Filmmaker Feature: John Lynch

John Lynch first got his hands on a camera at the ripe age of 10 and never looked back. Combining his passion for travel and surfing, he has carved out a life behind the lens sharing the inspiration picked up from the cultures he has explored across the globe. With a couple of traditional surf films under his belt, this Florida native is now looking beyond big airs and beauty shots, aiming to share a story that can impact the viewer more then just getting excited to go surf.

How did you first get into filmmaking?

When I was a tot, I played with toy matchbox cars and those old steel Tonka toy tractors in the sandbox at my cousins house. We set up scenes with the toys then took pictures with the Polaroid Instamatic.

What is your background in the trade?

Living life. Learning to listen, watch, observe, be self reliant, be resourceful, nurture respect for creative expression. Still pictures, writing zines back in Jr. High, VHS camera work – surfing with a water camera in high school. Cinematography – learning patience for all this change happening in ‘content gathering’ and ‘new media’.

What was the original inspiration for you to create?

To see the world from broad perspective and express that. Perhaps my perspective was closed and in a bubble as a kid? I grew up in a small beach town in Florida; we knew surfing as reading the weather, the ocean and mostly riding in wind blown chop… sometimes the waves were great – but not much else about ‘the real world’ seemed to enter my peripheral. I started traveling young. I had to experience some things to start having a world view. A world view is what makes any artists work interesting to anyone else.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, I’ve seen some things now in my years. The world is just here with us always revolving and evolving. Perceptions about things change. Taste changes. The voice inside your head grows up as you change. But I try and keep my intuition youthful. That is one thing you can never let grow up. Intuition must stay a child.

Why do you think surfing sparks your creativity?

Riding waves is a natural and spiritual act. Stress dissolves. The mind relaxes to feel and allow new thoughts and ideas to enter freely without self judgement. When your soul is charged – you can do so much.

When starting a new project, do you have certain messages or themes in mind that you want to convey or do they tend to unfold organically?

Yes, I have themes and messages at the catalyst of an idea. I bring something to my collaborators and then we start peeling the layers away. Once we hit it, we go deeper. Then we find something worth talking about and that process tends to be natural. My editor [Darrin Roberts] and I discuss so much before we set off. Even if we don’t have it figured out – we’ll have a better idea in the moment when something profound presents itself. Then when I am back in editorial we are already ahead in the process. Organic and natural… like the veggies at the farmers market.

Any challenges that you have had to overcome in your filmmaking career?

I was into VHS and Hi 8 filming and editing in high school and had all this positive energy and momentum. Then boom, my mother passed away 3 months after I graduated high school. It was bad, dissolving my family, throwing everything out of balance. There wasn’t any family support, just chaos. I had to fend for myself. It was gnarly.

What did you do to overcome them?

I broke away from a clearly dysfunctional family, moved to Santa Barbara made new friends, kept surfing and decided to pursue life. That sounds pretty stupid doesn’t it? Maybe the best thing to say is that I’m still overcoming it. Certain aspects evolve with you through life and help define your personality. I am currently learning to have patience for everything.

Photo: Neus. Kuala Lumpur 2011.

Can you talk about some the films you have created?

Sure. The films I’ve created are to make people feel good. When my mother died, I watched surfing movies as a sort of therapy. This has always stuck with me. Surf films to a youngster are windows to paradise. Lying in bed at night you can dream about all the perfect waves in the world and what it would be like to ride them and how – instead of dwelling on whatever problems are going down. I like to portray a sense of escape.

What were the inspirations and ideas behind them?

Positive escapism. Going. Traveling. Man on the move. Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka were cinematic inspirations behind Change the Subject. I’d just happened to be watching those films before I set off traveling to film Change the Subject. Kelly and Andy’s rivalry at the time was also a powerful layer. Then the edit was an experience. Matt and Ryan Kleiner had moved out from Florida and stayed at my house in Santa Barbara. It was the year four nasty hurricanes blew the place out. They brought a fresh perspective to footage and that was pretty inspiring watching them co create as brothers. They were so happy to be out of Florida and look at all the cool work Matt has gone on to do in his filmmaking.

The airs the kids starting doing, the rotations, big air drops, breathing the air in the long barrels, that was the inspiration for Librium. The idea behind Librium is what if gravity could be manipulated? Would surfing be different? When you look at the surfing now you can really see how far it has all come. The kids have manifested performance to unthinkable levels.

Eric Royer’s One Man Band was a 16mm short about a busking street musician. I just felt compelled to document his day. I love music and although I am no musician, I have a real appreciation for all genres of music and what it takes to make music and how committed musicians are to their lives of composing music. I’ve known a few people in bands over the years and they all share a sacrifice to the love of music. They never quit. Their commitment inspires me in life. I’m a music freak and have music that I’ve collected all over the world over the years… not as much as say Henry Rollins. He is the music guy that I look up to. I love that show he does on KCRW.

“I saved up over 6 months washing dishes and mowing lawns to buy that video camera. A feeling of pride that cannot be beat in this day of “sponsor me – pay my way” entitlement among the kiddies of today.” John at 16 with VHS camera.

Film vs. Digital – do you prefer one over the other?

What does it matter what medium it is captured on? – As apposed to what is being filmed? If I brought you the most incredible story shot on an old VHS camera you’d watch it. Same is true if I shot it on a super 8 filmstrip, an iphone, or a laptop spinning around on a lazy susan. Debate the elements of the story rather than the medium capturing the story. Look at Sasquatch and Lock Ness – always grainy and soft focus. Even the JFK footage from the guy on the grassy knoll is terrible, shaky and grainy. But it’s all compelling because it is about something or someone and adds to a story, a legend or folklore…

Where do you see the future of filmmaking going in surfing? And outside of surfing?

All interweb. Yet it’s going towards story both in and out of surfing though. How many Vimeo clips of pretty waves and huge airs, or time lapses shot with a 7D on a slider can you stand? When will you be tired of beauty shots and want to be enriched by something deeper and more meaningful?

However, there will always be a love for the ‘surf porn’ – you know, ride after ride set to driving music… We all still love the move of the minute. It beams through to us the moment it’s captured to video camera nowadays. On youtube with 8,999 hits in 4 minutes. Awesome. We crave to see the impossible barrel to blow tail air that’s spills our tea… But after you watch that clip 8,999 times – what’s next? Maybe a story? About someone? That means something? There is room for both story and performance to evolve and it will on the interweb. Hopefully the audience will evolve too.

What sorts of projects do you have in store for the future?

Character driven projects most likely. I’d like to nurture my working relationships with my collaborators and make something special. There’s value in working with smart people. Cinema is a collaborative art. I love that we can all fish for ideas, laugh and cry at the absurd, and then just flow into the projects we seem to love.

For more of John’s work, check out http://lynchfilm.com/