Meet The Filmmaker: Anthony Butler

It’s fair to say that Anthony Butler, aka Mr B, is one of the UK’s most established and respected surf filmmakers. His output includes four groundbreaking surf films that have captured UK and Irish surfing at it most cutting edge. His titles include Performing Monkeys, Driven, Substance and 21 Days Later – Mentawais. At the 2011 LS/FF his short Nightwaves, a collaboration with Aqualise, was screened as part of the Shortie of the Year shortlist. We caught up with him during filming for The Endless Winter to find out more about the man behind the lens.


Tell me a bit about yourself. How old are you? Where did you grow up?
I’m 31, I grew up on the coast of mid-Wales just north of Aberystwyth in a town called Tywyn.

How did you get into surfing? Where are you doing this interview?
I used to be obsessed with basketball and didn’t get into surfing for a while, my mate Rik bought a surf board when we were about 15 and got into surfing and so I bought a bodyboard just for a laugh, eventually it took over my love for basketball and I got really into sponging for years. I didn’t start standup surfing until I was about 20, and that was because I wasn’t getting in hollow waves often enough, but I’ve shortboarded ever since.
I now live in South East Cornwall by the sea after living in various parts of North Cornwall and Plymouth.

Did you study filmmaking or are you self taught?
I started just filming with my friends for years, editing vhs player to vhs player with an audio dub button, I made 4 very amateur films called Tywaiian Tapes, and then eventually went to Plymouth College of Art and Design to study Moving Image Production. I was on the same course as Tim Davies (producer of Strange Beautiful Life and others) and we even did our first project together. But I left the course before finishing as mid way through my second year I was already well into filming Performing Monkeys and didn’t have the time to do both.

Where do you look for inspiration? Who are your major influences? What is your favourite surf movie?
I think I used to be influenced by other surf movies when I first started, but to be honest I don’t get particularly inspired by many surf movies any more – not because they’re no good, but mainly because there’s so much wider influence to be had from all films and imagery. I think Sipping Jetstreams was a fantastic film, a simple documentary in images, which said what it wanted to through images, not words. Secret Machine is one of my favourite surf films, there’s some dodgy acting bits in it, but the overall cinematography, wide range of styles and weirdness to it really appealed to me, and I’ve got my favourite old surf movies that I just loved watching while I grew up from Bunyip Dreaming to On The Road With Spike plus The Inside was an amazing sponge film.
I’m now more inspired to make non-surf films (as well as surf films) and I’d like to be able to bring more influence from outside the surf world into my films. I’d also like to collaborate more.

How do you feel about your work being seen on the big screen versus online in a digital format?
I think I’m one of the few people who is a bit sad about the emergence of youtube, vimeo and other online digital formats. In some ways it’s great, you have constant access to non-stop surfing footage and new stuff comes out all the time, and while there’s a lot of shite out there, there’s also a lot of good stuff too. But that’s just the problem, there’s so much that even when I come across a good video, I’m completely numb to it, it just blends in with thousands of hours of other videos posted on facebook, youtube etc. I remember when I got my first bodyboarding VHS I was so excited to even see someone do a 360 on telly! I also had North Shore and about 5 minutes of a JBay comp recorded off Eurosport, and it was so special every time we watched it. Every time one of us bought a new video it was amazing, we’d watch it over and over and it just felt special. Videos were expensive because they weren’t mass-produced so you couldn’t get every video available so the ones you had were so important to you. Now you can see non-stop surfing all day online.
It’s ruined independent filmmaking from a financial video/DVD sales point of view. People don’t buy DVD’s like they used to because there’s no need as there’s always a free DVD on a magazine and infinite free footage on youtube etc. So the only way to make it financially viable is with company sponsorship which inevitably effects how the film is produced, that’s what was nice about films like Land Of Saints – it was sponsor free and made exactly how Lee Evans wanted it, and was at that time just before the full-on emergence of youtube when DVD’s still sold and so still felt special.
I do however love the World Tour competition webcasts, I love being able to watch surfing competitions live.
As for watching surfing on a big screen, I don’t think there’s a better way. It has so much more impact and brings everyone together to enjoy it, and because it doesn’t happen too often it still feels special, and that’s how it should be! To see your own film on big screen is one of the highlights of my life.

What equipment do you use?
Camera’s and water housings and an edit suite.

How much of the process do you think is creative and how much do you think is technical?
It has to be a balance of both, you need a good idea but then the technical skill to make that idea a reality, and do it well. Timmy Boydell and Mickey Smith are both excellent at both aspects. Timmy B has a great technical and professional understanding of everything he does and it shows in his films.

What project / projects are you working on at the moment?
For the last few months I’ve been working with Level Films as the surf videographer on a project called The Endless Winter. It’s a film exploring the places and people that have shaped British surfing through the years. I’ve learned so much about British surfing that I never knew and it’s all thanks to Matt and James, who don’t surf, but have had a fantastic vision for this story to be made into a film. I can’t wait for the finished movie, which I think will be completed in spring (but don’t quote me on that!).

I’m also working with Ed and Jak Smith, 2 good surfers and friends from my neck of the woods, on a short film over the winter and spring. I’ll be collaborating with Aqualise (the ocean music label) on this, and I’m just looking forward to working with them all, with no pressure, and trying different techniques and ideas. Hopefully we’ll have that finished by the summer.

I’m also working on various non-surf film stuff with a photographer called Pete Cade under the name Butler Cade Films, it’s still early days but I’ve been really enjoying working with him.

What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given when embarking as a filmmaker?
Don’t worry if you miss one or two sessions, you can’t be everywhere at once. Oh, and there’s no money in surfing!

What are your goals as a filmmaker?
For me they are to try and make some very different films, and not worry just about pumping surf, but more about stories and content. Also to produce far more non-surf related films – I’ve already got a few personal projects in the pipeline. Also to collaborate with more filmmakers, musicians, artists and other creative people.

Anthony Butler is... stoked to have been involved in surf films for so long and with a new perspective on surfing and life, hopes he can bring more to the big screen.