Not so long ago, PF Director Smriti Keshari sat down with PF Director Toddy Stewart to have a conversation about his participation as a member of the SMASH FEST Curating Panel.
They would sit down over a breakfast at Mogidor in Williamsburg and talk about filmmaking, Picture Farm and many things surfy.
Toddy Stewart is a filmmaker and loving father living in Brooklyn, NY. He wrote and directed the critically acclaimed surfing short film, THE SURF MAGAZINES DON’T TALK ABOUT LAPSED CATHOLICS, and is a partner of the creative production studio Picture Farm. He is a wannabe sometime surfer. Toddy in fact spends more time writing about not surfing for the surf blog, The Endless Bummer.
Your film, The Surf Magazines Don’t Talk About Lapsed Catholics resonated with many people because of the philosophical musings over the nature of being a surfer. How much does that philosophical depth influence the films you select?
I think it makes a big difference. I tend to lean that way anyhow, and frankly, there are only so many surf films I really want to watch. And when I say “surf film” I mean specifically the sort of film a surfer would make for another surfer to showcase the technical side. Big airs, slash and bash, copious hanging ten, huge waves. At this point I’d be less bored by films that let more people into the process. People want to understand and connect to the inner dealings of it all without being able to tell a truly buried rail from some maneuver less “successful.” I look for films that translate the feeling of being there. How are the filmmakers able to viscerally transport the viewer in a glancing fashion? The second thing I look for is how the filmmaker is able to show the pure joy of surfing, the community and that sort of guttural happiness it all creates.
What advice would you give surf filmmakers?
It seems surf filmmakers regard film as ultimately a visual art form but what you see with your eyes is not necessarily what you get with your ears, or any other senses. There’s much to be explored with sound in surf filmmaking. It just seems like people plop some really amazing visuals on a soundtrack and call it a day. How can surf films be more philosophically sonic?
How would you describe the current state of surfing in NY?
Since surfing is becoming more culturally prevalent in New York, there’s an incredible opportunity to hand on habits in the water. There’s a positive energy to the people who have been surfing out here and it effects the way new people are learning and building this culture. There is an excitement, a newness to surfing culture in New York that isn’t there on the West Coast. Surfing has been here for a long time, but now that it is some sort of fad, there is this poseur, wannabe thing happening that is counter-intuitively kinda great. People out there with smiles on their faces trying to wrap their minds around something. Sure, it’s super annoying too, but I’d rather surf with people who are stoked to just be in the water.
You’ve been making a lot of films with your company Picture Farm, anything related to surfing?
We got to make the promo films for the SMASH Fest with Tyler, the ones based on Saturday Night Fever and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There were so many other good ideas we all came up with that we couldn’t make happen thanks to crazy schedules, but those two were so fun to make.On that tip of making interesting films about sport, my partner and sometime co-director Chris Bren and I have been making these art films about Major League Soccer fan culture. MLS improbably bought an idea we proposed to make these little films about supporter groups and they’ve even more improbably bought the idea that we can make things really abstract. We’re shooting with multiple cameras during games, focusing on the proximity of the fans to the action and the culture of these rabid fans. And we are recording with multiple microphones as well, getting layers of sound. I really want it to be as much a sonic explorations as it is a visual one. We’re taking our cue from Zinedine Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait and Tokyo Olympiad, two of my favorite films. We just got back from Kansas City and Toronto and next up are the Red Bulls and DC United. I’m super excited about it.
How do you see the technology and surfing intersecting with one another?
There is this whole side to the technology of board building that is way beyond me. But in general I’ve become apprehensive of technology. Forecast services have really changed part of the nature of how surfing works. It’s an old argument, maybe too old, but there is this process of trial and error that might be lost. Thank god nature doesn’t always cooperate. One of the best things about surfing is the anguish of the wait, you know, the process of the search. There’s a natural gratitude from taking part in that practice.On the other hand, technology can work when you incorporate it into a natural, organic process. I have a couple friends who have this wonderfully analogue method by which they are creating a better surf forecast. They travel up and down the coast with their baby in tow, looking at conditions and documenting patterns with a surfer’s eye. They plug all that first-hand info into some sort of digital algorithm machine and presto, there’s a real translation of data and anecdote. They are, you know, sort of upending all that, at least bringing the process back to something organic and tactile. Which is probably, in the end, the point.Technology, as tool in the creative process, used in the process of actually living, what’s wrong with that? I guess it’s a matter of context. Besides I’m sure driving up an down the coast searching for waves, spewing out fumes and sputtering gas isn’t all that good for the environment. Being able to make that surgical strike is pretty helpful in that regard.