We talk to intrepid co-directors Chris Nelius and Justin McMillan about the challenges of big wave chasing and the problems with shooting in 3D on a boat…
How does it work out being co-directors?
Chris Nelius: “It’s not so much about sharing a job, it’s actually a two person job. It’s so complicated being out in the middle of nowhere in the ocean with eight or nine cameras running at once. Luckily enough, over the years Justin and I have been doing this, it’s naturally slipped into the right place where Justin does a lot of the water side of things and I’m either in a helicopter or on a boat filming all the other stuff around the surfing.”
Justin McMillan: “It’s a collaborative effort running up to a 30-man crew at any one time and trying to manage a story and trying to keep everybody upbeat, safe, intact and ready to go day after day after day. I don’t think one person could ever do it.”
How did the film evolve?
JM: “We map out a rough overview of what we want to cover in the film, but Mother Nature never sticks to the original plan. Our story and all of our original motives keep getting shifted and changed. Chris is really good at monitoring how all of these new changes affect what we originally set out to do and I basically get down out into the thick of it and make sure that we’re creating content to fulfil the story.”
CN: “This year we were really lucky. We went on eight missions all around Australia, chasing and surfing and filming big waves. We ended up with too much footage – 1,500 hours I think – and it was really difficult to work out which missions to put into the film, but certainly the ones that are in there are visually really spectacular. Tom came close to death twice and that’s the kind of stuff you’re obviously going to go with, but it’s an uneasy feeling knowing how much fantastic stuff we shot that hasn’t even made it into the final film.
What are the stakes for Ross and Tom?
CN: “Ross and Tom aren’t just any surfers, they aren’t just any people, they are two in one million. They’re unique – forged in the crucible of surfing in the 1980s, they’re close to 50 years old and they’re still out there doing this stuff. One of the things we really wanted to concentrate on with this movie was to make sure that when one of them is riding a 20-foot wave, you’re riding it with them. In Storm Surfers 3D you really get to know Ross and Tom and how special they are. So when you see them riding a death-defying wave, you’re right in there emotionally invested with them as it happens.”
What was it like shooting in the middle of the ocean in 3D?
JM: “It’s really difficult to have a 3D crew out in a really extreme environment – to have all of the crazy bits and pieces on a camera that you’ve designed from the ground up to work in a really remote location. That was the craziest thing for us – realising that we couldn’t just go and buy these cameras off the shelf, they didn’t exist. You have to work with knowledgeable people to build the cameras from scratch and then put that together with our expertise in filming in the ocean and hope that the camera is rolling when your surfer is risking his life for a wave.”
CN: “It’s not easy. The shooting is not easy. It’s hard enough in 2D! When you’re 75 kilometres offshore and it’s taking you six hours on a fishing boat to get out there, we don’t even get a chance to worry about Ross and Tom and whether they’re okay and doing their job right. We’re just so preoccupied with trying to get these cameras to work and have everything line up properly for when that moment happens because you can miss it in a matter of seconds.”
What will the 3D experience be like for the audience?
CN: “Films like Avatar have opened the door, but documentary is where 3D is really going to establish itself because rather than trying to create a fantasy world, we’re taking people out on these trips with us, where they feel like they’re actually there. You’re actually there and we managed to even get a camera inside a giant 15 foot barrel, so you’ll ride behind Ross Clarke-Jones in a death defying wave in 3D and it’s incredible.”
JM: “There are certain situations where you get positioned in this film that you’re never going to be – It’s amazing that we’ve got a 3D camera in that position and if nothing else, people will walk away from the cinemas and say, ‘Wow, I actually rode a barrel’. It’s the closest thing to riding a big wave without actually getting wet. That’s what you’ll get watching this movie.”