How did you get into photography?
I started my study of photography in high school, and I did quite a bit of it, I shot for the school newspaper and the annual yearbook.
Then I went to Hawaii and just focused on surfing for a while. In ’68 I stayed with George Greenough at Lennox Head in Australia, and he was making INNERMOST LIMITS OF PURE FUN. That’s what really motivated me to get into cinematography.
I met Spyder Wills in ’69 at Hanalei Bay on Kauai. I would ask him everything and he would show me, we had a flow, and we’ve been working together ever since. Our first movie was THE FORGOTTEN ISLAND OF SANTOSHA, which the Yates brothers produced. We shot 16mm cameras at the then undiscovered island of Mauritius. After SANTOSHA I converted to Super 8, which was more affordable and I could shoot Kodachrome – the finest grain film ever made by mankind.
Did you have any formal education in cinematography/how did you learn?
The school of hardknocks… the school of off-exposure. We used to have overnight processing on the North Shore. It was a daily deal – it would cost me $75 to shoot a half hour – that’s how I learned. Spyder showed me camera technique – tracking and follow focus – no autofocus in those days. You had to be able to handle long lenses on tripods.
Are you still shooting 8mm or have you adopted digital technology?
I shoot with and old VHS camera now and digitize that – not real professional but it has a long lens. To me power is everything, I’m not so much into resolution. If you’ve got a good shot, you’ve got a good shot. The new DSLR stuff is leveling the playing field though
Early days at Hanalei, 1969
How did you get inspired to make surf films?
Well I love surfing – that’s all I’ve ever done with my life. I guess I’ve been a pioneer, in terms of surfing new places, shooting surfing, and the equipment I’ve used.
What challenges do you face as an independent filmmaker?
The biggest challenge is finding a grantor, an angel, and a producer. Every good cinematographer needs a good producer.
How do you overcome the challenges/what keeps you motivated?
Going surfing. Collect my beach insurance – most people work their whole life and hope to spend time at the beach when they retire. I don’t work so much and spend my life at the beach. Life is short. Time is the most valuable thing there is
What advice do you have for the aspiring surf filmmaker?
If you love your work, you never work a day in your life. Only do it if you love it. There are so many video cameras out there and everybody has a unique story – but you have to figure out how to tell your story. Learn good technique and try to develop your own style. The creative people will stand out. And editing – when in the doubt throw it out. That’s how I like to make my movies – I make a reel, I keep swapping shots, but the reel never gets bigger. In the end it’s got to be all killer, no filler.
What are your favorite projects that you have worked on in the past?
SANTOSHA was wonderful, and I loved making STYLEMASTERS, being in Hawaii for 5 years. I’ve pretty much loved every project I’ve worked on, working with wonderful people.
You are also into painting – what are you working on there and how does it relate to your filmmaking?
Filmmaking and painting are very inter-related, painting teaches you how to compose a subject, and film is all about composition. Figure out what you are trying to say and say it in its simplest terms. In films there are many moving compositions, and then the whole thing ends up being one composition. Lighting is a voice of the mood, just like lenses and angles are. I consider myself an artist. I make films in an artistic manner
What are your other pursuits?
I love my garden, and I love surfing. I’m a simpleton. I want to grow my own food, eat and stay healthy so I can surf more.
What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Right now I am mostly licensing my material for other productions. The history of Pavones is coming up, and there’s a skateboarding movie called SIGNAL HILL in the works. Myself? I will be surfing places that are much cheaper than California.