Questions via Ryan Tatar
Nathan Oldfield is a husband, father, surfer, shaper, filmmaker, photographer, writer, school teacher, bonsai enthusiast, sea gazer, rock collector from the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia. He is interested in documenting beautiful things and making stuff
Your latest film, Seaworthy, was a great work of beautiful surf footage and fresh music. What’s it like to make a surf film and how fruitful are the rewards of your efforts after the film has been screened and released on DVD?
Making a surf film seems romantic, but it’s actually a lot of hard work, especially when you do it all independently. It’s much more than just standing on the beach shooting, it’s the endless hours of actually conceiving something and putting it all together over a sustained period of time. Seaworthyis an entirely self-made and self-funded work. I have a few friends who sometimes help me shoot the double angle, but other than that I do everything by myself: shooting, editing, writing, music acquisition, packaging, production, promotion. It can get a little overwhelming at times, because making a surf film all on your own is a massive undertaking. Once it’s all done, there are rewards, but the rewards aren’t especially financial. I mean I could have made a lot more money spending all those thousands of hours doing something much more lucrative. But making money was never my motivation for making surf films. In lots of ways, making films is like making my own surfboards. It’s just part of who I am as a surfer, it’s just an extension of my surfing life, rather than a conscious decision or whatever. And like making my own boards from start to finish, you know – shaping, glassing, fin-making, the whole deal – making my own films is similar, I do the whole thing. So it’s a very satisfying process. It fulfills a very real need that I have to make stuff.
A lot of filmmakers have been showing a lot of alaia riding lately in their films. Do you think alaias will ever really catch on because of their difficulty, or will they remain a niche in surfboard manufacturing?
I feel so privileged to have followed Tom Wegener’s journey in two films now, he is such an amazing surfer, designer and craftsman. We first met while I was making my first film, Lines From A Poem. We have since become close friends, and our wives and kids too. Four years ago Tom started telling me about these boards he was starting to make called alaias, which are replicas of Hawaiian boards from pre-European contact times. I admit I was a little skeptical when I first saw these planks of wood, but Tom was frothing on them and his enthusiasm was so childlike and earnest and endearing; and once I saw him riding them and had a go myself, I was pretty interested. When I first started shooting the alaias, the laydown boards were seven feet and the standup boards were twelve. Back then, basically, it was purely point and shoot. It’s incredible how far the boards have come now, and how well they’re being ridden. I understand why people are keen on documenting alaias, and why a growing number of surfers have been riding them. It’s because riding alaias is such a completely different way of surfing. I have been surfing for nearly twenty-five years, on all kinds of equipment, and the alaia is the most compelling piece of surf craft I have ever encountered. Will they catch on? Well, yes and no. Because they’re difficult to ride, and because it’s hard to catch waves with them in crowded lineups because of diminished paddle power, I think a lot of surfers will give them a miss. For this reason, they won’t take off like the whole stand-up paddle thing has. But at the same time, the fact that they are difficult to ride will ensure that there will always be a core group of experienced surfers who will persevere with them. I’m not alone in thinking that part of the beauty and appeal of the alaia is precisely because they are challenging. But the pay-off is that they’re so exhilarating to ride. Good surfers, quiver enthusiasts, people with open minds who are willing to embrace the challenge rather than shy away from it, will ensure the alaia is here to stay in surfing.
What kind of equipment do you use on your films, and where was the bulk of your time spent on making Seaworthy?
I shot the majority of Seaworthywith a secondhand Canon digital video camera. Then that got stolen, so I finished the rest of the film with a new Canon camera. I also used a secondhand Manfrotto tripod, a borrowed water housing made by Dave Kelly and I edit on a MacBook Pro laptop. Compared to a lot of other films out there, mine is very low-budget.
Can we expect a CD or vinyl release of the music on Seaworthy?
I’d love to do that. I actually planned to release a soundtrack with the film, like a double disc set, but to be honest I just got so tired finishing the film and getting it out there that I lost the energy to get a soundtrack together. It’s a lot of work in terms of getting permission from various record labels, especially, among other things. But one of the things I’m most happy about with Seaworthy is the soundtrack, and I get lots of good feedback about it. I handpicked those songs so carefully, and really tried to connect them to the tone and narrative of the film. Incredibly, I was able to collect all those songs from close friends, and also people I met along the way, who were willing to share their work for free. I’m really grateful to all of them for providing a foundation on which I could build my film. In lots of ways the soundtrack is the backbone of Seaworthy, it carries the film and gives it structure. I’m pretty excited about the variety and quality of the music in the film and I’m stoked to hear that others like it too.
How did you determine who would be included in your film, from the surfers to the musicians?
I really wanted Seaworthy to cover diversity in surfing. I am always impressed by surfers who can ride equipment from across the whole spectrum, so that informed my choice of people to shoot with. Some of the cast in the film I had worked with before, others I had just met. I’m really happy that I was able to access such a broad range of incredible surfers, and document them approaching wave riding in different ways. I feel very grateful for the privilege of working with each of the surfers in the film. Each one of them contribute something unique to Seaworthy. With the soundtrack, I wanted to balance that sense of diversity in terms of surfers and equipment in the selection of music itself. I wanted to use an array of tempos, textures, tones. It’s deliberately eclectic and varied. Who knows, maybe no one picks up on this kind of stuff when they watch the film. But no matter; it means something to me.
I recently spoke with Chris Rule, the owner of a new surf gallery in Pacific Beach, California. He told me Seaworthy was the best selling DVD in his vast inventory of cult and popular surf films. How did you market your film and what do you think was the most successful approach that you could share with fellow aspiring filmmakers?
Mate, it’s hard to answer questions like this. I honestly don’t feel like that I have suddenly arrived as a filmmaker, like I’m suddenly kicking down doors or anything like that, or that I’m qualified to give advice to aspiring artists. But I’ll have a go at answering anyway. What I learnt from my first film is that a movie doesn’t sell itself, you have to work hard to spread the word. So for Seaworthy, basically I did all my marketing using the internet: youtube, vimeo, myspace. Then people started talking about the film on some core sites and blogs. Before I knew it, an online interest in Seaworthy started to gather its own momentum.
Did you get any support from mainstream surf magazines on making this film or at least telling people about it?
A couple of magazines have reviewed Seaworthy since it has been released on DVD, and said nice things, and I have had interviews in a few magazines in Japan, Germany and here in Australia.
Did you work with any other filmmakers or artists in Seaworthy?
My friend Mick Waters, who makes his own independent surf films, helped me shoot the double angle with Beau Young and Rasta, which I was stoked about. Another friend, Jim Mitchell, designed the artwork for the film, and I really appreciate his wonderful contribution. Also, my good mate Mike McCarthy worked on a song or two, specifically for certain parts of the film. Apart from that, Seaworthyis pretty much a one-man show.
Who are your main artistic inspirations?
In terms of film making, Bruce Brown, Albert Falzon, Jack McCoy, Sonny Miller, Thomas Campbell, Chris Malloy, Scott Soens. But I’m also inspired by lots of other things: authors, photographers, musicians, poets, craftsmen, the play of sunlight on water, the unfurling of a leaf in Spring, the refraction of swell around a headland. Nature, especially, is my biggest source of inspiration.
What is your all time favorite wave riding vehicle?
Oh that’s too hard, because no surfboard does everything well, and the joy for me is that they all feel different. I’ll sit on the fence and avoid that question altogether! My all time favourite surf day, though, I can tell you about. It would be an overhead slabbing rockshelf on my thruster early in the morning; a fun head high beachbreak with a fish or just a pair of swimfins mid-morning; a peeling head high pointbreak with an alaia after lunch; and another pointbreak session on my log until sunset. All on my forehand preferably! I love rights!
Korduroy is all about empowering people to go out and make something. To be more of a creator than a consumer. What kind of advice can you give to folks who want to make a low budget surf film?
I think it’s incredibly important to be a maker of things, if that’s the way you have been wired together. Some people aren’t made that way, and that’s okay, but for those of us who are compelled to make stuff, well, we need to make stuff. Whatever you do, whether it’s painting or writing or boardbuilding or photography or filmmaking or sculpture or whatever, do it from a pure place in your heart. Then it’ll be right. Maybe not perfect or popular, but right. And all of us could do worse things than making simple, good things that are right.
What is next for you? Is there a third film on the horizon?
Absolutely. I’m already starting to shoot for it. I think I’ll probably always make films. It’s become part of my surfing life.