Stab Magazine | Making a surf film in 2015, by the numbers

Making a surf film in 2015, by the numbers

Story by Lucas Townsend It’s just so easy to ridicule the modern freesurfer! They’re the gents dabbling more in aesthetics than athletics. The ones travelling the world with their camera-clad pals on big swells, small swells, after swells – it doesn’t matter. There’s no pressure on results or points or the need to satisfy a […]

style // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Story by Lucas Townsend

It’s just so easy to ridicule the modern freesurfer! They’re the gents dabbling more in aesthetics than athletics. The ones travelling the world with their camera-clad pals on big swells, small swells, after swells – it doesn’t matter. There’s no pressure on results or points or the need to satisfy a life-long itch to be a champion. But such taunts speak no truth! They come from corners of deep jealousy, and it doesn’t suit any of us! Yes, these gents live superior, fantastic lives, but they aren’t free, and they certainly aren’t easy. After Cluster, Dillon Perillo and Brendon Gibbens decided to spend the next 10 months filming for their own project. A digital film to land on – at their own expense! Success will depend on whether you, (yes you!) click and watch, whether their peers approve, or approve and then write them off behind backs. All these variables, plus a $50k bill (not including support from a mutual sponsor), and you’ve got a pressure cooker situation I could happily live without. How might you feel if these kind of numbers were debited from your plastic?


Photo: Quinn Matthews

+ Flights to get a cameraman standing on the shore capturing your clips.

So you’re making a surf film. No one’s playing, sharing or commenting on something that looks like it’s been filmed on a Nokia, so you’re going to need the best gear. No one is making high performance surf films these days without a RED. And with the equipment comes the price tag, says Brendon. “The cost comes down to the equipment. They need to be shooting on RED cameras, it’s standard practice now. The only exception is Toby Cregan, who uses the Black Magic, which is still a great camera.” “The most expensive thing is the video guys,” says Dill. “You can’t waste one day on a trip because their day rates are around US$300, give or take. Every trip we’ll bring one guy with a video camera, we pay for his tickets, and then his day rate.” For film synergy, keep the fingers on the controls to a minimum. Two to three filmers is max. Plus, you can cut a rate with a filmer if he’s on for more than one trip. Unless it’s a corporate gig (for a brand), photographers don’t get paid. It’s a sign of the times. “We’ll invite a photographer every time,” says Dill. “But we tell them to book their own ticket, and we’ll cover the rest.” Then there’s the cost of moving talent. Brendon and Dillon spent between $1.5k to $3k getting themselves O/S.


Photo: Quinn Matthews


(not including juice) Car Hire: Every gent in a foreign land needs wheels

When you’re on a 10 day or two week trip in a wave rich land with breaks far between, and precious minutes of footage needed, you’re mad not to hire a set of wheels. But car hire is a sting. Expect to pay at least $80 per day. Do five-plus trips for a film and you’ve got a substantial outgoing, not to mention the cost of gas. Don’t cheap out for the smaller vessels either. The coffins will look hilarious in the Echo for about three minutes, but how’s that going to fair on a drive from Perth Airport to Margaret River? “The only place we didn’t hire a car was Reunion because we were so close to the wave,” says BG. “In a place like West Oz you need one. It’s a big distance between spots.” ”We just did airs the whole time in West Oz,” adds Dill. “We surfed Cobbles most of the time because it was howling southerlies and there was nowhere else to surf. It stopped us wasting time though, because as soon as we rocked up, we’d paddle out.”


Photo: Quinn Matthews

For a trip to Portugal that under delivered.

How do you make a film when your co-star is as unreliable as, well, a swell forecast? You have a man on the ground giving you the local intel, you bite the bullet and slap down the Amex on a $7k trip, and hope your karma is in check. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you just should’ve done more research. “Oh man, Portugal was the worst conditions you can get,” says Dill. “Neither of us are good at reading swell reports compared to some surfers, and we had a friend from there who said it looked like it was going to be fun. I didn’t even look at the forecast, I just booked a ticket and went. It was 30-knot onshore winds with two metre swell, tops. It was actually flat for half the time.” Portugal was the most expensive, for the least results, adds Brendon. “We weren’t happy with Portugal, so we might go back because it’s still really under exposed when it comes to videos. It’s fresh.”


Photo: Quinn Matthews

For an international air ambulance after your shark attack in Reunion Island.

After you sacrifice your limbs for footage at the famed right ramp, you’ll need an air ambulance to cart you over international airspace for treatment close to home. “Reunion was the sketchiest,” says Brendon. “That poor boy got attacked two days before we left home. We were about to cancel and Alan Van Gysen (photographer) was like, no, I’ve got a good feeling about it. Every surf was stressful. The first day it started working properly and the water was a dark blue, ominous colour. “Alan swam twice, but he had a shark shield on (with electro magnetic currents, such mod!) and there’s a little rocky outcrop on the inside. He hung by that. We saw two sharks while we were surfing. It was terrifying.” “It was on the last surf too, we called it a day,” adds Dill.


Photo: Quinn Matthews

To stay in a cosmopolitan apartment across the road from that right, Reunion Island.

“Airbnb is by far the most economical means of accommodation,” says Brendon. “In Reunion and Portugal Airbnb really delivered. We stayed across the road from the Reunion wave for $55 a night.” Brendon controls the creative direction of this film, whereas Dillon takes on the producer role. Logistics is his specialty. So, when the gents decided on the famed right at Reunion (made popular by Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson and Modern Collective), they knew they needed to be in across-the-road proximity, because options are limited around Saint-Pierre.


Photo: Quinn Matthews

A three bedroom house for 10 days in Portugal.

Perhaps the only thing that’s cheaper now than five years ago is accommodation, thanks to genius social operations like Airbnb. In case you live under a rock and never leave it, Airbnb is a global website where people rent out their homes, apartments, beds, couches, for travellers. Leave town or land in another country, jump on the app and you’ll have accommodation within 20 minutes. The travelling gents swear by it, and it’s cost effective. In Portugal, Dill and Brendon landed a chic three-bedroom house for $80 a night!

For seven nights on a Macaronis land camp.

A good surf film has good variety. But outside of the budget was seven nights at the mechanical Macaronis land camp. “We’ve been trying to go to the Macaronis camp but it’s going to cost $12k for us to get there for seven days,” says Dill. “Even when we were in Indo, there was five days vacant at the camp but it was with an $8k bill. We’re not even able to surf Macaronis for our film, which we’d love to do, but it costs too much money. It’s crazy the wave gets so crowded for how expensive it is.” But, the team will find variety in Japan!


Photo: Quinn Matthews

$2,000 — $4,000
Hire an editor to cut 10 months worth of footage.

Editing depends on a lot of factors. For a 10 to 15 minute edit working with someone who isn’t of Joe G or Kai Neville status, it’ll cost between $2k to $4k. The gents aren’t making a location-based film like Jordy’s Bending Colours. That’s going to add difficulty to the way it’s interpreted and cut together. But, Brendon will provide a tight brief because of his handles on good aesthetic and style. “It’s not location-based. There aren’t going to be any titles before the sections,” he says. “We just want to make it with a lot of emphasis on the high performance surfing, and I guess, progress from Cluster.”


Photo: Quinn Matthews

$0 —$10,000
Just for a beat for your dance!

Music rights for surf films are a piece-of-string scenario. It all depends on how crazy you want to go, and what kind of license you need to acquire. It all varies depending on where it’ll be released; DVD, online, download, streaming. They all have different rates. Finding bands who are talented and need publicity is the cheapest way of tracking a film. But if you have to go for music from relatively well known bands it’s usually around $5k per track so for a 10 minute edit, do the math.


Photo: Quinn Matthews

To make a film like John John Florence.

“If you look at John John he spends $2 million a year on a film,” says Dill. “We’re spending like .05 per cent of that.” To put it into perspective, these two gents will drop under $50k on their project. They’ll need corporate support of some kind, in the vicinity of $10k to 25k from mutual sponsors. Dillon’s been doing the QS for five years but he renegotiated his contract to end the comps and kick off the full-time travel. “I went cold turkey on the comps,” he says. “And I use my travel fund to do these projects. I’m saving money doing these trips, instead of doing the QS actually.” Two-thirds of the way through and they’ve spent about $16k each. That’s not including any post-production. The ROI is this: play counts and peer credit. “To be able to work on something passionately keeps the job fresh,” adds Brendon. “To have the funding from one of our sponsors to work on our own project and get to travel the world and choose where we go is absolutely amazing. It’s worth every penny, even though we’re trying to be as economical as possible.”


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