An interview with director Nick Colbey.
Interview by Luke Kennedy All photos Mat Macready & Russell Ord
All photos Mat Macready & Russell Ord
Nick Colbey was always the ideal guy to direct this project because no one embraces the spirit of Wanderlust quite like ‘Cheese’. He has been known to hitch a hundred miles for a surf, drive borrowed cars interstate to play gigs for his band, Borneo, and catch planes across continents to go on a date. Fortunately, whilst pursuing his bohemian, rock-star existence, Nick still finds the headspace to be a curious and creative film maker. In the following interview he discusses his philosophies on modern surf films.
Why did you let go of pro surfing and go to film school? Did you feel like there was more scope or creative reward associated with pursuing a career in film production/directing?
I don't know if I was ever a "professional" or even close. I love getting tubed but my chodey legs never did too well above the water and in the air. I had a few comps that if I wasn't such a nervous wreck I think I would've maybe done better. Surfing as a sport is pretty selfish. It’s all in your brain. I always thrived more at team sport I think. So I think a collaborative thing like making films was definitely more alluring than having a nervous meltdown in the round of 128 at a pro junior. I went travelling for a few years and ended up in Sydney between post pro junior pubescent years and adult, WQS-life-on-the-cards stage. I chose to go to film school instead of hitting the ’QS grind.
Obviously a lot of kids dream of making surf films but do you think it’s important to have a broader understanding of the art form and the capacity to work in other areas?
Definitely. I think you'll make a better film the more you draw comparisons to the other films out there that make you tick. Even anything that's inspiring in your ever day could help you create something you love and make it better. But I think it’s just getting out there with a camera and your mates and seeing through your concepts and ideas for surf movies. Every edit helps you broaden your final product.
Wanderlust strives to be more than just a point and shoot, high performance surf film. Why did you want to capture much more than just the surfing action?
It's a pretty hefty task to capture an Australian adventure that best depicts all the elements of the Aussie way of life. I wanted the film to be relatable to everyone who's done any sort of Australian surf trip. The classic old boys in the pub still in their high vis, the hippies and tweakers, the local chargers. To me that side of everyday life in Aus is just as entertaining as the surfing moments themselves. But I also hate walking away from a surf movie thinking, ‘Where was all the surfing?’ So I hope I've achieved some sort of balance.
Would you like to see more films in the surf genre take creative risks? It’s great to document the dizzying new performance levels but is surf culture in danger of becoming too narrow in its focus if this is all we have?
I think it's becoming a divisive split between documentary style surf films and high-fi excellence. Which is unreal in its own right, but there's also room for some sort of hybrid. I think that's why films like Morning Of The Earth, Storm Riders, Endless Summer 2 etc. were so classic in that they are a perfect mix. But maybe the hard part is that now we're almost trying to recreate that. Especially with the instantaneous pour of web clips and same day edits of sessions. It's all a blur now and if someone isn't doing a triple backy cut to the hottest girl you've ever seen holding a bit of celery it becomes "too much of the same". Or some Lord of the Ocean telling his epic story to the sounds of acoustic guitar and whale noises becomes "too boring" simply because there's so much content to be consumed. But then all of this is all good in the end because they are in their own right, mostly worthy stories and feature great surfing action. So yeah, I'm not sure. I'd be a fool to say I have the answer for this one but I think just trying to put a bit of your own characteristics into something you create never hurts.
You rolled into pubs, wandered down desert tracks, talked to legends and locals – all with the camera rolling. Does taking a broader approach mean you have to be ready to film everything?
Yeah, I'm always amazed by documentaries that capture such candid moments. Every day I'd have two or so moments where I thought ‘Fuck, if only I pressed record one second earlier.’ I think in order to show characters a bit more in depth you need to be in the head space that anything classic could happen at any time. So you want to keep the camera recording as much as possible.
Were there any frightening or tense moments on the adventure? For example when you went, with camera in hand, to those places we can’t mention.
Bloody oath. I never feel comfortable filming anywhere apart from where I grew up. I was in a pub one night in a shabby hotel room bunked up with one of the other filmmakers. I jumped up and grabbed his arm in my sleep and yelled out ‘It's the safest way!’ Haha, the paranoia was haunting my dreams! Definitely some serious stink eyes at times, but mostly friendly faces. Being a surfer I definitely understand the whole idea of keeping secret spots secret and I try to juggle that respect for that unspoken code of secrecy with keeping a job!
Did you come back with a different perspective on Australia?
Definitely. It's one of the most diverse places geographically and socially in the world. There are so many different types of lifestyles being played out for people fortunate enough to live in this country. It definitely made me question the lack of connection between city and country folk. I also thought a lot about the real history of Australia, the one that’s been going on for over 60,000 years whilst driving through rural parts of Aus. It's something I wish I incorporated into the film, but that could be for another time. Maybe Wanderlust 2.0?
Does your average Aussie like a bit of time in front of the camera?
Haha, I found that they were always a bit wary at first but once you told them what it was for they loved it. I think we all like having a yarn and a chance at telling our story. So meeting some Aussies, especially the travelling ones, it was classic to hear why they travelled.
Were there a couple of ‘wow this is pretty cool’ moments? The scene where the dolphins are clearly visible through the waves the guys are riding comes to mind.
Yeah of course. It takes a lot of organising to get everyone there to these spots, to get the right angle whilst filming, the right conditions and then to hopefully have the surfer perform - it's all quite a lot. Then when a pod of dolphins pops up in the middle of the desert on a crystal blue day and there's not a soul around - I was screaming and yewwing like a madman! I’m very grateful to have been apart of moments like that.
When did you laugh the hardest?
There was some classic moments that left me in stitches, many of which if I told you I'm sure the fellas on the trip wouldn't be too happy that I shared them, haha. I think you just end up laughing the hardest also when you realise the car is completely full of everyone's shit, there's shit everywhere - banana peels, surfboards, wetties and thousands of dollars worth of camera gear - it's raining, someone's missing, you’re in the middle of nowhere flying down a highway in the desert all yelling out some terrible Aussie rock tune and you think, ‘How on earth did I end up in this scenario?’
You also pulled together the soundtrack. Tell us about some of the hurdles and securing the final track My Pal by GOD who were like the Silverchair of their time.
I basically pleaded with them saying how much I love the song and how much it would mean to put it in there. They are really nice dudes and eventually said yes. I borrowed budgets from other parts of the mag and put in my own coin. I had some very late nights in front of the neon screen; recorded songs at my friend’s house to save money, trawled the internet tirelessly and asked friends for favours to use their tunes. It's a tedious process but I feel one of the most important facets of making a surf film is to be happy with the sound track.
What would you like people to take away from the film? Inspiration to travel? Entertainment? An insight into modern Australia and the characters who occupy its coast?
If someone who was thinking of ditching the desk and going to travel or start working on something they've always wanted to start; or even if it made them feel stoked to be fortunate enough to travel from watching this film, then I'd be one very happy human.