Nothing good usually comes out of lying on a resumé—but in the case of filmmaker, adventure videographer, and underwater cinematographer Claude Evangelista, it ended up paying off. “I got an interview with Cebu Pacific, asking if I could create content for them,” he relates. “They asked if I could dive and make underwater videos. At the time, I didn’t know how to dive, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity, so I just said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
One of Evangelista’s work philosophies is to “always deliver more than what you promised.” So, he set off on a crash course to make things right, asking his diver brother if he could enroll in training and squeeze in what would normally have taken months in just a few short weeks. “I kind of fast-tracked it,” he admits.
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The 26-year-old is not exactly new to taking risks. Upon graduating high school, he skipped the conventional path of doing a four-year course in college and went straight to film school instead. “I already kind of knew what I wanted to do,” he says matter-of-factly. After a year and a half at the International Academy of Film and Television in Cebu, he moved back to Manila to begin what would be his only desk job: working at a production house. “I was doing advertising work—corporate AVPs, TV commercials,” he says. “But I didn’t like being kept in a desk; I felt like there was so much more potential for what I could do outside.”
By 23, he decided to explore what that could be. He started sky diving in Chicago, mostly because, he says, “I met a lot of people who let me jump out of their planes for free—I became friends with them and would help out around their office,” he says. After dozens of jumps and training to get his United States Parachute Association certification—including his 100th jump, which, per tradition, he was required to do completely naked (“Very awkward, because everyone had their phones,” he says), he thought about combining his passions: skydiving and making films.
“It’s bit more of a niche subject,” he says. “Once you’re comfortable, maneuvering in the sky becomes second nature. You’re not allowed to bring a camera with you until you’ve done 200 sky dives. By the time you’ve done 200 jumps, your body gets used to it already, so I can focus on my client. I’ll be jumping with you and taking your video, so it’s like a souvenir.”
The year after he started skydiving, Evangelista went on that fateful Cebu Pacific interview. Thanks to his little white lie, Evangelista fell in love with capturing life under the sea as well, enjoying its unpredictable nature and how he’s often forced to troubleshoot and improvise. “With animal behavior, there are a lot of things that can affect a shoot, like seasons and the tide. When you plan to get certain shots of this kind of species, like a whale shark, sometimes they’re not there; sometimes, you have to wait. The first three days that you’re diving, there are none, and then they just show up on the last day. You can’t really control nature.”
On the road
These days, Evangelista shoots regularly as part of the crew of Discovery Fleet, going on expeditions to places like Micronesia and documenting the marine life that can be found there. Next year, he’ll be training in shark conservation, swimming with three-meter long tiger sharks and bull sharks in Fiji. While he recognizes that he gets to earn from what others can only dream about doing, he points out that there are challenges, too, like traveling to remote locations with 60kg of equipment that he carries all by himself, or having to make snap decisions when nature doesn’t cooperate. “You have to compromise, or find another subject that’s interesting and that will capture the audience’s attention… but it’s very rewarding, especially when the project is done.”
And then, of course, there are the actual dangerous situations he occasionally finds himself in, like a parachute malfunction on his 50th sky dive, prompting him to cut it off and use his backup parachute with just 1,000 feet left to go before hitting the ground. “When I was landing, everyone was waiting for me because they saw what had happened. But they were all celebrating—not just because I was safe, but because if you use your second parachute, you’re required to buy everyone a round of beer,” he recalls with a laugh. “It’s like the worst moment and the best moment in your life, five seconds apart.”
Yet he wouldn’t have it any other way, and has this advice for people interested in pursuing a job that’s outside the norm: “Be hungry, because if you’re not wholehearted or hungry enough to excel, there’s really no way you can create a career out of this. You have to put a lot of effort into making your work noticeable, make sacrifices and compromises because it’s never going to be easy. But if you love what you do, then it starts to feel like it’s just play.”
This 2020, Evangelista has been tapped to be an “ambassa-diver” for PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), where he will be one of the organization’s global representatives. “It’s a nice achievement at this age; I’m pretty stoked about that,” he says. His ultimate goal is to shoot something along the lines of natural history or nature documentaries, like the ones seen on National Geographic or Blue Planet II at the BBC.
Not bad for a kid who openly confesses to not exactly being a stellar student, but knows he just wasn’t cut out for the usual nine-to-five. “I like going to off-the-grid places, I love being in uncomfortable areas,” he says. “I think that’s where your creativity grows and you get better at making life-or-death decisions. Those are the kinds of challenges that thrill me.”