Interview: Steve Barlotti on Griffin, The Film

Writer Steve Barlotti is working on a new film, Griffin, a feature-length documentary that explores the art, life and eccentric spark of one of the world’s least known and most influential 20th Century surrealists, Rick Griffin. We recently caught up with Steve to find out a bit more about his project…

Why should we all know about Rick Griffin?

One of the taglines I’ve been playing around with is Griffin is “The Most Influential Artist You Never Heard Of.” But I’m not being flip. Griffin was Surfer Magazine’s first illustrator after John Severson, starting in the second issue, 1961. As a 16-year- old surfer and cartoonist, Griffin created “Murphy”, the young, eternally stoked, terminally misunderstood face of surfers during surfing’s post-WWII boom era. In 1963, at age 19, Griffin suffered a horrific life-changing accident while hitchhiking up to San Francisco to catch a freighter to Australia. While in a morphine coma and not expected to live, Griffin saw fantastic apocalyptic visions that he would later channel into his art.

Griffin has had a profound if underground impact on modern pop culture. Every time you pass a magazine rack check out the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Rick did the original logo for publisher Jann Wenner in 1968. But my main thesis is that 50 years ago surfing wasn’t part of counterculture, it WAS counterculture. And surfers were a significant agent of change as they carried their boards and psychedelics up and down Pacific Coast Highway looking for waves. Griffin, a surfer and an artist, provided the critical signposts. All the Ground Zero fringe movements that Griffin created art for—surfing, psychedelic rock, underground comix, even his surreal Christian art he did for the Calvary Chapel—have become huge post-modern tribes and industries.

What is the goal for film?

My goal is to make a film that I would be stoked to watch…the same way I was inspired when watching Dogtown and Z Boys a decade ago. The story I see it is that Rick for most of his life was on an authentic, almost Arthurian grailquest for the truth…as a surfer, an artist and a deeply spiritual being. But he struggled with remaining true to that path, as this modern world can be a hard place for those refuse to sell themselves out for the proverbial 30 gold coins. It’s been said that no two people ever met the same Rick Griffin. Rick’s Rashomon effect is what hooked me as a surf historian and storyteller. This idea of a modern-day shamanistic trickster working to bring a cosmic awareness to our delusional existence in the Matrix is fascinating to me. Plus, I love a rebel.

Tell us about animating Griffin’s art…

I’m working with Professor Terry Lamb and a team of top student animators from Cal State Fullerton to bring Rick’s legendary 1971 Tales From The Tube to life in 2D and 3D. Tales was Rick’s overlooked masterpiece as a surf cartoonist. But in the span of four pages he created the most surreal, metaphysical and stoking surf art ever. Rick drew in a highly cinematic style that cries out for animation. This is a first, and the young animators, most of whom weren’t even born when Rick died in 1991, are in love with Rick’s art and characters. My friend John Clark who is a surfer and a lead animator at Sony Imageworks is acting as advisor. John helped create those amazing waves you see in “Surf’s Up.” This is going to be SO cool.

What is experience of launching a Kickstarter Campaign like? How has it been so far?

It’s essentially like running for office where people vote for you and your project with their dollars. Your backers pledge a certain amount and that amount is held until the end of the campaign. But there’s a risk factor in that if you don’t meet your targeted goal within the duration of the campaign you get nothing. So it’s go big or go home. This was a full-time job for over a month prepping for it and I’m working 16-hour days running a one-dude fundraising and awareness campaign. But I’ve had incredible response thus far…as of this writing at Day 8 we are nearly two-thirds there. So, I’m stoked! But frankly, I’m hoping we hit our goal by early this week and the bust through the stratosphere, funding wise for the remaining three weeks. And one of the great benefits of running this has been the amazing response from Rick’s people—his family, friends and fans—who are contacting me with memories, letters of support, rare photos, art and footage—all the things that are the lifeblood of telling this story at the highest level it deserves. Which is fantastic. Because at some point soon I will switch gears from fundraiser to filmmaker.

So basically, NOW is your chance as a fan to be part of this film on some level. You help to manifest it by bringing something cool to the party whether it be cash, art, photos, footage or stories. I’m working on the Stone Soup model. I’ll provide the kettle, you bring something tasty to toss in. I get to be the cook. That work?

Check out the site…there’s a little vid, some cool artifacts and hidden bonuses. Click around…drink the Koolaid…enjoy!

Photo by Art Brewer

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