Shooting The Right from the water is a colossal task that takes true grit. The training, the dedication and the want to put yourself in one of the most volatile situations imaginable, has to be of a level you wouldn't have thought possible.
Yet, Russell Ord has made it his business to know everything about that wave, it's nuances, every ripple and change in the water associated with this mind boggling slab. Russ knows where to sit and shoot in relative safety – and then he'll go and sit much, much deeper.
A new documentary One Shot has just dropped from Farmhouse Films, with director Darren McCagh at the helm. The movie does focus on Russ' time at The Right but it also shines the spotlight on this home life, the sacrifices those closest to him have had to make and the choices that led to where he is now. It's a peeled back, candid look into the working machinations of shooting such a volatile spot.
We caught up with Russ and Darren to chat everything through, including where Russ' up to now, after his family sold everything in exchange for seven or so years at sea.
What inspired you to create this documentary?
RO: It really started out as just a passing comment or whinge I made to Darren one day, “I hate my work, it's boring,” something along those lines. He had only just started filming at the time and for some reason wanted to create a little profile clip for his portfolio, basically just learning the ropes and up-skilling.
The portfolio clip just grew legs and two heads and next you know it was becoming part of an art series for the ABC in Australia, inspiration? More like an evolution of the unknown.
DM: I was inspired to make this film after a very open conversation with Russell at his house one day. The frustration with the surf industry, his own photography work and the underlying guilt of not being present for his three children, was at a point where he could no longer ignore the way he was feeling.
I think this is one of the most valuable lessons that anyone can teach their children, and Ordy does this the only way he knows how, by exampleHe needed to make a change. He needed to find new purpose. He needed to justify the reason for doing what he was doing. The idea for seeking that One Shot was born and became a metaphor for the way he wanted to live his life.
A seemingly selfish act perhaps, but as I soon found out, the idea did not come solely from selfish ambition. It is far more important for a family to see their husband and father aspire to achieve, than sit back and take the safe option of a steady income and risk-free life, dominated by words like safety and security.
He knows that one day they will understand that his actions and time away from home was not just for himself, but also to serve as a purpose to inspire them to do the same without the fear of failure.
I think this is one of the most valuable lessons that anyone can teach their children, and Ordy does this the only way he knows how, by example. I think we all need to hear these stories to inspire us to achieve, to find out what we're made of, and the fact that I was in a position to get a very personal inside view of what drives people like Russell, to do the things they do, I just couldn’t turn my back on that.
Tell us a bit about when and how it was shot.
RO: It was just Darren and myself for 99 per cent of the documentary's three to four year lifespan, so it was a real challenge to combine my paid photography work time with his paid filming work, mixed with unpredictable swell runs, first timers (learning as we go), uncertainties, no budgets, I am surprised it even saw the light of day let alone where we are now, I think for both of us it became, ''we are in to deep now lets just get it done''.
The title One Shot is multi-faceted, it's more a philosophy on how you live your life. Was the aim to have that philosophy underpin the tone of the movie?
RO: Yes for sure, I am always asking myself those types of questions and for me it really highlights the way I want to live life. I get inspired when I am around people that are having a real crack, living in the now, pursuing their dreams, having a dig.
Darren was making good money working away from home on the rigs, no doubt with a 5-10 year plan he would have a house with two bathrooms and a few more rooms that he would barely walk through, however, decided to break the shackles and expectations and become a filmer. That’s inspirational to me, he let go of the safety net, that’s his ''one shot'' and no doubt he will have many more. I am not going to have any regrets on what I did do in life, only what I didn't.
The quote at the start of the documentary from your great grandmother – ''If you could put wishes in one hand and spit in the other, which would fill first?'' I found particularly impactful and it builds into the ethos of having one shot – is this a phrase that has a lot of importance in how you shoot?
RO: Yes for sure however I will ad this was not always the case. It took me a long to time to realise I was just going through the motions and saying to myself internally “I am going to do this and that”, followed by none to very little action.
My wife thinks I should keep my opinions to myself or be more tactful but now when I hear people say things like “I am going to give up my job and pursue photography”, I will remark ''why don’t you then?'' All I hear from now is excuses, never goals to make it a reality, “all you are doing is bullshitting to yourself”, truth can be brutal.
And you never had an interest in photography until you were injured surfing, what changed and how did photography become your driving force?
RO: The first time I took photos from the water, I looked across to the pack of surfers jostling for the next set wave, yelling at each other and here I was down the line all alone and just enjoying every minute of it.
I fell in love with the freedom of photography. When photography starts to feel claustrophobic a good reminder of “why” is swimming out in the dark catching that first bit of light, no one around except you heightened sensors, that it, that’s why I shoot photos.
For years, you were part of the fire service as well as making a name for yourself in the surf photography industry – how did you balance swells, working and family life?
RO: The fire brigade had a great swap system, which allowed me to chase swells because when the waves were average I could be doing a day here or a day there for a fellow fire fighter.
I had the perfect job, which allowed me to grow over time without the added pressures of forcing it to happen, I was shooting for four years before sending in a slide to a magazine, doing an apprenticeship on the side. The word balance and family was not working at all, that’s the wake up call that I required.
You eventually quit to focus on your photography – that statement is actually simplifying the process because there was a huge journey you went through to get to that stage, can you talk us through the decision and your headspace when making it?
RO: The word “security” was like Superman’s kryptonite, do I just stay and plan my life like the norm, superannuation, retirement, the white picket fence to go with that mortgage, the sense of freedom, the unknown, what’s around the next headland, can I get work, I have to go, don’t I?
Those type of thoughts ran through my head for a lot of years, so breaking away from this was certainly a tough decision for me at that stage of my life, a big learning curve.
I don't want to give too much away, but there's a heavy scenario at Mavs that saw you save the life of Jacob Trette. Talk us through your headspace when you saw his body in the water? Did the fire-fighter instincts kick in?
RO: So many factors went into why Jacob is still alive today, from the kayak paddler, the person on the cliff ringing the paramedics, world-class hospital and myself in the right place at the right time.
I have always been pretty calm since I was a kid in situations but the 14 years of being a career fire fighting paid a massive part in the scenario. I was interviewed on prime TV and the reporters were always saying it’s was a miracle. Yes certain factors played a part but I did remind them I was trained for this, I own a ski, I am pretty handy in big waves it would have been a miracle if you saved him.
Russell, your name is synonymous with The Right, what made you want to shoot there?
RO: It’s a wild piece of coastline, I was doing a lot of work with the local chargers (great crew), and it was addictive during those early days. Trying to find the next best slab before the bodyboard teams (they won that race), magazines were running everything because it was all so new, it was a true adventure not knowing was around the next headland and 25km out to sea, The Right had all the elements which made it difficult to look past.
You grew to wanting to get that one shot – the view out the otherside of the tube at The Right. Why that shot?
RO: The Right was becoming ever increasingly busy and I started to hate how my work looked like everyone else’s, I was stumped on what was next for my work, the adventures had stopped. It took a while to realise but like in your previous question about photography becoming my driving force?
There laid the answer, go back to what you love about photography “the freedom” the feeling of all the elements and then the light bulb finally turned on, its here at the Right, all that’s required to get back that freedom is to swim over there.
The first time I tried it went pretty well, I was already accustomed to decent sized waves this was just a few levels above and I nailed a shot of Chris Ross, made a few page ones, but in the end I could do better and that became the drive.
Poaching shots in the surf industry is something we’ve touched on before and it’s a topic brought up in One Shot. But how often is this happening? How do you school etiquette?
RO: I can see the forums lighting up about this question and to be honest mostly from photographers or people that don’t respect, appreciate or understand what goes into building up your work over a number of years and developing those relationships.
Let's face it, it’s so easy to get your work out there now it's created this type of mentality, I could go on and on about ethics and the lack of them, but its like hitting your head against a brick wall, instagram, instafamous, instasurfphotographer, instafilmer, I will stop there before I give all the knockers more ammunition.
My advice on becoming a photographer would learn the trade, source out good mentors, ask a lot of questions, it does take time you don’t need to make your name on the back of someone else, I am certainly happy to help out anyone that asks. When I first started I was very fortunate to be guided by Eric and Ian Regnard (still am today) and without that type of advice I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Darren, to film One Shot you shadowed Russell for a number of years – talk us through that process – you didn't put yourself in the impact zone to get a feel for it?
DM: No, I’d have to do a doco on myself if I’d ended up in there with him. I simply don’t have the balls or the discipline to do that. I did make it into the water on one occasion but that was from the relative safety of the channel.
I simply don’t have the balls or the discipline to do thatStill a lot of energy, but nowhere near the danger. I’ll leave that to the pros.
You can’t be at every swell, and so there were times where Ordy would go and I couldn’t film because I’d be locked into a job. So if he had of got the shot during any one of those trips well, there’s no doco. Even being there together, there’s no guarantee that I will be in the position to get the shot of him getting the shot.
And without that, it would have been hard to make. In the last year of filming I just had to commit, the same as Ordy did to his work, I couldn’t lock in work any more than five days in advance in case there was a swell, and that put a lot of financial stress on my family, as we had just had our first child as well. But what do you do, you’ve come this far, you’ve got to see it through to the end.
I understand the film was crowdfunded – what was that process like? I guess at the very least it can act as a great promo and lets you know that this is a project people want to see.
DM: It was really daunting when we were presented with the idea to crowdfund. We don’t enjoy asking for money, and I felt that it may also add to the pressure of making it, the same as a paying client on my everyday filming work. One Shot was a side-project in between other paid jobs, and we didn’t want any outside pressure or influence.
Since then (as Ordy once put it) ‘It grew some arms, some legs, and a couple of heads' (laughs). When we did finally put it out there however, the response and experience was the complete opposite. It was extremely positive. It helped us gauge the interest in the story and cemented in our minds that it was worth telling.
That also helps you in the long run when it comes to delivery, you have already built an audience who are keen for you to succeed and they in turn become part of your distribution network.
In addition to this we later received funding from ABC, Lotterywest and Screenwest to help us finish the production and secure a broadcast spot, for which we are extremely grateful. It’s been a bit of a process and quite stressful, but without acting on that initial idea, how would I learn and experience what it takes to make a documentary?
Russ, you're sailing the Pacific for seven years with the family. How's everything going and where are you planning on going next?
RO: We sold everything moved to NZ from Margaret River then had some huge setbacks regarding the boat. Life is not easy and these are challenging times when you put some much on the line, however it’s a lesson for the greater good.
What now? We are two weeks away from packing up again and going on the road for the next six months, exploring NZ with the kids, two roof top campers, couple of old boards, the ''if you build it, they will come'' scenario ringing in my ears, new experiences, new people. From there its building a small barn in the bush, going self sufficient, learning new skills and if the boat scenario plays out in the future so be it, but life is too short to be waiting around, just live it.
What are some of your highlights from the documentary?
RO: There is so much footage and interviews that obviously cannot fit into a 30 min time slot so I would say its all the people I met along the way. People that were on there own one shot journeys which would in turn inspire us to keep going.
DM: There’s no real favourite moment or scene I can think of at this time. I think for me it comes down to the fact that the Ord family had a lot of faith and trust in me to make something that was honest and reflective of who they are. They opened up their lives and put so much effort into seeing it through. And for that I feel extremely grateful.
We might need a bit of a breather after all of this is over, but I look forward to having a few coldies with them in New Zealand at some stage and talking about something else (laughs).
One Shot is available to rent or buy HERE.