Morgan Maassen: Photographer and Filmmaker

  • Name: Morgan Maassen
  • Age: 25
  • Job Title: Photographer and Filmmaker
  • Location: Santa Barbara, CA

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Tell me about your career path. How did you go from being an aspiring photographer to making a career out of it?

When I was 13-years-old I started making short films with my family’s camera as part of a school-sponsored mentor program. I would make short films about surfing, boating, and camping I was always filming our little adventures. I did this all throughout junior high and high school, and would upload them to my website, YouTube channel, and make DVD’s to sell around town.

At that time, I was also teaching myself about software and graphic design. When I was 17, I actually tested out of high school a year early so I could work full-time for Shawn Stussy as a graphic and web designer. I channeled all my savings from this job into buying better video equipment, and later plane tickets to travel and shoot films in my free time.

By the time I was 19, I was restless and ready to leave to make my dream film. However, right before departing, I decided I also wanted to shoot photos. Within a matter of days, I fell in love with photography from simply riding my bike to work and shooting photos along the way, snapping pictures of my girlfriend, and tucking it in my backpack when I’d go surfing.

When I left for my trip, I had a blog that I updated daily, which gained a bit of a following throughout my travels. I was fortunate enough to have several brands and magazines reach out to me within months of getting back. I landed jobs working for Billabong, Patagonia, and some magazines I admired. It turned into a career pretty quickly after the trip.

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It’s interesting you were a filmmaker before a photographer. I assumed photography would come first.

Yes, but my films were largely forgettable from my youth. Thats why most people initially thought of me as a photographer. My career started with photos, and it wasn’t until 3 years into my career that I actually started makes films again.

Right now do you get more filmmaking or photography jobs?

Its fifty-fifty right now. Every other project is different. My most recent shoots in Mexico and Barbados were all photography, but before that one I filmed a commercial for Mercedes.

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Do you prefer one over the other?

I like them both for different reasons. I think filmmaking can be more fun because of the complexity of storytelling and motion that comes with it.

If you could make a film about anyone or anything, what would it be?

Outer space. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was amazing. I would love to throw my hat into the ring of making something captivating and imaginative about such a big unknown.

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How would you describe your style?

I dont think I necessarily have a specific style. I just like pointing my camera at things that capture my curiosity.

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How much of your work is instinctual versus planned?

I think everything I shoot, whether its for myself or a client, is instinctual. I’ll have a storyboard, script, and at least ten other people who Im working with for a big commercial, so I’ll usually fill in all the blanks except for what the shot is going to look like I save that for last minute. It always stays somewhat instinctual even though 99% of a production needs to be planned.

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What has been your most memorable shoot and why?

I did a fashion shoot in the southern tip of Greenland. We shot in a spot that took a total of four days just to get to by plane, helicopter, and boat. We finally got to this little fishing village where we jumped on the last boat and traveled all the way up into the glaciers. There were humpback whales, glaciers, ice tunnels we would climb through, and it was light 24-hours a day. It was the most incredible place Ive ever been.

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A lot of your work seems to be in or near an ocean. Is that a preference or coincidence?

I grew up spearfishing, surfing, and boating so I definitely love the ocean, but I also do a lot of fashion, commercial, and fine art photography. I generally share more of my ocean work because I think people are more receptive to it and it makes my body of work look more consistent. The ocean is also just such an amazing subject.

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I was also going to ask whether the traveling aspect of your job was a preference or coincidence. In other words, did you become an expert in a style that allowed for you to make a living traveling to amazing beaches or had you already perfected that style at home and traveling later became a perk? It seems like you always knew you wanted to travel.

Yes, I always knew I wanted to travel. When I was growing up we would go on a family trip every year or two and it would be to somewhere unique not your typical family vacations to hawaii. Vacations like spending a summer in the Yucatán or a month driving around New Zealand. Those trips really whet my palate for traveling. When I was a teenager all I could think about was visiting foreign lands, but I didnt know at the time that I would use photography and filmmaking as an outlet to see the world.

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Were you formally trained or self taught?

Self taught.

What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers and photographers in regard to formal training versus teaching yourself?

Realistically you cant drop everything to teach yourself something. If you can maintain a job while teaching yourself a craft then its totally doable. It takes a lot more time and effort than formal training but its definitely possible if you have the motivation.

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What programs do you use for editing your films and photos?

I use Premiere Pro for all my video work, and RedCine for color grading. For photos, I just use Finder to organize them, and Apple Photos to correct the exposures. I dont use Photoshop.

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What kind of cameras are you using?

For filmmaking I use a Red Weapon and a Red Dragon. For photos I use a Nikon D5.

Which photographers and filmmakers have influenced you?

For photography I would say Will Adler. Hes one of my best friends from Santa Barbara, and a person who I gleam endless inspiration from. For filmmaking I look up to guys like Darren Aronofsky, Werner Herzog, and Terrence Malick.

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What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

I wish I would have had more faith in myself. My parents were really upset about me leaving school and quitting my job, and I was also really daunted by how much money it would cost for me to buy the equipment I needed. Every day for several years I was faced with a great big unknown and a steep learning curve. I wish I knew how to navigate the whole process better. I didn’t have any mentors or anyone telling me the way to do things so I never knew what to expect.

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Question from the last interviewee: If you were not doing whatever you’re doing right now, what would you be doing?

I actually just opened a clothing company-coffee shop-art gallery in Santa Barbara last month called Breakfast. So if I wasnt taking photos and making films, my full focus would be here. If I wasnt doing either, I would probably be writing.

What one question do you want to ask the next interviewee on People With Cool Jobs?

What one thing do you wish would be invented to make your job better or easier?

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