Before I knew Johnny Abegg, I knew his blog. Some friends had posted links around the social networks, and Abegg’s post ran a bit deeper than most. It held my interest.
Johnny Abegg is a Byron Bay introvert, artist, surfer, freelance-whatever-ist. His blog is part of a larger blog collective called Common Ground, spanning music to surfing to bohemian fashion to organic eating. Hard to categorize, really. It’s about Byron community. In one post, Johnny interviews a local musician by setting up the video camera and walking away for 20 minutes. In another, he loses a GoPro camera and posts the raw video of the camera doing its own thing (until recovered). He knows interesting people. He makes photos, videos, words and artwork together as one. He surfs well, and approaches both waves and wisdom on his own, introspective terms.
I flew to Byron to edit a film project and we hired Johnny as our hands-on-the-keys guy (he’s also a whiz with the Final Cut Pro). Over a stinky, unhealthy edit-week of sitting side-by-side with Johnny (during which time he ate mostly nuts and berries, never complained about long hours and edit-madness, and seemed not to own a shirt at all), I learned about a few quirky film projects he’d made (Bay of the Dead, On Credit, Two Weeks), his organic local blog collective and his affinity for Charles Bukowski.
Having no other form of human contact during this week…Johnny was my only option for a YAH interview. And a good one at that:
SURFING: How did your movie On Credit come about?
JOHNNY ABEGG: That was my third year doing the WQS. I was struggling, had no sponsors, and I basically just really wanted to crack it – making the tour had been my dream since a very young age, so I just wracked the whole thing up on credit cards.
How much, all in?
Four cards. $27,000 debt at the end of it all.
What place did you finish?
Like 190th or something. [Laughs]
Which hurt more – the debt or the result?
It was a great experience. It opened up a new door for me. Doing the WQS made me realize that I wasn’t a competitive surfer. From such a young age, that was all I thought I wanted, but I had to learn that it wasn’t where I was going.
And you did enjoy the filmmaking aspect of it?
Yeah. That was accidental. I just brought a handicam along because I figured it made a good story. I knew there were heaps of young surfers struggling along to do the tour out there, so I just thought I’d document my trip. I didn’t know a thing about filming or editing, but I thought, when I get home I’m going to turn all this into a film. Took about 9 months and during that time the WQS had passed me by and I was on this fully new path.
So the next logical step was a surf-zombie film?
Bay of the Dead. Yeah, that came about a year later. Just messing around with friends.
What’s the story on that?
A good Kiwi mate, Jason Collins, he’s got a real eccentric mind and he wanted to do this zombie surf flick. It was just fully slapped together. A mate came up with the name Bay of the Dead, and we started slapping it together. Full D-Grade zombie surf-flick movie. Pretty funny.
Nah, that was one of the funnest movies I’ve ever made. Probably the worst, too.
What other movies have you made?
I made an experimental surf film that was just quotation marks [“…”], that was just a dark and surf heavy. Pretty experimental. And Two Weeks was one I did last year, just completely personal. Just an introspective tale about turning 29 and asking myself some personal questions. Just went down to the Tasmania bush to get some perspective on life – totally not surf related at all.
Do you enjoy editing…or is it just work?
It goes in waves. I was getting burned out, but it’s been cool coming back in and seeing all this come together. This is an inspiring project. [Note: Johnny’s been editing together the collected sections of Taylor Steele’s Innersection project.]
What do you take away seeing the pool of young filmmaker projects that create Innersection?
I think it’s such a great initiative. It’s great to empower indie filmmakers to have a voice and be seen out there. The digital medium is so good for that.
Do you own any shirts?
[Laughs] Yeah, well it’s been so hot lately. I guess I haven’t put a shirt on a in a while, huh?
Maybe you could buy one on credit?
I’m still trying to get that paid off.