Why Is One Of Australia's Top Surf Cinematographers Shooting Film In 2022? - Stab Mag

Live Now: How Surfers Get Paid — The Queens of Ascension

0 View

Why Is One Of Australia’s Top Surf Cinematographers Shooting Film In 2022?

“It’s the last great magic trick.” – Tom Jennings

// Feb 8, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you follow surfing, you have seen Tom Jennings’ work.

Some of his most notable work appeared in Cluster and Psychic Migrations, Noa Deane’s Head Noise, Billabong’s Good Call, Real Axe and Desert Hilton, Dane Reynolds’ Chapter 11, Brendon Gibbens’ Home Body, Shaun Manners’ Blastoid, Globe’s Cult of Freedom, Ando’s Harmony, Jacob Wilcox’s By Default, Jack Robbo’s Snapt 4 section, and even a BBC Attenborough doc, which featured a few of his shots from Cyclops, and many more.

He’s one of the best surf filmers in the the world and he looks at things a bit differently. You can read about how hanging with Clay Marzo indirectly led him to a diagnosis of a High Functioning Autism here.

Tom’s been locked down in WA for the past two years, work’s slowed right down, no one is in and no one is out with the hard border closures, but it’s given him the opportunity to go through his archives and assemble this reel shot entirely on a 16mm Bolex from 2016 onwards. Jenno’s ability to connect and work with the superstars of surfing is a testament to an obsessive work ethic and an eye for aesthetic that has elevated his work from a highly competitive talent pool.

Tom’s got the scar-tissue from a career spent in surf biz, and an aperture that sees the bigger picture. He doesn’t see what’s tangible about NFT’s and, if anything, what they might mean for surf cinema, but he does offer learning and insights that plenty of young filmmakers would benefit from hearing.

Stab: What year did you start filming this? 

Tom: This wasn’t exactly a project that I started filming for… it’s more a collection of shots or a progression from when I started learning the basics of film. I’d say towards the end of 2016 and throughout 2017 onwards.

Why shoot film in 2022?

It comes down to what you want to achieve. There’s certain qualities about film cameras that’s missing in digital capture. Film is expensive, finite, there’s an infrastructure problem in a lot of places in terms of sourcing and developing it. With digital you shoot first and ask questions later. Spray and pray. With the Bolex I use, there’s 100-ft of roll. That’s not much. You need light to cooperate, you can have mechanical problems. In a way it simplifies it. You can’t watch it back, you don’t log the footage. In another way it complicates it. It is what it is though, digital can’t replicate the subtlety of film. Digital can beat film in every way bar aesthetic (resolution, frame rates, ease of use…) but it will never look as good as film.

You need to remember that everything high-quality used to be shot on film, including surf cinema until around 2010 when RED’s became popular, but before that film was the go-to. All the brands and big-budget surf films were shot on film. So it’s not some tired antique, it’s really just the tried and tested rather than new and exciting. 

Do you make your work with an audience in mind?

Every job I do whether it’s for myself or a company, I try and make something I like. I want to be able to work with surfers I like, go to the places I want to shoot, make something I would want to see. When a brand gives you a pitch, you need to try and get that for them. But at the same time, the people who hire me, hire me because they know what I’m good at. Crew don’t hire me to shoot vlogs, they hire me to shoot top-end, good-looking clips that sell board shorts and wetsuits. Phrase that how you will, but at the end of the day they want to create an image around the product that they’re selling. That’s marketing 101. You’re trying to sell something to someone that they don’t necessarily need. 

Can the noise of social media create a warped perception of success?

I see a lot of filmers posting clips with cliche songs or oversaturated edits, and yes, they can amass followers and a bunch of re-posts but that means absolutely nothing. If you want to achieve something you’ve got to actually get out there and make physical contact, build a network. You have to be tangible, you have to be present. Sure, social media plays a part in it, but by its nature social media is predatory and takes advantage wherever possible. You have to stick to your guns, don’t throw everything away for a few followers. 

What’s a successful filmmaking career to you?

I’m not sure if you can have a successful career in shooting surfing that is traditionally successful. Everything I’ve done in my career that’s related to surfing has been in the service of my passion and interest. If you want to make a financially profitable career, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Some companies and brands will try and exploit the fact that you’re so passionate about what you do because of what it means to us. We should, but don’t often ask for higher day rates because it takes away from why we do it in the first place. That probably applies to a lot of creative people, artists, musicians and so on. Money and contracts take away from the reason you do it. At the end of the day, you do need to make an income. Equipment gets more expensive all the time and if you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind. 

Is there an unequal surfer-filmmaker pay gap?

It strikes me as semi-frustrating that you can be on a trip with a fifty-thousand dollar camera and all this equipment, and you’re working to create images that not only make the companies more profitable, but also you’re working with surfers that are getting paid a lot more than you are (which is fine because they’re the ones that are super talented). It would be nice to see brands that are in the position to do so to give a little extra credit to the people who make the imagery that sell the product and creates the value. I’ve been super fortunate with the people I’ve worked with so it’s no complaint, it’s just an observation. 

How do you feel about NFT’s?

I’m not qualified to answer that. I’ve got a feeling it’s a bit of a distraction. I think it’s great that there are emerging avenues for people to get images out there, but I’m also not sure how well it applies to filmmakers. 

Thanks Tom. What’s next?

It all depends on what happens in WA in the next few weeks. We’ve had the shit kicked out of us with these hard lockdowns over the past two years. Everyone from families to businesses and so on. I don’t envy anyone tasked with making policy around COVID regulations, I understand it’s complex. But as for what’s next I guess that’s sort of at the mercy of what the WA gov decides. I would love to travel or at least see some new faces arrive here. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the WSL event and all the requirements to get in and out.

You can view more of Tom’s work here.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Goofs Triumphant, Top Seeds Falter As Nine Point Tubes Rain On Tahitian Elim Round

And we're just getting started.

May 30, 2024

Vahine Fierro Swoops Tati WW in “Best Women’s Heat Ever”, Wins Tahiti CT Over ‘Bullseye’ Brisa Hennessy

The second giant leap forward for women's tube riding in 2024.

May 29, 2024

“It’s Going To Be Code Red And We’re Going Right”

Eimeo Czermak, Liam O'Brien, and Doug Silva offer clarity into the cornucopia of energy headed…

May 29, 2024

Would You Surf The Right If You Knew You’d Get 20 Waves With Dry Hair?

“I should’ve done it in boardies,” joked Letty Mortensen after his first session at the…

May 29, 2024

2025 CT Rumors: A Hollow Left To Host WSL Finals, Sunset Axed For Big Oil, And Surfing’s Most Viral Wave Returns

Edging closer to a modern-day dream tour.

May 28, 2024

Full Frame: His & Hers Tow Tango Somewhere In Aus

Date night with Imogen and Cortney Brown.

May 27, 2024

Top Two Women Axed Early, Three Join The 9+ Club, Kelly Reveals Reptile-Inspired Baby Name

Hint: it rhymes with Slater and could eat you (or a zebra).

May 26, 2024

The Stab Interview: 5x CT Winner, Budding Entrepreneur, And Stab High Invitee Julian Wilson

If you never retire, you can't call it a comeback.

May 25, 2024

The Best Surfing I’ve Ever Seen: Lachlan Mckinnon

How often does a filmer pay for the surfer's plane ticket?

May 25, 2024

Hurley Can Now Legally Rent A Car

A quarter-century in the surf game is no small feat.

May 24, 2024

Airs On Trees: Bosiny Cracked The High-Performance Wood Surfboard Code 

Feat. Paulownia wood reinforced with Kevlar, these boards are as light as PU and loaded with spring. 

May 23, 2024

What’s In A Wedge?

Enjoyable water movement, explained by an expert.

May 23, 2024

Watch: Tosh Tudor In ‘Tube Therapy’

The 19-year old offers prescriptive insights into Desert Point karma, backside tube poise, and Off-The-Wall…

May 23, 2024

Swell’s En Route, Slater’s Involved, Here Comes Teahupo’o… 

A Tahiti Pro preview.

May 22, 2024

Can Medina Overcome His CT Drought In Tahiti?

Tahurai Henry offers his picks for the SHISEIDO Tahiti Pro

May 21, 2024

The 35 Best Song Pairings In Surf Films, As Ranked By Dane Reynolds, Taylor Steele & You

From Noa Deane and Courtney Love, to Andy Irons and Coldplay, to Creed McTaggart and…

May 20, 2024

Is This The Most Cost Efficient Way To Noticeably Improve Your Surfing In A Single Month?

All you can eat for $1500 AUD at URBNSURF Melbourne.

May 20, 2024

Watch And Learn: How To Score A Solo Sesh At 8-Foot Teahupo’o With Leonardo Fioravanti

Skip lunch and gorge.

May 19, 2024