“Sweet Adventure” Is A High Production Surf Film Well Worth Your Time
Come inside for an interview with filmmaker Peter Hamblin.
South African filmmaker Peter Hamblin’s surf films don’t feel like surf films because they aren’t quite that. They have a story arch, a script, and require acting. Yes, his films star surfers, and those surfers end up doing the acting, but it doesn’t make you cringe. Instead, they’re coached and caught in the right moment and, with the assist of a narrator, the scenes shine through with award-winning color. Revisit (or watch for the first time) Mr. Hamblin’s Let’s Be Frank starring Frank Solomon or RISS starring Carissa Moore for further proof.
His new film, Sweet Adventure, starring Albee Layer, Matt Meola, Nora Vasconcellos, Selema Masekela, Bryan Perez, Marcello Castellanos and El Salvador (in general) is no exception to his not-quite-a-surf-film genre. Which is unsurprising to Peter as he’s not-quite-a-surf-filmmaker.
We took a moment to chat with Peter about this delightfully meandering film that’s part tourism promo, part surf adventure film, part comedy, and part of El Salvador’s Surf City initiative. But we’ll get into all of that and more below when this interview begins.
*You can find free tickets to the premiere at the bottom of this page*
Stab: How’d you land on El Salvador as the subject for Sweet Adventure?
Peter: I got a DM one day from this amazing Venezuelan producing duo called the Brouddys, and they were like, “Hey man, do you want to make a surf film?” It ended up being this opportunity to make a film with funding from El Salvador’s Surf City Tourism Board. They wanted to make a tourism surf film that showcased El Salvador but they didn’t want it to be a typical tourism video. They’d seen RISS and they liked it.
It was the coolest brief because they gave me full scope to do what I wanted to, which was fun. We had a limited time period, we shot the film in three weeks and finished it in nine.
That’s pretty quick.
It was a cool experiment. More often than not people spend two years of their life making these surf films because you’re following swells and stuff. But we had a three week window in El Salvador, which was pretty trippy because exactly how the film plays out is how the surf was. The last day we were there, it fucking pumped. The whole setup there is incredible, all the right points in the area are really special.
It’s pretty wild the money the El Salvador government is pouring into surf tourism. When you were down there did it seem like it’s paying off? Would be a great archetype for other surf rich countries to follow.
The people are so good there and there’s a lot of cool little surf resorts where you can stay and cruise. It’s got a bad reputation in regards to gang violence and crime but it was mellow, there were so many people touring around; there’s a great travel mentality over there.
It was so cool to see the WSL event there and how stoked people were to see the tour at their home break; they’re proud of it. I think there’s a lot of possibilities.
Other than Bryan Perez and Marcello Castellanos and the El Salvadorian locals being the obvious cast, how did you land on Albee, Matt, Nora and Selema for the rest of the roles?
I’d been speaking to a few other people and the schedules weren’t working out. So, I figured I’d give Albee a call. We’ve been chatting for years about filmmaking — as Albee is a filmmaker himself — and we always send each other roughs to check out. So I rang him and he was like, “Hell yeah, I’m in,” and wrangled Nora and Matt. Matt took a little more convincing because he didn’t know who I was or what I was about. But they all were so humble and took on the scope of making a film with me, which is not necessarily just surfing, but actually having to act, having to be on set.
How’s that go if the waves are cooking?
Albee said that he hates and loves making films with me because the surf will be firing and he can’t surf, but he understands that at the end of the day, there’s going to be something cool that comes out of it.
Then the other guys in the film were all just friends of our producers and the local community. Marcello and Bryan were all part of the local surf community and they were beautiful and so helpful. When I’d sit down for dinner with Marcello and ask him how the swell was looking tomorrow, he’d be like, ‘Could be good, could be super special.’ Him saying ‘super special’ became an intrinsic part of the film.
So, how’d you get into making surf films in the first place? Because your surf films wouldn’t really be categorized as “surf films” as much as films with surfing in them.
I come from a production background and run a production company in London. I’ve always loved surfing and loved being in that environment and in that world. I was probably the shittest surfer out of all my friends. So that led me to having a camera on the beach and trying to film and take photos of them. That was the world I knew at the time. I guess I got into surf films by default. My first film was Wright Side of Wrong (2012), and it was a short film with Warwick Wrong. If you look at surf films, they’re templated, maybe there’s some voiceover but there’s no real story to most of them, so I just want to mix up the template and play with it a bit.
Then Let’s Be Frank was the next step in that. With Let’s Be Frank, again, the world I knew was surfing, the talent I knew at the time were surfers, not actors. Let’s Be Frank was very much me experimenting. I wanted to shoot a sex scene and a mad fight scene. So that’s what I think, Let’s Be Frank became and there was a story scope in it, but it wasn’t necessarily tied together as well as it could have been.
Then with RISS I was experimenting more with story and more with character and bringing people to the forefront.
Where does Sweet Adventure fit in?
I think Sweet Adventure ties a lot of it together. It’s more a story of emotion that at the end of it, you’re like, I feel that. I want to go out there. I want to get out into the world. I want adventure. A lot of this film comes out of being cooped up during COVID and wanting to get out and travel again.
That’s what Endless Summer II did so well—it showed there’s so much more to surfing than actually surfing. It’s the people you meet and the adventures you have. Endless Summer II is what originally drew me to surfing. This film is an homage to that. It’s why I needed to include Pat, Wingut and Dana Brown in it.
That’s rad. It’s always suprising how convincing the surfer’s acting in your films are. How do you get that out of them?
When you do these kinds of films, there’s a beautiful dance between the narrative and the talent. So the skill of the art form of Sweet Adventure is Selema Masekela coming in and being the narrator. I think if you didn’t have the narrator and left the scene open to just Albee, Nora or Matt to act, it would come across as cringe because they’re not actors.
When it did come to scenarios, it was about catching them off cuff, sometimes the best moments came from the moments that were more natural. And they didn’t realize we were filming at times. Other times, like in the bar scene, we plugged them with a lot of alcohol. So by the time they arrived, they were drinking. By the end scenes, they were dancing and going crazy and enjoying it. And so we just had fun with it.
Then Selema brings it all together?
Selema’s incredible. He’s an actor, so no matter what, he can work with it. He’s an awesome human being and I love working with him. I want to work with him more because he has this vibrance and this energy that sets the scene alive. 90% of the music in the film is all his music, and is him singing.
Even those high notes?
Bro, there’s five or six tracks that you wouldn’t even think it’s him. That’s him getting into that range.
His dad Hugh Masekela was super famous and super relevant in South Africa and breaking down borders during apartheid. He got exiled from South Africa and he was huge in America. I mean, he used to hang out with Frank Sinatra and stuff, Hugh Masekela was gold.
That music talent is definitely evident with Selema. I was doing a drive up to Cornwall, late one night and I I knew Selema had an album, so I thought I’ll listen to it, maybe we could work something with it. And I literally was driving and getting chills and going, have I got the right album here? This doesn’t sound like Selema. I phoned him up, I’m like, “Selema, is this your album? Is that you singing?” And he’s like, “fuck yeah, it’s me.” [laughs] Within that drive, I had all the tracks for my film right there.
He’s got pipes, huh. Amazing. How was it working with the Surf City tourism board to make this film?
They had this very nurturing, loving way of doing things that is not like London, where people are just hardcore and intense. It was cool. It was great working with them. And it was an easy process. There was a lot of love that came from everyone, which was a really unique experience in making this film. And everyone was just so happy and so pumped, and so giving.
Before we go, any takeaways from making Sweet Adventure?
What I’ve taken out of this whole process is that there’s very little in the world like surfing and what it can give you. I think surfing’s got such a bad rep in so many ways over the years. But actually we are so blessed to be in the surf world. There’s very little out there like surfing that you can do till you’re 70 or 80 years of age.
Like I said before, there’s so much more to surfing than actually surfing.
Sweet Adventure premiere x party is on Thursday, July 14 at Brain Dead Theater in Los Angeles (611 N Fairfax Ave) from 6PM-11PM. And it’s free!
We sent the invite to the Stab Premium Members first and spots are filling up fast. Get yours before it’s too late.
From the invite:
There are a limited amount of seats so please confirm your attendance via eventbrite as soon as possible. Doors will open at 6pm where you can chat with the cast and crew behind the film, including Albee Layer, Selema Masekela and Peter Hamblin. The screening will commence at 7.30pm, followed by an afterparty 9pm – 11pm, complimentary of June Shine and Solento Tequila.
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