New York-based experimental filmmaker Tin Ojeda spent the last half-decade capturing offbeat logging, finless sliding, and alt-craft styling on rolls of black and white, Super 8 and Super 16 film, chopping the footage together to an eclectic soundtrack of improvisational jazz and dissonant noise. Though films like “Daughter,” “Kook Paradise,” and “Expensive Porno Movie” resonated with the surf world underground, 2017’s “Free Jazz Vein” brought Ojeda attention from the mainstream, even earning the Argentinian a SURFER Award nomination for Movie of the Year.
Ojeda is already working on his follow-up: an all-digital project with Dana Point’s Justin Adams called “Abstract Rhythms.” Fresh off a trip to Peru with Adams and log-stylist Kassia Meador, Ojeda talked about the making of “Free Jazz,” how he chooses the surfers at which to point his camera, and his recent transition to more modern motion capturing techniques.
Congratulations on your SURFER Awards nomination. It must have been cool to see a film like yours, that strays from normal, or more accepted approaches to both surfing and filmmaking nominated next to the other great films of the year.
Yeah, I was really stoked I got nominated. I knew that Dane Reynolds’ movie was going to win. The surfing in that movie is unreal. All the other movies were so good, too.
I was nervous, especially to show [“Free Jazz”] in Hawaii because over there I just imagine people want to see big barrels and more modern surfing. My last movie [“Expencive Porno Movie”] has a lot of longboarding, so I don’t know how that would have gone over out there. But since “Free Jazz” had a mix of styles and featured guys like Ozzie [Wright], Beau Foster, and such, I figured I’d submit it. When I heard it was nominated, I was super stoked. I was happy to know that there was an opportunity for different films like the one that I did, that has more of a mix and isn’t just barrel-barrel-snap-barrel.
How’d you get into shooting film to begin with?
I always loved the look of film. I used to make random skateboard videos when I was young, just messing around shooting my friends. I always wanted to shoot film, especially Super 8. It just has such a cool, vintage feel to it. I just love how it looks–the colors, all the dust. It was kind of like looking at art. Plus, you can shoot anything and make it look cool [laughs]. But I never had any money to invest in film. So, I shot my first movie [“Daughter”] in all black and white because it was somewhat cheap. I bought like six rolls of black and white Super 8 film and did it. I shot it just over a couple of days in California. Then the Super 8 started to feel a little bit limiting. It just looked so grainy and it was the same thing over and over. So I thought I’d shoot the next one on 16. Eventually I got hooked up with Saturdays and they sponsored next movie. That was huge.
So you shot the majority of “Free Jazz” on 16mm film. What were some of the challenges to doing that?
It was a bit of a pain. I was shooting everything and then I wasn’t able to see it until I got home. There was a lot of anxiety. How did those guys do it back in the day, like Bruce Brown and George Greenough? You’re traveling the world and so many things can go wrong with the cameras and all that. I was freaking out, shipping film and cameras everywhere. It was stressful. But once you get everything back, it just looks so good. It’s very improvised, too, which I love. You get all these light leaks, or the roll will finish and you get all these abstract colors going on. It’s so fun to edit.
I did lose a lot of money by insisting on shooting on film, though. At the beginning I thought I’d do the whole thing on film. I was like, “Fuck, I don’t want to shoot digital.” Everyone was telling me, “Dude, you should just shoot some digital.” I was very stubborn. We took a trip to Costa Rica with Dane Peterson, Devon Howard and Trevor Gordon. When I got there, I had just gotten the camera serviced. I do it after every trip. We get there and we were camping at Witch’s Rock for a week. Just straight camping–hot, mosquitoes, the worst. Early on in the trip, I was loading up the camera and turning it on and it was making this weird noise. It’s like a car–you can hear it and tell something is wrong just by the sound it’s making. The film started to get jammed. I was fixing it as I was going. We shot for a week–30 rolls of film, sweating my ass off, lugging all the equipment around. It was hectic. I got back to the United States, looked at the film and absolutely nothing came out. It was just flickering the whole time. So then I was like, “OK, I need to start shooting digital.” That was the lesson. I blew a lot of my budget on that trip.
How long did it take to complete, then?
It was three years, altogether. But I took a long break in between. With that movie it was like an off-and-on relationship with a girlfriend. You break up, get back together, break up again [laughs]. If I were working on it non-stop it would have been like a year and a half.
So, you’ve already begun working on a follow-up. Tell me about “Abstract Rhythms.”
It’s going to be different not only because I’m shooting all digital. But I’m using more cinematic tools to capture scenery and other stuff. It won’t look as vintage as the last movies. It’s still going to be abstract and weird [laughs].
When I started it, I wanted it to be simply a project with Justin Adams. He’s one of my favorite surfers. He’s a freak. He’s a great artist. I just think he’s one of the most interesting surfers. So, I proposed the idea to Justin. He didn’t really want it to be all about him. I understood. He didn’t really want to be the center of attention. I think it’s intimidating to think an entire film is going to be about you.
So then we kind of agreed it could be cool to have Justin go on trips with other surfers that he likes. I flew him to New York for hurricane season. We got a lot of great footage with all the storms we had. From there, we flew to Peru and just had a wild time.
How was Peru? The images look amazing.
Kassia [Meador] came. I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to get two goofy footers together with very different styles. That’s the idea for Abstract Rhythms–the kind of clash of styles. Every trip I’m bringing two people who have different rhythms. And there’ll be a little story to each pairing.
In Peru we shot a lot of stuff around these ruins called Chan Chan. They are from the year 500. We went to see a Shaman, too, which was really cool.
What challenges, then, do such dissonant pairings present for you, when it comes time to edit the footage?
That’s kind of the reason I’m bringing two people with different styles. In the past, when I’ve filmed people with similar styles, it gets very repetitive when you are editing. I like having more contrast.
It is a challenge at the same time. Right now, I’m editing Kassia and Justin surfing in Peru and it’s so difficult. There are two different rhythms. Kassia’s on a longboard, moving slow and stylish. Then Justin is on this Bonzer and he’s all over the place. And I’m trying to edit them to the same song.
But I’m trying to make something that is lasting and different and re-watchable. Not just a quick edit that goes online or Instagram and then is gone the next day. It’s really challenging because there is so much stuff out there for us to see everyday. And I think our attention spans have gotten shorter.
What other trips do you have planned for the new film?
We’ll be taking Alex Knost to Morrocco. Then El Salvador after that. Then, we’ll go back to Peru with Jared Mell. I’d like to get to Bali, too. We’ll see.
When can we hope to see the final product?
I’m shooting for the end of summer.
Your movies always feature an eclectic mix of styles and personalities. Do you see a common thread between the surfers you’re drawn to capture?
Before I started making movies there were a few guys who I’d see in other films or edits who got me really inspired to surf. For my own personal level of surfing, if I see a clip of Dane Reynolds, I’m like, “OK, well, I could never do any of that.” But there are certain things about some of the other surfers that I was drawn to that I could almost see myself doing. I mean, I know I could never surf like them, either, but something about their style and approach, I could connect to it. So those were the guys who I wanted to work with. I thought I could capture them surfing and put my own sort of artistic vision to their surfing. So I just started introducing myself to people that I wanted to film and building relationships with these guys.
I think ultimately, I’m just drawn to surfing that looks different in some way. I always like different.
[Top image: Justin Adams, riding a high through South America. Photo by Ojeda]