Filmmaker Feature: Calum Creasey

Calum Creasey is a creative filmmaker, analog photographer, graphic designer, “sometime” craftsman, and all-the-time surfer. Though he resides part-time as a university student in a historic town in central UK, he spends his free days roving with friends in his camper van. His blog, Stoked Ever Since, tracks his journeys into the wilderness and along the coast of the UK in the form of photos, film and a bit of commentary. 

Your Facebook profile says you’re from Milton Keynes, UK. That’s not too close to the ocean. Is there where you grew up, or is this your current home base?

Ha, ye, Milton Keynes is where I grew up. It is pretty prolific in the UK for being a creation of the 1970s, the home of roundabouts and dubbed the “Newest City” in England. I’ve actually always lived in a small historic town just outside. I guess I cling to that so as not to be tarred with the Milton Keynes brush. All that aside, I have grown up surrounded by countryside, fields, farms, woods. I can’t knock it – we have spent our lives outdoors. It’s the unfortunate fact that it is the furthest point from the ocean in any direction in the UK. I have always enjoyed the idea that this might give me a special appreciation for the sea, maybe a connection with it on a certain level in respect to its absence.

What originally drew you to surfing the cold seas around the UK? What are some of your first memories of riding a wave?

My parents spent some of their early 20s living in Jersey, one of the channel islands. That’s where my dad picked up surfing. My family holidays were spent in a camper van learning to surf with my sisters. It was never strange for me that we lived “inland” but that we surfed. It did frustrate the hell out of me that we only got to the ocean a handful of times a year, although it has always been a defining part of our family life. I remember my dad used to go away on surf trips with his mates when I was really young. I’d been so bummed when he left that I couldn’t go with him. His mates were all my heroes. Back then I thought they were all pros. In reality, they were guys that made long trips for the pure enjoyment of surfing.

When I got my driving license, that was it. We would miss school on a regular basis. There has always been the three of us that have made surfing our main passion throughout our teens – sleeping in cars, driving down with hangovers to surf on New Year’s Day. Before the vans, I remember changing into wetties in public toilets and bus shelters to escape the bitter northerlies. We all pursued other things that meant we could travel, but surfing was always there. I saved up working crappy jobs to buy my first van: a £700 Nissan Vanette, which never skipped a beat. My best memories as a kid are in vans, and now they’re the best memories as an adult, too.

You’re a self-designated filmmaker, cinematographer, designer and “sometime craftsman.” How have you managed to compile such a wide range of skills – through education or just by doing?

For lack of a better phrase: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” In reality, anything that I thought I might get some enjoyment out of, I have tried. I grew up watching my dad make things, so I picked that up from him. Now my room is stacked with piles of wood waiting to be put to use. I’ve always been around people who have constantly pushed everything they do, from all aspects of creativity to sports, skateboarding and snowboarding. My close friends are crazy-talented illustrators and photographers. You need to be around people that inspire you to create, to travel, to learn. My good friend, Jonny, has always taken awesome photographs, and I got into analog photography through him. We all overlap our skills. It’s awesome.

When I was 18, after finishing school, working run-of-the-mill jobs to save for a winter season in Tahoe, I went to study Marine Technology in Plymouth. At the time I thought it was what I wanted to do, a way to lead a life based around the Ocean. In reality, I quickly realized it was not what I needed. Sure, designing ships would be sweet, but I craved something more creative. After a couple of years of being a bit lost, I started a degree in graphic design.

What are some do-it-yourself projects you’ve completed?

Well, the vans have all been ex-tradesman panel vans, so we have converted all of them from scratch, slowly buying materials as money came by and designing them whilst on trips, thinking of what we needed to be comfortable. I try and reuse timber for projects, furniture, artwork, framing prints. Recycling something and bringing it back to life feels good. I’ve tried my hand at a bit of shaping, which I would like to dedicate more time to in the future. We have ongoing projects: pressing longboard decks, printmaking, image collections, painting, sorting studio and workshop space.

What drew you to cinematography? Was your film subject base always intended to focus on the ocean and outdoors?

We had this one surf film on VHS as a kid, Billabong’s “Bunyip Dreaming” by Jack McCoy. The amount times I’ve sat and watched it and yearned to lead a life like that… To this day it tops my list of favourite surf films: the visuals and colours, soundtrack and crazy overlays, Occy’s and Munga’s part. I can still run the soundtrack through in my head without having watched it in months, maybe years. It has that subtle narrative. I never had this idea that “filmmaker” would be something I could aspire to be. It was always another world, destined only for those that grew up on the coast, whose friends were all killer surfers, or those with enough money to buy the kit.

One Christmas, I was given a camcorder, and it all started from there. I was really into bikes, and I soon started filming more than riding, filming everything. I’d spend hours trying to capture all of this footage from numerous DV tapes, putting together little edits of trips and summers on a sketchy laptop. It has been a progression from that. I’ve been dabbling in freelance work – it’s great experience – then pushing personal projects along the way.

It looks like you’ve dabbled in ocean photography for some of your photo albums. Any plans to dive (pun intended) into ocean cinematography?

Ye, for me this is where I want to head. The reason I love capturing moments on film or stills is the situation it puts you in, moments you get to witness. Being in the ocean is just another step on from that. Last year I borrowed a tele (telephoto) lens from my uni and a decent tripod. I had never properly filmed surfing before. I remember walking over the rocks with this equipment and being so hyped. The first time I trained to lens on my friend, I was like, “Shit, this is what I want to do.” None of it is world-class breaks or standards of surfing. Honestly, a grainy shot of a friend freezing his tits off, covered from head to toe in rubber, happily submersed in the frigid Atlantic – this optimizes the surfing experience for us.

Your girlfriend, Lauren, shows up in many of your photos. Does she join you in most of your travels? Do you ever travel solo, and conversely, in a big group? How often are you on the road versus being stationary?

Lauren has been there throughout. She inspires me to travel, to see new things together, and to work super-hard creatively. She’s so happy to see anything I have made or have been working on. For me there is no better inspiration. We grew up in the same town, so for her the ocean and any time spent close to it is just as special. I also think every aspect of her is stunning, so I capture her a lot.

As far as groups go, I have been blessed with the closest of companions who share a love for travel and spending our lives outdoors. We all get cabin fever from being in a place too long. When it’s been raining on and off for a few weeks, and you haven’t seen the ocean in a month or two, being stationary starts to scare you a bit.

What was the defining moment that made you decide base your life and work on the idea that, as your arm tattoo says, “I must go down to the ocean again.”

The line is from the poem, “Sea Fever,” by poet John Masefield. My mum got a copy from a book and framed it for me when I was a kid. The page is illustrated by a tall ship getting battered by swell. The words have always conjured up those images for me, the stuff that puts you in awe of the ocean as a kid. I suppose it’s an ode to those feelings I have towards the ocean, the idea of my granddad being in the Navy and my dreams of leading a life like that.

Might that moment be the reason for your site name, “Stoked Ever Since”?

“Stoked Ever Since” came from an old photo I found a few years back. It’s fascinating how all old photos are analog. It was the norm back then, the image of me as a kid whilst learning to surf. Ye, it may be a cliché image nowadays, but it was simply a family holiday snap back then. “Stoked ever since” is just the idea that happiness can stay with you for the rest of your life, through an image or piece of film, a conversation, a piece of art. It’s not consigned to fade out over time.

How about the significance of your film production label, “Land/Locked”?

We live essentially on a large island – a wealth of coastline, but through some cruel act of fate, I ended up smack-bang in the middle of it. “Land/Locked” is the recognition of that, giving a context in which the films are made.

How do you decide where to head next in your camper van, i.e. your “rolling home”?

Europe is a stunningly diverse place. We have covered a lot of miles in the last few years: ever-changing coastlines, cultures and waves, the sheer amount of people you meet. We have a long list of destinations still to see. You learn of people who make trips down through Africa or through Asia in vans, 4x4s and Land Rovers. It’s a well-beaten path down through Europe. Money for fuel is a big factor, but if it means eating plain pasta for a few weeks, then so be it.

At the end of the short film, “Fill Your Life,” we see you put your stuff down in what looks like a flat or home. Is this your home base in Milton Keynes?

I study at a university in a large town not too far from where I grew up. The degree has meant being able to dedicate time to being creative. I lived in a shared house during my second year. It was a great time living with a group, but the town was a vacuum of inspiration for me. I’d wake up with a view of terraced houses, surrounded by a concrete and brick environment, my van parked outside. You couldn’t get a place that feels further from the ocean. You need a bit of time to feel uncomfortable in your life, get shown some hardship or difficulty, and we all grow as people.

For your film “Nico,” you based the short film around the life of a man you had met 3 years ago in a car parking lot. For “Barcelona,” you captured the essence of the sights and sounds of the city, with no singular person identified for the film. How do you decide the subject for your stories and how to tell them?

I’ve always battled this issue with filmmaking. When I decided it was really what I wanted to focus on and push as far as I possibly could, building a narrative or simply capturing the world around me, I realized there is a place for both; no set rules on what works and what doesn’t. Push abstraction and documentation. The idea that the passing of time can give power to a moving image, simple montages can become lasting visual legacies telling untold stories of people or places. I’ve seen short films that are so broken and disjointed that they blow you away; breathtaking visuals that could be nothing alone but compiled in a way that just works. I aspire to produce pieces like that. With the Net, DSLR (digital single-lens reflex cameras) content that is groundbreaking in even the smallest of ways is uploaded daily. Inspiration is always at hand. I have come into contact with so many people, their work and tremendous talent for photography, film and pure creativity via the Net.

I’ll try to develop as a filmmaker; learn through doing, produce work that may alter a perception, a view of an individual or image of a place. For me, that is the beauty of film.

For more of Calum’s work, check out http://www.stokedeversince.com/

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