian to learn a bit more about the Behind the Mask project and his approach to film making, and we’re delighted to showcase some of his most recent work, including an amazing highlight reel, plus some epic encounters with orcas in Norway, and a special film about the wildlife extravaganza that is the “sardine run” in South Africa.
DPG: How did you first get into underwater videography?
I was a filmmaker first before I started diving. Diving is a tool for me to explore a creative niche which has not much exposure. The natural world below the surface in combination with emotional storytelling is an eternal playground for creative minds. Regarding the untold stories, rare creatures and all the hidden challenges—how can one not be drawn into becoming an underwater filmmaker? An obvious choice for me.
DPG: What camera equipment are you currently using?
I use whatever camera seems to be right for the task. It can be a small action camera, a mirrorless camera or a proper cinema camera. Most of the time, I choose my favorite camera, a RED Monstro cinema camera, which gives me the most creative freedom in post-production with its 8K resolution, high dynamic range and most importantly raw capabilities. It is big and heavy, especially when used with a [Nauticam] Wide Angle Conversion Port and additional video lights, but I see it as a non-negotiable challenge as part of the journey to improve image quality and the viewer’s experience more and more.
A couple of seals check out how it looks “behind the mask”
DPG: You have traveled extensively and dived all over the world, but do you have a favorite place to shoot?
My favorite place to film is not a geographical location. It is more a setting of factors that need to come together. Of course, interesting wildlife like whales, sharks or reptiles is always awesome to film, but equally important is the spirit of the people surrounding you. There is nothing more satisfying than to face an adventure together with the right people. There is nothing more connecting than to work hand in hand and improve as a team. If you have that, you can go into the woods behind your house and have the time of your life. Since I started Behind the Mask, I was very lucky to have met great people who became close friends. And I am very grateful for each opportunity to share my passion with others.
Having fun as a team is a big part of what makes Behind the Mask so successful
DPG: Can you tell us the story behind your most memorable underwater footage?
This is a very tough question because there are so many strange, funny or horrifying stories behind so many films we’ve done. If you see our videos or follow us on social media, you might think that we are lucky and that good opportunities come easy to us. But that’s not true. In most cases, there is a completely different story behind [each film]. So many failures, so many embarrassing mistakes! We should talk about that much more because I know that our productions also subconsciously create bad feelings among our viewers who think we lead a lifestyle of their dreams. People can feel left behind and get depressed about their own life. Nobody knows about the challenges to maintain a healthy relationship when you are traveling all the time or how difficult it is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Not to mention all the pollution we cause by flying around the globe.
I can’t pick one piece of memorable footage, but I can tell you that for whatever great shots you see from us, there is a lot of lost luggage, missed flights, broken legs, kidney stones, stolen wallets, grumpy officers on hand luggage control, jetlag and very bad food behind it! Never believe what you see on social media. It’s a lot of effort what seems to look easy.
DPG: What marine life gets you most excited and is your favorite to film?
If you have a connection to your subject, it doesn’t matter what species it is. In fact, I really enjoy filming my girlfriend Dada, as she is the most graceful mammal in the ocean. But if you are asking for marine life, I had very good encounters with pilot whales in the Mediterranean, orcas in Norway, mantas in Mexico and a leopard seal in Antarctica.
A perfect moment filming a baitball of sardines being attacked from all angles in South Africa
DPG: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career is the shear amount of positive feedback about the creative work we do. To be able to work with the most talented individuals in the industry and to be able to create little emotional time capsules that will float out there in the digital world connecting with people I know nothing about.
DPG: Have you ever missed an epic shot due to unforeseen circumstances?
Yes, no doubt about that. For example, when I thought that the last dive of the trip might be a good one to skip. Or when I forgot to change the batteries in my camera. Or most often, when I think the camera is recording, but it isn’t. But on the other hand, you are also lucky sometimes when you least expect it. So I guess the universe is balancing things out, right?
Blue sharks in blue water, a perfect combination in the Azores
DPG: Is there any particular footage that you are still after?
I would like to film narwhales, belugas, leopard seals hunting penguins, a humpback whale heat run, orcas in clear water, sperm whales, hippos underwater, Loch Ness, my cat in a submarine… it never ends!
DPG: You shoot a lot of promotional work for dive companies around the world. Can you discuss some of the challenges associated with this type of work?
How much time do we have for this? Well, this topic is very tricky usually, because the more budget you have, the less creative you will be. That’s just a fact. The most creative projects are the ones that you spend your own money on. I learned that when I was working in the advertising industry. Our concept is simple. We never make storyboards and we only promise one thing to our clients: If you don’t like what we produce, you don’t need to pay. But, you also will not be able to use the video.
We need our clients to trust us. There is no other way because nature is unpredictable and it all comes down to how flexible you are. Most of the time, even the team is surprised by the result and when the client tells us, “We didn’t expect this,” we have done a good job. Since we started Behind the Mask, we haven’t had a single client who was not happy after we delivered. That’s not because we are great, but more because we trust our instincts and only take on projects that we truly believe in.
DPG: How has COVID-19 affected your plans and what (if anything!) do have in store in 2021?
We got grounded like almost everybody else. We are lucky in a sense that we still had work to do. Mostly post-production, but also some projects in Europe. I feel a bit relieved to stay home after a few very active years. For this year, we have a few things on the table, but nothing committed yet. Maybe French Polynesia, maybe Azores, Maldives or the Mediterranean. Not sure. We’re keeping things open and that’s fine.
DPG: I always like the music you choose to feature in each of your films. How do you decide what will work best and where do you normally find it?
Music is always the starting point and an important element in our productions. I have multiple playlists on online platforms where I collect songs that inspire me. Once there is a project, I will most likely find something there.
Another epic encounter, this time filming orcas hunting in Norway
DPG: Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater videographers?
Enjoy what you do and let your intuition guide you. Don’t believe the hype that you need a great camera to make a great film. Make sure you surround yourself with good people who believe in you. There will always be someone who is better than you, but you are also always better than someone else. Be flexible and don’t swim after wildlife. Good things come to you if you let them.
DPG: Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent trip to Antarctica and what it is like to swim with leopard seals?
The expedition on a 13-meter [43-foot] sailboat to Antarctica with Guillaume Néry and Greg Lecoeur was one of the most memorable things that happened in my life. Now I know what it means to be patient. Out of the six weeks we were on the expedition, we spent 12 days in Antarctica. Sailing through the Drake Passage was a humbling experience. Waiting for weeks around Cape Horn for good weather was challenging. I have learned that our mind controls everything about us. Some days I couldn’t be five minutes in the –1°C cold water, and another day I could stay for three hours. The difference is a leopard seal and the effect she had on my mind…
Face to face with a leaopard seal during an expedition to Antarctica
Florian in action (and trying to think warm thoughts) in Antarctica
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