DOMinic COLEMAN: THE SURFER
Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Dominic Coleman is a surfer/actor from London, England. His hilarious mockumentary The Surfer, a story about a middle aged enthusiast, has been making waves on the Internet since it was created in 2009. We spoke with Dominic to learn more.
Where did the idea for The Surfer come from?
The idea for The Surfer came about from a combination of things. I had just written and appeared in a low budget feature film in the UK which was made with some money from the Film Council. I was asked if there was anything else I'd like to work on and perhaps direct. There was a scheme here at the time called Digi Shorts which provided funding to make short films. I applied with the idea for The Surfer and was awarded the funding.
The idea itself grew out of a chance conversation I had with a really funny guy at a beach in South Devon in UK. He was a SUPer. He and his wife were carrying his massive paddle board across the car park to his brand new VW T5 van with all the flash wheels, tinted windows, and body kit. I asked him if he'd had a good surf and he launched into a monologue about how his surf had been. His wife and daughter then attempted to carry his board to the van whilst he stood chatting to me. He also told his daughter who was about 8 to mind that she didn't damage the board which I thought was hilarious. Anyway, he was a really nice guy and I don't mean any disrespect to him but he struck me as being one of the new breed of surfers in the UK (it could be any sport/hobby – climbing or kite surfing, even cycling) where suddenly you get someone not traditionally associated with the activity really getting into it, spending thousands of pounds on it and becoming an expert on it. We're all like it to an extent.
Tell us more...
I am painfully aware that the irony of this film is its really close to me. I live in London, I'm a middle aged, middle class bloke who's got into surfing really late and have made my fair share of idiotic mistakes in the water etc., so I'm laughing at myself as much as anyone else! I then tried to extend that basic conversation, fill out the blanks, invent a home life for this guy and a back story just like I would with any writing I happened to be doing. I thought the docu-style would be perfect as a short film because you can use the platform to allow the character to just talk to the camera. It’s really economic storytelling and is also incredibly cheap and quick to do. I had never directed film before and it’s pretty daunting so the docu-style seemed a very gentle way in.
Tell us a bit about yourself as an actor/producer
My background is primarily as an actor although I started writing 'one man shows' that I would perform at Edinburgh Festival and in London. I then progressed writing the odd film script or TV pilot. The film is really just another one of those projects, albeit with me producing it as well. The shoot itself was really easy, made easier by using a director of photography I had worked with before who was just brilliant, who provided some brilliant shots and made sure the thing would be easy to edit.
What were some of the challenges in making this film?
The only challenge was getting good footage in the water. Whilst it’s easy to use a GOPro (they had only just come out when I made the film) there is such a difference in feel between that and the 'normal' camera, that I really tried to avoid using the GOpro. We didn't have a waterproof housing either, so I had to rely on small waterproof camcorder to get underwater shots which worked to an extent, but again was not of great picture quality. It’s funny actually, as I had arranged to go out on a rib with the main camera and the guys from the beach lifesaving club so I could get plenty of 'action shots' from the lineup. But on the day this was supposed to happen, we just got this epic swell that lit up the whole beach and it was rammed with surfers. I had arranged for some of the local groms to appear in the film, but needless to say they didn't turn up (well they did, but were too busy surfing to come and stand around waiting to film with me!).
How were you able to convince your family to be featured in the film?
My family, bless them, agreed to appear. My wife and I met at drama school so she's pretty comfortable with acting and the kids at that age seem to treat it as though it’s perfectly normal. They've grown up watching me on various TV shows and a lot of my friends are actors, so they think it’s pretty normal. Now they're older and they have no interest in it at all and don't watch me if I'm in anything!
What is your favorite scene in the film?
My favourite moments in the film are with other people – my family at the beginning or the young guys going out to surf. I also really like the moment when he's walking out of the water, back to the van explaining in voiceover that his wife has called time on their marriage. There’s a nice bit of pathos there and it just looks so lovely, wandering up a deserted beach in the failing light and he's up in car park trying to get his wet suit off.
What has been the audience reaction to The Surfer?
I've been really blown away by the reaction to the film. I've had loads of people approach me in the water both here and abroad in Lanzarote and France. In fact, I just got back from a short visit to Biarritz and San Sebastián in Spain where a guy from a surf house in Capbreton came up to me in the airport and asked me if I was 'that' guy. Considering the film was made over four years ago thats been really pleasing. As I said before my background is in acting primarily and I work on a lot of comedy shows on TV here so people will often come and say hello, especially if i've been in something popular. But with The Surfer, it’s different because it’s a very specific world and you have to be in it yourself to recognise it.
What meaning does surfing hold for you?
I came to surfing very late and quickly became totally obsessed by it. And like a lot of people who are drawn to documenting it through film, writing or photography, I wanted to contribute – make a comment if you like. Combining my obsession for surfing with my work seemed to be a great way of making a comment and contributing to surfing's cultural life (if that doesn’t sound too pretentious) in a way that at the time was pretty unique.
I think surfing just works its way into you to such an extent that you feel like you just have to share it and film is obviously the perfect platform for that. I can't shape boards (I wish I could as it would save me a lot of money), I don't make art or take photographs, so making the film was my only means of doing that. I did actually take some time out from writing after I made the film and I took a break from acting as well to open a shop in London. Again, this was heavily surf influenced. I sold art by Tyler Warren, handmade skateboards from Shakastics in Costa Mesa – stuff like that, as well as lot of US heritage clothing from Pendleton and Levi’s Vintage. Again it was an outlet for my obsession with surfing. However that was pretty short-lived and I hit a purple patch of acting work with new shows and new writing projects.
What are you riding these days?
I've been trying to sort out my quiver. I've been riding a lot of Marc Andreini's boards which I just love. I never had any fixed idea of how I wanted to surf and I remember borrowing a Vaquero from a friend and just being blown away by the flowing feeling of displacing water, the speed and the sensation of being so connected to the wave. I then proceeded to go through various shapes and sizes before moving onto a point breaker from Greg Liddle which is probably the best out and out hull I've ridden. But it does have its limitations, especially here and on the east coast UK which is about as far from a lined up point break you could imagine! Recently I just picked up an 8' Serena from Marc which is a fantastic board. It has all the qualities of the point breaker with way more hold and the ability to ride it off the tail. A great board for sure. I also ride a 6'2 Hydrodynamica butter knife from Hank Warner which is the first tri-fin i've spent any real time on and I love that as well. It makes me feel that even though i'm hurtling towards 50 – I might still make it as a pro!
What’s next for Dominic Coleman?
Surfing has given me so much. I've connected with people all over the world and it’s introduced me to artists/film makers such as Andrew Kidman that I may never have come across and who have now become a daily point of reference for me. I've made friends in Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk, LA, Australia, on my doorstep and everywhere in between and for that, I am eternally grateful.
i'm currently working on a script for TV that is very heavily surf influenced. I'm trying to find a bit more balance in my life, as waking up each day to check what’s happening on surf forums in America and whether we're getting any swell isn't the most constructive use of my time!