Hot off the back of two highly awaited Australian premieres in Sydney and Coffs Harbour, Insight spent an evening finishing off a bottle of Makers Mark with Kill The Matador filmer/director/producer Pat Pearse discussing the mechanics of trying to make a surf film look different and how a small pair of nail scissors played a major role in finishing this two year labour of love.
Did you grow up as the typical surf-crazed grom on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, pouring over the latest and greatest of flicks to hit the stores? What were some of the favourites?
Patrick Pearse: Yeah I was spawned in Harbord. Formally a neighbour of Manly, it’s been renamed “Freshwater” to add an extra zero to the price of property in the local area. The single figure ages in my life kinda elude my memory but I remember my teenage years quite vividly. Ozzie’s 156 Tricks was a favourite, as too Sabotaj, before then all the 90s …Lost flicks collected dust under my family’s TV for a good decade. I pretty much skipped Taylor Steele’s whole thing… Baggy boardies, Kalani Robb and Taylor Knox didn’t really do it for me. Anything with a Fletcher was worth watching in between a diet of Buffalo Bills and Rainbow Paddle Pops.
Do you even watch surf films these days, or you just leave Marine Layer open on your desktop 24/7?
Patrick Pearse:I still surf myself as much as possible, so as a fan I’ve seen all the big budget films from the last few years. I love them! Although, in contradiction, I would have to say that Volcom movie a few years back, BS, that is probably my current generational favourite. Year Zero was exceptional, the cinematography and narrative got me hard – it was very very good, both technically and creatively. Kai Neville’s last flick; Dear Suburbia was something else again, it had a truly artistic undertone, and I was digging everything about that film; the waves, the surfing, all of it. But yes, to be honest and like most surfers on the planet, Dane is my favourite too – as are his lo-fi web-clips. The lines he draws are ridiculously unique – so much power, perfect timing, so damn good. But it’s not just his surfing. The way his little films are pieced together is captivating, the unorthodox composition and erratic soundtracks are different to anything else out there. Different is good, because different in surfing is not easy to achieve.
Weapon of choice?
Patrick Pearse: Sony’s!…. anything digital super 35mm.
On the post-production side of things for Kill The Matador; I heard via a little birdy that you might have stolen end-pieces of film reel from actual archival footage at the State Library in Sydney (over a matter of weeks), spliced it together, then digitally scanned the archival film and placed it over the top of the already captured digital surf footage. True?
Patrick Pearse: Yes, that is true. Your birdy is well informed, what a little slut. Kill the Matador was shot entirely on digital. Using a Sony NEX FS100 and the Sony F3, with a little help from a Nikon D800 when I couldn’t be bothered changing lenses. The evident texture you see in the end result is merely just ‘tasteful thievery’… all in the name of ‘art.’ I apologise to all the precious, conservative and patriotic librarians out there who feel violated and deceived. It was worth it, and furthermore, I enjoyed it.
Can you explain this process a little more to give us a better understanding of what this thievery actually achieved for the film’s end result? Promise it’s just between us. We won’t call the authorities.
Patrick Pearse: Well, the theme and overall aesthetic of the film would not have been complete without the true texture of film. The concept of the film was for it to be very much a visual biopic of Otis. The style and overall aesthetic of the film is directed to reflect Otis, specifically his personality in and out of the water. An honest portrayal, but a visually abstract one all the same. To achieve this, a crystal clear high-definition image with absolute clarity would have been totally misguided. However, the budget provided restraints, I only had a 17k cash budget to make the entire thing so I obviously couldn’t afford to shoot on film; as we did six trips, of which four were international.
Bottom line: I had to fabricate the texture. It was a stressful gamble, I was still not quite sure how I was going to achieve the authentic texture and colour grade until the final edit came along. I wanted to do the project justice and make it completely original, so I decided to make the texture myself. To make the texture legitimately authentic, I had to make sure the grain was digitally inserted throughout as many layers of the final product as “physically” possible. So I shot the original digital footage very flat. Almost to the equivalent of flat neutral RED. But after some testing, I knew without the assistance of the the film scans the footage wouldn’t hold up in post if they were being completely colour graded on their own. So I was really sweating on finding some good quality negatives. The only place I know with large accessible amounts of film neg’s is the NSW State Library – the national film archive. They have a massive collection of both 16 and 35mm film. To help the footage hold up in post, I shot the B&W footage in original B&W digital picture profiles, so there was no going back. But, I still needed access to a large amount of both colour and B&W negatives.
I spent hours upon hours in the library archives earning the trust of gullible employees, and armed with excuses such as various “research assignments” and a pair of nail scissors, I eventually filled up a shoebox worth of blank negatives compiled from the start and end of old news and documentary reels – I watched hours of both interesting footage and some really mediocre material too. I’m just lucky the archives had air conditioning because I was conspicuously turning up everyday with a jacket in the middle of summer – I needed the deep pockets. I would then go away and treat each individual negative with various chemicals and some I would scratch up with thumbtacks and sandpaper etc, once digitised the majority would always be ruined, but eventually I had enough for the entire 28 minute film. Each individual piece of digitised texture would have unique results, so I had to slowly achieve consistency through different opacities and grades per individual clip.
So, after I sequenced the film, I had to digitally overlay the textured clips to each individual clip in the film. I would colour grade each and every individual digital clip and apply a colour grade to each individual film-texture clip to achieve the authentic film look through the “deep layers,” so each clip was treated on its individual merits – effectively the film was graded twice. It was arduous but worth it. After the Sydney premiere, I had almost a dozen random enquires by viewers as to what type of film and camera I had used, “Did I use a Bolex?” etc etc? I had great delight in retelling my laborious sins….. “Fuck the police.”
Black and white. An interesting way to design a surf film and strangely enough, it felt more aesthetically pleasing to watch like this; like it captured your attention or…it was more appealing to the eye. Were you aware of the affect this could have on the viewer? What was the decision making process behind making so much of the film like this?
Patrick Pearse: Yes, definitely – all of the above. It comes back to the reasoning behind the film really… I wanted to make just one surf film, so I wanted it be unique and unlike anything else out there. Otis is unique, a really really special human – the perfect subject matter for this mission. I don’t really give a fuck if people don’t like the film, it most definitely will not suit everyone’s taste, but as long as they think it’s different and unique, it’s a success.
I’m a big believer that B&W enhances the subject matter through the stark contrasts in the grade. If it’s used correctly with accompanying composition and the right soundtrack, I think it’s a very powerful tool – as long as it suits the subject matter. I’m aware that B&W in surfing is widely and rather naively portrayed as being either “arty” and/or “nostalgic”… to be honest it was a big challenge I faced when I was pitching the film. I couldn’t be too overly specific about the finished product I had in my head because it would create a cloud of confusion and doubt; but the B&W use in this film is not one bit related to any sense of anachronism. And it’s not there to achieve a holistic “art house” look.
At the end of the day it’s just a surf film so hopefully the surfing is still the main focus. The B&W is there to help achieve a true reflection and an honest portrayal – also it’s there to achieve a style and underlying emotion. Otis has such a strong personality, his personality is made up of various contrasting elements both in and out of the water, which I believe B&W complements. Otis’s personality traits are seen in their extremes, depending on the surrounding environment. And the film aesthetic is designed to reflect Otis. So in part, I wanted the abstract use of black and white to help challenge the viewer and provide that captivation by leaving the subject matter open to interpretation – while also using the B&W to subconsciously manipulate the viewer’s attention. The majority of the B&W footage in the film was actually captured in B&W, and if I was to describe Otis in and out of the water I would use the words punky, raw, abstract, creative, loving, warm and, therefore contrasting to the point of contradiction. I feel the B&W helps capture and portray those personality traits and the corresponding emotions.
Were you ever personally inspired by the 40’s and 50’s NOIR period? What or who are some of your biggest influences in film making today? Do you look at a lot of non surf related stuff for inspiration?
Patrick Pearse: Personally, I’m not overly inspired by the 40’s and 50’s noir period. I’m not a huge movie historian, more of a contemporary film fan. I am only 26 so perhaps there is still time? But, I love that they started to experiment with narrative in that period which had a huge impact on every genre of film everywhere and still does today. Writers/directors started to experiment with non-lineal storytelling techniques etc etc, and visually abstract expressionism was increasingly acceptable during a time that saw huge cultural change everywhere across the planet, especially in the Western World.
Those styles are still very prevalent today, so I guess they were killing it! However, I’m actually a sucker for anything nostalgic and modern history intrigues me, especially the 40s through 60s. If I could go back in time I would go straight there. I love the black and white street photography of that era especially anything European post or during WWII.
In terms of today, I’m really cliché to be honest, especially when it comes to anything narrative; Quentin Tarantino is a favourite, as is Wes Anderson, David Cronenberg etc. I love French films and anything French, especially French chicks, so Olivier Nakache, and then Jean-Pierre Jeunet is probably my all-time favourite director. Specifically, for Kill the Matador, I just tried to combine my love for human interest pieces with documentary experiences and infuse that with my passion for surfing. I referenced some cross-genre material from the skating world for inspiration – Ali Boulala and Oscar Mezza Youtube clips came in handy, as did a heap of whiskey and shitty red wine.
Chile. It was said that you guys got skunked, yet it looked as though you guys still had a pretty decent time with waves regardless of how flat, windy and cold it was. Plus you had Derek Hynd to show you around. Describe the experience of staying with Mr Hynd for some of the younger readers at home, who know nothing about Derek?
Patrick Pearse:Yeah we had a great time! We were just hoping for some throaty, below-sea level, double overhead standup pits. It was the one thing we continually lucked out of in our travels. The setups were there in Chile. It’s riddled with them; but we just didn’t get the swell. We got enough to get the job done though. Some really fun rights, a few wedges. Otis was absolutely ripping, a whole nuttha’ level! So the crazy backdrops and the ramps were just fine!
Chile was amazing, the colonial Spanish culture mixed in with the mountainous landscapes was mind blowing. We did a mindbending trip up the Andes – that was insane.
Ha yeah!….DH! Derek was one of the highlights of the entire project for me. Hanging out with Derek and Ozzie along with Otis was a winning formula to make it my favourite trip out of the entire project. Derek was hilarious: Quirky, intelligent, introverted, artistic, and full of wisdom. A really articulate conversationalist, really intelligent, but so forever youthful at the same time. We would spend hours swapping travel stories, listening to Derek re-tell his adventures like a kid in an adult’s body. There is a little of Otis in Derek. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Derek is really intriguing and so damn unique you can’t help but be captivated when he speaks, but also by his mannerisms. Have you ever dreamt about going back in time to a much younger ‘you’ again, but knowing what you know now? Derek is living that dream. I have a feeling Otis will be doing the same when he is Derek’s age.
Everyone at the Sydney premiere felt that the music you chose for KTM was some of the best scored for this genre of ‘action sports’ flickery. As a filmmaker, choosing the music to aptly suit the footage must be a bastard of a job when you just wanna pull your hair out; changing your mind constantly as to what you want in there, getting rights to use it and all?
Patrick Pearse: Ahhhh…fuck yeah, the soundtrack was the bastard child of the project, that’s for certain. Again, back to building the film’s aesthetic. I attempted to choose tracks that I felt complemented the capture and the grade to achieve that abstract theme I had in mind. But when you are looking for a unique track and you have zero dollars to spend, it’s a fucking nightmare. When you have been working on this sucker for 12 months, the last thing you want to do is ruin it by not having enough patience – which is hard for me, I’m really fucking impatient, I hate that about myself. I literally had four or five people give me a total of 100 tracks of which I then used various web platforms to find similar tracks to listen through.
I think the soundtrack evolved over the course of a month, going back and forth with artists and managers, independent labels etc. And in various languages to make it harder – or funnier depending on what time of day and how many red wine bottles deep I was. Getting all the way to the end to find out they say no was fucked. I got burnt by one Australian band from the Gold Coast who will remain nameless but not loved. They promised it would be fine to use their two tracks, 10 minutes of edited footage later their manager turned around and demanded 5000 bucks.
I didn’t edit to a single track again until I had all the contracts signed and signed in English. At the end of it though, I’m really proud of the soundtrack, it’s certainly unique. It’s a overwhelming relief to hear that positive feedback because I know it’s an unusual surf soundtrack so I was anxious to hear people’s opinions. With out giving too much away, I love the fact that the soundtrack is heavy with abstract instrumentals and I feel like the film still manages to achieve a feeling of continuity. I had that imagery in my head 12 months ago, so to see it actually work is a dream come true. There will be haters, but its all good, it’s different.
Favourite place out of all the filming destinations? Any crazy or truly eye-opening experiences that you’ll never forget?
Patrick Pearse: Chile was rad – thrilling company and an amazing local culture. It’s the one place in the film I had never personally visited, exploring and traveling to new places is a big passion of mine, so ultimately it was a dream last trip. Eye openers? I would say the primitive culture on the Sumatran mainland was pretty eye opening. The villagers didn’t have toilets, so I would be filming all day on these black sand beaches just feeling like I was going to pass out, trying to hold the fricken camera steady filming. The boys were getting barreled in the nice cool ocean, and whilst the jungle meets the ocean, it was just so fucking humid all day long.
Anyway, out come the villagers intrigued as to what the alien (me) was doing with a camera on their beach. Out they came, and they need to go to the toilet so they lay huge shits right next to me. All day long. Every time I changed an angle I had to look for land mines. The other crazy experience was probably Dolores of Argentina, damn fine lady she was. We stayed in this one hotel in Baja for like three whole weeks. I had been in the jungle prior to meeting the boys for the last prior so I was suffering from desert island syndrome as it was. The whole time we were at this hotel, this super cute Argentinian girl named Dolores was managing the place, so fine! All the boys had a crack, even Steds lost out!?! What chance had I then? Fucking Patricio? But, finally the last night I cracked the code, I spent a hot Latino night dancing with her embarrassingly over-passionately to Crystal Fighters in the hotel courtyard, laughing madly in excitement while Chippa looked on in utter amazement and confusion as I pretended I knew how to salsa and ultimately held her fine ass all night looooong. But, the sun also rose that morning and we went our separate ways.
Travelling is fun.