Reel Talk: OUT in the Lineup Director Ian Thomson

We’ve been following the making of Out in the Lineup for a while now. Since they’re in the middle of a Kickstarter, we figured it was time to talk to the director for some details. Here, Ian Thomson talks about the filming and editing work on the project, what it was like to come out as a surfer, and how the surfing community can be more open. 

For more info on the project, check out their Kickstarter here:

How did this documentary come about?

I met Thomas Castets, the founder of the world’s first website for gay surfers when I was on a surfing trip up in Byron Bay. I liked the idea of connecting with a community of gay people who also surfed. After I returned to Sydney, I met Thomas again and he spoke about the interesting and moving stories he had heard from members of the site. We started talking about making a documentary to bring awareness to the personal and social issues that many gay surfers face – and to inspire social change. A handshake later, the film OUT IN THE LINE-UP was born.

Why is it important to “out” gay surfers?

Coming out is a very personal process for each and every gay person. It is not our intention to “out” any gay person. Everyone must chose to do that in the time and place that feels right for them. We do however, feel it it important to give a previously invisible part of the surfing community a voice. We have met and interviewed many gay surfers who have been happy to tell their stories in order to encourage understanding – not only for other gay surfers struggling with coming to terms with themselves within their surfing community, but also to the larger majority of straight surfers to be open to the idea of embracing more diversity in surfing.

What has your experience been like as a gay surfer? Did you feel stifled or insecure in the community?

My first attempts at surfing as a teenager were quickly squashed by the intimidating banter in the line-up. Many years later, in my mid 30’s I thought I would give it another go. My skin was tougher, and I was more resolved to master it, but verbal attacks were not uncommon. Homophobic remarks were probably not specifically aimed at my sexuality, but probably intended to intimidate and establish a low position in the pecking order. With time I met people who were encouraging and I enjoyed surfing with. I have learned to seek out quieter, uncrowded surfing spots, and to go out surfing with friends and family. I guess, in a way, established our own tribe.

How has the response been since coming out? Did you lose friends?

After my coming out, perhaps I lost some acquaintances, but the people I considered true friends put a lot of effort into trying to understand what I was going through. I never lost them. In fact many of my friendships became deeper and more open. For me, it made it possible to have more open friendships with my straight surfing mates, as there was nothing that I was hiding from them anymore.

Were people pretty receptive to being involved with the film? Or did some people want to remain closeted to their surfer friends?

The surfers we had made contact to through Thomas’ website were already out and very open to speaking to us on film. But as we started researching more contacts and leads, we met some interesting people who where very interested in the film and some considered participating, but at the end of the day withdrew because of the fear they were still facing about coming out publicly. At times I have said it is almost more interesting the people who do not appear in the film who we have spoken to. These include people from professional surfing, the gay children of well known surfing personalities who have been ostracised by their families after coming out, and journalists and psychologists who have not wanted to compromise their own or their professional positions. There is still a lot of fear out in the surfing community around this.


Do you think that the surf community is behind the times on this issue?

I think it is interesting that in a number of major sports gay athletes have come out in recent years, Gareth Thomas in Rugby, Ian Roberts in League, Robbie Rogers in Soccer, Orlando Cruz in Boxing etc, but we have never seen an open gay male surfer on the pro tour. This does seem to indicate that surfing may be a step behind the rest of sport and the way society is changing. 

What are the distribution plans for the film?

We plan to release the film in early 2014, initially through surf, gay and documentary festivals. We will then be looking for broadcast opportunities and DVD, VOD releases to get its message out to as broad an audience as possible.

Anything else we should know about the documentary or the campaign to fund it?

We were not successful in receiving any funding for this project to date, and have only got as far as we have through the voluntary support of everybody involved in the film. All the members of the film and production team have worked on this film without being paid. I think that this is quite remarkable in itself and shows the how important we all feel it is that these stories are told. At the tail end of the production, we have however come up against some hard and fast production costs that we simply have to cover, that is why we have launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise the money we need to finish the film and release it. Any support would be deeply appreciated.

What filmmakers inspire you most?

I am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 grams & Babel) and Gus Van Sant (Elephant & Milk) because of their wonderful ability to create authentic emotional experiences on film. 

What is the most important thing you have learned about shooting? Editing?

That everyone in the team, not matter who in front of the camera or behind it, or in the edit suite – needs to be honest and real about why they are there. Commitment from everyone is the most valuable thing in a team.

What film equipment and editing software do you use?

We have been shooting on DSLRs (Canon 5D, 7D etc) and editing on Adobe Premiere. I love the filmic and more emotional look the DSLRs are offering, compared to the TV look that the older video-recorders gave you.

When composing a shot, what is it you are looking for?

I look at the subject matter, place that in the context of the story I am telling, then decide on composition. I am a big fan of asymmetrical composition, particularly for human issues – I like using the golden mean (also often referred to as the law of thirds), but symmetry can also have its place if trying to do something pure or direct (it is can be very zen).

What are you goals for filmmaking?

My personal goal as a filmmaker is to touch people’s lives through other people’s stories.

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