Meet the Filmmaker: Mikey Corker
Last year Mikey Corker’s short ‘Footpaths, Peelers and Caves’ won the LS/FF / National Trust surf trailer competition. Produced by Wavedreamer, his 30-second short was showcased across the three nights of the London Surf / Film Festival and captured the essence of what the conservation charity means to surfers. “As surfers we are blessed to be able to spend time in such a pristine environment doing what we love,” says Mikey. “This movie was created in honour of that blessing, and with thanks to the National Trust for their stewardship of our playgrounds”. We caught up with the Devon-based filmmaker to find out about growing up in Cape Town, making Jean Claude van Damme mad and the art of story telling through film…
// Tell us a bit about yourself. How old are you? Where did you grow up? How did you get into surfing?
I am 37 years old, grew up in Cape Town, and been living in the U.K full time for the last 7 years. I got into surfing at the age of 10 ‘cos my best mate got into it. I think the bug really bit at about 13 though, that’s when it morphed from something sort of fun to a full-blown addiction. Luckily my parents were really supportive, and would drive my brother, friends and me around the peninsular hunting for “the right surf” until we could beg the older guys with cars to take us, or steal my Mom’s car and drive ourselves. Good times!
// How did you get started in filmmaking and why? Did you study filmmaking formally or are you self-taught?
I got into film by working on film sets as a runner, mostly on commercials, in South Africa, then gravitated to the camera department where I worked for about 5 years as a clapper loader working on feature films shot on 35 mm. I did a camera assistants course, but the real learning was on set. I persuaded some busy D.O.P’s and focus pullers to employ me, mostly as tea boy, and slip streamed them on a string of good movies.
Most of these people I worked for were complete rough diamonds, and you had to respect the chain of command or you got your ass kicked. I got my ass kicked quite a bit!
My claim to fame is being responsible for Jean Claude Van Damme and his entourage storming off set ‘cos the camera I was loading ran out of film mid-take in an emotional crying scene he was busy with. It was a closed set, with only the necessary crew and a really heavy mood – I mean ol’ JC is not the greatest actor, so to get the waterworks going he was digging deep. One minute it was only his sobbing breaking the silence, then as the camera ran out of film it started making a very loud ‘clack clack clack’ sound. Time stood still for a second as my life flashed before my eyes. The D.O.P and Focus puller on the job, hardcore old school ex military types who used to parachute into places and kill people, were not happy bunnies either. Bunny boilers maybe.
The experience was challenging and fun, but I couldn’t see myself part of the circus forever. I once worked flat out for 45 hours in a 48 hour period, by the end I was broken. It was a freebie as well, trying to “make a good impression” and “get a foot in the door”
My main focus for the last 2 years has been editing and video though, and that has been self-taught with the aid of books, friends and the Internet. It’s like Pandora’s box, and I plan to be always studying it to some degree. Just keeping up with technology requires permanent learning.
// Where do you look for inspiration? Who are your major influences? What is your favourite surf movie?
Nature is my number one source of inspiration for surf inspired work, and people. People going beyond themselves in whatever they are doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most menial task, if its attacked with a certain attitude it inspires me. I also look outside of surfing. A lot of surf related stuff I find generic and boring to be honest, and I know I have to fight off the urge to produce something that’s fashionable. The only reason I’ve ever used a fake film burn is ‘cos I know people like them and its pretty on trend to produce the filmic look. I wouldn’t fake acne, although tourettes seems a fun one sometimes.
All surf art, film included, is a bit weird if you think about it, its like art of the art. It’s an expression of an expression, a second hand expression, all looking to capture the stoke and purity of the original thing. The good stuff feels more first hand. Little nuggets of stoke almost as good as the experience itself. I suppose that’s good entertainment, being lost in the moment and transported. Brian Conley’s stuff from Mexico, I mean come on, I’m never gonna stand in a 20ft barrel. That takes me there. Lets get that onto 3D in the Imax! Could watch it all day long.
Major influences are many. Damien Hirst, Jack Kerouac, Kelly Slater, Dane Reynolds, Jack McCoy, Jason Hearn, Chris McClean and George Greenough are all people that have inspired me recently. Favourite surf movie, that’s a tough one. Last year’s winner of the festival, ‘Come Hell or High Water’ was amazing. I went in cynical, and came out inspired and with possibly a bit too much man love for Keith Malloy. It made me want to get in the sea, which is for me the sign of a good surf movie. Another great movie is Jason Hearn’s recent offering, The Africa Project.
// How do you feel about your work being seen on the big screen versus online in a digital format?
In concept it’s great but I have not really done enough to answer that truthfully. What I do know that is with most online pieces, you have exactly 3 minutes or less to entertain your audience, who are most likely looking for some quick fix escapism while they should be doing something productive on the computer. The most common form of funding for these little online clips is sponsors who pay for branding and product placement, so you also have to make it not feel too commercial, but at the same time it’s going to have a monetized lean to it. That’s why it’s free to the viewer; they need to absorb the branding that goes with it most of the time. The internet is great, I rely on it every single day, and it’s the way most of us share our work, so yes it’s a great tool, but the big screen is always gonna be the daddy.
I love the idea of producing for the big screen, but I think its very hard to find a way to fund it, especially with money being harder to come by right now. It’s a chicken or the egg thing for up and comers. You have to cover it out of your own pocket and therefore be so dedicated to the production of it. It’s a huge gamble, but the few that make it show incredible self-belief, commitment and inspiration, and deserve every little bit of recognition they get. They sure are not getting anything else! I think for some, the desire to produce that movie is beyond rational thought. It needs to get done; it’s an itch that needs scratching. Jason Hearn’s movie, the Africa Project, cost him a small fortune, but he made it, and he can be very proud of it. It’s a big screen movie.
The best thing I think about the big screen is you have a captive audience. They want to be there, and they have paid money to be there. You have more time to explore your subject matter and therefore more time to elaborate on your story.
I believe that all filmmakers would love to produce just for the big screen, but it’s making it work in a way that does not break your piggy bank too much that’s the hard bit.
// What equipment do you use?
Canon DSLR with an Aquatec housings, GoPros, a Sony EX1 and an Apple Mac loaded with the Studio Pro set up. Plus coffee, loads of coffee. I love coffee, think I’m gonna go make a cup right now.
// What do you think makes a good story? How do you set about translating that onto the screen? What is you’re starting point?
Starting point is taking something that interests me, that I want to focus on, excuse the pun, and use my format to explore and probe it. What makes a good story, that’s subjective, but I would say something with a point that’s valid and using film to highlight that point. I contradict myself ‘cos surfing in itself does not have a point in the big scheme of things. It does not clothe you, feed you or shelter you, but perhaps facilitates reproduction, as the big brands try tell us, although my wife knows I just smell of wee after a surf, and any chance of reproduction is minimal.
Also the capturing of a great experience like someone riding a huge wave or busting a crazy air maybe. That’s inspiring. I reckon the standard of surfing and filmmaking has gone through the roof exponentially cos of the flow of information we have access to. In the old days the filmmakers used to drive around showing their films at cinemas and there would only be a few a year. The surfers at the local beach would get inspired and the bar would get raised. Now you click click click and hey there’s Kelly Slater doing a 20ft air caught by someone in a beautiful and artistic way and lets not forget it only happened 20 seconds ago. You’re a kid watching this about to paddle out and you know where the bar now is, even if you ride the back half of a broken old board and your parents sell knock off sunglasses down Kuta beach.
Making a film that captures a great event is the equivalent to the cavemen drawing pictures on the cave wall of the zebra they killed in the hunt. The only difference is when we finally screw the pooch and all our fossil fuels have gone haste La vista and they gotta shut down the internet, there will be no record left, but those cave paintings will still be there. Pretty morbid I know, lets talk about rainbows! Gotta love a rainbow.
// How much of the process do you think is creative and how much do you think is technical?
Varies according to how hard I’m struggling with a software program. Shooting is 50/50. You have to have a good idea of your settings to achieve a look, and editing is 20/80, with 80 being creative. I can shoot for half a day but edit that footage for 2 weeks. A lot of that time is spent snipping and moving and rearranging to get the best end result.
In the beginning I found it all technical, like learning to drive a car, you have to focus on what your hands and feet are doing more than on where you’re going, but as you improve and that’s second nature you can start adding some style, you know, arm out the window, tap the roof, bop your head to the beat, throw out the odd shaka, develop your style.
// What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given when starting out as a filmmaker?
Get a real job.
// Where are you doing this interview?
The creative Hub. [My spare room at home]
// Mikey Corker is…weird.
See more of Mikey’s work at showntellmedia.com