It’s a sad, but accurate predicament.
Why? The internet, sure. But also marketing. Everything’s instant now. Nike are releasing shoes in the fourth quarter depending on who’s just scored. In surfing, a filmmaker approaching a brand for money and saying that their labour of love’s going to take two(ish) years to make, just isn’t going to line up with next season’s range, and the answer’s going to be no. Not to mention the fact that no one wears surf clothes anymore and none of the brands have any coin to spare. That being said, there are a few passionate souls who’re still out there standing on the headland, lens pointed at the rubber men bobbing around in the sea. Men like Ben Gulliver, whose film The Sea Wolf has just been released on iTunes.
I’m sure I’m not alone in struggling to get sit through a surf clip these days; just one of the jaded many. However, I’d been back and forth with Ben Gulliver for a while, and I knew that he’d put his time, money, and previously-undiscovered musical talent into making The Sea Wolf, so I thought that the least I could do was watch it. Looking for an excuse to take a break from staring at the cursed laptop, and unable to work out how to make a private Vimeo link play on my Apple TV doohickey, I plugged in the HDMI, stole a couple of clear sheets out of the printer, and set in to do things the old-fashioned way. What did I learn? Well, aside from how dismal my handwriting has become, the joys of surf cinema on the big(ish) screen. And boy, The Sea Wolf was a hell of a way to do it.
The cinematography in the opening montage is breathtaking, and it continues throughout the film. I’m not much one for airs, but shot from distance with a snow-covered mountain or castle in the background, not another human in sight, gives a fresh perspective. Sea Wolf’s filmed in all the cold places (Scotland, Canada, Norway, Iceland), so I asked Ben—who grew up between Canada and the Caribbean—why he goes out of his way to spend all day standing in the cold wiping sleet off his lens.
“Cold places feel like your own little corner of the world during those moments when you’re getting clips with no one around,” he explains. “If you go to more popular places, the waves may be better or more predictable, but whoever you’re filming is only getting so many set waves. If you find your own waves they get every set wave. Also, the backdrops…”
Ben funded the project himself. Meaning that the surfers paid their way to the icy locales, and he had to slave away until he had the means to join them. The multiple trips were fruitful however, and the waves in this film are quite incredible. I can’t remember the last time that I saw Thurso, the jewel in the Scottish surf crown, quite so perfect. And Norway? I’ve lost track of the amount of times trips there have returned with average waves. Not The Sea Wolf —the Norway section’s one of the highlights (the wedgy beachbreak shot from on high in particular).
Ben’s limited funds also threw a musical spanner into the works, meaning he couldn’t afford to license the tracks he wanted. Not lacking in resourcefulness, he jumped in the studio with his buddy Greg, and scored the thing himself. And it works. Watching rubber-clad surfers sliding into hi-def, slo-mo perfection with sleet blowing up the face, whilst a tronesque—with a touch of Moby—accompanies, is hypnotic. Spiritual even.
“I figured I could at least capture the right tone,” Ben explains. “So I enlisted the help of my talented friend Greg—who’s trained and actually knows what he’s doing. 10 days in the studio, 10 songs a day. We narrowed down the good ones and I tried to make them fit. I don’t like anything I do after I’ve been listening or looking at it for two weeks. Eventually I figured, fuck it.”
A thoroughly enjoyable 40-odd minutes of perfect waves and stunning cinematography has me seriously considering canning Sri Lanka as this year’s vacay, and pointing Webjet’s algorithm somewhere cooler. But for Ben, having put so much time and effort into Sea Wolf, I can’t avoid asking him, was it worth it? And would he make another?
“I would love to,” he replies. “Ultimately it’s just really good times travelling with friends trying to get clips. It’s really rewarding when you score, kind of like what I imagine winning a game in a team sport feels like. If I do another one though, I will need a sponsor…”