Exclusive Interview: A Corner of the Earth is a Stunning Ode to Surfing in the Arctic

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 620d ago

This is what happens when a few Aussies ditch their coastal bake for a two month trip exploring the arctic's frigid wilds. Filmmaker Spencer Frost, surfer Fraser Dovell and photographer Guy Williment, have created one of the more stunning odes to a life in the deep north with new movie, A Corner of the Earth.

What starts as a well-shot, intriguing epic trip of the transition from Aus to Arctic life, almost descends into chaos; driving for a day and getting skunked, dealing with some of the harshest environments on the planet and slightly loosing it under the glow of the Northern Lights, makes for a more relatable surf movie, one packed with a range of emotions that we can all appreciate as surfers.

Forecast: Arctic

The film's about to drop and MSW were privy to a screener courtesy of the boys. And if you ever want to gawk at the stunning arctic backdrops, great surfing, enjoy the spirit of the chase - all framed with gorgeous mountains and reeling pointbreaks – then this really is the movie for you.

After watching, we tapped up Spencer to talk shooting in crazy conditions, (“I didn't have enough surfing footage to make it a surf-porn clip”, he says) how the boys met and acclimatising to the arctic's embrace.

First tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up and how did you get into surf movie making?
My name's Spencer Frost - I’m 25-years-old from a little town called Avalon Beach in Sydney Australia. I grew up in one of the most beautiful places in the world on the northern beaches of Sydney.
We were always around the ocean and at the beach for as long as I can remember, and that just naturally turned into a love for surfing.

When we were just kids, my mates and I would surf every day and film each other surfing, trying to make sponsor tapes and everything else. This slowly turned into filming more than surfing.

I’m lucky to have a bunch of super talented surfer mates so it was never too hard to find subjects to shoot close to home. These days I’m filmmaking full time - more on commercial jobs and not so much surfing. But I still love it so much and hopefully this film is a testament to that. 

© 2021 - Guy Williment

This movie is true to the spirit of a surf trip; expectation vs reality and there's an almost gradual descent into a chaotic good-time. Was it core to keep the film relatable?
For sure, the whole trip we had so many ups and downs, and moments I don’t think you’d usually see in a regular surf film. We didn't want to sugar coat the trip to give the impression that we scored the whole time and that it was all happy and perfect.

On the flip side of that, we didn't want to over-dramatise it either and make it out to be a lot gnarlier than it was. From the start I wanted to keep it real, to put in moments that actually happened, to show how we were feeling, what went down and all the things that can go right and wrong on this kind of trip. It's funny looking back - some of the wildest and most dangerous moments were some of the funniest and turned out to be the best times of the whole trip. 

© 2021 - Guy Williment

Shooting in such harsh conditions is tough, what equipment did you use? And were the conditions of shooting what you expected or tougher?
Some days were definitely better than others. We had a few lucky moments where we had daylight the whole day, which up in the arctic that time of year, was about five hours. But then there were other days where it was a full white-out blizzard so we couldn't leave the house and the sun didn't come out at all.

We’d really just have to wake up and see what was happening. The storms up there are so wild and unpredictable that you just have to take what you're given most days - but when it all comes together in that short window, it's amazing. 

For equipment I packed my Red camera, drone, underwater housing, Ronin (Gimbal), lenses, tripod, basically anything I thought I needed to make the film the way I wanted to.

I think I originally had the mindset of packing light but I still ended up with 70kgs of gear to take over. The excess baggage guys had a field day, especially because we caught about 10 flights on the trip.

For getting-in-the-water gear I had a 6mm hooded and fully sealed wettie, 7mm booties and 5mm gloves with fingers so I could still use the controls on my camera. Then just super warm/waterproof clothes and lots and lots of layers - kind of like going snowboarding or skiing on a cold day but we were looking for waves.

© 2021 - Guy Williment

The thing that struck me most about this film is the setting, of course, but also that it begins as this sweeping stunning almost art house film, but then grounds it with scenarios that anyone can have, the beers, the car...incident... the madness of driving eight hours and getting (almost) skunked. It's a rare blend of themes that works. Do you think authenticity is key to good filmmaking?
Absolutely - I wanted this film to by super cinematic and have imagery that would hopefully blow some peoples' minds, paddling past icebergs, chasing the Northern Lights and surfing in front of snow-covered mountains... just stuff you’d never usually see in a surf film.

Being in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to in the world made that a bit easier. But on the flip-side I wanted to capture and include some real moments, things people can relate to even if they haven't been surfing up there.

I wanted to kind of put the viewer in our shoes. I also was pushing for this film to appeal to a wider audience outside of the surfing world. Trying to incorporate the cinematic elements along with the personal story makes it a little different than your typical “surf film” so more people outside of the surf demographic can hopefully appreciate it. 

I’m not sure if authenticity is key to good filmmaking, I'm sure there were thousands of different ways that I could've put this film together, but at the end of the day, I kept it simple, made it how I wanted to make it. So far it seems like people are enjoying it, and that's what matters I guess.

© 2021 - Guy Williment

Tell us a bit about Fraser Dovell, seems like one of the best surfer's we haven't come across.
Fras is a legend, he was such a good guy to have on the trip. I really don't know many other surfers, professional or not, who would surf mostly on his own in some pretty gnarly conditions. It was crazy.

He was always a standout growing up, but now he’s steered away from pro surfing and moved onto different things in life. He’s studying full time and working as a landscape gardener on the side. He’s still got sponsors and is free surfing whenever he’s got the time but this trip and project was his last big adventure being a professional surfer. 

As well as Fraser - my best mate Guy Williment was on the trip shooting stills, he’s made a 140 page hard cover photo book thats sure to blow some minds. Really awesome stuff.

Guy was the same as Fraser in the sense that he really put in the hard yards and stayed out in the elements for hours on end to get the shot - and I think this book will really show that.

© 2021 - Guy Williment

How did you both meet?
We both grew up surfing in the same town (Avalon Beach) in Sydney. He’s a few years younger than me and was always a super talented surfer, then eventually he starting winning a few local comps and then a few Aussie titles.

We’ve probably been on and off filming stuff together for more than six years now. It's been so rad to see his progression from being a micro-ripping grom to a really amazing surfer. 

© 2021 - Guy Williment

Did you both have a clear goal of what the film wanted to achieve?
I had a pretty clear idea about what I wanted to achieve with the film but once we got up there and started shooting, all those ideas got thrown out the window.

The storms and weather up in the arctic are so wild that time of year so you really have to just take what you're given. When you're dealing with 5 hours of daylight, blizzards, 100km winds and temperatures between -5 and -20 degrees Celsius, you just pray for some sunny days. Some days the sun didn't come out at all and we’d have to bunker down in our little cabin and wait for the storms to pass.  I had a pretty clear idea about what I wanted to achieve with the film but once we got up there and started shooting, all those ideas got thrown out the window

My creative process was pretty much this; when I did get a chance to shoot, I’d shoot anything and everything that I thought looked cool and told a story - the obvious stuff like icebergs, snow covered mountains, Northern Lights - but also all those little in-between moments that I mentioned before (talking to locals, being stuck in blizzards).

Then, once we’d finished shooting, I came back to Australia with hard drives full of footage and tried to shape a bit of a story out of it. The way I saw it, the footage wasn't good enough to make a 40-minute cinematic reel, and I probably didn't have enough surfing footage to make it a surf-porn clip.

So the way I made it work was to incorporate all the best cinematic moments with a combination of the best surfing footage, then tie in the story of Fraser’s journey, including why we went on the trip and what happened along the way. I think it worked out well doing it that way, in the end. 

© 2021 - Guy Williment

The music is genius, who came up with the selection?
I’m lucky to have a really musically talented bunch of friends and family. My brother Dylan actually composed a lot of the score from scratch and I think he nailed a lot of it.

I’d explain to him the vibe I was going for and he would send me something back and we’d just fine-tune everything until I was happy with it. Then another mate, Jules Wucherer, composed a song and also all of the sound design for the film. Then my old man did the sound mix and cleaned everything up a bit.

I’m super stoked to have that team in my corner. Then, after that, a few friends' bands sent me some songs to fill in the gaps and I ended up finding exactly what I was looking for (shoutout to The Super Trip and Dane Taylor).

© 2021 - Guy Williment

At the end, this movie definitely instills a sense of aspiration. Is that the point?
To be honest I never really intended to make this film a travelogue, but it seems after people have watched it they’ve been super inspired to go on an adventure of their own which is so rad.

I guess at the end of the day, if we can inspire people to get out of their comfort zones and go out and explore the world, that's the coolest thing ever. We did it and it was, and always will be, some of the most amazing experiences of my life. 
What about the arctic is special?
It is just such a wild and unpredictable place, you really never know what you're going to get and I kind of loved that about it.

Everyday our minds were blown 10 times over - the scenery, the waves, the elements - it's all just at another level from what you’ve experienced anywhere else in the world.

I think for us, because we’d never done anything like this before, it was just all so new. I think most people who haven't been up there can really appreciate the footage and photos because it just looks so unnatural to be surfing in those conditions. Also, seeing the Northern Lights for the first time was the craziest thing ever.

I promise anyone who wants to see them it's 100 per cent worth it, they are truly a bucket-list event. 

© 2021 - Guy Williment

That right hand wave, is there any place on earth comparable?
That wave is truly insane. It was the coolest location and setting ever to shoot the final scene of our film. Everything was covered in so much snow and we had a day or two where it was pumping and sunny, and it was mind blowing.

I actually managed to put the tools down and get some waves of my own out there and that was my most memorable surf ever. I’ve surfed in Indonesia, Hawaii, Fiji, Africa – so many places around the world, and that session was the best by far. It was maybe 2ft offshore with little runners, outside the water was -12 degrees Celsius and I was surrounded by pretty much 270 degrees of snow mountains. I was just out there yelling, because it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.