You don’t have to be a well salted wave warrior to be impressed by Storm Surfers 3-D. Directed by Australian filmmakers Chris Nelius and Justin McMillan, the film, which is the main event of this year’s To the Maxxx sidebar, is one of the first-ever feature length 3-D documentaries ever made, a high-action story about two aging professional surfers who dedicate a season to chasing the biggest and baddest waves they can find. In short, the experience of seeing waves the size of your house in 3-D being ridden by some of the best big wave surfers on the planet is undeniable.
For surf fans, Tom Carrol and Ross Clark Jones (the stars of the film) are long known legends and truly timeless personalities but perhaps not all that known to your typical land lover. Explain what they bring to the film.
Justin McMillan: It’s pretty simple for me: their age and experience. They just don’t care anymore what people think of them and, as soon as a character is willing to let all their defenses down, they open the door for the audience to connect with them on a very personal level. These guys have had their foot to the floor their whole careers and there’s not much they get embarrassed about. They are what they are so there’s no need tread carefully on any issues of where they are at in their careers right now. It’s for this reason Ross and Tom were the perfect candidates for the center of a film like this. You can watch guys take off on massive waves all day long but eventually your going to get bored if they haven’t told you anything about themselves.
Why should someone who doesn’t necessarily have a big interest in surfing be interested in seeing this movie?
Chris Nelius: Justin and I love surfing but we didn’t get in to filmmaking to make surf movies. We were more inspired by great feature docs and TV docs than dudes doing tricks on a wave. When we met Ross and Tom, we’re coming at it from a character point of view rather than starting with surfing and then looking for guys to follow. So, when we made the film we specifically made it so that people who don’t surf can enjoy it the way we do.
Surfing giant waves 50 miles out to sea is Man vs. Nature — you don’t have to be a surfer to get sucked in to the drama. And what transpires for these three guys over the course of four months is a great story that none of us expected. I mean, there are two near-death experiences on camera! It’s way more than just music and pretty pictures of waves.
I’d imagine it isn’t easy making a 3-D surf film?
CN: There’s a reason only a handful of 3-D documentaries have ever been made: It’s really, really hard. We are proud to have been one of the first and to take it to the ocean like never before. But it was hard. It’s very technical and we were constantly building gadgets to help keep water off the lens of the cameras because once you get a splash on one lens and not the other the whole 3-D experience gets thrown out the window.
So much of your filming schedule had to be weather/swell dependent, how do you stay on-call for a whole year and maintain the drive and focus that it tales to pull off a project like this?
CN: For Justin and I, it was like running a platoon in the army. We had an incredibly talented and mixed bunch for our camera and safety and production team. The crew that came out to sea were like the Dirty Dozen! Just the right mixture of crazy and smart.
We made mistakes but always stayed focused and the fact that no one was hurt in that shoot is testament to everyone’s commitment. We probably had the machine singing only on the last trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience shooting this film.
What is the single biggest/best memory from the whole experience?
CN: For me, two things: one was experiencing the cliffs at Cape Raoul in Tasmania on the way to Shipsterns Bluff — truly one of the most humbling and incredible places I’ve ever been. The second was the first time I watched rushes in 3-D of Tom holding a 3-D camera on a wave — it just blew me away and I knew we had something incredibly cinematic on our hands.
JM: I agree with Chris: Seeing the first rushes in 3-D in the edit suite and realizing we didn’t waste everyone’s time and money was about good as it gets. I don’t think I actually understood the risk we took when we started this project until it was too late. And watching Ross Clarke Jones not die at Cape Solander was also extremely rewarding.
Storm Surfers 3-D premieres to American audiences on Sun., Jan. 27, 8 p.m., at the Arlington Theatre. See stormsurfers.com.au.