Forget what you think you know about surfing; the “gnarly dudes” on the hunt for “tubular waves” (I’m basing most of this language on Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, but you catch my drift). Finisterre’s latest surf film is more in line with Jonathan Glazer’s legendary Guinness ad than any piece of footage you’re likely to see for O’Neill or Billabong. For one thing it’s not set in an exotic location – there are no bikini-clad babes – as they’ve traded warmer waters for the icy depths off the coasts of northern Scotland and Ireland.
Secondly there’s no punk-rock, guitar-heavy soundtrack accompanying the incendiary displays of surfing prowess. Instead you’ve got Charles Dance’s rich, silky voice paying homage to the great swell through a specially commissioned poem as guys in full-body winter wetsuits glide across the water’s surface. I may be waxing lyrical here – Edges Of Sanity makes it hard not to get excited – but there’s not all that many branded films that get the heart racing in quite the same way.
Suitably impressed I spoke to director Chris McClean about the trials and tribulations of making such a captivating film…
What was Finisterre’s brief for you when you started the project?
“Cold water surfing takes place in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth and in order to explore these places you need products that can stand up to these environments. Finisterre bring that to the table but they wanted to bring the whole experience of cold water surfing to life – the surfing and living within a cold water surf environment.”
How many were in your team?
Due to the nature of the project we needed a small team on location so along with the surfers Matt and Noah, I had CJ Mirra recording sound and assisting, Ernie (Producer) along with Gregor and Tom from Finisterre on hand to help out. David Gray and Al Mackinnon were capturing stills for the project and back in the studio Dan Crockett wrote the poem, Charles Dance lent us his voice, The Mill got involved in grading and a whole host of others who I’m massively thankful for.
What are the main challenges of a project like this?
The cold is the main challenge. We’re sleeping in these leaky, drafty Swedish army tents, waking up at dawn cold and tired, then having to rig cameras with frozen fingers that don’t work and chasing the light (we only used natural light). The whole project was a massive challenge, from bringing everyone together to go chase a swell, snapping every board Matt and Noah had with them on the heavy slabs to simply trying to charge batteries in the middle of a muddy field. Every project is going to have its challenges, but the one thing you can’t buy in is enthusiasm. When you have belief in something – cold water surfing, or racing cars, whatever it may be – it’s contagious. Everyone involved got stuck in and made it happen.
There’s thousands of surf films out there, do you feel like it’s a challenge to produce one that feels new and exciting?
I think from my background as a graphic designer you’re taught to look further afield, so my inspiration comes from many different sources. I try to do what comes naturally when answering a brief whether it’s filming or designing and try not to follow trends or short-lived fads. Graphic design teaches you to look beyond that and hopefully create something with a twist that still answers the brief.
What’s the appeal of cold water surfing over the regular kind?
I was brought up surfing in the North Sea which is as cold as anywhere (it can get down to 3°C in winter), so surfing cold water is fairly natural to me – although I won’t lie, surfing warm waves is far more comfortable. It’s the rewards that come with cold water surfing that make it so appealing; the lovely cosy feeling after a surf of supping a hot tea in the van with the heating blasting. There’s also much more unexplored cold water surf territory and the chances of finding a mental wave or surfing alone with mates is a much more common occurrence that in warm water.
“When you have belief in something – cold water surfing, or racing cars, whatever it may be – it’s contagious.”
So much of surfing is about chance, how do you make sure you get the shots you’re looking for?
You need to be on the ball tracking swells – it helps if you know the spots (tides, winds, swell etc). Both spots in the film are amazing places to shoot and when you get to know the riders it becomes easier. This was the first time I’d shot with both Matt and Noah but they both surf amazingly and are easy to work with so were great at making the most of the small windows of clarity among the storms.
How many days did you spend in the water for those eight minutes of footage?
We chased swells for about six days on this project and probably shot on about five of those days. I’d estimate we shot surfing for around ten to 12 hours in total. Scant reward, but when it comes together its worth it.
How did you persuade Charles Dance to lend his voice to the film?
Haha, you’d need to ask Ernie, he has a magic way with words… But basically I sent Ernie and Dan a link saying “Charles Dance is our man check this”. Ernie got to work and a few days later we heard back saying he was keen. In the recording booth as soon as he spoke into the mic the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Total legend!
Finisterre has had a tricky few years, does this film mark a return to its small-time beginnings and a more ‘authentic’ approach to the brand?
I’m no expert but surfing in general has had a few tricky years. Finisterre have stood strong supporting a very niche surfing market. It’s a testament to their commitment that they are still here and still producing some of the best cold water surfing gear out there.
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