Vissla Presents: Palmera Express
Story by Theo Lewitt | Photos by Eddie Obrand This Friday in the USA, Vissla will unveil their first short film, Palmera Express. It’s no news that Vissla has been snatching up a slew of talent since 2013, including the standout likes of Brendon Gibbens and a relatively unknown freak by the name of Bryce Young. But, never before […]
Story by Theo Lewitt | Photos by Eddie Obrand
This Friday in the USA, Vissla will unveil their first short film, Palmera Express. It’s no news that Vissla has been snatching up a slew of talent since 2013, including the standout likes of Brendon Gibbens and a relatively unknown freak by the name of Bryce Young. But, never before has their roster spent an entire winter together getting busy in Hawaiian waters. We rang Eddie Obrand, the man behind the project, to pick his brain and see what we could learn about the film before it hits the silver screen.
Stab: What concept were you after with Palmera Express.?
Eddie: It was an attempt to make a short narrative film, but also a surf movie. Making my own quirky version of the Endless Summer, or something like that. I’ve always been really inspired by the Endless Summer 2. When that came out I was probably like 10 or 11 and just thought that was the nuttiest surf movie I’d ever seen, the way real surfing was blended with narrative. That was the backbone of this project. I wanted to make a surf movie that gives some motivation as to why these guys were where in Hawaii and why they were getting in the water. I didn’t want to just jump from rock music to surfing, section by section.
How’d you land on the title? Well, the story is essentially four guys traveling to the North Shore for the first time as told through the eyes of an old man recalling his first trip there. A tour guide, who has a tour company called Palmera Express, picks the guys up. He’s this kind of nuthouse guy – a Hunter S. Thompson type who drives too fast. So the name came from his tour service.
Strange Rumblings undertones? I think the day I went in for my pitch was the day it premiered. That’s always how it is. You come up with an idea and then it turns out that someone with a much bigger budget already did it. I guess we both kinda set out to make similar films with similar influences. But, that was his attempt at a Cousteau-like Endless Summer, and this one is mine.
How’d the pitch go down? Well, sitting in an office with a tucked in shirt and my hair slicked back pitching ideas isn’t my thing. I wrote them an email begging to meet at a bar or a coffee shop because the boardroom is just not my place to shine (laughs). But, that didn’t work out, so I had to pitch it in this boardroom. I was extremely nervous.
Any production help? Vissla’s in-house guys helped a lot. Namely, Brian Elliott. He’s incredible. I’d never worked with him before going on this trip, but I was super lucky to have him doing video. He’s a really intuitive cinematographer and we got along super well. He’s like a little Jedi with a camera. I can’t wait to do another project with him.
What kind of equipment were you packin? Most of the film was shot on the RED Scarlet. I got it right before I went out there, and it’s just badass. I think it does an amazing job emulating 16 mm film. If you adjust the settings so that you’re filming at traditional 24 frames a second, like what a traditional motion picture camera films at, I really like that look. It just looks really homey, wholesome, and natural to me, and I wanted the film to have that look.
How tough was it making a film on the North Shore? It was really hectic. I’d never been there before, so I’d only heard crazy stuff from people who were telling me to dress and act differently over there. Making a surf film out there at that time of year with the crowd was the gnarliest thing I’ve ever done. Not only is it difficult for the surfers to get waves, but as a filmer it’s like trying to find one of a hundred ants in the water. Most of the time you can’t tell who’s who and what’s what, and if you miss a wave, you might as well just go home (laughs). But, we stayed right in front of Kammieland, which turned into this cool little psychedelic version of lowers a couple times, which was fun to work with.
Which surfers did you most enjoy working with? Everyone was pretty fricken amazing. I felt super lucky because I’ve definitely been in situations where the crew helping me and the talent are kind of separated, with the talent acting a little arrogant. But here, everyone, from Brendon Gibbens, to Cam Richards, to Derrick Disney, to Bryce Young, was super easy to work with, and super grateful, which was a nice change. At the end of every session, a lot of them would thank me and for filming and offer to help lug equipment back to the house, which I have never experienced before. It just created a really good working environment. When people are having fun, that’s when good things start to happen, so it was great!
What about their surfing performances? Bryce Young is pretty much the gnarliest dude ever. I’d never worked with him before, or really even seen his surfing. He does these crazy Dane Reynolds turns, but with amazing style and grace, and you can tell he’s so conscious of putting that style forward. And Cam…If I had to go film a surfer right now on some 16mm film, It’d probably be Cam because every time he paddled out, we’d get at least 3 A+ clips, which is pretty rare. I call him Maverick – he’s like an American hero or something. He’s super polite, pulls out chairs for girls, and is super courteous. He makes California kids look like such little beach rats. I was very impressed.
How was it working with Vissla on this one? It’s crazy how open-minded they are. A lot of brands seem to almost fear the artist, so they stand over their shoulders while they’re trying to create something. Vissla let me work naturally.
Rumor has it that part of the soundtrack is an original score? Yeah, my buddy Matt Taylor, from in The Growlers, did an original score to parts of the film. He’s one exceptionally talented person. I’d send him some context for the song and the vibe I wanted, and he’d send me something back quickly. Maybe I wouldn’t like the first draft, but I’d send him one little note and an hour later he’d send me this incredible song…just spot on. He scored the part of the film with narration – the story elements of the film – but then the surf segments are more traditional with rootsy and eclectic song selections.
Best off-camera moment? There were a few. I really liked how you can sit in the back of an open bed truck and drive around everywhere in Hawaii. That was really cool. We were driving somewhere on one of the nights drinking wine in the back and I felt like I was in “Tortilla Flats.” Another night, Brendan Gibbons came up with the idea to go ice-skating, so we did that. We’d go around the rink twice and just be so tired, drenched in sweat. It was pretty funny. Fuck, these stories sound so PG-13 (laughs)!
Who’s your greatest surf-film influence? Brue Brown and Greg MacGillivray, the guy who made 5 Summer Stories. He lived in Laguna Beach, where I grew up, and I remember seeing that movie for the first time in high school and just thinking it was awesome.
What about influences outside of realm of surfing? Some obvious influences you’ll see in this film are Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick, just because they have such a distinct visual style. I just love the way they shoot wide-angle lenses on everything very symmetrically, and let things play out within the frame in their films.
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