Sure a global, civilization-ending apocalypse has wiped out the world as we know it, but maybe things aren’t so bad after all. That’s the idea director Joe Guglielmino sought to explore in his latest surf documentary, Year Zero. Guglielmino runs the entertainment division for Globe International, a surf and skate gear and apparel maker.
“If anyone is going to survive an apocalypse with smiles on their faces, it would probably be surfers, because as long as everyone is safe and they can find a wave, they are pretty happy,” says Guglielmino, who was inspired by the conceptual surf films made by George Greenough and Jack McCoy in the 1970s and 1980s.
Though categorized as documentaries, conceptual surf films like Year Zero are experimental in nature and almost music video-like. “Surfing itself and communing with nature is a psychedelic experience in that it is transformative,” he explains. “The goal is to try to get the viewer as close to that experience as possible by using high frame rates to slow down time and music to really drive that home, honing in on little moments.”
A big part of his aesthetic, and by extension the Globe brand aesthetic, is the use of KODAK Super 16mm Film to capture the visuals. “I’ve always had an incredible affinity for film — the tactile nature of it; loading mags with your hands; its durability and ruggedness; the incredible latitude and versatility of the Kodak stocks; and of course, the look,” he notes. “It has an incredible quality that is still unsurpassed, in my opinion.”
As far as a cost comparison, he says shooting and processing film versus renting and shooting high-end high definition was practically a wash. The crew also needed minimal gear to get through customs as efficiently as possible, and oftentimes they have to swim to beaches with their gear in watertight Pelican cases.
“Our production schedule is very different than traditional films, in that we are completely location based and also completely at the whim of Mother Nature,” he explains. “We have to chase swells to the far corners of the globe and often find ourselves waiting for weeks once we get there for everything to line up just right so we can get what we need. When we tested and priced everything out based on length of rentals, durability, etc., and compared Super 16mm against the best digital cameras and workflows, we decided that shooting film was the best option for us.”
Starring Globe-sponsored riders who are well known in the surf community, Year Zero was shot in Western Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, Southwest France, the north coast of Spain and Costa Rica. Exact locations are never identified because when it comes to discovered waves, surfers are a protective bunch.
Their gear consisted of tripods, a couple ARRI SR-2 High Speeds and two 35mm CANON 15-600mm zooms modified for Super 16 (one by Optex, one by Century Precision Optics), which doubles the focal length. Cameras were loaded with KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 7201 and KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 7207. After the 12-month shoot, around 40,000 feet of film had been shot.
Guglielmino’s longtime director of photography, Scott Soens, actually taught him how to shoot because they realized two angles on the same action were better for editing.
“Normally, I manned the longer lens,” says Soens, “and then Joe would be just a little bit wider and at more of a straight-on angle, which was free of obstructions in front of the lens in order to get the clip that makes the trick. I would experiment with foreground, ramping speeds, rack focusing, extreme angles and we can cut back and forth between the two angles. I usually speed ramp after the surfer drops in, right when he starts his session and then return to normal speed after he’s finished.”
Adds Guglielmino, “With long focal lengths, we try to build the frame so that you’re not just seeing a guy and ocean. We want a background, a foreground and to have the athlete performing between the two and then maximize the amount of action happening in the frame.”
“I love working with film because you don’t have to do much to it to make it look beautiful.”
The filmmakers tried for locations that lent themselves to a post-apocalyptic landscape. “For instance,” cites the director, “along the southwest coast of France we shot where there were World War II bunkers jutting out from the sand, using those in the foreground to look like ruins backed by these incredible waves.”
The third integral member of this tight crew is water cinematographer Rick Jakovich, who’s out in the waves with a MILIKEN DBM 55 Super 16mm camera in a waterproof housing. “Some of the most stunning shots in the film are done by Rick,” Guglielmino says. Jakovich was usually on a 10mm lens to capture intense shots when the wave barrels, and also used a spring-wound Bolex with a longer lens to focus in on surfing intricacies.
Citing a ratio of one cloudy day for every three sunny days, Soens shoots clean at a stop of T16 without any special processing, though a roll here or there may be pushed when needed. A 72-degree shutter helps with clarity on high-speed shots. While the SR-2 cameras go up to 150 fps, the MILIKEN is twice as fast.
A familiarity with the surfers helps them know what to expect. “We know what the surfers are like, what their body positions are and can pick the best angles for each surfer,” says Soens. “That’s important to make a trick look much better.”
Soens usually counts on spending four to six hours a day shooting. The surfers perform in rotating groups so they are able to take breaks. The cameramen don’t have that luxury. “I definitely have pulled nine-hour days on the beach — just by myself,” Soens says with a laugh. “Everyone on board knows that this is a production, and needs to be out there performing as best as they can. The riders are athletes, and they really put their time in out there.”
After each location shoot, Rushes in Hollywood did 1080p transfers supervised by telecine colorist Gino Panero. Guglielmino and another core member of the team, editor George Manzanilla, would then make their shot selects. Working in ProRes 422 HQ at full resolution in Final Cut Pro, Manzanilla would edit the film, create the looks and composite, built upon a score of songs from retro rock band Black Mountain. Final output was in ProRes 422 HQ to a BLU-RAY disc master.
“I love working with film because you don’t have to do much to it to make it look beautiful,” Manzanilla says. “The scene would dictate if we should add a layer of Super 16. Sometimes a beautiful bright sunset shot would look awesome on top of a shot of a girl putting her hands up to the sky. Most of the compositing was pretty simple transfer modes. We’re just overlaying visual elements on top of other visual elements, using three or four layers in a shot at most.”
Though film has the grain aesthetic the filmmakers like, some footage was grunged up further with overlays of film grains, dust and inverted white film leader.
Apocalyptic cut scenes throughout the film tie the surfing locations together. Shot in the deserts of Southern California, these feature people cavorting around decaying castoffs, bonfires and Mad Max-like muscle cars. Most was shot with a ZEISS 11-110mm zoom, but the filmmakers went longer on the car scenes. “The cars racing through the desert were shot long lens — at 24 frames per second at 600mm you get a little camera shake that adds intensity to the driving scenes,” notes Guglielmino.
Even Manzanilla got into the act by shooting cut-scene footage on Super 8mm with a BEAULIEU 4008 converted to a 16:9 aspect ratio by Pro8mm in Burbank. He shot the same 50D and 250D Films cut down for Super 8, and Pro8mm processed and transferred the footage.
“I grew up shooting Super 8 film and stealing my dad’s cameras to do it,” he points out. “It’s fun to be able to use it professionally, and it was easy to integrate into this grainy, grungy, post-apocalyptic scenario.”
After 18 months of shooting and post production, the filmmakers created a visually and sonically mesmerizing film.
“So many people watch the film and keep saying how beautiful it is or how amazing the shots look and they can’t quite figure out why they love it so much. I tell them what they are responding so strongly to is the magic of film. And we shot it all on cameras that are way older than we are!”
Year Zero won Surfer Magazine’s Movie of the Year Award, and is now available on iTunes, BLU-RAY disc and DVD.