You Are Here: Jack Coleman, Filmmaker

Jack Coleman
He’s a celluloid man living in a digital age…

…and if he can’t make dollars, at least he makes sense.

You Are Here, Nathan Myers

Words & photos by Nathan Myers

Jack Coleman is not like the rest of us.

The rest of us, we have jobs. We have homes. We have cars. If we want our video clips to look like film, we use an iPhone app for it. We have Photoshop plug-ins and After Effects.

Jack’s car is his home. His job looks like your old-timey iPhone app, except it really is old-timey. He’s making surf movies on a Super 8 camera like it’s 1979, and then he’s funking it up one step further by splashing paint on his film. Scratching it up. Drawing on it with a sharpy. And this is art.

He is not like us. He is unique.

But perhaps you haven’t met yet. Let me introduce you:

Jack Coleman made a pair of films last year about Newport surfers Alex Knost and (Polyester) Jared Mell, Andrew Doheny, Ford Archbold and Josh Hoyer (Happy Beach). The films are grainy, blurry, soft and oddball. They feature 1960s Persian garage rock and wash over you like an ambient wave of light, motion and flow. They look like nothing else out there. But they feel like surfing.

Jack is a surfer. He learned about cameras modeling around Newport and studied photography at the prestigious Art Center of Pasadena. During his course, Jack started stringing together sequences of photos. Eventually one of his teachers said, “You know, that’s what movies are?”

A light bulb went off. Movies.

Jack made some music videos and toured with local friends bands. Tomorrow Tulips. The Growlers. It eventually struck him that making surf movies would be a way to combine all his passions. Music. Surfing. Film. He developed his first film rolls by himself to save money, and he did it all wrong.

“It came out real shitty,” he explains, “so that’s why I decided just to paint on it and scratch it up. And when I looked at that stuff I actually kinda liked the way it came out.”

A style was born. Unique. Out there. Not like the rest of us.

SURFING: Do you ever wonder if you’re making this too hard on yourself? Isn’t Super 8 just a pain in the ass?

COLEMAN: Yeah, well… [long pause], you know I still bring my 5D Canon EOS along when I travel, but with the Super 8 [another long pause], it’s harder, but it’s also easier. With an expensive digital camera, you’re always worried about it getting stolen or damaged. But with the crappy old Super 8 camera, no one even looks at it. Plus people tend to let me in a bit more. It’s like a backstage pass. I don’t use a tripod. I shoot from the hip. I just feel more freedom. The pressure is off.

So, it’s not just about being all artsy and shit?

Well, I grew up on film. Some of my earliest film memories are of setting up the projector with the family and watching home movies. Even all those new digital effects and filters, you can’t duplicate what film does. It’s a powerful feeling, and it’s always stuck with me.

Isn’t it a lot more expensive, too?

Yeah, it’s hard. All the money I make from photography I sink back into my surf films. Now I’m basically just living out of my truck to make surf movies. I’m not against digital. I think it’s great, too. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to blend and combine the two. I like that. But for now I’m just really into working with film.

Because you’re shooting film, do you think that surfers treat you more like an artist and less like some hired documentary guy?

It’s funny. After a day of surfing and shooting guys are so you to going, “okay, let’s go check the footage now.” But with me, it’s like, ummmm, cool, let’s have a beer.

I remember before digital came along photographers and filmers used to be the wildest guys around. As soon as the sun went down, they could clock out and cut loose. But now, they’re all plugged into their laptops clearing cards, charging batteries, color correcting images and uploading files for tomorrow’s blog… it’s kinda sad.

Exactly. When you’re shooting film, there’s no more cards or batteries or any of that stuff. When I’m done I put away my cameras and I’m done. And I think surfers appreciate that. These guys are getting filmed and photographed all day long. They wake up and eat a banana and someone’s filming it. They film everything because it’s digital so why not. With me, I’m just like eating a banana there with them.


Jack Coleman just premiered his new short film, “Imaginary Carpet Market” in Bali ( and it’s really cool. A two-week Knostian surf journey in one of the best swells of the 2012 Bali season. “My new kick is all about travel,” he says. “California is great, but it’s hard to make anything powerful out of 2-foot Newport closeouts.

No one’s quite sure how you can actually get the movie yet, but as Jack puts it: “People who really want to check it out will find a way.”

So go on. Find one.