Filmmaker Jack Coleman shoots Super 8 to bring the smell of cut grass and childhood dreams to bare on a world of wonder. Ano Mac peers through his pre-digital lens.
THERE’S one point in the film we’re watching where Jack’s recorded sound with his little tape machine while shooting with his camera. Intermixed with the ambient goings on, we can hear the ‘click-click’ of the super eight as film speeds through the gears, exposing the emulsion and capturing as yet undisclosed images of what’s going on. I know that sound. Many do or did. Not a new sound, yet it’s one that sets off a chain reaction of emotions. It’s an anchor in the past. Conjuring up images from old. A mental aphrodisiac that evokes childhood past.
We’re sitting in Canggu. Out in the back yard. There’s a hundred-odd people, a mixture of locals and travellers, all strewn about. It’s a quasi-private showing for a new surf movie, ‘Imaginary Carpet Market’, produced along with Raen Optics by filmmaker Jack Coleman. It’s his third.
Something of a late bloomer in moviemaking circles, it wasn’t until Jack had spent many years in front of a camera that he took those few short strides behind. A model, a traveller, a surfer. There was the year spent in Germany, another spread across Italy and New York. He may have made his living being out in front but he felt comfortable there, cut off, aloof, disjointed and, as he tells me, feeling more than a little odd at having his photo taken.
It was in the days before digital, almost forgotten now, when there was more of a process to taking a photo. You had to be sure. No instant gratification. Jack has an affinity with that process. He doesn’t do digital. In Italy he shared digs with another model, a photographer on the side. Seeing his work piqued an interest in Jack, eventually leading to him investing in a point and shoot camera and for the first time, perhaps, finally utilising the large amount of downtime between jobs and auditions.
He missed California. He’d spent a long time living outside her borders. He missed his life there, his friends and his family and he missed his first love too, surfing. Finally whatever kept him away, broke. He came home. He came home to a somewhat changed way of life. People had grown up. They had kids. They had houses. They had careers. They were not the only things that had evolved. Model had become photographer and at some stage, an SLR, still film, had supplanted his point-and-shoot. He was documenting life. He came home and continued. He started taking photos of his friends’ children and shooting their weddings. It must have been conducive to a good consensus for this led him to shoot for them more commercially. He did catalogue work for his friends’ clothing companies and took photos of bands his mates were in.
Jack went to art school and honed his skills. It was also there that he fell from static to dynamic. From still into film. Reasons are rather sketchy. Jealousy or frustration with the limitations of a medium. The moment of revelation came while Jack was putting together a slideshow assignment for college; he had a chance viewing of a film, a short for a clothing company, though he can’t remember who or what, for him this was the tipping point.
Jack has memories of a childhood sitting around home as dad replayed family gatherings, camping trips and backyard birthdays. The sound of the projector sprockets winding through the Super 8 film. The smell of the popcorn. The family laughter and friendly banter.
Things happen in threes. First one for Jack was a friend at art college gifting him an old Super 8 camera. A relic from the bottom of the wardrobe. Second was living in Pasadena, California. Close to the beach though, more importantly, the epicenter of the film industry. Home to Burbank, where all the film labs are. Close vicinity meant quick turnaround and accessibility. His student discount made Super 8 his affordable choice.
When he started out, his movies were art, then art and music and then art, music and surfing. Pasadena was full of friends doing things. A lot of whom needed things done for them. Small promo videos for the clothing lines Idol Radec and BB Dakota. Music videos for mate’s bands; The Shy’s and The Growlers.
Jack then took to the road, disappearing down into Costa Rica on tour with The Growlers. Music, surf and shooting. A year south of the border, adopting the traveller’s free spirit, he gave up all the trappings, the trip an exorcism. It proved very cathartic to him. He’d had a Catholic upbringing; was well groomed from years of plying his former trade and most certainly more than a little image conscious. The tumble through the jungle stripped him of the lot. With money more wisely spent on food and film, things like haircuts became a thing of the past. His entire persona underwent radical changes. Outwardly, his appearance only really differed where his hair took on a life of its own independently developing into natural blonde dreads. It was underneath the skin that major changes took place, where his whole world inverted. Or should I say, righted itself.
Finally back in California, he made a video clip for a friend’s band, Tomorrow’s Tulips. This is what became that third of the three things. Jack’s love of surfing meshed with one half of the band, Alex Knost. Musician, artist and surfer, Alex was more than a little well known for his surfing prowess and it had already started to become a rare day when he didn’t have a photographer about taking pictures. They came from all over, Europe, Japan, Australia and, of course America. That was all happening at the local beaches, the same ones that Jack surfed. Wasn’t long before Jack turned up at the beach armed with his own camera. Over the course of a few months he recorded these surfs and approached Alex to show him a sample of what he’d been up to. Fait accompli. Alex became intrigued. The rushes were so different to anything anybody else was shooting of him at the time. The dialogue opened and like they say in the movies…the rest was history.
It took a year for Jack to make his first surf film, Polyester. When it opened there was no great fanfare; rather a few viral premieres, moreover parties. It’s a slow burner and has over time developed an underground following. It featured Alex Knost. They shot it in mainland Mexico, Central Baja, and all those SoCal surf spots where Alex likes to hang. The singularity of subject allowed the artist to really explore his medium. He built it up frame by frame. At some point he’d discovered a stash of old out of date Super 8 cartridges which, when developed, gave some amazing effects. Sometimes. It was a rather hit and miss affair. Some of the film returned from the labs unusable while other footage just got Jack super excited. He began to hand paint and scratch the films before sending it out to be digitized. Only when it returned could he begin the editing and composition process. He began to develop a love-hate relationship as the hoopla became more and more convoluted.
Jack was in new territory on more than one account. He was a man who’d grown up watching all the slash style short board surf movies. He loved ‘em! It was his type of surfing and he now found himself making movies with a guy that rode anything but. Small wonder that halfway through the undertaking he unconsciously began another. In some way a response to missing those types of movies. Though mainly the fact was that Alex would introduce him to someone, say Ozzie Wright and of course they’d go surfing and of course Jack would get footage of him. Same goes with all these other free surfers who proximity cast a role for. Dane Reynolds, Andrew Doheny, Josh Hoyer, and Ford Archbold were guys he would party and hang with. They lived in the same area and he’d go surfing with them and of course he’d end up with footage of them.
‘Happy Beach’, Jack’s second movie, is really is a celebration of his community. It has that uncontrived feeling of friendship. Like-minded guys, mates, going for a surf. Jack, their other mate, there to document it. He loves catching the waves with them while at the same time capturing them.
As with ‘Polyester’, ‘Happy Beach’ is a movie as much about Jack’s art as it is about the content. He shot, directed, edited and produced both of them off of his own bat. Or on his own dime, as they say in the States. The other thing about them is both movies left me a little dumbfounded, at first. I should also add I saw them back-to-back.
His film making process is convoluted and more than a little archaic. The visuals are different. You have to peer in, his kaleidoscopic tactile imagery of amazing free surfers in exotic locations mixed with a thoroughly planned, yet obscure, musical score. It’s ocularly ill defined at times and some waves are more hinted at than shown. But once allowed a little time to percolate around the inside of your brain, you’ll come around, as I have, to see he’s actually on the right path. Jack is definitely safe in the knowledge that no one out there is doing the things he’s doing.
Just when understanding comes, the benchmark is moved. ‘Imaginary Carpet Market’ is a complete departure from his first two offerings. For one thing it’s less worked from a visual point. The movie is also the first co-produced work he’s done. Raen Optics gave him a bunch of cash to buy some plane tickets and film, however, they left all artistic control up to Jack. The speed at which it was shot surely had a lot to do with it. Shooting the lot across a two-week period earlier this year in Bali. Another predominantly Alex Knost piece, it does have some amazing cameos from the likes of Ellis Ericson, Jared Mell, Harrison Roach and Matt Chojnacki. He’s also included glimpses of everyday life. Of Bali life. It flows from one to another with a documentary like feel. And there is the sound. The new sense. He’s a man that loves the process and for someone who shoots in Super 8, a medium that has no sound track, you can tell he’s really enjoying the ability to grab sound at the source to incorporate later.
Feeding on a fresh idea each day. He’s in his year of perpetual motion; California, Bali, California, Japan, California, Mexico back to California before returning to Bali, back to California and now returned to Bali. Whew! There’s this heap of footage he shot while in Japan. Small waves enabled him to be sidetracked by the culture. Germ of a new project. A cultural travel film. Not quite a fully fleshed out idea so presently he’s just tucking away footage for later, a work in progress.
A month ago Jack arrived back in Bali armed to the back teeth with film, more than 100 rolls and cartridges in total, like some unsung brand ambassador for Kodak. And already they’re filling up. Pushing and pulling people up and down the archipelago they go. Chasing waves. Expeditions in Indonesia with the likes of Ozzie Wright, Jason Salisbury, Alex Knost, Mitch Coleburn and Ellis Ericson. Craig Anderson wanted in but a hurricane called Fiona dragged him and a couple of mates to Nova Scotia so he eluded Jack’s lens once again. Jack’s super stoked about Indonesia. He loves the people, he’s getting to travel and he’s shooting great waves. Apparently it’s tough to get good stuff in California.
The speed Jack is producing movies is scary. Over a couple of years he’s already got more than a respectable body of work and shows no sign of slowing down. As if he’s drinking from a well that might, at any minute, dry up.
His next movie, ‘Temple’ is a Deus ex Machina produced Indo surf movie. Based around Jason Salisbury’s soul surfing rad style it’s centred on their mutual love of motorcycles, mini jaunts around Bali and other islands and surfing. Everything he comes to Indo for. He’s just returned from California where he had the film developed and scanned and is now busy editing. It’s all but there and we should see it out soon.
And if that weren’t enough ‘Secret Sound Underground’ is set for a January 2013 release. With little or none known or spoken about the project this will be a return to his self-produced movies. I, for one, am expecting him to take new tangents and await its release with baited breath.