Breaking Down A Pleasant Surprise

posted by / interview / September 8, 2009

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SURFING catches up with the crew behind New Jersey’s first-ever 16mm surf film, “A Pleasant Surprise”.

Interview by: Matt Bauer
Photos by: Rich McMullin

What is A Pleasant Surprise and what inspired you to make it?

KYLE PAHLOW: A Pleasant Surprise is the culmination of three years of surfing in New Jersey. It’s an examination of a group of surfers who are truly unique and who live in an incredible part of the U.S. I wanted to show these surfers and the waves they ride in a different way. I’ve always looked up to filmmakers like the Malloys, Jack Johnson, Dave Homcy, Scott Soens, Sonny Miller, Don King, Mike Prickett and so many more — the guys that really know their equipment and know their craft. It was important for me to do something that channeled that inspiration that I got while watching their films.

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Andrew Gessler

Who makes up the cast?

KYLE: The film features Ian Bloch, Ryan Daly, Luke Ditella, Andrew Gesler, Sam Hammer, Zach Humpries, Rob Kelly, Chris Kelly, Matt Keenan, Ben McBrien, Jamie Moran, Tom Petriken, Randy Townsend, and Brendan Willem. Assembling the cast was all about finding guys that ripped but who had unique style and approaches to riding waves. From making my first film on Long Beach Island, NJ, Break The Bridge, I had formed relationships with local pros like Randy, Ben and Brendan, but my goal was to get a few guys from different parts of the state. I don’t know exactly how I formed my initial contacts with some of the guys, but I do remember calling The Crabs Claw Inn, which Sam Hammer’s parents own. Sam’s mom answered the phone and I told her about my film. She gave me Sam’s cell and I just cold called him; that was my first contact with Sam Hammer. I just really focused on people that wanted to be involved and saw some good in the project.

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Ben McBrien

What was the most memorable session from all your days of filming?

KYLE: I’d have to say it was a session in October, where Ben and I arrived at this beach in the afternoon to these magical rights. I was up on the hill and shot with a 600mm lens while Ben just had the time of his life. I think he still talks about that as one of the most fun sessions he’s had. Ben had some family function to go to, but he just kept getting waves and running up the beach and going back out for more.

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Then there was a two-week run this year where Jamie Moran, Matt Keenan, Rob Kelly, and I got some incredible surf at a secret spot. I remember getting a call from Rob; he was in the airport getting in from Puerto Rico. He was claiming it was going to be big. There is an example of totally dedication…the kid gets home at 2 a.m. from Puerto Rico, then gets up at 5 a.m. to drive an hour and shoot with me.
Those two sessions were special to capture on film.

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Ian Bloch

Nick, describe the editing process and how you worked with Kyle to bring this film to the Big Screen?

NICK ZEGEL: Editing this movie was a unique experience for me for a few different reasons. Whenever I’m working with video I’m usually editing my own footage and cutting projects that are shorter than 10 minutes. I like to jump into an edit and finish it in one or two sessions, live with it for a day or so and then be done with it. This film was much different and the editing process happened over the course of about 6 months. Lucky for me, Kyle spent a ton of time logging footage and putting down rough cuts. I would then bike over to the Temple editing lab (which is conveniently 8 blocks from my place in Philly) and sit down and watch what we had. I think Kyle would prep himself before I got there, knowing I was going to be blunt and straightforward. We would talk about things, watch the segments over and over and move things around. We repeated this process over and over.  Finally, a couple months ago, I began to realize we were going to be finishing this film and not know what to do next. Often I would leave editing so excited that I’d head back to my space and want to work on the movie, so I’d find different ways to do that — whether it was reaching out to friends, working to license music, promoting the movie, sending e-mails, or working on the ’zine (which we put together and mailed to people who signed up on our website).


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Ben, what were your initial thoughts when Kyle approached you to be featured in the film?

BEN MCBRIEN: Honestly, the whole project started so long ago that I can’t even remember how I met Kyle. He probably came up to me on the beach and I was probably a dick to him ’cause I didn’t recognize him and pushed his camera in the sand and said, “Beat it kook, these are our waves.” But I might be remembering that wrong.

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Ben McBrien

Rob, do you set personal goals when doing films? If so, what were they?

ROB KELLY: I try to envision what type of clips I want to get during a session. When filming for your everyday digital film you can catch a million waves and film all day trying new things. After finding out how expensive it is to film in 16mm, I changed my approach a little and had to be more patient when filming. Before taking off I’d ask myself, “Can I really get a clip on this wave?” You actually end up catching more good waves that way.

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What is the best part of being a surfer from the northeast?

BEN: Variety is the spice of life. We have beaches and points and all four seasons to experience…all the different views of the same place.

ROB: The change of the seasons. It keeps everything fresh. You sweat while surfing in trunks in the summer, score hurricane surf in the fall, and trek through a beach covered in snow to surf perfect waves by yourself. I never get bored being a surfer from the northeast and I love that.

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You can witness the world premiere on September 11th at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ. The film will also be featured at the 2009 New York Surf Festival on September 25th. Buy your tickets HERE.

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Nick Zegel and Kyle Pahlow Photo: Rob Kulisek



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  • http://www.surfnrg.com SurfNRG

    Sounds like a great project. Film is so unique compared to video. Anxious to see it! When will it show in Florida?

  • Adolfo Garza

    I’m from Texas, is there anyway I can check out this film from hear?

  • http://www.outofplacemovie.com Scott Ditzenberger

    Nice. I can’t wait to check this out at the New York showing. Missing my home state!!!

    Scott in Cleveland, OH

  • http://www.apleasantsurprisefilm.com Nick Zegel

    Thanks for the positive feedback! If you are interested in bringing the film to your home state we would love to help setup a screening / premiere. Please e-mail us at apleasantsurprisefilm@gmail.com and we will work to make it happen!

  • http://www.mauinix.com Maui Nix

    Surf flicks come and go but this one caught our eye. New Jersey. Some say it’s the Florida as far as talent in U.S. surfing circles, but it isn’t. Historically, it has been and will probably always be, something really special and unique and this film seems to capture some of that. New Jersey surfers have a rich and unique heritage and, passion for this sport. It is not duplicated anywhere else in the continental U.S. actually. One of the featured surfers is Rob Kelly who I coached and directed for several years and who after becoming East Coast Champion in 2007, has gone into the next phase of his competition life, the ASP – Junior series and QS. Rob is without a doubt, the best young surfer to graduate from the North East in a few years and his main sponsor, Fox, knows this as well. It is not just his talent, but his aura and personal reputation, and his utter commitment to his sponsors that make him unique. Every young surfer who has the responsiblity of sponsorship should take notes from this guy. He knows how to get the job done and he goes overboard to maximize his exposure. But this is the thing here — Rob deserves every bit of his exposure and with his mates from New Jersey, this flick sounds like a winner!

  • http://www.dvdyourmemories.com Film to DVD San Diego

    Whats the difference between 8mm film versus 8mm? I don’t see any differences…