Andrew Kidman is an accomplished musician, filmmaker, photographer, surfer and shaper. In this edition of Filmmaker Feature, Andrew discusses his upcoming project, “Spirit of Akasha” (a tribute to “Morning of the Earth”), and his new book, “Single.” Listen to the recorded conversation between Andrew and Cyrus for further explorations into being an independent artist and role money plays in doing what you love.
How does your book relate to the film, Spirit of Akasha?
Spirit of Akasha is a 40-year celebration of Morning of the Earth, basically. That’s what we’ve been working on for the last year. We’re trying to mimic what the original film was in a modern sense, with modern surfers and modern music, just to celebrate the ideals of what was in the original film. What I wanted with this new book that I did was to mimic the way Albe (director of Morning of the Earth) did with his placement of frame-grabs from the original film in the magazine, Tracks. That’s pretty much what the book is. We did this stuff with Stephanie, and the surfing was just incredible. It was just so reminiscent of what Michael was doing at Greenmount that it sparked something in my head, and I thought, “Why don’t we put this book out that preludes the film?”
How did the film come about with you and Albe? What is your affinity to his work, and how has it impacted your life?
The family which I used to live with were super hard-core surfers. They had all the old films from the 70s, and we used to just watch them. I remember puttingMorning of the Earth on. I was just 15 or 16 years old, and I was like, “Wow.” The whole lot of us were kind of blown away. That’s where the affinity comes from. In that period in ’85, we were listening to things like Radio Birdman and Sex Pistols and things like that, and then to hear something that was so opposite, the beauty of it was a really interesting thing to hear. And also to know that it came from surfing was just a really beautiful thing to happen, really, for your life.
Cyrus speaks: he picked up the album on a surf trip in Australia when he was 18. “The album made me feel like it was okay to just be me. Growing up in Orange County, surfing was about aspiring to be something better. But there was something in the music that just made you feel OK.
It was a similar thing where we grew up, in the northern beaches… We’d surf with all these people that were professional surfers. I don’t know whether it was something to aspire to; it was just something that was around you. It was this elite performance in surfing. You wanted to get really good at surfing, but it was kind of because of these guys. There were also these other guys that were all great surfers, but they were doing it for something else other than competitiveness, I guess. It wasn’t really until something like Morning of the Earth came along that it opened up the idea that surfing is probably more than just competition. It almost went back to the roots of when you first start surfing, and you’re just doing it because it’s such a thrill. Those are the feelings of it for me, really. It just felt real, I guess. I related more to that than I did to becoming a competitive surfer. Even though I did become a competitive surfer briefly, I didn’t really relate to it as much as I did the whole other thing of just surfing and enjoying it for what it is.
This new film that you’re working on, did The Windy Hills do the music?
We’ve done some of it. It’s a new film and soundtrack. Warner Music is a big music company within the world, but they basically have put Morning of the Earth out for 40 years. They basically came to me and asked me if I would make the film and produce it. Part of the thing is that we’ve been looking throughout the world for artists that really resonate with the project, as far as musicians go. Because of the company, and with what a big company is, we’ve been able to get access to really interesting people, just people that understand what it was. Our band, we’ve recorded two songs for it. We’ve asked each artist to record an original song for the new film, and then to cover one of old songs off the original. The covers have been so interesting because of these really amazing artists. Doing a cover song is something that you love and know so well. When that stuff comes in, it’s pretty exciting.
What’s the time frame for this project?
They want to do a world premiere in April. I reckon we’ve got about 90 percent of the movie filmed, and about 70 percent of the music’s come in. I’m basically starting to edit now.
People that are familiar with your work know that you wear a crazy amount of creative hats. What are all the different roles that you play in birthing this project?
I wouldn’t consider myself a great filmer or anything like that. There are people out there who are a lot better at it than I am. That was the one thing I said at the start of the project to the producers. I just said, “I think we should make use of photographers that have really dedicated their lives to getting incredible material.”
It always made sense that people that if are really good at stuff, they should be taking the lead role.
My role is a producer or a director. I don’t know what you’d call it. I’m going to be doing the editing of it with Albe probably. And then I’ve been talking to the musicians about what we’re trying to achieve. And then we (The Windy Hills) played music for some of it. To me, that’s been the biggest thrill for us, to be able to record for it. The band’s been going a long time now, and it’s really nice to progress with it.
It’s more than just an idea of showing a surf film around. They want to get some of the bands that are involved in this project, and they want to go to festivals and project it, or go to art galleries and project it, and then have the bands playing underneath; have a couple of the bands touring with it and playing with. That’s the stuff I enjoy doing. So this is all sort of the lead-up work to then eventually get to the presentations of it, which is the real fun part of it.
Also being a filmmaker and working in the surf space, I’ve seen many artists find themselves trapped between giving away stuff for free online and courting larger companies for advertising. You’ve been so creative on a high level with so many disciplines, and you’ve managed to go in the opposite direction of this new paradigm with limited-edition books, having your own website and doing things on your own terms. Was this a conscious decision? Why do you think in retrospect it’s worked?
I wasn’t necessarily conscious. These days you can’t give DVDs away. The margins on them are so small, and then all the surf shops are struggling. If you’re an independent filmmaker, and you get your films into a surf shop, the last person that’s going to get paid is you because you’re the probably the smallest bill that they owe. While you’re working, do you really have the time to then be chasing after all these people that owe you 15 dollars? It just doesn’t work. It’s sad, but that’s what’s happened to the environment of surf films. I’ve almost been forced to do stuff this way. Because they are independent films and because you’re not soliciting money out of larger companies to make them, there’s no real advantage for me to put them on the Internet for nothing.
A film is a film, and everybody expects that films should be for free these days. That’s why I thought that if I had a book, that might make people respect more what it is. It’s expensive to print a book. It’s like 20 grand, so I took a risk, and it’s been good because there are about 40 copies left of the 1,000 I originated with. It’s been a really interesting thing to do because people have really appreciated that you’ve released it like that and given more than just a free movie away. There are a lot of people out there that are pissed off, too. But that’s not really my problem. I figure those people really aren’t your audience anyway.
I guess what I’m trying to do with the next book is build up a series of them where they become this valued, collected thing that people really appreciate. You figure if someone bought the first one and then bought the second one, if you can keep producing interesting work, they’ll buy the future releases. You don’t make huge amounts of money out of it, but you just make enough money to sort of survive and do the work that you want to do. That’s all I really want to do. I don’t have another agenda, really. Just keep being able to play your music or work on some idea that you’re interested in, and just get by. Pay the bills for the kids and the mortgage…
You could make shitloads of money doing other things, but do you really need that much money? You’d be honest better off knowing the amount of money you need to get through the year with, and then just work into that. That allows you to you to stay small and do your own thing, but artistically, you get to do what you want. So that’s the path I decided to go on, and I enjoy it.