Surfacing: Jack McCoy
Hey Jack, how did your first Bucket List screening go? Pretty good. I don’t know how many people were there but the place was full. We showed The Green Iguana and Kong’s Island. I haven’t looked at those two movies for God knows how long, maybe 10 or 20 years.
I’ve blown them up digitally and you lose almost a third of the picture, top and bottom. But it makes the dimension of the movie and the look of the movie a lot different.
So losing that one third of the screen was a worthy compromise?
It was a real painstaking exercise to get there, but seeing it now in this format is like watching a whole different movie. I’m giving my fans another crack at the cherry, so to speak.
What does one of these screening nights involve?
What we’re doing each week is we have a little charity we’re supporting, and they come along and they talk about it. Then we do some raffles and I give away a bunch of DVDs and posters and memorabilia, just to raise a bit of money and a bit of awareness.
For me, I can’t go to Bondi without ever thinking of my friend Brad Mayes, so I’ve decided to dedicate each of the screenings to Brad. Last Thursday we poured a beer and left it on the counter and all of Brad’s friends came down and had a sip of the beer, to drink it down for him.
Brad was obviously a good friend of yours, and he saved your life once, didn’t he?
Yeah, out in Uluwatu in a two wave hold down. I came up seeing stars and I don’t know if I would have been able to… well I don’t know what happened, but he was right there and he scooped me up and rode down the reef of Uluwatu. He helped me get my composure back together again.
Why did you choose those four films in particular?
Since I’m a bit of an old dinosaur, I tried to choose one from each of the eras. They represent four decades of my career.
You have mentioned before that with new recording technologies, the technical aspect of filmmaking has been taken care of. Do you think this is a good or bad thing for the art of surf filmmaking?
That’s a really good question, and I don’t want to sound too old school saying, “This is the way it was”. Its more like this is the way it will never be again. Today, a young guy goes out and he buys a camera that has an automatic everything; focus, aperture, shutter-speed. You don’t have to do anything except go out and point the camera.
The thing that I learned, that I think a lot of young people who are starting filmmaking miss out on, is the process of the actual exercise.
We started shooting still pictures. We could barely afford colour, but we could load and shoot as much black and white film as we wanted because it didn’t cost as much. We’d process it, and make our own prints and that’s how you would learn from your mistakes. From that process I learnt a lot about composition, about dimension, about depth of field, about all the things that make up a great picture.
Today, none of those skills - what I call the art of photography - are something that they encourage young people to focus on. Sure, some of the smarter guys go to school and learn all this, but really the best you can do is be aware of all this, then go out and learn it all yourself in what I call the school of hard knocks.
Were there any crucial waves or shots that were lost because you didn’t have the right exposure or composition?
Hundreds of them. But you know what they say in Hollywood, “If you didn’t get it, it didn’t happen.”
Are there any shots you’d cite as your proudest?
To pick one shot from Green Iguana or from Blue Horizon, or The Occumentary, you’re asking me to choose which baby I like better. I don’t think that’s a fair question!
It sounds like you know what you’re after. Speaking of which, did you really pay $20,000 for a Coldplay song?
Well look, normally they charge $250,000. Licensing Coldplay? Absolutely. Foo Fighters, 300 grand. Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop, Powderfinger, they’re all big marquee acts. We’re just very fortunate with some of our relationships with the artists and their management to get the songs.
It’s funny you mention McCartney, I’ve been told to ask you about the time you met Paul…
Basically a friend of mine saw some of my footage where I used one of Paul’s songs in a Deeper Shade of Blue. He showed it to Paul, Paul liked what he saw, he had a new song he was going to release and he felt it would go really well with the images I’d shot.
He contacted me and I made a clip, went to London, met Paul and we decided we would release the song, but once again we were going to do something good with it. So we released it through Surfrider all over the world, and Paul donated some money to them.
Is there something about the power of the feature length film that still prevails?
That’s a can of worms. The reality is that it doesn’t take much skill or experience to go out and shoot a bunch of surfing. And it doesn’t take a whole bunch of skill and experience to glue together those pictures and release them as a short web clip.
Surf companies, in their current state, have decided they want to spend to spend their money for promotion and publicity in areas other than films, which is fine, that’s their prerogative.
However, to me a film is something that has a story; a film takes you on a journey.
I’ve watched some amazing music videos that go for three minutes that do all that too. That’s what I would be doing if I were interested in making surf clips, to try and tell a story in those few minutes. But the best thing you get is a guy walking up the beach or a seagull flying by. There’s no thought into touching, moving and inspiring people.
I’ve spent my life’s work trying to touch, move and inspire people.