The Secret Behind A Decade Of John John Florence Films - Stab Mag

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Hard to be bummed about missing out on a two-foot Lowers final with views like this. Screengrab from RED 10 Years Project

The Secret Behind A Decade Of John John Florence Films

With insights from one of John’s longtime creative luminaries.

cinema // Sep 1, 2023
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 5 minutes

John John Florence and Blake Kueny’s collaborative discography is magnificent.

Together, they’ve created a handful of paradigm bending surf films, including Done, View From A Blue Moon, Departure Delayed, Space, and Gravity.

As you probably know, the movie-grade cinematography in these films has been heavily instrumental in stitching the narrative of John’s surfing life into the collective consciousness of surf culture. 

Aside from John’s mythical talent and Blake’s creative vision, the fundamental cornerstone in each of their movies has been a variety of RED cameras. Founded by Oakley headmaster Jim Jannard in 2005, RED has steadily cemented themself as your favorite filmmakers favorite camera, offering technical (albeit expensive) equipment with incredibly high frame rates.

Blake and John, connecting through the void. Photo by Timo Jarvinen.

John bought his first RED a decade ago, with his winnings from the 2011 Triple Crown.

He and Blake proceeded to create Done, a film which featured one of the greatest Tahiti sections of all time. 

“That first clip in Tahiti, that right, was the first day I’d ever filmed out of a boat,” Blake tells me. “We had some shitty lens from John’s DSLR and I was hand-holding it with a belt clip battery — and I still think it’s probably the best wave I’ve ever filmed. I think without that wave you can’t make the statement we made with that song.

Sorry Jeremy. Screengrab from Done.

“There were only really three waves that came in that session. It wasn’t a pumping session, I think we sat there and waited for an hour for that wave. It was the strangest thing, Raimana just knew there was going to be a wave. Jeremy Flores previously had the biggest wave out there, and they were actually on the phone with Jeremy while they were sitting out the back. I guess Raimana said ‘Hey, I gotta go, John’s gonna catch a bigger one than you,’ hung up the phone, and stepped him into that wave.”

Though RED’s website clearly states that they do not offer sponsorship or support to athletes, John Florence’s board has, of late, featured some of their brand decór. Blake couldn’t confirm what the deal was between the two entities, but he gave some background into the relationship.

“When John purchased his first RED, we fuckin’ bootstrapped it. I think we bought the bare minimum. Then, we were in Fiji on that really huge day, and the camera was having issues, so we started freaking out. Long story short, we got in touch with the founder’s son, Jamin Jannard, who offered to fly his personal camera out to us. That interaction started our relationship with them.

Bottom left, friend. Photo by Pyzel.

“They didn’t really give us free cameras until they got to be a little bigger, but we always thanked them in our films. That’s what started the natural relationship between John and Jamin. I know they’d always talked about doing something more proper, so now that RED is bigger I think they’re working with John — I know they get pre-production models into Erik [Knutson]’s hands so they’ll have footage to launch each model with. I don’t know what their exact relationship is, but it is truly a friendship between those guys.”

As the above clip suggests, John’s early footage was deeply influential in the mainstream visibility of RED as a brand, though Blake acknowledges that they weren’t technically the first to shoot surfing on them.

“People were definitely shooting before. I believe Taylor Steele was the first to shoot on it, in Indo when he was on Red One. Daniel Russo had one of them too, but they were just bulky and cumbersome. I think John was the first surfer to buy the Scarlet and have his personal filmer shooting consistently on it. At that point, the only surfing getting shot on it was when they had a trip scheduled with the camera for like a week. For someone to use and abuse it as their daily camera, I would say we were the first.

“It was funny, I remember Kolohe bought one after John, and it was just too much of a pain in the ass and too expensive, so he sold it. Then Jordy got one, and did the same. Everyone dove in, and didn’t realize that they were actually buying a technically complicated, fucking $60,000 cinema camera. It was too overwhelming for a lot of surfers. “

“That’s what multiple World Titles looks like.” Photo by Blake Kueny

Blake also says that a lot of John’s justification for buying the Scarlet was the ability to analyze himself at an extremely high frame rate.

“He’s such a visual learner, and for him to be able to watch slow-motion footage exactly as it happened was why he justified making films. The films were just a by-product of the performance aspect. I think that gets lost sometimes, it really truly started with him wanting to get better at surfing. He’d just have so much footage after that, that he’d end up making films.

“Early on he was really in the weeds because he was so curious, but now he’s less on the cutting floor, more focused on surfing. His memory regarding which waves he surfed and when, is seriously photographic. Kelly is the same way. John will be scanning through a session from 9 months ago and remember the exact timeline of waves, and which ones he wants to use. On a project like View From A Blue Moon, he set the tone and pace of the production, picked everywhere he wanted to go, who he wanted to be on the trips, and what kind of surfing he wanted to curate into each section. If it was up to me and the production team, we would’ve missed every swell in the world.

“I think he has really unique ideas, and it’s on us as the production team to tie it all together.”

Blake, and a camera that costs more than your car. Photo by John John Florence

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