Going to Extremes to Get the Shot

[Newport Beach Film Fest] You think action-sports athletes push the limit? Check out the people filming them

He’s less thrilled recalling the day he was shooting in the water when a set with 15- to 20-foot faces rolled in.

“I dove under, almost hitting the reef,” says Apffel, remembering it being only 5 feet down. “All of a sudden, something hit me really hard in the head, and I almost lost consciousness. When I surfaced, I realized it was Hans Hagen.”

Considering the gash Hagen’s board carved into Apffel’s head, it could have been disastrous were it not for the quick needlework of their surf guide.

Laguna Beach's Hans Hagen rides a giant barrel in Indonesia in "Lost Prophets—search for the collective"
Joey Melroy
Laguna Beach's Hans Hagen rides a giant barrel in Indonesia in "Lost Prophets—search for the collective"
"Lost Prophets" director Nathan Apffel in his work clothes
Jennie Warren
"Lost Prophets" director Nathan Apffel in his work clothes

Later into filming, the director was in Bali when he awoke one morning shaking in a cold sweat. That lasted for four days before he figured out he was suffering from dengue fever, which is a lot like malaria but relatively easy to treat.

Perhaps it was a fever-induced dream that caused Apffel to come up with the angle he wanted to shoot Hagen surfing off mainland Mexico. The viewer will likely believe it was shot from a helicopter, but the camera was actually perched high atop a cliff that hung over the wave break.

Lugging 50-plus pounds of equipment, it took Apfell three and a half hours to schlep up that cliff. “I only had my gear, swim trunks and a pair of sandals,” he recalls. “Needless to say, I wasn’t well-prepared.”

He now proudly boasts that trek produced “some of the coolest angles from the film.”

*     *     *

Two of Marc Salomon’s crew members rigged a camera to an ATV. One of them drove the vehicle at high speeds on a bumpy dirt track while the other operated the camera, which would swing violently back and forth or up and down. None of the resulting footage was used at length in Camp Chuck, a documentary that explores the dirt-track motorcycle sport freestyle motocross (FMX), whose riders do jumps and tricks in the middle of their races.

The ATV shots created by director of photography Justin Ostensen—who was born and raised in Laguna Beach, where he still lives—give viewers the point of view of riders.

More important to Salomon, who produced and directed despite not knowing much about FMX when he began, was projecting the riders’ “fear, courage and determination” without setting up any special shots.

“We essentially just let them loose and let our director of photography and operators loose, and then refined the evolving chaos as best we could,” Salomon explains.

He describes that chaos as “essentially six grown men simultaneously killing every ridable inch of the place, revving bikes so loud that you are in what can only be described as an acoustic blackout, stirring up clouds of dirt that face-whip you like Indiana Jones.”

Salomon’s camera operators took hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment up hills made of mud to film riders such as Chuck Carothers—who, noticing how bold the cameramen were getting one particular day, decided to give them a show. “Chuck barrels down the runway, off the jump, whips his bike perfectly flat, sideways, flying directly toward the camera,” Salomon recalls. “At what seems like an impossibly late moment, Chuck straightens the bike away from the camera and holds his hand out for a high five, landing perfectly with barely a sound.”

You won’t see that shot in Camp Chuck, Salomon explains, because cameraman Marc Levy had already “bailed down the side of the dirt mountain like a billy goat, doing everything he could to maintain the safety of the camera, while galloping, falling and rolling with his assistant, Martin DiCicco, down to a safe and hilarious heap.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were back up at their original perch. A little muddier, of course.

*     *     *

Davo Weiss says the hairiest moment of directing BoardHeads came not in the waters off South Africa, dodging sharks while shooting kiteboarders, but in the streets of Paris, where he had to talk police out of arresting him for non-permitted filming near the Eiffel Tower.

His documentary honors what Weiss calls the “global tribe of board riders”—surf, body, wake, kite, snow and skate—“who make the world a cooler place.” Bringing them to the screen involved lugging expensive gear through not only the City of Lights, but also the ghettos of South Africa, Brazil and Thailand. “Perhaps the most interesting things that we experienced in the making of the film were the cultural diversities found around the world,” Weiss says. “After long days of windsurfing, we watched locals in Brazil sandboarding down giant sand dunes and dancing their capoeira martial arts on the beach.”

The cultural diversity Weiss captured extended to Huntington Beach, where he filmed ex-gang members being treated to a free day of surfing.

*     *     *

Freedom Riders is about a small group of mountain bikers who—after having carved rough, unsustainable and illegal trails in the country’s national forestland—created an unprecedented relationship with federal authorities to build what are now regarded as some of the best “freeride” trails in the country.

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