The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross

published
9.3.24
category
Stories
The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross

The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross

7 mins
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The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross

7 mins
The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
published
9.3.24
category
Stories
Amory Ross, or ‘Amo’ as he’s more widely known within the sailing industry, is no ordinary content capturer.

This is a man who has sailed enough miles to take him to the moon and who has crossed some of the world’s most treacherous oceans, not just once, not twice, but four times. He is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and even in human and boat-breaking conditions at 50 knots, he will create magic the rest of us didn’t think possible.

You wouldn’t know it from his calm and quietly inquisitive demeanor, but deep down, there is a relentless competitive streak. A streak that sees him not only excel in his role of crew member in The Ocean Race onboard 11th Hour Racing Team’s 60-foot rocketship but also in his creative work - whether that’s documenting the beauty of a doldrums sunset or the darkest depths of the terrifying Southern Ocean.

Having captured some of the epic footage around 11th Hour Racing Team for the film Shaped By Water, we thought about starting this interview with the obvious question; “what does storytelling mean to you?” However, for anyone who knows Amory Ross (even just a bit), you’ll already know the answer to that question…

“It’s not about me.”

The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
Amo (2nd on left) was onboard as 11th Hour Racing Team won The Ocean Race in 2023.
What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is being able to tell this incredible story of The Ocean Race, the human emotions tied to competition, and the amazing variety and spectrum of the ocean itself. This is an adventure, as much as it is a race, and as a storyteller I've had the most incredible opportunity to capture six months at sea and what that does to the humans onboard, as well as the stories the ocean gives me - from capturing the stunning wildlife to the darker side of what we see out there, like pollution and changes in marine ecosystems.

How did you first get into storytelling?

Growing up in New Jersey, my peers knew very little of sailing, and certainly nothing in the competitive sense. The more I got into sailing and the more I began to appreciate the lure of the sea, the more dedicated I became at trying to show people its beauty. Since then, that purpose has taken many twists and turns, having had to learn photography first, then video and editing, and then a return to the words word! But that’s what being a storyteller is in modern times. You have to be flexible and utilize all of the available tools at your disposal. Not all stories require the same approach. But without question, the most important part of a story is not the medium - it’s the story. And for me, that has always revolved around bringing people to the ocean and hoping to inspire them to find ways to enjoy it.

Most people can’t even imagine living on a boat, let alone doing their job from one. Can you tell us a little about the challenges you face?

Haha! Well, the one thing I can tell you is that salt water always wins! Whether it's a wave over the bow or even just the air inside the boat. We burn through cables, adapters, and microphones. Four races in and experience has taught me a little bit about making sure you're well suited for every contingency.

Then, of course, there’s life onboard in general, there’s very little privacy, we’re constantly sleep deprived, food is only freeze-dried, the motion is constant, and one of the biggest struggles I’ve found, particularly with my role, has been the noise onboard. It’s unlike anything I’m used to, and once again, it’s constant. I wouldn’t change it for the world, though; what this role lacks in comfort, it makes up for in job satisfaction.

Amory Ross

“Seeing humans push themselves both physically and mentally is what makes the storytelling around an adventure like this so exciting.”

The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
Dealing with unexpected technology mishaps at sea is a challenging part of the job.
What’s the most important thing to remember about storytelling at sea?

Respect. Respect for the ocean, respect for your teammates, respect for the job.

This race is so unique, and it's the perfect blend of competition, adventure, and exploration. We're really pushing limits, not only in the way that we approach sailing and the technology and engineering that's gone into designing these incredible machines, but also just challenging the human mind. Seeing humans push themselves both physically and mentally is what makes the storytelling around an adventure like this so exciting.

Sailors are somewhat quiet and reserved, particularly offshore sailors - the last thing they want is to feel like they’re on a reality TV show. But I work really hard at what I do onboard (cooking, cleaning, and non-sailing-related activities) because it earns me currency to get something out of them - it creates mutual respect. That kind of professional respect is really important, and you need to be a part of a team to maximize that concept.

The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
You’re a fantastic drone pilot, we can see your work in the Shaped By Water film, can you tell us a little about flying a drone at sea?

There’s never been a tool that’s been able to display the vastness of the ocean in the way a drone can. Everything from the boat slamming around in the North Atlantic to a feeding frenzy for whales.

It’s easy to get quite cavalier with drone flying, I think confidence can probably run away from you a little bit too. We've all had some crashes, that’s for sure! Once the drone gets up, getting it back and preserving your hardware is, of course, a priority. But particularly when it comes to things like the Southern Ocean or anytime you capture something really special, suddenly the hardware takes a backseat, and you’re instantly obsessed with getting the footage back at all costs. The material allegiance doesn’t matter. I would be lying if I said launching and retrieving didn’t get a little rough. There’s the return to home function where if anything happens, the drone always goes back to where you launched it from, which is a problem when you're sailing at 20 knots because you launched it three miles back!  Confidence grows slowly with every launch and retrieval, but it’s certainly a skill.

Amory Ross

“I know that if I’m patient, stories will come to me.”

The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
Remaining patient is key while shooting content in the middle of the ocean.
Can you tell us about a time when you really felt the power of your storytelling?

We love The Ocean Race and sailing around the world because we get to immerse ourselves in a part of this planet that is so valuable and meaningful. You look at our responsibility now as stewards of the ocean and as storytellers, we have the opportunity to capture some of that and to show some of its beauty to the rest of the world, and that's a huge responsibility.

I remember one instance in particular, racing off the Solomon Islands, and we put the drone up to film this incredible sunset feeding frenzy for whales. At that point, we thought we had just captured something really cool; it wasn’t until we got the 4K footage back onboard and started to examine it that we realized we had captured so much more than just a ‘cool moment’. It turns out we had captured a mass feeding frenzy with dolphins, sharks, big tuna fish, and a rare species of whale that wasn’t usually found in that geographical region. Scientists were really interested in the footage, and a journal was published on the findings. This just goes to show the value of storytelling can stretch way beyond what we expect. You might not always know the value of what you have until months or even years later.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling so unique?

I am of the opinion that, no matter how much you prepare for something, in an environment like offshore racing, you can never predict what will happen. For sure, you can leave with a list of ideas in your pocket, but does that ever end up being the reality? Absolutely not. I think one of my strengths is being able to read what is happening around me onboard and truly understand the characters and what they’re thinking. Because, like I mentioned earlier - there’s a high chance sailors won’t tell you what’s going through their minds, so it’s a lot of work needed just to gauge the situation you’re operating in. I like to document things in an organic way.

I know that if I’m patient, stories will come to me. Sometimes those stories are a hushed midnight conversation between the skipper and navigator, and sometimes they build up over a day or two, but one thing is always for sure, you can’t force anything. You just have to keep rolling.

Amory Ross

“The people who tend to look after our planet best are the ones that actively use it.”

The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
The Power of Subtle Storytelling - With Amory Ross
At times, you have been closer to the International Space Station than you have been to land. What is that like?

It’s a feeling that I will never forget, and in many ways, the root of the inspiration to keep going back to these races around the world. Imagine yourself in the middle of the ocean, farthest away from any landmass. As you look around, there's nothing but an endless expanse of water in every direction, creating a feeling of isolation and insignificance. At sea, with no land in sight, you become acutely aware of the vastness of the Earth and your relative position within this immense environment.

The uninterrupted horizon gives the occasional impression that you're suspended between two worlds - the ocean beneath and the sky above. The ocean's surface seems to blend seamlessly with the sky, creating an almost surreal sense of continuity between earth and the expanse beyond. And then there’s the night sky… On a clear night, free from the light pollution of coastal areas, the stars shine with an intensity that is simply breathtaking. It’s hard not to feel connected to the universe, and I can attest to profound feelings of solitude, peace, and wonder. It’s a privilege I never took for granted!

What has your role taught you about both humans and the planet?

Such a complex question! We are fortunate to exist in a competitive environment when we participate in these kinds of races. Competition aside, I think that means it draws a certain kind of person. Competitive people thrive on progress, forward progress especially, and when the results aren’t there, they are moved to learn, adapt, improve, refine, and refocus.

What I love about my career in this capacity is the general caliber of people it brings me in contact with. They are all ambassadors for change, for the betterment of this planet and the — I know it’s cliche now to say it — but the ‘playground’ we all call our home. The people who tend to look after our planet best are the ones that actively use it and understand on an active level how it’s feeling and how it’s doing. The tip of the sword. And ocean sailors know firsthand the value of a healthy planet.

We are all trying to win the race against time, and I feel strongly that telling the story of committed athletes who act more like committed ambassadors is the most purposeful way to spend my professional and, more importantly - personal energy. I am always inspired by the dedication of my peers to bettering planet Earth, both now and for the future generation of around-the-world sailors.

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Jamie Haines, sailor “I grew up on the ocean, and in order to protect it, we need to solve the climate crisis. It all goes hand in hand.”

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Ian Walsh, big wave surfer “As athletes, ocean health and sustainability are at the heart of what we do – without the ocean, we wouldn’t be here.”

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Steve Benjamin, filmmaker “I really want people to fall in love with the ocean, to appreciate it more, and to try to alter their behavior around it. Everything ends up in the ocean, and it’s such a dumping ground for humanity. My hope is that people see the ocean as a living entity that needs to be protected.”

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Amory Ross, storyteller “How can I describe the ocean? The ocean is impossible to describe because it is endless; it is full of life, wonder, and mystery.”

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Todd Hannigan, surfer, composer, filmmaker “For my entire life, if things were upside down, I could always count on the ocean to set me straight.”

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