Filmmaker Seth Hughes on Cutting it in Surf Cinema


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Updated 116d ago

Words by Demi Taylor.

Surf cinema is all about perspectives. The first time I really saw Seth Hughes was in a crowded South Cornwall line up, heels on the nose, trimming backwards. Looking again I saw that Seth was also holding a camera that was trained on Mike Lay who in turn was employing his usual habit of making awkward conditions seem effortless.

But it was Seth’s positioning that caught my eye - just far enough in front to capture Mike’s casual stylings, just far enough away not to disrupt the wave with his wake. And all the while avoiding the assorted flotsam in the line-up, while facing the wrong way. It seemed clear that this was a filmmaker with humour, composure and a fresh point of view. And so it’s proved.

Seth's film 'Window', winner of the 'Shorties' at the 2021 London Surf film Festival.

Seth’s films are the sort that you seek out, anticipate, the type that scoop awards and accolades. Having won the LS/FF x Surfdome Shortie of the Year last year as well as Best British Film for his documentary on Lukas Skinner I wanted to catch up with him to look backwards at his creative roots while looking forwards to what’s next from one of Europe’s hottest filmmaking talents. Here are 10 take aways from our chat:

"One day while I was at college a lightbulb went off and suddenly filming wildlife felt like the most natural thing to do in the world," said Seth.

"I had just inherited two flight cases worth of Pentax 35mm kit from late grandfather who, amongst many things, was a railway photographer. I traded in his kit for a more modern set up and started filming the birds on the Gannel in Newquay. Up until that point, I had given my teenage years to surfing. I was competing and training with Joel Gray at Surf Solutions but my love for surfing as a profession had started to dwindle.

© 2023 - Nick Corkill

"Joel, who was working for Monster and RipCurl at the time started teeing me up with little surf film jobs for those brands and one thing led to the next.

"Currently my inspiration comes from the weather, clear blue water, money, things I see walking the dog, ethnic heritage, social media appraisal, boredom, folk music and having something to prove. As it stands, I don’t really tell stories, I mainly focused improving the visuals in my films. I’d eventually like to start flexing the story telling muscle and explore stories about where people come from, or think they come from and whether that’s even a reasonable question to ask.

"Knowing your own style is like knowing what your breath smells like. Only other people can tell you.

"I’ve been using a Panasonic GH5 for the last 5 years, I’ve really enjoyed using that. But I’ve just bought a Fuji XT4 and an iPhone 13 pro and its been a really nice change.

Seth in his natural habitat.

Seth in his natural habitat.

© 2023 - Callum Morse

"Filming surfing in the water is all about positioning. The better you can read the ocean, the most chance you’ll get something you’re happy with. But other than that there’s a lot of luck involved, so many of my favourite moments I’ve captured in the water have been down to me not fully pressing the ‘stop record’ button and nice things have just happened in front of the lens.

"My project was a small piece I made with Stanley Norman from a few days shooting on the North Coast of Scotland between lock downs in 2020. Winning (The Shortie of The Year) was a huge surprise. Small projects like that often fade into the internet abyss never to be seen again, but events like the LSFF encourage people to make things that get to exist in a tangible dimension with real people and real feedback.

"I feel so fortunate to be part of the British Surf community, so to be appreciated and given an award for investing in that world feels so special. Thank you!

And Seth's longer-form film from deepest Cornwall, 'Cynevin'.

"The £1000 prize allowed me to retrospectively pay for the music I illegally used in the first place.

"I’ve got a few bits on at the moment. Focussing mainly on shooting at home and finding new ways to capture surfing. I’ve been shooting a lot with Izzy Henshall, we’ve got a short film coming out and I’ve been helping Lewis Arnold on a longer documentary style piece as well.

Keep an eye out for Seth next time you're bobbing about in Cornwall.

Keep an eye out for Seth next time you're bobbing about in Cornwall.

© 2023 - Nick Corkill

"I don’t think I wish I was given anymore advice than I was. Everything I’ve learned in filmmaking has either been from watching other people or making the mistakes myself, rarely from someone advising me on what I should do.

"A good story will trump anything. If you don’t have that, trick people with a good soundtrack and photos of the ocean."

Entries to London Surf /Film Festival Shorties short film contest presented by Surfdome are open until Monday 10th October. Open exclusively to creatives from or based in Britain and Ireland, filmmakers are invited to enter their film up to 5 minutes in length exploring any aspect of angle of surfing. This year, as part of LS/FF’s on going support for homegrown talent, the strand is supported by £1500 prize fund. For more details go to London Surf Film Festival.