Now that Cluster is out in the wild, let's talk hammers with Kai Neville…
The independent filmmaker Kai Neville is an elegant rough-neck who has lassoed the surf-cultural zeitgeist like no one else. Over the last ten years he has made three era-defining films: Modern Collective, Lost Atlas and Dear Suburbia.
And this Christmas, the world will see his new film, Cluster, unsheathed from Kai’s blue velvet camera pouch more than two years since Dear Sub. And it ain’t around sessions this time. Kai is “taking it back to the OG. It’s a parts vibe,” he says.
Thirty-two-year-old Kai was motivated to jump into the independent film game again because of Creed McTaggart and Noa Deane, the two most photogenic surfers not spending their fuel on the World Tour. “I feel like an old man all of a sudden,” he says. “They’re different 19 and 20 year olds. I was a weird confused kid and they’re way ahead of their time, in music and in surfing. They own themselves. And they look up to the older generation of (Mitch) Coleborn and Dion (Agius). You need that X-factor in your films. People expect to see the best guys and they want to be surprised.”
Who knows how to make a surf film better than Kai Neville? Soak in his advice, in his 10 Iron Laws of Surf Film Making.
1. Location It’s the key to a surf film. You want variety. I like variety. Unless it’s a documentary, there has to be at least six locations. Some exotic, some Medieval. I love that European surfing vibe and the dark beaches and the ramps. Have clean-faced waves, some barrels and a mix of backdrops and angles.
2. The Production Crew Keep it small and keep it tight. There’s nothing worse than rocking up to a remote beach with a handful of filmers and boats and jet skis and helicopters. It’s puts a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and ruins the vibe. You should be going in as a fly on the wall. Three surfers, two filmers max. Whether you’re talking to locals at the pub or arriving at a South Australian secret spot, the smaller the crew, the tighter the clique, the smoother it is. When managers start coming, it’s not a surf film anymore, it’s a commercial shoot.
3. Booze After a hard day on the tools, get a slab of beer for the boys. When it’s been a good day and the vibes are high, you can reminisce on the session and talk shit. A bad day? Beer works as well. Keep those vibes… high!
4. You do the logistics Not many people don’t realise that 60 per cent of a successful film is doing your research: looking at maps, reading up on locations, booking flights, car rentals etc. Most surfs are pretty retarded and they don’t do shit. You have to be proactive and do everything. Put them in the right place at the right time and they’ll repay you with their athletic talent.
5. Music You want a balanced soundtrack with good pacing. I’ll try a thousand songs until something triggers an emotion. A song can make or break your party. It’s worth whatever time and money you have to spend.
6. Work with brilliant art directors Collaborate with great designers and it’ll set the tone of your film and bring your vision to life. I’ve worked with a different art director on each film and it defines each film by its different flavour. Find an art director, a creative, who has a similar vision for titles and your filmic textures. I keep a ton of references of design I like and if one clicks, I just contact that person. You’ll be surprised how many top-shelfs creators are into surf. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or pound out an email.
7. Killing babies! When it doubt, leave it out. If you’re second-guessing a shot, cull it. When you look back in a year you’ll be fucking glad you got rid of it.
“Too much money can ruin a project. You don’t know what to do with it all and you tend to over-produce. Be fucking organic. The less money, the more independent you are.” Kai Neville
8. It’s all about the vibes All it takes is one bad egg on a trip to put your film into downward spiral. Pick surfers who travel well together, who don’t get eggy. Everybody should be having a hell time. The last thing you want is someone, surfer, photographer, whomever, who spooks everyone else out. There’s a lot of down time during a trip, a lot of dinners and whatever with the same guys. The more you can tie the guys together, the smoother the shoot.
9. Marketing You gotta market your project from start to finish. Treat your film like a brand. You don’t wanna over-hype it and oversaturate the world with it but you don’t wanna under-hype it either so no knows about it. It’s a fine line. Find that magic ingredient that gets people psyched and go with it until it’s released.
10. Cash For any project you need money. You don’t need much, but you need some. You can do a lot with a little. Before you hit the road, pitch your idea to brands and surfers. Any bit of extra budget can take your film to the next level. It might enable you to get the art director you want or that song you’re hyped on. Howevs, too much money can ruin a project. You don’t want to do with it all and you tend to over-produce. So keep it simple. Be realistic. But don’t blow all your money on the one trip or the Phantom rig operator. And with titles, you don’t necessarily need crazy graphics. The best stuff I’ve done is when I’ve worked with nothing because you’re forced to get out there and be fucking organic. The less money, the less fingers in the pie, the less politics and the more independent you are. Did I mention independence? It’s priceless.