To attempt to capture the uncapturable is like solving a murder without any clues, suspects or witnesses. Most of the ocean’s wide breadth of life escapes our eyes. Think about that. Most of what the ocean produces we miss: it escapes us, our grasp, our understanding, quietly sinking under humanity’s radar. This, to some, is hopeless, a contract with the impenetrable that always ends in confusion. Oceanic life, inshore and offshore, is the caged bird that always breaks free and flies away from our understanding. It tends to be slippery like that.
Bryan Janiczek, a friend, filmmaker, fishing buddy and guide (and at one point coworker and roommate), made an attempt to capture it in his new film, “Where Dreams Go.” A cataloging of a typical day of flyfishing in the Florida Keys, channeled completely through Super 8 film. It would seem, to me, an inefficient way to go about it. A day, a fish, a story. No sound, no re-dos, just a live performance of life in front of the camera. It’s up to Bryan to get it right, first time. Not surprisingly, this mirrors what we all enjoy about flyfishing—one shot, one chance, no re-dos. We are taking the long way home with a fly rod. There is rarely any reason you should expect to go out there and catch a fish, and if you do, you might be attending the wrong party. We speak an international language of failure, one we all use with fluency, which mimics the grace and brilliance of a day on the boat with friends, alone on a creek, or wherever you fish.
I sat down to chat with Bryan about his vision for the film.
Joe Dahut: Capturing something today is as easy as clicking a button. Why Super 8?
Bryan Janiczek: I think I’m drawn to Super 8 because I like the look of it. When Super 8 first came out, it was kind of the first user-friendly camera that the average Joe could go out and shoot home videos with. My first love in life was skateboarding, so skateboarding videos had a huge impact on me. The first time I ever picked up a camera was to shoot skateboard videos with my friends, and we’d be inspired by the professional videos like “Baker 3,” “This Is Skateboarding” and Alien Workshop videos. Some of those videos used Super 8 for B-roll and montages. So automatically, to me, it was cool.
When I was living in New York, I had a buddy that had a Super 8 camera, which is the one I used to shoot in the Keys. I basically borrowed it from him forever.
An indefinite borrow?
Yeah, indefinitely. I just love the look of it, and how it’s simple, but you still have to take a chance with exposing your shot. If you’re getting something like fishing, you’re taking a risk with simple technology. It’s comparable to flyfishing. It’s bare bones, but it’s hard to get.
It sounds like the genesis of your interest in Super 8 was as a viewer, not necessarily as someone capturing the footage. I’m curious to know if you ever think about the viewer when you’re recording.
Yes and no. I like to shoot something that I would want to watch. Maybe it happens less as I’m shooting, but more so in the edit. I like to have a story to shoot. In the edit, sometimes when you’re going through all your footage, you’ll find something you didn’t know you had. When you piece together the edit, you think, “When someone sees this part, they’re going to gasp.” But when I’m shooting, I’m just trying to grab something that looks awesome.
When you’re shooting, are you also a viewer? Kind of watching with them?
I am, and it happens multiple times throughout the process of a film. Say I’m filming and a tarpon rolls and I know I just got that on film, I’m freaking out inside. I’m viewing that! And if I got the good footage, I know I’ll be able to view it multiple times. I’m viewing it as it happens, and when I show it to someone for the first time I also get to view it for the first time, even though I watched it a thousand times in the editing process.
I love that, it’s all about that presentation. It takes so many forms.
Right—it’s a roller coaster of emotions. You might get excited if you got something, and down if you missed it. Sometimes it doesn’t work, doesn’t work, doesn’t work, and then finally in the edit, something works.
Speaking of emotions, when that film comes back, are you nervous watching the film for the first time? What is it like when you first lay eyes on it?
There’s that nervousness beforehand. I ask, “Did I hit the record trigger early enough to get the permit tail reflecting in the sun? Did I under or overexpose it?” There’s that questioning there. But I am like a kid on Christmas—when you realize that the footage looks good, you get super excited.
What about storytelling is difficult when you are shooting on something without sound? You are intentionally shooting on something without sound. What changes in your approach?
Well, you might think about music, or adding sound design. If you don’t have the sound of a tarpon jumping and splashing in the water, you might look elsewhere to create your own sound, which makes it fun. It opens up space for a narrator to tell a story, perhaps. It does force you to be more creative, to appeal to different senses.
You’re really trying to test as many senses as you can?
I guess you can’t feel, physically, the film, but it does have a texture, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it does have that tactile element to it.
In flyfishing, you are picking up the rod with a known handicap. Talk about the intentional handicap in filming on Super 8. What do you learn from picking up that camera that you wouldn’t from picking up a cell phone or shooting digital?
It’s very comparable to flyfishing: the higher the risk, the higher the reward. You’re making it hard for yourself, to challenge yourself, to see if you can do something that can otherwise easily be done by almost anybody. Trying to accomplish that challenge. Just like you said, anyone can go out there with the phone and get a nice edit. It’s a little more complicated, and there’s a few more steps with a Super 8.
Anyone can go under the bridge and throw a minnow and hook something, rather than tying your own fly, building your own leader, going into crystal clear water where they are really spooky and sight casting to a tarpon. You’re making it hard, but if you succeed, the feeling is better. With Super 8 it’s the same thing. It’s a challenge, it’s a little more of a risk. It’s not incredibly hard, but it’s a bigger risk.
Especially in the Keys, where you don’t have all day to get the shot. You have fractions of moments to get the shot, so that risk becomes more pronounced. If you’re on the boat and you miss the shot, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know if we’re going to see another permit today.”
Exactly. Filming down in the Keys, we’re shooting Super 8 in one of the most challenging fisheries in the world. An angler might get one shot, or two. If they make their shot, you (the filmer) only get one shot.
And every step of this is a fragment of a fragment. I’d like to hear about your fishing and guiding philosophy. What role does luck play in this?
Are you somebody who believes in luck?
I do. What’s that saying? You can create your own luck…
The harder you work?
The harder you work. I believe in that! The harder you work, the more you put yourself out there, the more you try, the more luck you will have, more opportunities will open up. You know, with fishing in the Keys, the more attention you put into your craft, the luckier you get. You can chalk it up to luck, but if you don’t work hard for those shots, it probably won’t happen.
And to be honest, I haven’t shot an incredible amount of Super 8 in my life. It’s kind of been a special thing. But I guarantee, the more I do it, the luckier I will get.
If you fish the same flat for one month, and see it through every tide cycle, you have an intimacy with that flat that no one else does. If you spend the next few projects working with Super 8, you will know that camera and that way of creation better.
One-hundred percent. If you want to know a fishing spot, you have to fish it on every tide, every day. And if you want to know your camera, you have to shoot with it a lot.
And even then, no guarantees! It’s still a shot of a shot. The second you think you’ve got it, that’s when it bites you in the ass. Just when you get cocky enough to think you know what you’re doing, the wings melt off. It’s interesting to hear you say that.
Flyfishing seems like a mirror to this style of filming. It all starts with a chase, doesn’t it? Are you hunting when you’re filming?
You’re searching for something, looking around for something.
Right, like you’re’ stalking permit on foot. Are you hunting the same way when you’re shooting?
There are clues to the hunt. You absolutely tap into that hunter instinct. If you’re poling a flat and you see the tide turns, you see clues as to where the fish will come from. This channel to this flat to feed. There are clues. The same with the camera, you search for something. Along the way, there are little things that lead you there.
How much of this film is directed by your impulse to fish versus your impulse to film? What’s your North star?
That’s what I battle with everyday. I feel envy for people who can do just one thing. “This is all I’m going to do and I’ve got the blinders on and I’m happy.” I love them both, so it’s a combination. Fishing is the reason I moved to the Keys. The fact that it even happened, being able to live and fish in the Keys, that has to be my North star. Once I got here, I realized how cool it would be to shoot it on Super 8. My big inspiration is the movie Tarpon. That old footage in the Keys of people catching tarpon, music from Jimmy Buffet, interviews with great people. That was a really historic time in the Keys, and I thought, “How can I do that?” One thing that was available to me was Super 8. I have friends who score music, and people who fish. I think it is the closest thing I can do to Tarpon, which is a big inspiration for me.
Now in 2023, you are the viewer of Tarpon. It’s a time capsule of what life was like back then.
To me, this is the time capsule that you bury in the backyard. You’re historicizing a day, but it’s more than that. Its immersion, and fully encapsulates what flyfishing means.
And you, as the creator, are leaving no stone unturned. In a place with as many “stones” as the Keys, that’s impressive.
It does bring you back in time. It brings me back to my first season in the Keys—we lived in an apartment together, worked in the shop together. That footage will always bring us back to that time in our lives. It’ll bring up feelings, smells and sounds from that season.
There’s that old cliche that you’ve never fished the same river twice because you show up one day as a person and the next day as a different person. The fishing will never be the same as it was in that video, because you are different.
That’s why I’m so glad we got to do that. We just got out there with Rob and shot a good day in the Keys. The Keys are such a perfect place to shoot something like this. You can make a lifelong memory within 30 minutes. Days feel like weeks. You get up early before the sun comes up and you couldn’t sleep the night before. Fishing, laughing, failing, exploring. You get home at night and feel it in your body when you lay down to sleep. Not many lifestyles around the world can you do that on a day-to-day basis. Every day, you’re living life. It’s a place that allows room for great memories to be made.
And exploration. Personal, and geographical.
Physical, spiritual. You’re exploring our planet, but it’s also internal as well.
It’s kind of a mirror.
OK, describe Bryan Janiczek in three words.
Oh, I’m so bad at these. I want people that I care about the most to live really great lives, I guess. Never stop doing something that’s meaningful to you. That’s more than three, but…
No. That’s better than three.