From Sea to Rising Sea

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Mary John Frank

Is there a particular video, film, campaign or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

VR and 360 films like Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Protectors,” as well as “Dear Angelika” and Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” have influenced my work in XR.


What motivated you to make your XR + Interactive project?

I was interested in making a film about climate change that focuses on the beauty of the planet, normalizes the conversation about climate change, and highlights potential climate solutions and action items. I was inspired by Jeff Goodell’s book “The Water Will Come,” as well as “Project Drawdown,” and writings by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. More personally, this was a way of processing the challenging emotions that come up when reading about rising sea levels, witnessing the impacts of climate change, feeling powerless and/or wanting to help.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

We filmed with a Kandao Obsidian S with underwater housing created by, Casey Sapp & Jean-Marc Moro. We chose the Kandao, as at the time, it seemed like the best option for filming a stereoscopic 360 project on land and also underwater. Our camera needed to be light and portable to work with our various locations e.g. in a zodiac boat, on a dock rigged to a ledge, connected to a drone, and in the ocean.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your XR + Interactive project to help tell your story. 

FROM SEA TO RISING SEA is an educational film, but we also wanted to entertain viewers and take full advantage of the 360 aspects of the project. We filmed in and near the Pacific Ocean so that we could immerse viewers in nature, and share footage of the gorgeous kelp forests that our characters were singing about.

We used a drone to share a scenic 360 view of Catalina Island, originally inhabited by the Tongva people. We stabilized the camera to a small zodiac boat, thanks to Adam Ravetch, Kate Wurzbacher and Steve Fitzpatrick.

Grips like Jeff Baker, Josh Linkey and Robert Trussell created a large tripod that allowed the camera to hover above the ocean’s surface in a shallow area, in order for us to be inside of a synchronized swimming formation.

Most of the crew (myself included) had worked on only a few VR projects and most of our cast had not done any 360 or VR work, so it took an adventurous, talented and creative team of individuals to make any of the above possible. Producers, Nadia Tahoun and Madeline Powers, coordinated all of this and safety divers like Megumi Itoh, Diane Hwang and Jeff Reeb kept us safe above and below the water. I am DEEPLY grateful for everyone’s smart ideas and dedication to this.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

We made quite a few changes to the script before filming. For context, I wrote the first draft of the project in 2017 and spent a few years finding our partners, collaborators, fiscal sponsors, donors etc. We filmed in 2020, and ultimately cut a few pages from the script as they simply weren’t realistic during the pandemic. In some ways, making these changes benefited the project. The scenes that were cut would have taken us away from the ocean and into the protagonist’s home where she would have shared more about individual climate-focused action items with her parents and brother. I like that we ultimately chose to stay focused on the sea and then shared about trailblazing ocean-focused groups like GREENWAVE, CORAL VITA, and INVESTABLE OCEANS.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this XR + Interactive project.

One of the most rewarding experiences was collaborating with climate organizations, Oceanic Global and Zero Hour. Cassia Patel (Oceanic Global) and Zanagee Artis (Zero Hour) read / watched multiple versions of the script and film and gave brilliant feedback and suggestions. They pointed me towards research materials and organizations. Connecting with activists, advocates and NGOs and learning about the work they are doing daily and their respective impacts encouraged me to stay engaged, and has given me a tremendous amount of hope.

I was also moved by our school test screenings last year. Seeing middle schoolers watch the project, in real time, and then create their own climate focused art was beyond cool. Students were eager to contemplate/envision a world they wanted to live in and also make their own climate-focused projects or action plans.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?



What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Here are a few parts of the filmmaking process that I love…
1) Experimentation with cameras and new technologies. There are endless opportunities for shaping a story when cameras are involved. Bringing a camera into the rehearsal process (as early as possible) can lead to thrilling discoveries and interesting blocking. A subtle change in the camera’s angle or movement can add so much to a scene or moment…findings like these bring me a lot of joy.
2) Working with actors and dancers…rehearsing, splatter painting ideas, and setting the work.
Every time I make something, I am reminded of how unique the relationship is between the talent and director. Directing is teaching me to be clear and specific. I’m working daily to improve these skills.
3) Also selecting wardrobe. Working with costume designer, Sarah Williams, I’ve learned a great deal about textures, patterns and colors on camera. I used to be very intimidated by choosing or communicating about costumes, but now I see this as another opportunity for storytelling, helping an actor find their character, or enhancing the mood of a scene.
4) Lastly, sharing the work. Seeing an audience experience and respond to the film, makes all of the time, energy and effort that goes into making it worth it (always!).


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

I don’t have one item I regularly bring when I’m working on set, but I do very superstitiously carry a copy of David Lynch’s “Catching the Big Fish” in my bag when I’m in post-production.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

In addition to our partners, Oceanic Global and Zero Hour, we feature a variety of climate action items and ocean-focused organizations. Please see and learn about them on our website here:


Please share a personal story about your experience making this XR + Interactive project.

During the making of this project I learned to trust, let go, and rely on others more than I have on previous works.  We filmed in the fall of 2020, and I realized very quickly into the scouting, casting, and hiring process that I was not going to be able to direct this alone during the pandemic.  I was introduced to filmmaker and talent, Sigin Ojulu, who had helped create 360 work for creator, Alton Glass, and made VR works at USC. She stepped in as co-director and is the reason we were able to get this done in LA during the pandemic. She brought on AD, Alejandro Victorero, who had made work involving major stunts and action shots. Learning to ask for support like this was new for me, necessary on this project, and taught me some invaluable lessons about teamwork and trust.


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

After experiencing FROM SEA TO RISING SEA, I hope audiences are moved to envision the kind of planet they want to live on, contemplate how they can participate in building this world and/or take action.

Some of the action items that are shared in the film include talking about the climate crisis/solutions with their friends and family, calling congress (or encouraging their parents to), donating to an organization focused on ocean health, reading climate focused literature, or engaging in climate artwork, community projects and/or activism.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

In a post-screening discussion it would be fantastic to discuss…

*How incredible the oceans are and ocean-based solutions to the climate crisis.
*Art making for climate (the importance of climate in art and pop culture) and examples of it beyond this film.
*BIPOC scientists, climate leaders, and sources (perhaps through discussion of inspiration of FROM SEA TO RISING SEA film)?
*Women in VR/Film/Tech (perhaps through discussion of the FROM SEA TO RISING SEA team?)
*Making a film during a pandemic.
*Sustainability on set.
*Our partnership with climate groups, Oceanic Global and Zero Hour.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Re: opportunities to get involved, viewers can take an action on the spot after viewing the film, they can share the film or project (either the VR version or an easy to access mobile 360 version).

Schools and museums can reach out to us about screening the project and we have built a curriculum that has been tested and tried as well to accompany the film:

Oceanic Global, one of our partners, also hosts a monthly zoom meet up viewers can join. We discuss climate movies, books, podcasts and articles.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:

Here are some of the sources/resources that have influenced the film, are relevant, and inspiring:

“To Save The Climate Look To The Oceans,” Article by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson:

Website for the Book, “All We Can Save”:

Ted Talk with Dr. Sylvia Earle:

“A Message For Our Future,” Video:

A group that has inspired the film: Intersectional Environmentalist

Article on Climate Content and Comedy:

Less obvious in the context of the film but relevant to me and my work. Two books on women in tech, bias in tech and AI, and the importance of getting involved/contributing to the future of tech.


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Our Partners’ sites:





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