Can't knock the hustle: Meet Blake Michel. Photo: James Tull
So, You Wanna Film Surfing?
Welcome to odd tan lines and leaked water housings!
If being a pro surfer is the greatest job in the world, being a pro surf filmmaker has to be the next best thing… right? It’s not easy cracking such an exalted biz. It’s demanding, and not exactly lucrative.
Just ask Blake Michel, an in-bloom filmmaker from the quiet surf mecca of San Diego. His most-watched clip, a metal-heavy banger starring fellow San Diego charger Taylor Clark, has clocked 22.5K plays. A decent number for a small town filmmaker new on scene, but lost in the playcount shadows of big-name directors like Kai Neville.
“Filmmaking is a long and grinding process, but I love every part of it,” Blake tells Stab. “Nothing good comes quick and easy.”
So, what prompted Blake to make the transition to the other side of the lens in the first place (a difficult one if you’re handy on a craft, like Blake is)? “I actually fell into videography due to an ankle injury. I broke it skating in high school, and kept having problems re-breaking it, so it never properly healed. This kept me out of the water for a few years and I was only able to surf on and off. To fight the depression of not being able to get out in the lineup that often, I picked up the soccer mom cam I’d shoved in my family closet, and hobbled down to the sand on my crutches to film my friends surfing, just to stay somewhat connected.
“After the soccer mom camera, I moved to a Canon T2I, then went on to dabble with some 16mm film for a bit and recently I've been using a Panasonic GH4, the dream camera.” Some fine pieces of machinery, considering relatively modest beginnings – clearly, none of it came cheap… Or easy: “I was working as both a window-washer and serving at a restaurant to help fund everything. It was only last year that I decided to go for it and support myself by freelancing full-time. I started my production company, Blake Michel Media, at the beginning of 2016. I handle all things media-based through it and thankfully it's kept my hands full with projects so far.”
If you watched Encinitas grom Jake Marshall’s edit Big Timers, you’ll know Blake’s freelance leap of faith ended with him landing on solid ground.
“I got connected with Jake and Nick Marshall when Jake reached out to me and we went on a trip up north to film his Hurley Youth part,” says Blake. “After that I just really liked working with him, the kid is super smart along with really talented and things just evolved into the next project - Big Timers - which we just put out. Jake and Nick were super stoked on everything and wanted to bring me on as their personal filmer. I’m still freelancing, but it’s nice to have finally locked up a solid filming program finally.”
And while a foundation is nice, Blake’s days trying to make it are still hectic.
“It’s honestly different each day,” he says. “Sometimes I have a concept of what I want to go for, other times it's the surfers that come to me with an idea they want to pull off. It’s something new each time.”
What does a normal day look like then? “If there are waves, the process usually goes like this: There is some sort of gibberish group message the night before figuring out who's going surfing and where we’re all going in the morning. Once that’s figured out, I usually have to wake up at 6am, grab coffee at 7/11, meet up with the boys, go film, grub out on some food and watch footy until I do it all over in the afternoon.”
And the most important lesson Blake’s gained? Never stop learning. “I could always get better at cinematography… And I’m still trying to figure out shitty tan lines and leaked water housings. But it's absolutely worth it in the end, being able to display your work for everyone and hearing their feedback.”