Can you remember the last time a surf movie made an impact on you? Made you want to go out in the drink? Made you want to laugh and shout and cheer with the film's protagonists?
For decades, Taylor Steele has pioneered progressive surf movies packed full of liquid fervour. Like Castles in the Sky or Sipping Jetstreams or 1992's Momentum, they're a combination of locales and a cast which define a generation.
It's been four years since we saw a movie from Taylor Steele after 2013's Missing, where Mick Fanning was dropped into a variety of situations and seeing what came out of it. Now, we're on the cusp of latest cinematic experience, Proximity, the new trailer's just been released and oh, does it sing.
Picture this; Kelly Slater and John John, Craig Anderson and Rob Machado, Albee Layer and Shane Dorian, Steph Gilmore and Rasta. Four inspiring pairings and their stories split across some of the most striking setups on the planet.
If that doesn't excite, then think about this; it'll be the first time we're brought a trip with John John and Kelly, together. And here, we caught up with Mr Steele to talk Proximity while he's knee-deep in getting it fully dialed in, somewhere in New York.
So you're in New York at the moment, what's going on?
Yeah, I'm doing finishing touches right now just like really minute stuff, really only things that I would notice.
We moved out to New York from Australia two years ago, we've been on this every six years move to a new country vibe. We're in the New York stage right now so we'll be here for a little bit.
Sounds intense, but also, great. Could you talk us through the inspiration behind Proximity and its premise?
During the 90s or the first half of the zeros, whatever you want to call them, I was just doing a lot of videos and that was my only thing. I was super focused on that. At the end of the 90s I felt really constrained by the pressure to appease the fans or the market.
I was in this stage where I had to sort of pull it back and think about what it means to me and that's when I started to get into those travel log films and that style. Then I found my feet again and what my interests were.
I guess from that point on I really wasn't thinking about doing any more surf movies. I went through that course, then I took a step back and asked myself, as a filmmaker, what's the best way to improve? I started doing non surf stuff like commercials, short films and music videos and just started expanding my filmmaking that way. I started doing that more for a career, you know, it was paying the bills, and it was challenging, I was stimulated by it. I guess from that point on I really wasn't thinking about doing any more surf movies.
Is that because commercials etc. were a more stable way to please the bank manager?
Yeah, you know it was very satisfying as a filmmaker, it was fairly creative and working with a lot of different people around me.
You know, if we're doing huge commercials – well there was a huge budget, or, it was to me, for me like $2 million. Hyper stress, short shoot time and then you're relaxed. I was able to spend time with my family, able to surf more and have a life I guess.
That side of it was fulfilling my filmmaking side because there were huge challenges and making something that tells a story in 30 seconds. I was satisfied with that.
I started filmmaking when I started surfing so the two things have been with me since I was 12-years-old, so it's sort of been in my bones to make surf movies I started filmmaking when I started surfing so the two things have been with me since I was 12-years-old, so it's sort of been in my bones to make surf movies. I guess every now and then I just crave to do it again. I look for a different perspective and to reset myself, give myself that balance and not worry about having to appease anybody.
And now here's Proximity! Is there anything in the name there, does that set the theme for the movie?
Yeah, I kind of circled around that question, maybe not [laughs]. The idea of connecting Kelly and John on a trip to see what that did to their surfing, what they talked about.
Two people who have never been on a trip before and are kind of similar and see what that would be like. See if they inspire each other, I thought that would be really fun, as a surf fan, to see what happens.
So the name Proximity fits that. Proximity means nearness in relationships, space or time and that fits all those characteristics of Kelly and John being in the same room together because you know there's a connection in their space and relationships, the fact Kelly and John are similar.
Then, time, as they're in different stages in their surfing career but they're in the same vein of what they want to achieve or have achieved. They're both famous from a young age and there's a long career ahead of John and then you know, only Kelly can probably talk to John about some of those things, that maybe John's curious about. And Kelly can also ask him about where John's at. It just opens up those different types of conversations.
Yeah, and that seems to be the theme for all the pairings, you've got Albee and Shane, kind of similar to John and Kelly in terms of career, the vet and the new(ish) blood. Rob and Craig as well. And then there's Steph and Rasta? How do they fit in?
Yeah, exactly. Dave and Steph were probably the furthest stretch. I knew I wanted to get Steph on this project but it wasn't until I got them in the same room that I realised that was a good call.
They've definitely taken different paths in their life but they're very similar people and have shared experiences and just their overall vibe.
All the pairings are shot across different seasons. Do the seasons play to surfers' strengths or is it more to do with the tone and style of surfing. Steph and Rasta are summer for example and Kelly and John are spring?
Yeah, having four trips it made sense, in terms of cinematics, to have all the seasons. The idea is that things happen again and the seasons are a great metaphor for that.
Just how Albee is similar to Shane, the seasons repeat themselves so that was a conscious thing. But also, like, taking the crew to places they wouldn't expect or maybe places they'll be inspired by because they've never been. There's a real excitement when they're there – they aren't comparing it to something else. They get to see something fresh.
Oh now I've got to ask about locations.
For me, I like to have mystery in the surf films. Growing up and being a fan of Tom Curren I really liked not knowing where he was.
I can give you a broad stroke. We went to the South Pacific with Kelly and John, we were in Northern Europe with Albee and Shane, Japan and South America with Craig and Rob and Steph and Davey we went to Mexico. It's more visual having each place you know, that contrast, from tropics to desert to you know mossy rocks and to snow. So we're capturing each sort of flavour. When you see each setting they really pop off each other.
It sounds kind of similar to what you were doing with Castles in the Sky which was all shot around very different locations across the world.
Yeah, I guess the difference between Castles and this is; Castles was very much about those places and those cultures. But this one the country is not so much the star of it, it's like the third in line, or something [laughs].
Of those pairings, were there any one that you were most excited about shooting?
Craig and Rob were sort of the inspiration behind it all. They have a such a similar temperament. But I sort of knew what that would be like. I had no idea what John and Kelly would be like so I was pretty excited to see how that played out.
Do all their stories gel throughout the movie?
They intertwine between stories and themes and experiences that happen on the trips, so they sort of intertwine and connect in that way.
Being in the business for so long, are there any similarities with how it is now and how it was then? How do you stay motivated when on shoot?
I guess there's a lot of similarities. Now, when I do it, I'm just super excited to be there. When I started it was the same, I travelled the world for the first time and now when I go on these trips I feel like I have more energy.
But my goal now is to move less. In the beginning I was happy to be there and try to stay out of the way, now I'm more involved and orchestrating what I need to capture the feeling that is there. It's more intense now in my mind whereas before, I'd be in the back seat of the car and now I am actually driving the car.
Do you get to surf while you're out on location?
Yeah, when we were out in Mexico we were down on this long point with Steph and Dave. We got to surf over a lunch time and it's funny because Steph was like, ''hey, I'll video you guys while you surf!''
Being on the other side of the lens is not as much fun as I'd thought. It changed the way I surfed. Knowing that Steph was watching meant there was way more pressure not to kook out and was pretty funny for me to have a shot at that.
There's a collaboration with Teton Gravity Research and Garage Entertainment for Proximity. How did those relationships come about?
The idea was pretty big, to have virtual reality art galleries, a surf film, a coffee table book and so it required those two companies.
It was amazing to work with Teton, the pedigree in the snow space and they're not star struck at all and they were intrigued and looking at story arts and whether that works.
Then Garage, who are so involved in the surf. It's nice to have producers, I've never had them before and to have somebody to bounce ideas off and have them give me feedback, was great.
How long has Proximity been in the making?
You know, the trips don't take that long, they're around 10-days max. So we only did four or five in total. It was more like timing and getting everyone's schedule together.
Todd Glaser, who was the photographer on all the trips, it felt like me and Todd were on hold for like, two years. But really in terms of shooting time, it wasn't that long. Two years ago was when we came up with the idea until now.
Hashing out the idea with Todd sounds like a great process – did the idea just flow?
Yeah, for me, I've done surf films by myself before and working on commercials, I love that team element so bringing that sort of collaboration to surfers was great.
I feel like we represent the different sides of surfing with these four groups Me and Todd would grab coffee and talk about, ''who would be a dream crew?'' Then that's how the crews were formed over coffee. There were other guys who we wanted to get in there but their schedules never worked. I feel like we represent the different sides of surfing with these four groups.
And when's it out? The crucial question.
It comes out May/early June depending on where you are in the world. The idea is like go to art galleries and then the theatre if in a big city – some of the small cities too.
So there's a film and a coffee table book, art gallery?
Yeah, so if you're not in the area where there's art galleries the boards are done by a famous artist and the surfers ride them in the movies and there's installations put up and it's all really interactive.
And you can be transported to those locations which are in the movie, or get a feeling of being there.
Sounds incredible. Cheers Taylor and good luck with the editing process.