Surfing is an amazingly visual and spiritual pastime, and although we get to experience these visions and feelings first hand every time we hit the water, our stoke is further fed by skilled videographers and photographers who capture the experiences that we can’t.
Mark Waters is one such artist. Born and now based in the UK, Mark spent his childhood in South Africa – where the surfing bug bit and he became a Tableview local. He has since moved back to his homeland, but Mark’s passion for surfing has remained steadfast and his talent for filmmaking is becoming recognised.
This is a visual story about splashing some colour into your lives, by opening your eyes, breaking away from the mould and following your dreams. As wave sliders, we are inspired to travel the globe in search of perfect waves, but the deeper you look and the further you go, you realise that its not about finding that perfect slide…its about the people you meet and what you find along the way and how these experiences change you deep within.
ZIGZAG: Your film The Salt Trail has just had its World Premiere at the London Surf/Film Festival. How was the response?
MARK: The world premier was a date I anticipated for some time, so to finally get the film out to an audience after 18 months of hard work was rad. I was just stoked that the film was complete and I was given the opportunity to share it with a sold out audience. The response was better than I could ever have hoped for. The Salt Trail was awarded Best Cinematography and Best British Film, which was such a shock. To have my self-funded film stand strong against the biggest films of the year seemed a little far fetched, so to be awarded, twice, was a dream come true.
It’s not your first project. In 2011 you made a short called ‘Uncommon Ideals’ that got a lot of attention. Was that what got you amped to make The Salt Trail?
I have worked on a number of projects in the past, both personal and commercial, but Uncommon Ideals was definitely a special project for me. It was the first time my work received proper attention in the world of action sports, so it definitely gave me the drive to dive deeper into the world of surf filmmaking. There wasn’t a particular moment or thing that got me amped on doing a feature, I just always dreamt of doing a full length surf film, but I had no idea how to get the contacts to help bring all the resources together. The industry is pretty tight knit, so relying on brands and surfers to take me seriously enough to provide me with financial backing didn’t seem realistic, which is understandable. So, instead I thought I would create my own opportunity by doing it completely independently. I figured that if I create a feature length film with no brands or external investment and it somehow ends up being a success, then it would be a great personal accomplishment as well as open up more opportunities for the future.
Tell us the basic story/concept behind the movie. Where does its focus lie?
The story takes you on a journey through Indonesia from the crowded points of Bali to the isolation of the Mentawai islands, and captures the joys and the pains of exploration, and the rewards that will stay with you long after the journey is over. It is a film to stir the soul and stoke the wanderlust, as well as showcasing barrel riding at its finest. I have spent much of my life since leaving school working odd jobs and traveling, trying to push myself further and further outside of my comfort zone, but the further I pushed the more comfortable I became. Traveling has shaped my life and I am so grateful for all the experiences and lessons I have learnt. My love for travel inspired the story, aiming to give a visual reflection of the life rewarded when breaking away from the norm and doing what gets you stoked. The intention was not to preach, but to rather document a lifestyle of individuals living an alternative lifestyle.
You used to be a Tableview local, but now you’re living in the UK. What brought about the move to England?
I was actually born in the UK and moved over to SA with my family when I was a kid. I spent all my school years in Cape Town, with Tableview being the home to all my local breaks. I feel so lucky to have spent my childhood and my teens floating around and riding waves in the Atlantic Ocean with Table Mountain as the backdrop. I went back over to the UK after finishing school (like many Saffas) and spent the last eight years in and out of the country. The UK has become my base, but I have spent a lot of the time traveling and exploring different parts of the world.
Do you ever come back and visit?
I use to come back to SA every year, but I have not made it back in the last three years. I’m heading back in March for a good friend’s wedding and have a project in mind that I would like to do when I’m over. Just working on the idea at the moment and when the time is right I will start working on a way to raise funds whilst teaming up with some surfers who are amped to explore the rugged South African coastline.
Making surf movies can be an expensive undertaking. How do you keep yourself funded for new equipment and travel expenses?
Yeah, it’s definitely an expensive process, but when you are doing it on your own, with you own kit and in your own time, it cuts down the costs massively. It helped that I am a director, cinematographer and editor, which saved me from having to pay somebody else to fill any of the positions and the film was done with my own kit, which isn’t very fancy.
For the past two and a half years my work has been directed more towards the commercial world of action sports, where I have been lucky enough to cover some of the raddest action sport events on the planet. It’s this commercial work, as well as pouring pints in a pub, fixing roofs with my dad, and being a kitchen hand in Austria that kept the funds flowing throughout the creation of the film.
Towards the end of the project, paid work had to take a back seat to focus more on the completion of The Salt Trail, so the funds began to dry up. I had so much support from friends, family and strangers who helped out along the way, which made it possible for me to head back to Indo this year to finish the project, costing me next to nothing. I bought my plane ticket and was welcomed by amazing friends who offered their homes, bikes and beers for the entire duration of the trip. I was also sponsored with aerial footage and music by a number of musicians who believed in the ethics behind the project.
Both mine and Sunnie’s families have been behind us supporting where they can, which has helped massively, but above and beyond all, Sunnie (Mark’s significant other – Ed) has been the backbone to the project. The Salt Trail has been my focus and took priority over the past year and she has supported every decision and been by my side, pushing me through the difficult situations that such a large project can throw at you. She quickly earned the role of associate producer for all her physical, financial and emotional support and I will forever be grateful for all her belief, as well as inspiring me to keep moving forward when things got tough.
The beauty of the landscapes in the trailer are mesmerizing. Do you have a favourite location where you shot?
Yeah, Indonesia is blessed with some of the most insane landscapes. Such a beautiful place and I feel lucky every time I arrive. It’s hard to have a favourite, because Indonesia has something to offer wherever you go, but the month we spent in the Mentawais was amazing. The fun waves, dreamy landscapes and the friendliest locals are pushing me towards picking the Mentawais as my favourite location.
What about the highs and the lows while shooting. Can you think of any?
I have been on a high ever since deciding to dive into the project. Every fresh shot in the field and every new frame in the edit has got me more and more excited. Eight months of travelling to Indo, over two separate trips, watching the progression of an idea materialise into a 52 minute feature film that I can hold in my hand, has been my biggest achievement to date. As for the lows, they have definitely found their place, while I have sat behind a computer with no money trying to get to the bottom of technical issues and creative blocks. To dive into a self-funded feature film is a little crazy, but it has definitely been the most rewarding and educating experience of my life.
We’ve seen the trailer and it has us amped. How can we get our hands on a copy of the film?
Unfortunately it won’t be available for the next few months. With it being self-funded I have only been able to license it for festivals for now, but I will be setting up a Kickstarter to raise funds for commercial distribution. I am stoked to announce that the The Salt Trail has recently been selected as part of the official selection for the Wavescape Film Festival taking place in Cape Town over the next month, so if you want to check it, then head on over to the festival for the African premier.
Final question. Have you made any plans or scribbles in your notebook about your next project, and more importantly, can we come along?
Yeah definitely got some scribbles and I will be sure to fill you in. As I mentioned before, I got a project I would love to shoot in SA, so I will let you know if things start to brew.