Matt Damon once said in an interview that it would have been impossible to make the Oscar-winning movie Goodwill Hunt (1997) if he had tried today. He explained that these days, if he had just finished his film studies and pitched the film to the studios, no one would take the risk of producing such an indie and simplistic film. With profits lost due to the death of studio-owned distribution channels like DVDs (I still remember my Modern collective DVD under the Christmas tree), and with the rising sea of a million streaming services, a movie devoid of superheroes in tights or exploding cars, Damon continued, becomes nearly impossible to make.
The same reality exists in our surfing world today, Taylor Steele said this weekend during the second annual Solento Surf Festival at the famed La Paloma Theater in Encinitas, which Stab in partnership with this year. He applauded all of the filmmakers at the event for finding the time and money to create long-form surf films at a time when there was so much less money compared to previous years. A filmmaker even mentioned that “these days, children come out of mini Momentum movies everyday on Instagram,” to which Taylor humbly agreed, saying the competition is fiercer than it used to be for him.
A lengthy introduction to Taylor would be almost disrespectful – as you know, the man has created films that define culture as Momentum 1 & 2, Campaign 1 & 2, Loose Change, etc and played a huge role in popularizing musicians like Blink-182 and Pennywise. (Click here to find out more.)
But it was exciting to see movies like Billabong’s new movie Interlude (not a commercial, I just really liked it) in a theater full of people screaming and laughing, bottles falling on the floor, popcorn and pizza steamers floating around, the train rumbling and punk music blaring from the loudspeakers. Eithan Osborne did one of the best tunes I’ve ever seen.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a surf movie in this kind of environment. And most of the surf content that enters my eyes admittedly comes in the form of bite-sized clips set to sometimes dodgy music inside an Instagram square. In Taylor’s words, “Nowadays we consume movies on phones or computers, which takes us away from those shared experiences. [This event] is a celebration of coming together to share movies, music and conversations.
The reason for this move away from the long-running surf movie that has enchanted many aspiring grom or grommet? Silver. Part of the answer has to consider the fact that anyone connected to the surfing industry survives, at least in part, on the income generated by the average Joe buying a t-shirt. Professional surfers direct their fanbase to purchase products, for which they receive income. That’s not to say it’s not honorable or that surfers and filmmakers don’t put a lot of passion and energy into what they create – they do, and the rest of us do. enjoy. But there’s a reason you’re watching an ad above this article.
And the honest truth is that a quick and flashy edit of Instagram seems like a more efficient, cheaper, and in essence, more profitable way to take viewers from viewing a surf clip to typing their credit card number on a brand’s website. So why make a carefully constructed and crafty surfing feature these days? That’s the question Taylor posed to the filmmakers over the weekend. The answer for most of them had to do with a common theme – a personal drive to create. Many of them knew they wouldn’t be coming home from the festival in a Ferrari, but that the ride home in a Prius was worth it because they’d have told the story they felt the need to tell.
movies like In the face of monsters directed by Rick Rifici and starring Aussie charger Kirby Brown, had to deal with a kind of purist storytelling. Whether hunting down some of Australia’s heaviest slabs (and not just the ones we’ve seen in other “Aussie slab hunter” films), battling drug and alcohol addiction, founding a family and recovering from near death, the film tells a story so beautiful that even Kelly raved about it on her Instagram the night after its premiere. Taylor Steele also named it the best film of the festival. No, the movie won’t make either of them rich, but it did bring audiences to tears at times, and it was special to see.
There have also been several musical performances by local musicians like the Aquadolls and 12 first films, including John John’s new film, Gravity. And yes, Rob Machado also appeared on the first song of the punk band Pivot’s set. Have you ever seen the world’s most zen wave rider headbanging to a loud punk performance? It was a show.
I asked Taylor what advice he would give his 20-somethings if he wanted to get into surf filmmaking now. He was kind enough to think for a minute and give a thoughtful response. He said it would focus on identifying a specific niche that he could provide value. He would then work to deliver valuable content that would get “views before money”. Much like the ever-popular practice of growth before profitability in the tech world, Taylor said he would be more concerned with creating quality content that acquires a long-term audience before seeking out fast-paced content that generates a short-term monetary gain.
The weekend ended with a surf contest at Seaside Reef, a central location in the original Momentum movies. Anyone could enter, and with every run you did, you were forced to change your fin setting (thruster > twin > single-fin). Taylor Steele has always done things her way. And as you’ll see, even a certain 50-year-old, 11-time world champion made an appearance.
For those exploring new entertainment, you can see the full list of films featured and musicians who have performed on the Solento Surf Festival website.