When AIGA commissioned Dan Covert and Andre Andreev of Dress Code, the production company that creates AIGA’s beautiful Medalist videos, to make a film about Medalist David Carson in 2014, the pair flew to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to shoot Carson in his natural habitat amidst the blissful sun and surf. Unsurprisingly, they were so captivated by the designer’s vivid outlook and lifestyle that they decided to make a longer documentary of their own. “We knew there was a larger story to tell beyond the short profile, so we invested some money and got to work,” says Covert.
The resulting 15-minute film is an impressionistic blast of water, waves, and whimsical yet wise words from Carson, and it will make you yearn for summer and for a mind as agile and spontaneous as the iconic graphic designer’s.
As teenagers living halfway around the world from one another, the first design book both Covert and Andreev bought was Carson’s iconoclastic The End of Print. As Covert says, “It changed both our lives and career trajectories.” Carson’s untethered, rule-defying design philosophy has been of great importance for the pair, especially in terms of their own style and output as image-makers. “We were both a bit nervous that first time we hung out with David because we looked up to him,” says Covert.
From the moment they arrived in Tortola for the first short, the interview and filming process was as unique and eccentric as one might expect. Caron lives life like he designs, and Covert and Andreev had to adapt to his style—optimistically and enthusiastically, though maybe not practically. After making a loose plan to start shooting that December—but without any confirmation email to fall back on—the filmmakers turned up on the island without even knowing Carson’s address.
“All we knew was that he lived by a gas station,” says Covert. “There were only two gas stations on the entire island so we drove around for hours until we thought we found it.”
Carson’s home is at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean at the end of a long road covered with “Do Not Trespass” signs. Nervous about intruding, Covert and Andreev peered up his driveway. “Far down the road we suddenly saw a bush rustle and a head pop out looking in our general direction, then pop back in the bush,” Andreev remembers. “As we drove closer, the bush kept rustling then stopped suddenly. We cut the motor and after a few minutes of stillness, David emerged from the bushes and we met for the first time.”
And that’s when their two-year collaboration began. This first meeting set the tone for a dozen or so haphazard days of filming to come. “Sometimes David would drop off and not write us back for long periods. We got bummed out by some misalignments, but over time began to accept that for better or worse all David cares about is surfing and design.” The “myopic focus” Covert describes is what he believes makes Carson so great at design: “He doesn’t care about anything else but his agenda and making work he believes in, no matter the cost.”
That’s why the film is equally split between Carson’s fascinating insights on design and his obsession over all things surf and sand. Filming Carson in the water took time to perfect, and initially Andreev and Covert attached a GoPro to his surf board for a first-person POV. The waves were so strong that they knocked the camera off into the ocean, but luckily they found it washed up on the shore later that day. “It never stopped recording! So we got hours of fantastic underwater footage that ended up playing a major role in the edit.”
The main surfing footage was shot with a drone and it was a similarly uncontrolled affair. “The salt water from the ocean destroyed the motors and we had to find a replacement,” remembers Andreev. With no rental houses or electronic stores on the island, a motion designer from Dress Code had to fly over last minute with a new drone to finish the job. “Everything came together in the end,” says Andreev. “And much like David’s work, the process was just as interesting as the final result.”