THOM: A portrait of modern youth
An interview with filmmaker Riley Blakeway about his stupidly concise Thom Pringle documentary and the obscure inspiration that started it all… Thom Pringle, 19 years old, is a concreter and, in one sense, a professional surfer from the Sunshine Coast. Professional in the sense that magazines and filmers like to use his image, but not […]
An interview with filmmaker Riley Blakeway about his stupidly concise Thom Pringle documentary and the obscure inspiration that started it all…
Thom Pringle, 19 years old, is a concreter and, in one sense, a professional surfer from the Sunshine Coast. Professional in the sense that magazines and filmers like to use his image, but not so professional because he still has to work on building sites to keep his dream alive.
His pal, Riley Blakeway, was so turned on by a documentary of a four-year-old kid being raised in the hippie district of Haight-Ashbury (“I smoke grass,” says the kid. “If you have some grass, I’ll show you!) that he used its form to create his own film about Thom.
Stab spoke to Riley about his unusual 12-minute film.
STAB: Explain the inspiration behind Thom…
RILEY: Well, it was the short Sean by Ralph Arlyck from 1970. I watched it for the first time in January this year and it had such an immense impact on me, I was totally mesmerised. Aesthetically I loved the piece but what I loved most were the conceptual layers. Sean tells the story of a young boy growing up in San Francisco in 1969 but it is famous for it’s frank depiction of the 1960’s counterculture. It’s brilliant. I watched it over and over until one night I couldn’t sleep and I stated writing Thom. When I wrote the film, I intended on telling the story of Thom but at the same time conveying a bigger picture, y’know, that of Generation Y. Cause Thom is a perfect example of contemporary youth growing up in Australia. The bottom line is htat Thom works construction but he wants to live elsewhere as a surfer or a creative. The goal was to encapsulate our generation and create somewhat of a time-capsule piece to reflect on youth in 2011.
The above could have been portrayed a lot simpler and a lot more abruptly but I wanted to create something that people might not get the first time. They might not ever watch it twice, who knows? That’s the beauty of it. Some people get it, some people don’t. Some people love it and some people hate it. I haven’t met much in-between ground with my responses yet.
Talk to me about what kind of man is Thom? Thom is an interesting young man with a big heart. We hit a bird while driving the other day and the poor kid couldn’t speak. A tear ran down his cheek and there was an awful silence. It broke his heart. Traditionally, documentary pieces are left to those with much more life experience than Thom but to me, he is such an identifiable subject. It’s rare to meet someone with so much appreciation of their ability to learn. He spends his time teaching himself skills – how to draw, how to speak Spanish, a new skate trick., anything, as long as he is furthering himself. I identify with Thom because we both have a feeling that we’re running out of time.
“The response in New York was almost comical. No one really grasped it, judging by the murmurs. I was sitting in the back row. In one scene, Thom comes on screen in the shower and then watering the garden in a mask. One older couple walked out of the cinema.”
Why did you make Thom? Foremost, it was about the progression of my work in film. That was another reason I wanted to shoot everything in Super 8. I funded everything myself and didn’t send out any proposals or anything like that. It wouldn’t really have made sense to do so. I wanted to keep everything as in touch with the reference piece as possible and keep it indy. I didn’t want any “cool” brand associations. I wanted it to stand alone. A lot of the film was scripted, even down to the exact shot. But, mostly out of anticipation, as I know Thom so well. The socially awkward responses were something that I anticipated and knew would complete the film for me. At first, I dubbed all of my audio with an American voiceover but scratched it at the last minute because of the loss of Chemistry. It was more pre- and post-production than almost anything I’ve made. Mostly with the edit and sound sync working with super 8. I had to shoot everything in 30-second intervals to keep costs down and keep everything in sync. After finalising the piece to 12 minutes I sent it to a studio in LA for the final mix. It came back sounding worse so I recorded all of the sound elements onto a tape using a four-track recorder and mixed the sound live manually.
What kinda goals you got with this unusual film? It was always my goal to have the film premiere at the NY surf film festival. It seemed like the obvious platform. I met this goal but to a very underwhelming response. It was almost comical. No one really grasped it, judging by the murmurs. I was sitting in the back row. Most of the crowd were old couples and New York hodads who had come along to see some cliche travel documentary. In one scene, Thom comes on screen in the shower and then watering the garden in a mask. One older couple walked out of the cinema. It was beautiful. – Derek Rielly
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