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PERSONALITIES︱ Gaby Scott



Hi Gaby! Tell us a little about yourself.


I am an East Coast transplant who fell in love with the West Coast – the ocean lifestyle, the weather, the tacos! Before moving to San Francisco, I got a Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago because I wanted to expand my interest in visual storytelling. I find film to be one of the most unique tools we have to shape nuanced human stories. I am drawn to documenting shifting natural landscapes and the people who navigate them – from cold water swimmers and surfers to butchers, to farmers, and anglers. As a queer woman, I am especially curious about people and stories that sit outside the bounds of societal expectations, especially around expectations of femininity.


Outer Sunset, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA by Chad Leto (2021)

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA by Chad Leto (2021)

How did you get into surfing and filmmaking and what have been some of your challenges and parallels?


I picked up surfing as soon as I moved to California (10+ years ago) because I wanted to spend as much time in the ocean as I could. I rode my first waves at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica and eventually paddled out at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I love the cold water; it does something to your nerves that makes you feel empowered and invigorated. There are a lot of similarities between surfing and filmmaking; they're both time games, and you have to be patient. You get decent at surfing only after you mess up many, many times – you get held under, thrashed, skunked, fin bruised, you take nose dives and learn the consequences of dropping in on someone accidentally. I’m still learning! With filmmaking it’s the same, you need to keep honing your craft, creating constantly, challenging yourself to go deeper and pushing yourself.


Filming in the water and with surfers as subjects for my last two projects has proven insanely tricky at times. It’s been an ongoing learning curve. You’re completely at the whims of the tides, currents, winds, and personalities. They’re all constantly changing. I learned to embrace the non-constant elements and be patient.

Surfer: Zoe Chait, Ocean Beach - Film Still by Chad Leto (2022)

What was your motivation for these films?


I think we can’t have enough positive content about badass women and female athletes! I was really stoked to get to know these women, interview and follow them around in their day to day routines because I do believe they have a certain 'personality' and a shared unique drive that motivates them. I wanted to know what that felt like to them, and have it articulated. They all exude exceptionalism, tenacity and grit.



Surfers: Beth Price Jeffries + Anna Wankel + Eleanor Pries - Film Still by Michael Enos (2021)

You are releasing two films this year! Did you produce these simultaneously?


Yes! I thought it would only be one film when I started production on it for a sports entertainment company. There was a small budget allocated by the company, so I was able to form a slim but amazing crew for a few days. The crew included myself (as producer and director), a director of photography, a water dp, a gaffer and a sound engineer. We shot mostly with an Arri, BlackMagic 6k pro, and drones.


During pre-production I reached out to Sachi Cunningham (journalist, filmmaker and surf photographer), with whom I was acquainted through the surf community, and sought her advice on who to feature. That project became the film “A Certain Personality,” about a handful of big wave surfer women and their special relationship to Ocean Beach in SF.


Working on that piece, I became especially interested in Zoe Chait’s story (one of the subjects in the film), and her unique perspective as a young, 16 year old going pro. I asked if I could tag along to get more focused footage and interviews with her, which I did for another few months. That was the genesis of the second film, “Zoe, a surf story”. This second project was self funded – I filmed most of the run and gun shots myself and occasionally brought on one of my dps for specific pick up shots. I organized a fundraiser when I was nearing the end of post-production to cover all the finishing costs (music, color, mix, composing, etc).


Zoe Chait - Film Still by Chad Leto (2023)

Zoe Chait - Film Still by Michael Enos (2021)

I chose to make the second film solely about Zoe because this courageous young woman really inspired me. Not only is she a charger, and constantly challenging herself, but she’s an incredibly kind person. As Bianca Valenti says of her – she’s truly got the best attitude. She’s incredibly driven and is obviously aiming for the top. But along the way she’s enjoying the journey, and her passion for surfing comes through in a really genuine way. Her journey is still really open-ended, and it’s been exciting to document that process.


I hope that focusing on these women and sharing their perspectives and stories helps to bolster spaces for female athletes and encourage the young girls who aspire to them.


The biggest challenges had to do with scheduling! Trying to align the perfect surf conditions and my surfers, and hoping they would not be working or off at competitions when we had windows to film, was tricky. Also, not every water DP is comfortable paddling out on an overhead day, so that was also a challenge. I was hoping to of course not only tell but show a story of big waves and these women charging them.


Working on doc films, I want to always balance verite with beautiful cinematic shots. Sometimes I had to really hold back the subjects to get another take or angle, and I was always super aware that all they wanted was to get in the water! It’s a constant balancing act.

Zoe Chait - Film Still by Chad Leto (2021)

Zoe Chait - Film Still by Sashwa Burrous (2021)

Are you working on something new?


I am currently coming back to a project I started a few years ago – it’s about the older generation of women who swim at the Dolphin Club which is an open water swimming club here in San Francisco, next to Fisherman’s Wharf. Their work pushing for women to be able to join the club back in the late ’60s is a fascinating story, and they are still swimming out in the (freezing!) bay every day.

Production Team Crossing the Great Highway, Ocean Beach (2021)

What is your advice to anyone who wants to get into filmmaking?


Find a mentor; start making stuff, and keep making stuff. You don’t necessarily need all the most expensive gear, what’s more important is finding a good story, and building on it.


Photo of Gaby Scott at Ocean Beach by Michael Enos (2021)

What are some films/ books that have inspired you or other short surf films?


I love Chloe Zhao’s hybrid style of storytelling that blends documentary and fiction. Her film “The Rider” is beautiful. Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” and Celine Sciamma’s body of work are also films I go back to for inspiration. Robert Egger’s obsession with historical accuracy is really fun to experience in his films.


Gaby's playlist for withitgirl?


 

Gaby Scott is a San Francisco based filmmaker and editor. Originally from the Boston area, she obtained her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Scott then moved to San Francisco and joined the post department at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, later becoming a full time staff editor at Avocados and Coconuts production house, and she is currently a freelance film director and editor.


All photos courtesy of Gaby Scott with credits noted


Additional Information


Story cover photo of Gaby Scott by Michael Enos


Director of Photography: Michael Enos @michaeljenos

Cinematographer: Chad Leto @letochad

Below Water Cinematographer: Sashwa Burrous @sashwaburrous


Personalities in Gaby's Films: (A Certain Kind of Personality & Zoe A Surf Story)


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