CATHERINE BRABEC: A LIFE OUTSIDE
Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
A Life Outside is a feature length documentary by filmmaker Catherine Brabec on the lives six New Jersey surfers who pioneered surfing at the famed Casino Pier in Seaside Heights. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Pier and the infamous wave, the lives of these surfers were forever changed. We spoke with Catherine to learn more.
Why was producing this film important to you?
I had just started surfing and I was in the midst of that rush, really overwhelmed by it, so when I met the surfers from NJ who are in the film, I was taken by not only the depth of their passion, but how it had endured over so many years. They have all been surfing for over 50 years, and are still consumed by it to this day. Their stories fascinated me and I started filming them without really knowing where, as a film, it would go. As time went on the story deepened – it became about more than surfing, it was about their lives, the friendship and rivalries, and about the town itself.
Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, NJ are small communities on a tender barrier island that has its own unique history – wrestling with population growth and environmental concerns. So it grew into a much deeper story and it was important to me to not only tell the story, but tell the story well. I felt an enormous responsibility to these men. I had earned their trust, and I took that trust to heart.
How did the many surf legends in the film become a part of the story?
The stories Mike Doyle, Gerry Lopez, and Shaun Tomson give the wider context of what was happening in surfing back then and how the surf industry itself was growing into what it's become today and how professional surfing was developing. Greg Mesanko who opened the infamous Grog's Surf Palace in Seaside Heights started the first pro surf contests on the East Coast, and so the pros all surfed the East Coast at some point and came to know a lot of these guys from New Jersey. It’s an important piece of surf history here in the US.
What were some of the challenges in completing the film?
Like most indie film projects I was faced with budget challenges. I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign which was helpful (but also a challenge in its own right). We filmed in Mexico for most of the water scenes in the film – 6 days with 3 cameras, praying for good waves and no crowds. I think we pulled it off.
But I would say the biggest challenge was on the creative level. When I finally sat down to edit, I was in front of a mountain of footage and it was daunting – but it was also exhilarating. What I thought would be 3 months of editing turned into 10. – But I loved being in that extended creative space.
What are you hoping the audience will take away from A Life Outside?
What immediately comes to mind is the Dalai Lama's answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? He says, “There is no meaning to life, but life can be meaningful.” I think of these words daily. What I hope the audience might take away is this film is: Ordinary lives can become extraordinary lives when you find and follow your passion. It doesn't have to stop with time or age, in fact with time it can become deeper and richer.
What did you gain from this film?
So much! I make a living directing commercials and short form projects but this is my first feature film. I've learned so much about the craft of storytelling. Every screening of the film has taught me something and has given me a heightened respect for the audience. That respect and gratitude includes everyone who participated in the film. What started so simply, almost naively, grew into a deeper, long term project, and I'm honored for the trust everyone gave me in opening up their lives and allowing me to tell their story.
What’s next for Catherine Brabec and the A Life Outside?
More films for sure! I'm in the writing phase now and I am exploring future documentary possibilities. A Life Outside has just been released for sale on Vimeo On Demand and DVD purchases can be made through the website. I'm also excited to share that A Life Outside is being expanded into a web series! There is so much incredible material, short stories that couldn't make it into the film, but really needs to get out there, so look for that starting soon.