The Facts On Fiction

posted by / News / May 28, 2008

It’s crunch time. Taylor Steele is locked down in his Bali-based editing suite hammering the final clips into place on his next Campaign-style high-performance flick, Stranger Than Fiction. With more surfers than ever before, a totally surprising soundtrack, and a whole new generation of talent, this latest testament to surfing’s on-going evolution promises to be one of the most exciting releases to date. With just weeks to go before the first big premiere, the clips are locked in, but there’s still lots of work to get the film into shape. Between editing binges and script meetings (and maybe the odd afternoon session out front), Taylor sat down with SURFING Magazine over a few Bintangs to discuss what’s new and different about his newest release.

SURFING MAGAZINE: SO, WHEN’S THE BIG PREMIERE?
TAYLOR STEELE: The first premier is June 18. We’re leaning towards doing La Paloma theater [in Encinitas], but doing it on steroids. We’ve always done La Paloma in the past; it’s classic, but it’s pretty small, so maybe {{{100}}} people with “golden tickets,” or something like that. We’ll let SURFING Mag give away some, have surf shops give away some, and maybe think of some other creative ways that people can win ’em, but we won’t be able to sell tickets to the premiere.

ARE YOU GONNA FINISH EVERYTHING IN TIME?
Hard to tell. [laughs] We have a good rough right now, but we haven’t laid the movie out in a linear mode yet. So, once we do that we’ll be able to see where our major flaws are. The whole process of keeping everyone engaged for 50 minutes, we’ve haven’t really attacked that yet. We’ve attacked individual action units. Getting twenty of those down to two minutes, that’s the bulk of the work.

HOW MANY SECTIONS ARE THERE?
I think there are 26 in this one. It just keeps growing because some of those Momentum Generation guys just won’t go away. Then there’s the generation after that. And now, we’re introducing the whole next generation after that. So there’s three generations of guys in this one. It’s really grown. The original films were five guys, now it’s 25 guys.

HOW LONG ARE THE SECTIONS?
Before, we’d average three minutes and thirty seconds per guy. But now they’re down to one minute thirty seconds, with every clip being just epic. Within a minute thirty you don’t get bored. We just want it to be strong. So, some guys have long combos, and other guys are just rapid fire.

IS MAKING THESE FILMS GETTING MORE COMPLICATED THESE DAYS, OR EASIER?
It’s easier in that we know going into it what we need, but it’s hard because there are so many more guys these days. There’s so much coordination and so much time invested to get what we need, ’cause each guy does about four trips with us, so there’s a lot of that type of coordination going on. Getting the footage is a logistical nightmare. I’m in dialogue with everyone.

What was more difficult with this one was that there were probably five guys that weren’t on the radar when we started this project, and they came on strong in the end, so we were scrambling in the end to get their sections together. So, we’re having to rearrange trips to get them in there.

WERE THE GUYS NOT ON THE RADAR ALL NEW GUYS?
I’d say a little of both, but I always assume the older guys can do it if they just put the energy into it. So if they express that they’re going to put the energy into it, they’re on my radar. But the young guys, I don’t know how they surf yet. So if they go on a trip and get a bunch of clips, then they’re suddenly on my radar and we have to work from there.

DO GUYS FALL OFF THE RADAR?
We’ve done a couple trips where guys come back with nothing.

AW, THAT’S SO SAD. DO THEY GET A PINK SLIP IN THEIR LOCKER?
The way we address it for any new guy, we want them to build a little base at home. So, we’ll say, go home and get some clips there so we have a starting point. We’re not just gonna keep putting them on trips, because those fill up quick and it’s expensive.

MITCH COLEBURN IS PROBABLY A GOOD EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE WHO WASN’T ON YOUR RADAR. HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT HIM?
Yeah, I think I got an email from his video guy saying he had some clips. And it showed up from some guy who had been videoing him and these clips were just great. Two rodeo flips, huge alley oops, a little bit of everything really. I’d never even heard of him before, but after that, this guy was on the radar. So Kai went and shot with him in Australia, and we went to Fiji with him, and a couple more trips after that.

That’s the ideal situation. To have someone I’ve never heard of just blow up on video and have it sent to me. Then it’s no risk for me, and I have all this footage and it’s undeniable that you have to use it.

AND IT IS THE CUTTING EDGE.
Yeah, and that’s what we want. We want to showcase the next guys, as well as the current guys. Basically, we want to showcase the best guys, doing the best freesurfing right now.

SO, YOU GET TO SEE THE PROGRESSION OF SURFING BETWEEN THESE FILMS, WHICH YOU’VE BEEN DOING FOR OVER 15 YEARS NOW, RIGHT?
Yeah, we do one almost every two years, sometimes every year.

SO DOES THE PROGRESSION REALLY JUMP FORWARD AT CERTAIN TIMES?
When we finished Campaign II, we were on a set schedule to finish a year and half after that. But working on Trilogy kinda pushed this back a bit, and when we pushed it back, all of a sudden, there was a full wave of young surfers doing really cutting edge stuff. Guys like Jordy and Julian and Dion…all these guys just sorta appeared. In the magazines. In the footage. There was a huge push, and it was really warranted. And that took the level up. And once they took the level up, everyone around them saw that level and sorta pushed it up, too. So, in the last six month, the level of surfing for the whole project almost doubled. Nobody wants to look bad…so, when the level rose up, they all rose to the occasion. It’s crazy what these guys are doing these days. And they’re really complete surfers, these young guys: surfing big waves, surfing hollow waves, frontside, backside…really diverse surfing. They’re not just specialists.

ROB MACHADO WAS TELLING ME THERE WERE ALMOST TWO TYPES OF SURFING — AS HE PUT IT, ABOVE THE LIP AND BELOW THE LIP.
Yeah, I’d say there are those two lines. But the top guys are doing both. And some of the above the lip guys, they don’t have that on video with me, but they still do it.


Jordy Smith boots for his part in STRANGER THAN FICTION

AND THE BELOW THE LIP STUFF IS STILL GREAT TO WATCH — IT’S HOW MOST OF US ACTUALLY SURF.
Yeah, exactly. There are two styles, and both are complementary to each other. It’s the complete picture to have them both in there. But I would say, the younger guys sort of have an advantage in that people haven’t really seen them yet, so you can show them in any type of waves and it’s still fresh. While guys like Rob and others that have been in the movies for over ten years, it’s all about seeing them in different locations and different environments. If Rob went out and surfed Seaside doing above the lip stuff, it would still feel a little old, I think. It’s really important for those guys to keep moving out of their comfort zones.

YEAH, WELL, SPEAKING OF THAT — AS SURFING HAS EVOLVED, YOU’VE HAVE TO EVOLVE YOUR APPROACH TO FILMMAKING AS WELL, RIGHT? YOU CAN’T SIT IN SOLANA BEACH ANYMORE EITHER.
When we were making {{{Focus}}} — which was…a long time ago — we were in the same part of the process over there. June in San Diego. And we’d just edited Keith Malloy’s section and we were like, oh, we need one more wave to fill this void in the section. So Keith was hiking down to Blacks every single day for a week trying to get one more wave, but the surf was just flat. So, he’s doing airs and really struggling, and he just barely, barely got the wave he needed. It was borderline, but we had to fill that gap. But here in Bali, there’s no shortage of waves. Kalani was working on his section, and he was like, ah, I need something more for my part. And we’re like, well, the waves out front are really good, why don’t you go surfing. He went straight out and got something that day. So, that’s the difference.

THE LEVEL OF SURFING HAS RISEN SO MUCH, YOU JUST CAN’T GET YOUR SECTION IN CALIFORNIA ANYMORE.
For me, I can’t watch super-good, technical airs if the waves are only knee high. I like to see guys doing bigger stuff in bigger waves.

IS IT CRAZY THAT GUYS LIKE ROB, KALANI AND BENJI ARE STILL GETTING SECTIONS? I MEAN, WHEN I TALKED TO THEM ABOUT IT, I COULD ALMOST SEE IT ON THEIR FACES LIKE… “YEAH, I MADE IT THIS TIME, BUT I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE NEXT ONE.”
Ummmm, yeah. I don’t know. For me, it’s just one of those things. I don’t know what will happen in the next two years, but if it keeps going at this rate…. One thing that everybody knows, is that if they don’t have it, they don’t have it. And I won’t put it in. But if they’re willing to put in the effort to try to get it, then I’m gonna put it in. But if it’s not there, it’s not there.

AS BIG AS THE LIST IS…THERE ARE STILL A FEW NAMES MISSING RIGHT? LIKE BOBBY MARTINEZ AND JAMIE O’BRIEN.
Yeah, those guys would have sections if they’d tried. And that’s understandable. I don’t pretend it all revolves around video. There’s enough guys putting the effort in to make a good video, so, I don’t worry anymore. Before I’d be super stressed. Before, if Kelly didn’t have a section I’d be hounding him. And maybe he’s used to me hounding him, but nowadays, my approach is, if you want to do it, it’s there. It’s an open platform.

DO YOU GET SOME RANDOM SUBMISSIONS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR?
We definitely put our feelers out there. We’re trying to do it more and more. This isn’t some club that you can’t get into. Yadin just showed me some footage of his friend on his iPod and I was, like, yeah, I want that footage, how do I get it. So, I didn’t know who he was, and I still can’t pronounce his last name, but we’re getting his clips into the movie. It’s a little late, but we’ll sneak it in. I want us to be an open platform for that.

[Stay tuned for the second half of this interview, when Taylor tells us all about who will get the final section of STRANGER THAN FICTION.]

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