Filmmaker Feature: Taylor Steele

The name Taylor Steele has become synonymous with the modern surf video. While many of his interviews lately have focused his surf films, Korduroy has been wondering about the work ethic and outlook that have made him such a powerful one man brand. From his shoestring budget beginnings to refocusing his future direction, this interview gives a glimpse into the man behind the movies.

Photo: Chris Searl

What inspired you to first pick up a camera?

My parents bought a camera for home movies when I was 10. I instantly stole it to make stuff, from claymation videos & shoot surfing films starring my friends.


And when was the moment you first thought “Wow, I could make a good living doing this!”?

The video market was really small in the early 90’s and I was going to junior college. I just made movies as a hobby. There wasn’t really that many independent filmmakers then that were making surf movies. Chris Bystrom being the only one. The others were making movies for Rip Curl, Billabong, and Quik. I was hoping that I could one day get a job at Quik or Billabong working on their videos. So I made Momentum on a shoe string budget for fun and sort of a resume to work for others. About 6 months after Momentum came out it finally started to sell. More word of mouth as marketing. That is when I felt it was possible to continue this as a career. Also I felt that I could make movies on my own, which was really empowering.  I think that is a great way to approach a career or future projects. Do things you love then success possibly will follow. At worst case, you are doing something you love. I was not in a rush on a career as I was happy to make movies on surfing.

A lot of kids have dreams, but very few people have been able to see them to fruition with as much success as you’ve had. Looking back was there a certain way you were raised or certain decisions you made that you can attribute your success?

Definitely. My parents are really supportive of my interests and try to help make them happen with the tools I need.  More importantly they instilled in me that anything is possible if you work hard to make it happen. I still believe that is true today.


Every artist dreams of birthing a project that takes off with a life of its own. Which one of your films did this the most and why did it succeed?

That is a tough question because every project takes on its own life. I usually start with a loose idea so that it can morph the movie into what elements I am given footage-wise. I would say Sipping Jetstreams has a big life of its own that has effected me personally. I didn’t expect that because of that movie I now live over seas, which I love.

Photo: Chris Searl

You’ve often been asked about your filmmaking process during a film, but I’m interested in the down time between films. What do you do unwind and get reinspired? Were there any ideas for films that were conceived during these periods?

I haven’t really had down time in 20 years. Usually I will be working on 2-3 overlapping films. Which is great if they are contrasting from each other. Yet this year I decided to re-group and re-energize to come back with something really unique. So my down time I have been keeping busy shooting music videos and fashion videos. Also I went to NY for a couple months to soak in the energy, which was super inspiring.

How did you think of the “Innersection” concept?

I love making the movies like Stranger than Fiction or Campaign’s yet getting the best guys to go on 3-4 trips a movie was getting tougher and tougher. Especially coordinating 20 surfers schedules around the ASP is also hard. I was at a real cross roads with the whole format but didn’t want it to go away. One night over some beers Nathan Myers and I came up with Innersection.

Do you think surf videos are headed in this direction due to the growing influence of the blogosphere and social networking?

I think surf videos are moving towards the web. Depending on the movie will decide outlet or marketing ( blogs or social networking) that fits the style.

What future/cutting edge aspects of filmmaking make you really excited?

I get really excited when I see filmmakers make something that is subtle and feels real. It is really tough to do right. To me flash frame editing is easier than something that breathes but is still entertaining. Yet I still love the punk rock feel of movies as well.


What do you look for in up and coming surfers to be featured in your films?

Lately its equally based on an attitude on land as much as the talent in the water, easy going and hard working. Someone I could take to India or Cuba or Pipe.

What advice do you have for younger filmmakers?

You will be working on the film for a year at least so you better love the concept. Follow your passion.


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