The Wizard of west Oz
Perth filmmaker TOM JENNINGS chats about his stunning video edit,
THE LAST SCREW LOOSE.
YOU don’t have to be into surfing to enjoy Tom Jenning’s videos. Ocean lovers will appreciate his stunning, detailed footage of crystal waves in all their slow motion glory, surfers will aspire to the madness that he captures on the slabs and photographers everywhere will largely be jealous of his visual skills.
A root through his Vimeo channel shows that this is not a one-off either - Jennings clearly prides himself on consistently providing a complete experience. I decided to find out more about this West Australian filmmaker’s work.
The Last Screw Loose is a total West Australian affair, featuring surfer Brad Norris and shot on two of the world’s deadliest waves which just happen to be found off the coast there. If you are into big wave surfing, then you will doubtless have heard of The Right - known to be a heavy, violent, fast slab which is notorious for producing long hold-downs that can keep a surfer pinned under water for lethal amounts of time.
Its even heavier counterpart, Cyclops, so named for the oval-shaped barrels that collapse in on themselves, explodes over jagged, dangerous rocks and razor sharp coral. Both breaks are found in the open ocean so are only accessible by boat or jet ski tow-in. Not only do you need to be brave to want to surf these killers, quite frankly, you have to be totally insane and probably not much less crazy to be out on the water filming the whole experience.
It’s a fitting title for this edit, one which Tom says refers solely to Brad: “I’m not sure if he has any more screws left. He may have already lost that last one.”
I find it challenging enough on terra firma battling the elements in an attempt to shoot 30 foot screamers in our North Coast storms but this is a whole different ball game, not only to capture jaw-dropping footage but turn out stunning visuals of such high calibre, and all from the seat of a jet ski.
“We mostly shoot from a ski when shooting slabs, mainly because it is practical,” Tom explains. “You can move faster to get in position and are higher out of the water so you don't get chop in your way. Usually any wider lens that would require you to be closer to the action is pointless when trying to capture the size and power of the waves that are being surfed. Having said that, each spot is different and some are better for shooting than others so it's a real miss-match.”
Norris surfs both breaks with ridiculous ease, he even manages to make it look casual but don’t let the beautiful slow motion footage fool you, it really is a matter of life and death out there. Experienced surfers will pay dearly if things go wrong, so to have shot this clip is testament not only to Norris’ skills but that of the whole team involved. Great memories are inevitable, so what are Tom’s best ones?
“It would have to be the first trip we did, to The Right, with crazy, big, perfect, green/gold ledges and no one else for miles. And the second trip - Cyclops is pretty much the most evil wave ever. We had been planning to get down there for so long and it finally worked out. Oh, and no one died, which is always a bonus,” he adds with complete understatement.
“The ultimate for me is having the freedom to shoot what I want, when I want and how I want.”
Back from when he was in early high school, Jennings knew he wanted to make surf films. His trademark is this great cinematic quality which sets his work apart from what’s on offer out there. It has it all, the epic surfing, epic waves, there are snippets of the local landscape and nice little documentary touches and he seems to really capture the range of mood of the surfers at all times. His work has a vibe that relays so much more than the obvious.
“I guess I just started trying to make the films I wished other people were making and along the way it has worked out well for me. West Oz makes it easy. It pretty much does it all for you,” he offers rather modestly. “It’s a great place. The best thing about the West is that it has every type of wave, you just have to drive up and down the coast if you want to get it.”
With an abundance of material right on the doorstep, is there anywhere else that might tempt him to go and film?
“I think Tahiti and Ireland would be nice - both totally different. I’m keen to go pretty much anywhere with a good reef set up and a line up not packed with frothers that get in the way of a solid shot.”
Another aspect I love of Tom’s work, is his clever use of music in his clips. His editing is on the money. In his reels you’ll get a range of tunes which are the perfect complement to his footage, for instance, check out Late Season Spinners and his Winter'13 Reel over on his Vimeo channel. He uses the songs' lyrics to accentuate his action shots at exactly the right moment, there all these little details highlighted brilliantly, and for me, that really stands out. Even the choice for this edit, Becoming Harmonious by LA sound trio The Glitch Mob, helps tell the story that this seemingly crazy charger is perfectly at ease in the eye of this big wave storm. Does he get an idea from a song of what he wants to film or does it come later during the editing process? Awesome musicality in any case.
“Thanks! It depends. Some songs will work with different types of filming and usually I don't go shooting with a song in mind, so you kind of have to match the right song depending on the type of footage you have shot, but if you already have an edit half done and you know the shots you need to get to make the clip work, then it makes it easy when it comes to which angles you need to shoot.”
Shooting these waves would be classed as the ultimate on many a surf filmmakers ‘to do’ list and Jennings has already checked that box fairly early on in his career. It’s hard to imagine what might top it? His answer is pretty straightforward.
“The ultimate for me is having the freedom to shoot what I want, when I want and how I want. When I get that chance, my work turns out that much better and everybody involved wins.”