Mark Waters on The Salt Trail

Mark Waters first captured the attention of the surfing world in 2011 with his multi-award winning short Uncommon Ideals. Then things seemed to go a little quiet – but now he’s back, with a full-length feature – The Salt Trail.

This has been a real passion project for Mark. Self financed and independently produced, this sumptuously shot movie takes us on a journey from the hustle and bustle of Bali and to the serenely idyllic Mentawais, looking at the life changing and life affirming powers that travelling to new lands has – how it is not just a passage across land and sea, but a voyage of personal discovery.

The Salt Trail has its World Premiere at the London Surf / Film Festival on Saturday 2nd November and Mark will be there to talk about the making of the film. Grab a ticket HERE.

Chris Nelson caught up with Mark to discuss his debut feature.

Many people will be familiar with you from Uncommon Ideals. What happened next?

The release of Uncommon Ideals was the first time my work had received recognition in the action sport world and things begun to flow. My girlfriend (Sunnie) and I were living in an apartment in the city, work was dry and inspiration was beginning to fade. I was emailing cover letters to just about every production company in England only to receive replies saying stuff like, Thanks for your interest, we will keep your records on file”. I am lead to believe this is a polite way of saying f*@k off, due to the lack of jobs I received. Sunnie’s positive spirit and my job pulling pints were the two things keeping me sane. At this point I needed a bit of a break and Uncommon Ideals was that. Within weeks of the release emails slowly found their way to my inbox and I found myself shooting in some pretty amazing locations. This raised both my spirit and the digits in my bank, which allowed me to fund the creation of The Salt Trail.

I always dreamt of hitting the Mentawais, but the crowds, resorts and boat trips put me off. However after a bit of research we found the complete opposite. A beautiful little village lost amongst the coconut trees with the friendliest, happiest people we had ever come across. We went for 10 days and stayed for a month, living off coconuts and noodles. After the first 10 days the boys left, so I stopped shooting surf and we absorbed the rest of the island. Mark Waters

What was it that lead you plunge headlong into the financing and production of an independent full length feature?

During the early phases there was little to no thought put into it whatsoever. Sunnie quit her job and we gave up our rental house and most of our possessions and set off on a six month adventure with no plans or expectations. The film was never the priority of the trip; we just went travelling and the cameras came with. Taking on the backing from brands would have tied me to a contract to achieve something specific. I never wanted that, we just set off on an adventure and shot it. As the frames started to build the story began to take shape. It felt right to fund the project independently because the story was naturally bending in a direction that partly promotes the idea of not being driven by money, so it would have been a bit of a contradiction to have all these brands and plenty of money to back the project.

One of the things that travelling opened my mind to many years ago, is to not be driven by monetary success and western expectations, but to rather be motivated by passion and what feels right. This education grounded me to a life of living in the moment with no regrets or worries. I guess TST became a bit of an experiment to see if this lifestyle of living in the moment, going with the flow and doing what just feels right, would be enough to make a full-length feature. It was only three months into the trip that Sunnie and I sat down, reviewed the footage and got exited about the possibility of this story actually materialising. The next 12 months was dedicated to bringing this film to life. Commercial work was coming in to keep the funds flowing which gave me the freedom to focus on TST.

The aim of the experiment was that if the film works then the theory of living in the moment has been proved right, because the film was created by completely surrendering to the moment whilst doing what felt right. The Salt Trail is now complete, funded by pockets full of soul. It’s a projection of how I see the world, can be shared with my family and friends and is a memory that will be kept alive for life. I guess success comes in many forms and this is good enough for me. Anything that comes after is a bonus.

Where did the title The Salt Trail come from? Did you have a narrative or story in mind when you started filming?

The name was always something I hoped would happen spontaneously as the film grew. I went through so many different ideas but nothing really stuck until the week before the trailer went live. Myself, Sophie and Kristyan were at Deus eating tacos and bouncing ideas. Nothing was really standing out until Sunnie threw it out there, which earned her a huge high five. As for the narrative and story, the only thing I had in my head was that I wanted to create a visual refection of the life rewarded from travelling. There was no pre-direction. A six month return flight was booked to Asia and everything else fell into place, by letting the natural flow of life direct the story.

There have been some iconic surf movies made that revolve around Indonesia – was this in the back of your mind when you were making The Salt Trail

It was kind of in the back of my mind but necessarily in a positive way. There has been so many films shot in Indo, so another Indo film might not be deemed exiting to some. With this in mind my idea was to shoot Indo in a different light by not constantly focusing on perfect waves, but focus more on the feeling.

The film has an amazing diversity of footage - from aerial work, water shots, time-lapse to moments of that are quite intimate. What aspects of the process was the most challenging technically and personally?

I guess the biggest challenge was deciding what to shoot and when. I only really shot mornings and late afternoons to keep the golden light flowing, which gave me around 4 hours a day. Within these hours the waves were always going off, the landscapes were amazing and the lifestyle was buzzing, so I was usually pretty torn. Unfortunately, I could not be in five places at once because of my like of super hero powers, so decisions were pretty challenging. Besides that, it was all pretty cruisy. I only shot when I felt like it, so nothing was forced. I would usually just pack the gear and go for a walk and see what happened.

I was lucky enough to have Vít Hašek and Daniel Pék come on board and provide me with the aerial footage. They were super generous and sponsored me with the aerials free of charge after hearing the ethics behind the project. Sunnie took land cam position from time to time, when the waves were on and I was desperate to shoot water. The most challenging thing for me was the producer role. It was tough trying to sort all the admin and legal bits and pieces, while trying to keep creative in the edit. This slowed things down quite a lot. I don’t think I would attempt to fill all these positions again in a feature length production because it’s just to much work. I love the creative side but I could have done without the admin responsibility.

The film shows a great contrast between the hustle and bustle of Bali and the isolation of the Mentawais. Which part did you enjoy the most and how did it feel stepping back to the UK to finish the project?

The Mentawais have become a special place for both myself and Sunnie. I always dreamt of hitting the Mentawais, but the crowds, resorts and boat trips put me off. However after a bit of research we found the complete opposite. A beautiful little village lost amongst the coconut trees with the friendliest, happiest people we had ever come across. We went for 10 days and stayed for a month, living off coconuts and noodles. After the first 10 days the boys left, so I stopped shooting surf and we absorbed the rest of the island. As always, Sunnie had made some awesome bonds with all the kids, which led to an introduction to the small local village where we were welcomed with massive smiles. We immersed ourselves as much as we could and felt like we found our little place in the community, where we were rewarded with priceless gifts every day until the day we had to leave.

As for coming back to the UK, it’s always a bit of a culture shock travelling from east to west. Got to take the good with the bad. I can’t help but notice all the rushing around and all the stress that people are taking on everyday to meet expectations from others. Unsatisfied people, disguised with designer labels pacing the streets trying always to get somewhere, missing out on the life buzzing around them. Those moments remind me of the contrasting connections we made with those who have nothing, wear no disguise and hold no stress. They just smile and this thought stokes me out. I am yet to properly immerse myself in the rugged British coastlines but winter is creeping in and I’m feeling the time is near.