The Taylor Steele Inner-view
"Castles In The Sky" director on travel, tubes, and his new film.
We're all a part of evolution --s ome of us spark it while others have to adapt. Taylor Steele has seen the surf flick medium evolve from early VHS to digital to online in his career, but his Poor Specimen Productions sparked a revolution in surf cinema with its early work with the Momentum Generation. While other filmmakers may lament the lost art of filmmaking to quick web segments, Steele has embraced it. His latest project, Innersection.tv, is again changing the way the surf world looks at film by enlisting any surfer willing to produce a segment and throw it to an online audience for voting. Poor Specimen's next film will be comprised of the winning segments.
But while he has both surfers and filmmakers out there working to break into his universe, he found time in the last three years to shoot his modern opus -- juxtaposing Dane Reynolds, Rob Machado, and Dave Rastovich with shorelines yet to be doused with surf culture. Steele was in New York City on May 4th for the world premiere of "Castles in the Sky," where he talked about the film, Innersection, and passing the torch to the next generation.
For lack of a better term, the theme of "Castles In The Sky" is about taking the road less traveled. After filming the surfing world's established track for so long, is filming in relatively new settings the next logical step?
I wouldn't necessarily call surfing in Iceland "logical," but I guess you could say that's what happened. I'm always looking to try something different, and I love traveling. "Sipping Jetstreams" was an attempt to capture that in a film, and "Castles" is the next evolution of that concept.
When most of your audience goes looking for better waves than they have in their own backyards, they go to the same traditional destinations for reliability. Many of the coastlines you're scouring now don't have consistent seasons, which means finding other things to keep interested -- culture, art, history. Do you think traveling surfers need to broaden their mindsets?
We never want to preach with this project. Everyone has different priorities. If you're looking to get barreled, maybe India isn't your best bet. And then again, we went to India and got some of the best barrels of our lives while having the cultural experience of lifetime. That was an eye-opener for me, and we're excited to share those type of experiences in the film.
What do you look forward to when coming to NYC?
New York is a great city -- so different from the West Coast that it's like traveling to another country in some ways. There's such great surf culture here, and it's such a kinetic city, I can never wait to get here. Plus, we get to finally show the film off. It's been almost three years in the making this one, so it's a relief to finally see it come to life.
What random corner of the world have you scored that was just a complete surprise?
India, for sure. We thought India was going to be primarily a lifestyle destination and we ended up with the best waves of the movie. The surf culture there is very small, but the locals we were hooked up with were just great people. It's always amazing to find surfers in places like that and feel that sense of connection through the ocean and waves. Right away we all had so much in common. They've already come and visited me in Bali, and some of them will be here at the New York premiere.
You were in injured in India after your van went off a 30-foot cliff into a dry riverbed. Want to retell that story?
We're going to open the movie with a 15-minute behind the scenes prologue where we re-tell some of those experiences pretty thoroughly. Basically, we'd been traveling for 24 hours straight, it was 4 a.m. and I was asleep in the back of the van when a truck ran us off the road. We woke up smashed to pieces in a riverbed. An ambulance took us to the hospital and the doctor asked us to stay for observation, but we were running late to catch some swell and meet with Mitch Coleburn, so we just snuck out of the hospital and found a new car to keep moving. That's how these trips are.
How is the Innersection project going?
Innersection is amazing -- better than I imagined. Not only in terms of showcasing new talents, both in front of and behind the lens, but also the evolutions that are going to come out of this. Collaborating with the surfers and filmers on a whole series of these projects is really exciting. I have to keep quiet about some of it, but I just have to say, keep your eye on it because this is just the beginning. We've opened up a whole new avenue.
The idea behind Innersection is to let surfers and filmmakers submit their best sections, which are rated by the people. Thus far, are you agreeing with the public's opinion of what's good and what sucks?
The top five sections, which are the ones going into the final DVD, were pretty much right in line with my own top five picks. So I was really happy about that. The ones that win have to be a combination of great filmmaking and great surfing, and that's exactly what people responded to. We had some worries, but I think people respond intuitively to quality.
I assume you are aware of the influence you have on the surfing world. You've set the bar and now everyone is trying to clear it via Innersection. Almost every filmer ESPN Surfing uses cautions us that they are saving their best stuff for Taylor Steele.
Ha ha, well, I had no idea of that. That's funny. I think Innersection is a great platform for surfers and filmmakers. And it's just getting started. Wait until the end of the year.
Humor used to be such a big part of your videos, especially transitioning between sections. I caught Mikala Jones's little Fourth Malloy bit and I thought it was hysterical. Do you think the new generation is carrying on the tradition of chuckles in surf flicks?
Surfing is fun and movies should showcase that. I don't think that will ever completely disappear. What's great about Innersection is there's room for all sorts of genres. When the DVD comes out, it's going to have a wide range of serious stuff, artsy stuff, funny stuff. I'm really excited to see the final product come together.
Among the surfers, who do you feel has the most creative input, whether they are working with you or another filmer?
Taj knows what he likes and usually its right on point. Dion Agius always has really creative ideas. Dane Reynolds is a completely unique individual, and it comes through in everything he works on. And then guys like Dan Malloy, Rob Machado, and Dave Rastovich all stay true to the types of projects they believe in. A lot of the top surfers have reached that point where they only work on stuff that's organic to who they are. So even if it's not specifically "creative," it's input that comes across in the final product. As long as something is honest, I think people respond well to it.
What ever happened to Pegboy's Strong Reaction and other such independent music in soundtracks?
Thats great. I haven't heard the name Pegboy in a while. Where they are now, I don't know. The '90s were special for me as the surfers and the bands were both into the movies. Plus I love the tempo of punk rock and surfing. It really meshed well.
Any interesting projects outside the surf world?
I am working on a feature film script. It's a bit of a long-term project, but that's something that's close to my heart right now. The stuff we did with "Drifter" and even with "Castles" is a way of building up towards that, while Innersection is a way of turning over the high-action to the next generation of filmmakers, but in a way that I can still have fun being a part of. The goal is just to keep evolving.
For more interviews with surfers worth talking to, see below.