People have always used the term “overnight sensation” to describe someone who rises quickly into the spotlight. More recently, Drake popularized, “Started from the bottom now we’re here.” But we sometimes forget that between the “bottom” and “here” there is plenty of blood, sweat and tears. Or at least hangovers and sunburns. For filmmaker Blake Kueny, the bottom was filming Little League games in Vista, CA. Then came the local news station, the local newspaper, Boyson Surfboards, Surfride, Etnies and Jordy Smith. Now he’s here — 22 years old and the man behind John Florence’s highly anticipated edits — and we get the feeling he’s a lot more than Done. —Taylor Paul
BLAKE: When I was 18 Etnies hired me to go to Hawaii to film something on Jamie O’Brien. The job was only a week but I asked them to book my ticket for the whole season. I’d been over there for two months, just finding random places to stay and filming a bunch, when one day Jordy [Smith] walked into the house where I was staying and said “You want to go to Africa for three months?” And I was like, “Yeah.”
That felt like college for me. It was such a new experience, my first Christmas away from home, I was in Africa and it was total culture shock. Like, “Half the world has Christmas in the summer?” I learned so much during that time about life, traveling and how to be a filmmaker, thinking about the business side of things and all that. I grew up a lot.
We brought John John on a trip and he and I became really good friends. About a year later we were in Mammoth and he and his mom asked me to go to breakfast with them and they were like, “Do you want to come film for us? There’s a big swell coming in Hawaii.” So I went, it worked out and we started filming more and more. It was always in our mind to do a bigger project but we weren’t on a strict schedule or anything. But eight months later we were editing Done, and all of a sudden it was serious.
I draw influence from a lot of different places and try to apply it to what we do. I look at how rappers release music and think, “Maybe we could release something like that.” I look at photographers and how they compose shots. I look at someone as big as Jay-Z and then someone like [filmmaker] Riley Blakeway; I really like what he’s doing on an independent level. Just take small things from everywhere.
I don’t really feel any pressure filming with John. We’re just trying to make things that we like, that our friends like. And as long as we are true to that we’ll never fail. I don’t worry about what other people are going to think, because if you’re doing something that people love, then there are going to be people that hate it. The worst thing is to make something that everyone thinks is OK.
Everyone likes the …Lost movies because they’re raw and give you a closer look at the surfers. But aesthetically you also like something that’s of higher quality. I think the future of surf movies is bringing those things together — making you feel like you’re on the trip with the surfer but with high production value.
So many people work so hard…you look at someone that’s, let’s just say, a plumber. They bust their ass for 40 years and then they retire. Most of them don’t get a lot of closure in the work they do. Maybe they fix a pipe and that’s a small victory but with what I get to do, working with John and the team, we’re able to seal up each project and it marks a place in time. Almost like a time capsule. And when we’re sitting around the campfire in 20 years we can look back and go, “Remember the edits we did in 2013?” We have a body of work that time-marks us in that moment. Not many people in the world are lucky enough to have that.