Filmmaker Feature: Jeremy Rumas (Hangs Upon Nothing)

Making an independent film of any kind is tough. Add in a feature length runtime, Bolex cameras, 16mm film, traveling to far off destinations, scoring an original soundtrack, and being pretty much self taught in filmmaking, Jeremy Rumas has NO easy task in his upcoming film, Hangs Upon Nothing. But with a lot of hard work and patience, perseverance will pay off. And by the look of it, it will. Hangs Upon Nothing takes you on a journey around the world to experience life as a surfer. We are excited to share with you Jeremy’s official teaser for the film as well as an in depth interview about the man behind the project…

How does your art background translate into filmmaking? What skills do you find go hand in hand between the two?

I like creating whether it’s drawing with pencil and paper, playing a guitar, shaping a surfboard, or filming and editing. I feel like they are all interrelated. I’ve done a lot of traditional animation for work, and with that I’ll be working on a few seconds of animation for a couple weeks. I’m not really sure if that relates directly to filmmaking other than teaching me patience. I guess it might help with pacing too.

I think that surfing is a lot like making art or music. It’s spontaneous and flowing, it’s in the moment. You’re drawing your own lines on a wave. I’ve noticed that a lot of surfers and skaters and snowboarders are really creative people. A lot of us draw or paint or play music. I think we see the world a bit differently.

I think just being a creative person can translate into filmmaking. Having a vision, and wanting to see it realized. That’s where I started, and then I learned the tools to help me realize it.

What is your background in film? How did you get started? What projects have you worked on in the past?

I took one filmmaking class at Columbia College in Chicago where I learned to shoot with a Bolex. That was 13 years ago. After that I got more into animation. I thought I had a more realistic chance of getting work if I pursued animation, and I figured I could later on try to get into filmmaking on my own.

I’ve worked on a bunch of different stuff as a commercial artist, from educational software, to slot machines, to animating the Trix Rabbit. Really, whatever drawing work I could find at any given time, all in Chicago.

What led you to this film project, Hangs Upon Nothing.

I learned to surf when I was 24 during a solo trip to Samoa. I bought a longboard and went there with my bike, and a trailer to haul around my longboard with. It had been a life long dream to surf, and I finally went for it. I wanted to go somewhere way different than Chicago where I was living, and I chose Samoa. I biked around until I ended up in a village where a few local kids knew how to surf. They had a beat up bodyboard, and we took turns on my board in some little waves out front. I traveled on, and my second week surfing there I ended up in what are still to this day the heaviest waves I have ever been out in. My first day in real Samoan waves I got the closest I have been to drowning. But I stuck with it and I caught solid waves on the south coast of Upolo. I was floored by how beautiful surfing was. I couldn’t believe I’d been missing out on this my first 24 years.

The whole experience changed my life and sent me off in a different direction. It was during that trip that I decided I wanted to make a film about surfing. Over the next year I thought about it, and then started arranging things in my life so that I could do it.

That was seven years ago now. The first two years I was shooting with a video camera, and that was more like a test run. The footage that’s going to end up in Hangs Upon Nothing is from the last five years, all 16mm and Super 16mm Bolex footage. I’ll also mention I’ve put in time on this off and on when I can. This isn’t all I’ve been doing for seven years. I’ve spent more time than not back home working between trips.

Tell us a bit about your film. Who is in it? What do you hope viewers gain after watching?

Hangs Upon Nothing is really just about experiencing life on earth. It’s about what it feels like to experience the world as a surfer. I have to admit it’s so hard for me to put the film into words.

My idea for filming this was just to follow around a few different surfers with my camera, and film what their lives are like. I wanted the viewer to feel they are experiencing life as the surfers in the film experience it.

The surfers in this are all people I’ve met while traveling, with the exception of Chuck Corbett who I contacted through the internet after stumbling across some of his postings about lonely equatorial waves. They were rambling postings, half finished thoughts, and stories of surfing alone. Chuck spent about 30 years in the equatorial Pacific, and a lot of that time he surfed reef passes far off the beaten path. He sometimes refers to these places as wave monasteries.

Mikala and Daniel Jones of Hawaii are a big part of this. Their brother Keoni is in this also, and some of their friends became a part of the project too, like Ryan and Timmy Turner.

And then there’s also a group of local kids from Bali. They’re not really kids anymore, but they still act like it. You might have seen one of them in surf news recently, Darmaputra Tonyo (also spelled as Tonjo). He’s been making his way up in competition surfing.

The idea is having a representation of the past, present, and future.

It seems like filmmakers who are committed to using 16mm run into financial problems, especially doing it independently. Do you think this is the biggest obstacle to overcome when shooting with film? Or is there something else that creates a bigger hurdle when shooting film?

I think it’s one of the big obstacles among many. The expense is one thing, it’s an expensive process for sure. It’s daunting as an independent. To keep funding this as I have trudged along with this project I have done everything from working as a commercial artist to washing dishes and setting up tables and chairs at my friend’s banquet hall.

Another challenge is transporting film, it’s heavy, x-ray sensitive, and heat sensitive.

With shooting with a Bolex, I shoot 100 foot rolls of film that are just under 3 minutes a piece. So I shoot with a mindset like I’m editing while I shoot. I only pull the trigger when I see something happening that I think is unique, or interesting, something that I think can make it into the final film. The nice plus side to this is that the footage I get back seems to flow like a roughly edited film already.

I’d say the biggest challenge though while filming surfing is having to change film. I’ve missed some good rides while changing rolls of film. I’ve even upset a few friends at times because of this, and I can understand the frustration, if I missed their best wave. It can happen when shooting 16mm film.

Shooting in the water is pretty tough too. Heavy camera and housing, a few minutes of footage, less if shooting slo-mo, and I have to manually wind my camera back up between shots, while trying not to get pounded by waves or swimming against currents. I love shooting in the water, and it also scares me a bit. It’s a rush, and it’s a unique way of experiencing waves, especially the views from inside a wave as surfers pass by a few feet in front of you, it is fast and powerful. You can feel it. That is amazing to experience.

I think choosing to shoot film is going to be worth it. I love the look of surfing captured on 16mm film, especially with a camera like a Bolex. Bolex footage is not perfect, and I like that. To me, it just feels a bit different. It feels real. It feels more human. Kind of in the same way that late 1960′s rock recordings have this sound/feel that impacts me more than today’s studio recordings. I like the sound quality of Hendrix and Zeppelin recordings more than I do newer stuff. And for this project at least, I like the look of film.

After doing this film independently, would you choose that path again if you were to make another?

Well, I’m not sure. It is very tough trying to make a feature length film independently. After I finish this, I’d like to go back to a bit of a more normal life again. Hopefully that includes making more films. Right now my focus is just finishing this film and I’ll take it from there.

You have some pretty well known surfers in your film. How did you hook up with these guys?

During one visit to see Chuck Corbett, Mikala and Daniel Jones came out with a few other guys to stay on Chuck’s boat for a couple weeks. At first I did not plan on shooting any of them even. I did not have much film, and I planned on only shooting with Chuck. When I saw them all surfing though, I just started shooting. The sun was shining through the backs of these turquoise waves, there were local kids out in the shorebreak body surfing with little wooden boards. It was too good not to shoot, so I shot that day.

I was able to show them a bit of footage of my project in progress, and Mikala and Daniel really liked it all. They gave me an open invitation to come film with them. After that they became one of the main parts of the film and they became good friends too.

When do you expect the film to be released?

That’s up in the air still, but I hope to be wrapped up shooting and editing by the end of summer 2012. Doing the soundtrack on our own, that takes a while. It will get done one way or another!

Stay updated with the film at the film’s official blog: www.hangsuponnothing.blogspot.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hangs-Upon-Nothing-a-16mm-surf-film/246361802068338