No longer sword fighting or falling off buildings for a living, former stuntwoman Malia Wedge uses her creative energy to call the action herself as photo art director for women’s active wear company Athleta. She’s scouts locations as part of her job but, growing up in Hawaii, Malia enrolled in Bowdoin sight unseen after learning about the College from her high school softball coach, Ed Moore ’67.
Did you have a career path envisioned for yourself when you left Bowdoin? I’ve always gravitated to the creative world, but I had no specific idea of what I wanted to do after college, aside from knowing that I wanted to do something that made me happy.
How did you end up working as a stuntwoman?
I have always been athletic, and had done some martial arts as a kid. I performed in plays at Bowdoin, and after graduating continued studying physical comedy and trained for stage combat (pratfalls, fights, broadsword, etc.) I got my first stunt job in Hawaii, moved to LA, where I worked as an actress and stuntwoman, and then spent a few years in Taiwan and Japan doing live shows.
What are your responsibilities as a photo art director?
I’m responsible for managing the photography process, while making sure that the brand aesthetic and creative vision comes across in the style, look, and feel of the photography. We shoot a range of product stills and model photography, both on location and in the studio, and my role varies slightly depending on the shoot—though it generally includes pre-production, on-set direction, and post-production. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to do everything from develop creative strategy and plan shots to create style guides. I work with producers, location scouts, models, stylists, and photographers, and occasionally I storyboard and direct videos. Pre-work includes conceptualizing the look and feel of the shoot, casting the models and freelance talent (hair/makeup, etc.), and then providing direction for photography, lighting, mood, and movement. When I’m on set, I direct the models and work with the photographer to create the shot and get the right energy and quality of light. After the shoot, I’ll select the photos and give retouching direction.
What’s something you know now that wish you’d known when you began your career?
I wish I had known that there’s no right answer, and that my voice is just as valid as anyone else’s. And, in general, never believe too much of your own hype, good or bad.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Creative work is so subjective. Everyone will have an opinion, and not everyone is going to love what you do. I try to be aware of what I like, and to keep evolving my own aesthetic, through artistic and cultural experiences, travel, and exposure to different people and places. Brian ’97 and I also own a VW bus, and it’s inspiring to take some time, live simply, and wander the California coast looking for surf or exploring in the mountains.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
From stunts to art direction, I often look at what I do as storytelling. Bringing a team together to create a window into a world, or even just a moment, that engages people and makes them feel something.
Do you have a favorite place you’ve lived, visited, been on location to shoot?
Brazil and New Zealand were great locations. I lived in Japan for four years, and people were wonderful. It was an amazing place to live (and eat. Often my favorite memories revolve around food, and trying different things.)
What gets you out of bed in the morning, what gets you excited for the day?
I love to get up in the morning and see my family. I also really enjoy dance classes. Though I’m no longer throwing my body around for a living, I still love to move, and will generally dance any time, any place.
Brian and I are similar in the big ways that matter, and balance each other out in good ways with our differences. (Thanks for bringing us together, Bowdoin!) He’s my best friend. He’s a photographer, and it’s always a fun day when we get to work together.
An abbreviated version of this profile appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Bowdoin magazine.