Director Nays Baghai

In episode #59 host Brett Stanley chats with Australian director Nays Baghai about his career in underwater filmmaking.

They talk about his new documentary Diving in to the Darkness, and what it was like to bring the life of renowned Cave Diver Jill Heinerth to the big screen – and the many challenges that came along with it.

Nays talks in detail about the creation of the film, what influences him as a film maker, and how he got his start in underwater way back in film school.

Watch the film during a special screening presented by Scuba Diver Magazine.

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Episode Summary

In the latest podcast episode, we are submerged into the world of underwater filmmaking with the acclaimed Australian director, Nays Baghai. The director shares his compelling journey from a marine biology enthusiast and Sydney film student to becoming a pioneer in underwater documentary filmmaking. His latest work, “Diving Into the Darkness,” focuses on the adventurous life of esteemed cave diver Jill Heinerth, offering audiences a riveting narrative that blends the allure of exploration with the precision of science.

The conversation begins with a dive into Nays’ transition from narrative filmmaking to documentaries, fueled by his desire to tell real-life stories that captivate and educate. He reflects on his experiences of shooting underwater scenes in challenging conditions, emphasizing the meticulous attention to detail and the innovative approaches required to successfully execute such projects. Nays’ passion for blending the traditional craft of filmmaking with the demands of underwater cinematography creates a distinct, authentic documentary style that resonates with audiences.

Nays delves deeper into the intricacies of adapting Jill Heinerth’s thrilling book into a documentary. The decision to employ a non-linear narrative format, akin to the style of “Godfather 2,” was a strategic choice to maintain viewer engagement and authentically represent Jill’s experiences. This process required a balance of respecting the original material while utilizing the visual medium to its fullest potential. Nays recounts the serendipitous meeting with Jill that ignited their collaboration, underpinned by mutual respect and a shared commitment to truthfulness in storytelling.

Throughout the podcast, Nays outlines the significant challenges of filming underwater, particularly in the claustrophobic and hazardous environments of underwater caves. The need for a close-knit, highly skilled team is emphasized, with Nase sharing his approach to assembling his crew, including key figures like Janne Suhonen and Rich Stevenson, and detailing the dynamic of underwater communication. The success of these ventures is attributed to preparation, trust, and the unique bond formed among divers facing the unknown together.

In the realm of filmmaking, Nays advocates for a small, agile team, drawing from his documentary background to foster a more intimate and focused production environment. He shares anecdotes from his first major project, “Descent,” highlighting the use of archival footage and the importance of authenticity. The director also touches upon his excitement for integrating animation into his work, describing the careful process of recreating historical periods and the thrill of accessing unique resources, like Jill’s childhood National Geographic magazines.

The episode concludes with a glimpse into the future, as Nays teases upcoming projects and reflects on the evolving film industry. Listeners are left with an appreciation for the dedication and resilience required to capture such compelling real-life stories, as well as the innovative techniques that bring them to life on screen.

This podcast episode is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the intersection of underwater exploration and filmmaking. It serves as an inspiring testament to the power of storytelling and the relentless pursuit of creative expression, even in the most challenging environments. Through Nays Baghai’s experiences, we are reminded of the vast, hidden worlds that await us beneath the surface and the remarkable individuals who dare to reveal them.

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About Nays Baghai – Underwater Film Director

Inspired by 1970s cinema as a youngster, Nays Baghai has had a camera in his hands for as long as he can remember. In 2020, Nays’ feature film debut, Descent, won the Best Australian Documentary award at the Oscar-qualifying Sydney Film Festival. The film has also screened at Hot Docs, Raindance and the International Ocean Film Festival and is now streaming on Amazon Prime ANZ. In 2021, Descent received development funding from Screen Australia. His second feature, Diving Into The Darkness, won the Best Documentary Award at the Oscar-qualifying Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and is due for a wide release in 2024.

Prior to Descent, Nays’ student short films won more than 20 awards from various international film festivals, including the Calgary International Film Festival, FlickerFest and the Robin Anderson Film Awards. He also holds experience in corporate videography and has shot and edited content for dozens of businesses and corporations, including Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Deloitte, and High Resolves. Nays currently works as the Creative Director of Running Cloud Productions and is also an active public speaker.

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