French bulldog answers your metaphysical woes. Money can't buy you love but love can't buy you shit!
French bulldog answers your metaphysical woes. Money can't buy you love but love can't buy you shit!
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.
Winning a contest or even second is the best! But to weep? Like gal?
Crying is a poignant reaction to life’s cosmic drama. Diane Warwick, singer and champion of psychics, said, “Crying is cleansing. There’s a reason for tears.”
And she is right but she is also a she. Crying for a man, however poignant, whatever the reason, is a dicey proposition. Crying for the sporting man even dicier. Crying for the surfer, who practices the softest sport of all, the diciest. Which is not to say crying, for the surfer, is always wrong. We don’t believe in cruel blacks and whites at Beach Grit. We believe in open hands and open hearts. We practice a severe benevolence.
But we also look at Gabriel Medina’s watery eyes, beret perched on Rip Curl cap, with disdain. He is rubbing away the tears like a toddler after losing to Julian Wilson in Portugal. His expression is dour. Gabriel is, without doubt, very competitive but, and here is the irony, he is not old enough to cry after defeat. He is not old enough to cry after victory. He dwells in those tender years when crying is not appropriate because, quite simply, he has not experienced enough ups and downs to justify it. When he felt the watery sting begin to boil behind his eyes he should have marched off the stage in a huff. Being a bad sport is much preferred to being a bad sport and a baby.
And we also look at Jordy Smith sobbing on the shores of Jeffrey’s Bay, blubbering openly, with great joy. Jordy is only slightly older than Gabriel and has only slightly more professional experience but the way he has given himself over, completely, to emotion makes it impossible to criticise. Jordy is crying like he has just accomplished the hardest thing on earth. He is crying like he alone, through sacrifice and great effort, brought lasting peace to the Middle East. His face is a mask of unimpeded emotion and it is so out of line with just winning J-Bay that it shall forever endure as Beach Grit’s icon.
And we also look at Kelly Slater weeping into the microphone in Puerto Rico after his victory and Andy Irons death. This was a dark, dark day in surfing’s relatively bright history and Kelly’s torture mirrored that of so many. It was a fine reaction to real loss. Kelly took the burden of tears and allowed others to be remain solemn and sad without also weeping. Through thick and thin, Kelly Slater has always been our ambassador. Our great totem.
Yes, the crying surfer is the diciest proposition but, as Diane Warwick said, “The problem with fame is you no longer belong to you. You lose your persona and become the object of other people’s obsession.” Amen.
(Editor’s note: The photo of Jordy weeping like gal is by English/Surf Images)
Thirty-something Bruce Irons was once the best "free surfer" in the world. Then he turned philosopher in this archival interview!
What are your favourite sounds? Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The sound of my ten-reel getting screamed by a Yellowfin [tuna]. This year we’ve had one of the best Yellowfin seasons ever. Officially, I’ve caught seven all from 150 to 200 pounds and one 500-pound marlin. All right in front of our house. My baby is making all these little noises that are priceless. All these little eee-eee, ooo-ooo, ah-ah. Goo goo, gah gah, that kind of shit. Everyday is a different little noise.
What is the most curious album in your collection? A GG Allin album that Nathan Fletcher put me onto. He’s an old-school punk guy, long dead. He’s a crazy, crazy old punk rocker (Allin was famous for his live shows in which he would often defecate on stage, perform naked, cut himself and sometimes, when hunger beckoned, he would eat his own shit).
What is heaven for you? Getting stand-up shacks, catching big Ahis [another name for Yellowfin tuna], watching my baby grow and um, Kauai. Wait, I’m in heaven right now.
What is hard for you? Communication is hard. Sometimes I don’t want to pick up the phone and return calls for a week. Getting back to my so-called ‘responsibilities,’ is hard. Leaving Kauai. You get in a groove here and you don’t want to leave. It’s a little island, with a real tight island community where everyone knows everyone and it’s hard to leave your friends and family.
What is right with the world? We haven’t had a total nuclear-fucking-mayhem-weapons-of-mass-destruction bomb test yet. All this nuclear-fucking-mass destruction talk and still no one’s pulled the trigger. If one person pulls the trigger, we’re all fucked. Who wants to be the first idiot?
Describe a scene from a movie that moved you? Wave Warriors III changed my whole perspective when I was nine years old. To see Matt Archbold, Christian Fletcher and Pottz, at that time, doing airs and high-performance surfing – it changed my life forever. Archy at Trestles doing big backside grab airs. Christian Fletcher doing the fucken biggest airs. Johnny Boy was doing these backside back flip snaps. That was in ’89! I watched that section a week ago and it still pumped me up. It’s got the sickest soundtrack and the baddest airs. That was the beginning of innovation in surfing.
What is your motto or words to live by? My mum always said, respect your elders and treat someone, as you would like to be treated. Respect your elders is a Catch-22. If you respect someone and they don’t respect you back, fuck them. If someone is gonna shit on you, fuck them. Which is where the other part of the saying comes in.
What remarkable things have you found in remarkable places? I just came back from Mexico and it was a good reality check to see how good we have it compared to them. I was hanging with this crazy gnarly local gangster guy. He had three kids and he’d been in a Chicago prison for five years, for having a lot of drugs and a machine gun, I think. Heavy duty shit. He’d taken over this broken-down abandoned home and hooked it up with electricity and water. I walked into a room and there were his three little girls sleeping on a hard concrete floor on a towel. To talk to the guy and see how happy he is, with his chick and his three kids, just to be alive, made me appreciate that I’m spoilt.
“If you respect someone and they don’t respect you back, fuck them. If someone is gonna shit on you, fuck them.”
What do you wonder about? I’m more cautious about living and staying alive. I want to see my daughter grow up. Little things like wearing a seat belt and not driving drunk, which I overlooked before I had my little baby. I still make those dumb decisions but I try to cut back on them. (Does that cautiousness extend to surfing?) No. In those situations I feel comfortable because I’m confident that I can control what’s happening.
What’s your most thrilling surfing experience? Surfing Teahupoo at 15-feet plus with some bigger ones… you’re looking at waves that can kill you. We surfed a tow session in Kauai with my brother, Kamalei [Alexander] and Parko. It was one of the sessions of my life. Reallly big, big day, and this one spot that people usually paddle was randomly holding it. We had a window of just us four for two hours. I got the best waves of my life. Priceless.
If a gal's going to read, John Fante, Chuck Bukowski and JD Salinger ain't a bad place to start.
Dane Reynold’s is jazzy. I meant to speak with him about Fante’s semi-autobiographical creation Arturo Bandini. (John Fante is an American author, 1909-1983, who wrote, impressively, about depression era life in Los Angeles without being hard-bitten. He was not as recognised in life as he has been in death. He lost both his legs to diabetes.) I meant to get real specific about scenes in the books Ask the Dust, The Road to Los Angeles, Dreams from Bunker Hill and Wait Until Spring, Bandini. Dane and I had spoken before, briefly, about Dane resonating with Arturo and I wanted to get real specific.
In the books, Arturo Bandidi does things. He masturbates in a closet full of art photos. He kills crabs and falls in love with the crab queen, before killing her. He has crazy delusions of grandeur. He goes to the beach with a Mexican waitress and can’t get it up and she mocks him. He later cares for her as she is overcome by a craze for marijuana and runs off to the desert to die.
I wanted Dane to give me his interpretation of such scenes and how they reflect back on him. But we didn’t get real specific. Dane riffed on other topics and I didn’t want to stop him.
“Ummmm. Oh. Holy shit. I just had puppies and I found some shit in the corner. Oh. Ummm. Arturo Bandini? I don’t know. A friend, Jamie Tierney, recommended The Road to Los Angeles and I was really put off by Arturo at the start. But about 50 pages in he started making sense I guess.
“I guess his craziness.
“I guess there is a crazy dynamic going on but it’s not always that. He is kind at different times and honest in a strange way. And I don’t know. I don’t like to analyse this bullshit. I just like reading it.
“Holden Caufield, but we’ve already talked about that. Both of them are crazy but likable. Sweet, sugary villains. No, not villains. Bad kids.
“I was really put off my Arturo at the start. But about 50 pages in he started making sense. He is kind at different times and honest in a strange way. I don’t like to analyse his bullshit. I just like reading it.”
“Yeah sure, there are parts in Arturo and Holden I find in myself. I find little parts of myself in reading all kinds of stuff that has nothing to do with me. There are always parts.
“I hate watching movies. There have been three movies I’ve ever enjoyed. Movies kind of creep me out. They take too much commitment. They tell you all the information and you can’t find it for yourself. Reading is different.
“There’s this roachy dude at Rincon who gave me four books. I picked one to read based soley on the cover art. The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker.
“No it wasn’t really good. It was by John Keats.
“Any random book you read trips you out. There is always something in there that makes sense, that you see reflected, like, back to yourself.
“Bukowski make a big influence on me. That’s what I needed at that time.
“Yeah, I don’t know what I think about reading being fashionable now. I mean, I don’t know. For every one kid that reads there are 100 who aren’t interested. Who aren’t interested in anything at all. It’s cool that a kid like Kolohe (Andino) is into reading though. He is in a position to actually influence what people do and how they think.
“I trip out on how many people are not interested. I don’t mean interested in bad shit. I mean people not interested in anything.
“Shit, I don’t really like cities.
“I’ve had some good experiences in Melbourne.
“I don’t even need good surf.
“I don’t need perfect reef breaks.
“Ummmmmm deeeeeeedadeeeedaleeeeee ba ba ba ba boooooooooooom ummm ummmmmmmmmmmm. Yeah, like, yeah.”