Filmmaker Feature: Kyle Pahlow & Nick Zegel

A Pleasant Surprise offers an honest look at the talents of a select group of surfers who live in a truly special part of the United States, New Jersey. Almost three years in the making, this film documents a world of contrast as daily changes in weather and waves prove to be all part of a larger picture; thumping beach breaks, cold water, and quick tropical storms are just a fraction of what you will find. Brought to you in Super 16mm, A Pleasant Surprise allows for the full beauty of this region and its surfers to be realized.

Interview with the directors Kyle Pahlow and Nick Zegel:

Why Did you guys first get into filmmaking?

Kyle: Simply put, I’ve always loved the arts. There was always music in my house My Dad subconsciously exposed me to a lot of different types of music from an early age, so I grew up with a great appreciation for all types. I’ve always loved the theater and movies were something we always went to see as a family on a regular basis growing up. I specifically remember always wanting to shoot when the family video camera was out; I must have been quite young because I have specific memories of my Mom not allowing me to. Eventually my parents started allowing me to use their VHS video camera to shoot my own personal endeavors.

Nick: I’m not sure what started it but I ran a website in 7th grade and would post pictures of my friends and I skating the driveway. The next best thing after you figure out how to post a picture…was posting video. This was pre-YouTube, pre-high speed internet…so I was working with 10-20 seconds, around 3 megs (5 long minutes of loading) of super compressed video to dazzle my friends.

What moments and scenes in life make you each want to pick up a camera?

Kyle: Sometimes it’s something as simple as grabbing something with my phone or Flip of a friend or family member because I want that moment to last and be reviewed; we are so lucky to now have that ability to shove a camera in the glove box of our cars and always have it ready, as I feel, if the aliens land you have to be ready to shoot it. Professionally, as a shooter, I am inspired by lighting and emotion; Walking down the street and seeing the sun bounce off a building and light someone perfectly across the street gets me going. Or sitting in a restaurant and recognizing how the sodium vapor street light outside is creating a golden kick on the person across from me. These types of natural occurrences make me want to shoot, but they also get stored in my mind for later when the time is right and when I find myself in a shooting situation where they prove appropriate. In addition, to observe emotion and energy between two actors that translates on screen inspires me in the same way; of course nothing beats a good day rate.

Nick: I’d have to agree with Kyle…light is definitely a big motivator for me personally. I’m most often shooting photographs or video for fun and that happens to be a big motivator for me…Finding beauty, fun and excitement in an every day scene can really inspire. Of course the photograph and video thing started for me just wanted to document life at a young age. If you could go somewhere cool or do something wild and then show everyone back at school the proof…that was the mission!

Ben McBrien

Tell us about your 16mm surf film “A Pleasant Surprise” what inspired you to make it?

Kyle: When I began working on this film, which would eventually come to be called “A Pleasant Surprise”, I was still in college and I was extremely hungry to shoot, as I continue to be. I was pushing myself to shoot in varied situations with largely varied subjects and subject matter. In New Jersey, there is a diverse and unique talent pool of old and young surfers so it seemed obvious; however in the beginning, I had no real intentions of pursuing the completion of a film. It wasn’t until I saw the first couple clips of what I had shot, played back to me in the telecine suite, that my mind started going in that direction. There was something about the color palette and the different seasons that really drew me to pursue something on a larger scale. I knew the hardest part would be getting to the beach during good swells, in addition to linking up with not-so-schedule-minded surfers. Over the next two years I shot a lot and didn’t look at any of the footage; it all just sat in the vault at the lab. Nick had been away at school in Boston and distance had really taken a toll on a friendship. Nick graduated and moved to Philadelphia where he started immediately working for himself, churning out lots of work for local clients in the city. I had mentioned briefly to Nick that I had been shooting some film of local guys in our state and he had said that when I transferred the footage in it’s entirety he’d like to have a look. I transferred a good amount of footage in December and had Nick come over to the editing suite to review some of it with me. I was nervous as I wasn’t all that sure of myself in what I had content wise, but Nick really lit up and seemed excited which made me scratch my head and think “huh, maybe we could really make this happen.” I knew in my heart that I couldn’t complete this project without Nick’s expertise, it was just too big of an undertaking. I need Nick to put his flavor into into the film and push it to the next level. However, I also felt that while he and I had grown apart, we were now at points in our lives where we were ready to pursue this goal together. In the end, we inspired one another to make this film.

Nick: Making a surf film was always a dream for me. I would shoot in the summer when it was convenient but after going away to school and choosing to focus on design rather than film. I had obviously pointed my ship in another direction. I had the opportunity to work with a good friend, Jerry Ricciotti, on the graphic side of two of his films and that kind of wet my appetite to dive deeper into a project. When I found out Kyle had all this great footage, I started to wonder how close he would let me get to the project and whether it would be the right time to try and really jump into a film head first. Kyle and I talked about the project and how it would all go down, who would have control, etc…and eventually I decided it was a great time to go for it.

Kyle Pahlow

Describe the dynamic between you both, have you always made films together? Do you each specialize in certain areas or is it a complete collaboration?

Kyle: The dynamic is one very much so of the odd couple! We are very different people. I am the high strung, put my head down and work work work work; while Nick is the much more relaxed, take it as it comes, still work work work but in a much more subdued way. I’ve always envied Nick for the way he lives his life and approaches work. That being said, he can be quite the space cadet! I think it really takes the mixture of the two personalities to get things done. When we were younger we often shot things together but we had never really collaborated on this large of a scale before. Collaboration, in my mind, is all about bringing on the best person for the job. I can shoot and I have a mind for editing and putting together content, but when it comes to design, branding, starting a buzz… I lack that ability! I needed Nick to be there to talk through edits, discuss music choices, and develop and overall vision with me for the project. Despite the fact that we are such different people, I believe we share very similar sensibilities, which I feel is crucial. We get one another without saying much and we don’t have much reservation when it comes to criticism, because we have an understanding that it’s for the betterment of the final product.

Nick: Kyle and I come from similar places and like he said, we work in different ways. It just happened to work out. We gave each other a lot of time working solo and then would come together and talk about things. When we would get together, we both came to the table with open minds and knew to take criticism in positive light. It worked out being the perfect way, rather than looking over each others shoulders, criticizing every little move on the timeline, every little graphic change, etc…

Zach Humphries

What are the challenges and advantages of making a film with your friend?

Kyle: I think making films with your friends can only work if both parties approach the project professionally. There are certainly many friends of mine that I don’t think I’d be able to work with. However, It’s important that you have an unsaid trust with the person you’re working with and often times that comes with being friends or having some sort of relationship outside of strict business.

Nick: I’ll add that Kyle and I went into this thing just to make a movie. I’m pretty sure I can speak for him when I say we had very little financial motivation. I personally hadn’t invested anything into the film when we started. Kyle was fronting for all the film, processing, transfers, etc…but we talked about it at the beginning. I basically told Kyle that he didn’t owe me anything unless we ended up in the positive after everything was said and done. I don’t know how we made it all happen…but I definitely think having our money coming from one place helped keep things on good terms.

Nick Zegel

What did you learn during the making of the film?

Kyle: I truly learned first and foremost about the incredible talents of Mr. Nick Zegel; both in front of a computer and away from it. Making a surf film can be a huge undertaking so having people around you that you can trust and access specific talents is incredibly vital. I knew about the power of the internet but had never seen it on a project I was a part of until now. Our project is by no means as big as some, but we’d like to think of it as a bit of a cult classic; like that vinyl of a band you really like that few know about, it’s special to you for that reason. It makes me overjoyed when I see orders come through from Michigan or Italy, because somehow somewhere someone heard of our project and got excited about what they saw. The internet allows us to reach people who want our flavor!

Nick: I think I learned a lot about working with friends as mentioned above and I definitely did research and taught myself a bunch about the music industry, licensing, legal jibber jabber and all that! I also learned that projects like these will take up ten, twenty, fifty times the amount of time you first estimate. We both dedicated a ridiculous amount of time over an entire year (after the shooting was finished) to really make this thing come together. Patience is for sure a virtue and something we practiced during the entire process.

Ben McBrien

Are there any moments during the filming or editing process that really stand out?

Kyle: While shooting “PS,” I vividly remember a day in October where Ben McBrien and I scored this beach break at mid-tide on a great swell. The light was beautiful, I somehow was doing really well racking focus on a 600mm prime lens, perched high up on the dune hundreds of yards away, and Ben was surfing with a style and poise. I feel fortunate to have witnessed him. I remember he had to go to a wedding or an engagement party, but the waves were too good to just get out of the water. He kept running up the beach with a huge smile on his face while I concentrated on keeping film in my camera and my finger on the run button. As I think about it, Ben and I have known each other for longer than I realize, but during this film he and I became very close and today I consider him one of my closest friends.

Nick: The premiere of A Pleasant Surprise was the stand out moment for me personally. We had worked out the premiere to take place at the legendary Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ and to see such a big project finally up on a big screen in front of our friends and the NJ surf community at large…it was a really special night. It was a great feeling to see Kyles hard work make it to the screen and feel like I played a part in making it happen. It was definitely worth the work.

Do you have any advice for young guys deciding between shooting film or video?

Kyle: It is not very romantic, but format is more often than not dictated by budget. For us, we didn’t have to juggle a travel budget to shoot this film so that allowed us to put our money into the format we chose. With all that said, I am a firm believer that your format should directly reflect your story. Your story should always come first; format is an ancillary issue in the whole scheme of things. As filmmakers, we are living in a rapidly changing and exciting world; AF-100’s, REDs, Alexa’s, Canon’s line, are just the beginning. I am by no means a film purest. It’s not realistic and I frankly don’t have the luxury to be. For “PS,” we simply made a choice that we felt best fit the feel of our message. My advice to young filmmakers whether it’s a surf movie, narrative, documentary, or beyond, would be to fine tune your story and know your audience. The last thing you want to do is get caught up in format. Thanks for you’re time, and thanks to everyone who made our film possible and saw something in it. My greatest hope is that it’s life will be long and that it’s something people talk about for years to come.

Nick: I say do what feels right…not just with movie making but in life. Be honest with yourself. Know yourself. And always try to be better! Thanks Korduroy & Cy for sharing our work!

For more about the film, check out http://www.apleasantsurprisefilm.com

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