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Old December 9th, 2008, 05:19 AM   #1
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all at sea (or surf in this case)

I'm working on a couple of doco ideas and having a little trouble with one of them.

It's about surfing and I'm not sure how to get the concept across. It's a personal project that I'm doing for interests sake - I don't know that it will end up being shown anywhere, but that's not really the point.

here's the concept:
I was born & bred in Broken Hill (near the middle of Australia) I only really noticed surfing when I moved to the coast in later life. It's a sport but not like other sports, it's more a lifestyle, perhaps even a religion. The group I've been filming are a lot of older guys that still get out there. I want to talk to them and find out why, what's the attraction at 40 & 50 to still get out there and surf, what do their wives think about it, do they understand this addiction?

now I thought I might just interview the guys and film the surfing, interview the wives and hope something develops along the way but i'm wondering if I need a direction, a general path in mind.

how would you approach something like this?
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Old December 9th, 2008, 08:50 AM   #2
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At the risk of being frightfully obvious, you just do it.

If the goal of your doco is to get inside the heads of the surfers and impart the allure of the sport to the viewers you really have to ask them. Their responses will drive your piece's direction. Without their comments, you won't really have much more than eye candy.

Although I haven't done much along these lines, I really think it's the stories from the participants that can make the magic for you.

As someone who was a rabid windsurfer for twenty-odd years and did it into my early 50s I would think you'd get some interesting stuff on the beach. Although the surfing and windsurfing cultures were planets apart, at least in southern California, there's something highly addictive in each sport. I don't think you can cover the topic without getting into it.

You might want to walk around the beach and briefly chat up some of the folks and see how receptive they might be about going on camera. You might leave your gear in the car for this part. I don't know how it is in Oz, but some of the surfers in SoCal were very clannish and private. Others were extremely territorial and hostile to outsiders. If this is the case in your patch you'll want to tread lightly and definitely want to leave your kit in the car.

I just don't think you can tell the full story without talking to the surfers. What they tell you will drive the story.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 04:23 PM   #3
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Thanks Tripp,

you're right they are territorial! I've actually spent the last year filming the regular surfing contests - great learning experience and I know most of them now.

you asked.."If the goal of your doco is to get inside the heads of the surfers and impart the allure of the sport"

that's what I was wondering - to I need a goal or finished product in mind or do I just shoot and see what happens?
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Old December 10th, 2008, 07:07 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Mailath View Post
...do I need a goal or finished product in mind or do I just shoot and see what happens?
Let me tell you up front that I haven't done a lot of this so others may give you more informed recommendations than I. That said, I think it's a little of both. You may have enough of a goal in mind in your statement: "I want to talk to them and find out why, what's the attraction at 40 & 50 to still get out there and surf, what do their wives think about it, do they understand this addiction?" Being an old guy myself, I'd be interested in understanding what keeps them going. But you may end up limiting the demographic appeal of your piece with this. So you already have a "destination" in mind.

How do you get there? I think that's more amorphous. As long as you keep your destination in mind as you interview the surfers and shoot the scenes you'll end up getting where you want to go. Also, listen, listen, listen. But you probably already know that.

I did a very truncated version of what you want to do last summer at a local race track for a series of shorts. My goal was simply to let the fans get to know some of the drivers a bit better so I was looking for bits that might connect the racers with the fans. I came to each interview with a handful of stock questions to get things started, then I would pivot off their responses, using what they told me to get deeper into things I thought were interesting about them and their experiences.

I did six total episodes last summer and I rather think On Pit Lane-Episode 3 is the best of the lot. Maybe it might give you some ideas.

Best of luck and let us know how it goes.
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Old December 13th, 2008, 05:22 AM   #5
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Best advice I can think of would be to find eccentric characters. If you are trying to show that these people are obsessed and passionate, you need to find people who will convey that on screen. Where on the Central Coast are you? It's an area with a rich surfing history - try meet with the older local shapers, because they are probably some of the most passionate surfers you will ever meet.

Also don't just think about interviewing the older guys, even if they are the main subjects. What about the local groms? What do they think of these guys who still surf after several decades? What do their boss's think about it? What about the guys who've given it up - why did they have to quit surfing?

In the interviews make sure you talk about past, present and future... that way you will end up with a naturally evelving narrative (although you don't necassarily need to ask the questions in their historical order - or edit them in that order either). Ask them about their first surfboard, their first barrel, etc. Get nostalgic. Dig through their old photographs with them - get them to tell you about them.

It sounds like a super fun project and something I wish I had time for myself... good luck!
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Old December 13th, 2008, 05:40 AM   #6
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Hey Paul. I have shot a lot of surf stuff. (Including TVC's, Promos and a Surf Show pilot). If you would like to drop me an e-mail, I may be able to help you out.

Steve.
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Old December 13th, 2008, 05:46 AM   #7
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I agree with everything that's been said here.
If you can I suggest that you give yourself plenty of time to hang out with these guys and gain their trust.
Work out in your head why you want to make the film so that you can communicate that to them.
Start shooting as soon as you can (general views, surfing etc) so that they get used to that and so that you begin to get some idea of what kind of material you are going to get.
From what is emerging start to work out the structure of your film and see how you can make it work for an audience. What's interesting and what isn't.
You've said it and for me (as a complete outsider) it's what appears to be the spiritual aspect of surfing that sets it apart from many other sports and that's interesting.
But to do that you are potentially screwing around with what is the most important thing in the lives of these people. You could portray them as freaks and nutters. I'm sure you won't but they don't know that and they don't know you.
So that's why I advocate time, time, time and more time - to gain their trust and to understand where they are coming from.
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Old December 13th, 2008, 08:01 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by John Wiley View Post
- try meet with the older local shapers, because they are probably some of the most passionate surfers you will ever meet.
That's a great idea. They'll have watched the sport transform over the years and probably have some great perspective.

If you can interview someone people consider the "expert historian" it can lend some overarching perspective to your piece. This will give you the "macro" view to contrast with the individual surfers' "micro" view.

In my shooting at the local race track, I've found that some of the short pieces I've put up on the Web have gained me a higher acceptance level than I might have otherwise gotten. If they can see that you're not trying to put them on spikes, they might be more inclined to open up to you. This, of course, assumes that your lot have broadband Internet access and don't live on the beach in tilt-up sheds like Moondoggie.
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Old December 14th, 2008, 12:32 AM   #9
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I really like the concept of talking to the grommets as well as the ancients but I'm concerned about the project becoming 'too big'.

I've spent the last year with the group and filmed most of their comps. I made a short doco for their presentation night - since I wasn't all that good at filming them on the better waves and since they were really good at picking bad days for their comps - I decided to take the piss (take the micky in US parlence).

surfing presentation boardriders on Vimeo

forgive the edit - it's a little rough but it went over very well on the night - They all want a copy :-)

I guess I do know what I want to portray in general terms and if I just start interviewing with some general questions in mind it should develop.

I like the 'first board' and 'first barrel' questions - they're keepers
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Old December 14th, 2008, 06:48 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Mailath View Post
I really like the concept of talking to the grommets as well as the ancients but I'm concerned about the project becoming 'too big'.
What's too big? Doesn't that depend upon your intended delivery? DVD sales. Network program. Something else. It also depends upon how much info you want to convey.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Mailath View Post
forgive the edit - it's a little rough but it went over very well on the night
You have some really nice shots near the end. Looks particularly good to me on this winter morning after a big ice storm in -16C weather. You might want to cut tighter/quicker and use cuts instead of dissolves.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Mailath View Post
I decided to take the piss (take the micky in US parlence).
Even with the translation for us Yanks, I have no idea what you mean. (grin)

I don't know if this will help you at all, but here are a couple of pieces I did last summer that I think bare some resemblance to what you want to do.
On Pit Lane-Episode 1
Oxford Plains Speedway - 2008 Year in Review

I'm actually in sort of the same spot you are as I want to do a full doco of this storied track for its 60th anniversary in 2010. It will take a lot of interviews and crawling through whatever archives I can find. I think it could be an interesting project.

HTH
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Old December 15th, 2008, 05:25 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Mailath View Post
It's a sport but not like other sports, it's more a lifestyle, perhaps even a religion.
Hi Paul
Sorry, it wasn't clear to me from your first post that you have already spent the time filming and getting to know these guys.
Having done that you should now be able to say what kind of film you want it to be in one sentence - which you seem to have done (see above).
So all you need to do now is work out who your main characters are and how you are going to tell the story!
Good luck :-)
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Old December 15th, 2008, 07:11 AM   #12
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Paul: ...not to throw cold water on your project - but it's well plowed ground - at least on this side of the Pacific. There's the guy from the central coast of CAL who has paddled out [i]every day[/] for the past 40+yrs .. docs on all the early 60's SoCal crews .. docs on the Eastcoast guys who have done to Hawaii and done well .. a great doc on the guys who really got skateboarding rolling.. docs on migrations to Central America .. Bali, Easter Island, Mountain-sized waves, etc.. and there are multiple 500mm lens' at every surfbreak in the World. The market may be over saturated.

And then you have to think about who your audience would be.. Most civilians don't get it - and don't want to. Most surfers live it. I know a great deal about your subject and, candidly, it's not all that interesting .. 'just another source of endorphins.

We have a Sat. TV channel called CURRENT .. there's wealth of interesting ideas here. One of the best features is where they run 'Viewer Created Content' .. check it out: Viewer Uploads // Current ...there may be something under-your-nose that the rest of the World would be interested in.

Having said; all the success.

Jim
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Old December 15th, 2008, 06:29 PM   #13
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You're right Jim - I'm sure the are plenty out there but in this case the audience is... me - I want to know, it's a personal subject. I have no intention of showing it other than to the local surfers & their families.

And there we have it - it was there all the time, I just didn't see it.

I want to show these men as having passion as well as reason. They are husbands, fathers, tradesmen, office workers - reason and responsibility crowd their lives and I wonder if that's all their family sees. I'd like to show another side to them - (are we starting to get a bit Freudian here?)

"your reason and your passion are the rudder & the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid seas. For reason ruling alone is a force confining, and passion, unattended is a flame that burns to it's own destruction." - Kahlil Gibran

now.. what was my original question

"but I'm wondering if I need a direction, a general path in mind?"

I think I found it
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Old December 15th, 2008, 06:57 PM   #14
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Paul,

Yeah, you found it. Now go out and chase it down. Be open to where the interviews will take you in the moment. KEEP THE CAMERA ROLLING - and enjoy yourself.

Theres the doc you plan, the doc you shoot, and the doc you wind up editing. When you are laying down your 'radio cut' - the story will start to take shape. You'll find comments and thoughts that might have taken place a year and miles apart, that seem perfect back to back - introducing a natural theme to a segment - be ready for that. "Expect the unexpected."

When I produced "American Jouster" (American Jouster )I had a list of questions I wanted answered in each interview, a couple of topics I wanted addressed - and then I stayed open to where the subjects themselves might want to take it.

If you're a one-man-band, then it's usually easiest to do a 'sit down' interview, you can controll the sound and light and setting better - but don't be afraid to do the interviews 'verite' style - in the moment, while they drive to the beach, wax the boards, relax on the beach, patch up the cuts and scrapes, 'throw a shrimp on the barbie' with the wife and kids - you get the idea.

Go for it.
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Old February 2nd, 2009, 07:20 PM   #15
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The key to a successful docu about this topic will be to spend a LOT of time with the surfers to gain their trust (probably weeks without camcorder). Don't even think about bringing your camcorder for a while until they have opened up to the idea of that project. Once you are part of their world, the story will naturally evolve through your footage when you follow them around, shoot interviews, and make them talk about their lives. A good idea would also not to conduct interviews person-by-person, but to get them to sit together (maybe around a big bonfire) and let them talks to each other and exchange stories. I had a similar experience when I was filming musicians. None of the musicians ever really started to talk in front of the camera, but as soon as I put a few musicians of the same age into a room, they wouldn't stop telling amazing stories. It's all about trust and creating a comfortable environment so they can open up. That's the only way to get into their heads, I guess.
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