May 04, 2017
Taylor Steele’s Latest, Proximity: Creating a Longer Lifespan For Surf Films?
Fighting back against the webisode culture, this legendary filmmaker has brought together some of the world’s most talented—and interesting—pairs of surfers for his highly anticipated latest.
Before you read, remember this: Independent editorial isn't free. If you enjoy this article, please consider our message at the end of this article and support our journalism so we can keep going.
Today is Proximity’s world premiere in NYC and no one is more unsure about what people’s reaction will be than Taylor Steele himself.
“I’m curious to see if people gravitate towards it or completely reject it,” Taylor Steele told The Outdoor Journal. “And that’s a fun place to be as a filmmaker, to wait and see.”
Although we imagine that’s something Steele’s gotten pretty used to.
Since the early nineties, more specifically the release of game-changing Momentum, Taylor Steele has created surf films that inspired and motivated generations, playing a definitive role in surf culture. They were made with shitty cameras, an aggressive style of both filming and surfing, and set to a soundtrack of punk rock that kickstarted the careers of bands like Blink-182 and The Offspring. Although in complete contrast to the more aesthetically pleasing surf movies at that time, they also happened to capture soon to be legends like Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Taylor Knox, Ross Williams, Shane Dorian, and others before their accomplished surfing careers took off.
Decades later, the technology has changed, people’s attention spans have shortened and Steele’s back at it:
“I haven’t been doing very many surf films lately, more commercials with a shorter window of filming and production time. Even in the last 8 years, I haven’t invested that much time beyond a 2 week window.”
His film Here and Now was filmed entirely on May 2nd, 2012. One day.
However, he says that “the concept of something that has a longer lifespan sort of steamrolled into this project.”
A longer lifespan than the 30 second viral videos that we’ve become accustomed to—often made by anyone with a GoPro attached to their head?
“It’s how we watch surf films right now. I think just having so much access to them and watching them on the internet is a major factor of us just getting numb. We treat it as sort of temporary. And sort of disposable. And so that was part of the inspiration for this, to make something that has a basis, or something that will hold up for longer than a year.”
Having so many aspects (art gallery, photo book, theatre tour and even virtual reality), was all part of giving the film a longer breath.
The whole movie’s tempo is sort of an anti-webisode.
Needless to say, the technical advances in equipment have given way to some pretty cool opportunities for filmmakers to rejustify putting time and quality in film—and how effective it can be. The use of 4K RED cameras in John John Florence’s View From a Blue Moon reminded us all of the value in such raw and beautiful footage. Although, we imagine that should be the case with them costing around $50,000 a pop.
Using RED EPICS in Proximity, Taylor also says that despite the quality of these cameras where everything is “so shiny and sharp, I like them to feel more like film, so we use some older lenses to counterbalance that.”
True to Taylor Steele form, it’s not the cameras that set this film apart.
Slowing down the pace and trying to dig a bit deeper, Proximity merges two generations of surfers: four surf icons and four wildly talented young-guns. Steele pairs them up based on personality and talent, takes them to remote and often candid locations, then sits back and observes. We’re looking at 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and current champion John John Florence in the South Pacific, 6-time women’s world champion Stephanie Gilmore and eco-activist Dave Rastovich in Baja, big wavers Shane Dorian and Albee Layer in Chile, and stylists Rob Machado and Craig Anderson out of their comfort zones in cold Northern Europe.
“The idea of merging two different generations that have the same sort of ethos was something that inspired me as more of a surf fan. Being a fly on the wall and seeing what they would talk about. Seeing how they would surf, if and how they would push each other and inspire each other. Would it be in a super competitive way?
One of the big parameters of getting surfers involved in my projects is that they have to have much more than just being a surfer.
“If we mic them up and sort of get out of their way, what would happen? Would they talk about anything interesting?
“So we did that with Shane and Albee. We were just in a pub in Northern Europe and they were playing darts and talking. And what they talked about was so inspiring. I was sitting there and forgetting that we were even filming, just listening to their conversation about dealing with big waves for the next 20 years. Shane saying ‘I’m almost done with my career and you have 20 years of putting your life on the line! How does that feel?’ It was their answers to these types of questions. They were generally curious.”
Despite anticipating all the interactions in the film, we were especially curious about both the competitiveness, and also the playfulness that might have come out of Kelly and John John on their first trip together.
“It’s interesting that you picked up on that playfulness. John just takes that playfulness to another level. He’s sort of like a little brother, antagonising, but at the same time super curious about him [Slater]. It was fun to watch. To have them on this remote island in the south pacific where it was just them, not worried about any other filmers showing up, or not worried about any other surfers…
We actually had Kelly and John John playing chess and see these sides of competitiveness, but also just talking casually. John comes off as very laid back, but he’s as smart as anyone. He reads chess books. It was fun to see this side of him that doesn’t come up in a lot of other places.”
Also going way beyond Steele’s expectations were Stephanie Gilmore and Dave Rastovich.
“I have always been a huge fan of Steph, especially in the way that she holds herself. She plays music, she has a guitar, she’s a great traveller with a great spirit.”
Being the only female in the film, Steele wanted to put her in a category she deserves—for both the incredible person and surfer she is. Hoping Dave Rastovich would be a fit turned out to be a pretty good call.
“Their conversations were some of the most profound and interesting. Talking about people and how to live life and how to approach situations. I felt like at the end of these car rides and conversations that they had together, I was evolving as a person. I was really surprised at how connected they were in spirit.
There’s a lot of great women surfing out there, but they don’t necessarily carry themselves as well as Steph does. Or make me excited as a filmmaker. I think when people watch the film, they’re going to be blown away by how great she surfed and comes off as a person.”
And tonight is the first chance for people to be blown away! The film premieres first in New York City, followed by tour dates around the world over the next year.