Cluster: An Interview With Director Kai Neville

LM: Cluster... What’s the big idea?

I wanted to do something different from the last three major surf films I’ve done — Modern Collective, Lost Atlas and Dear Suburbia, — which were very location based. Everything up until then felt like it was really parts orientated. Back in the day, you know, you would kind of work on your part, because I worked on those projects with Taylor [Steele] and stuff, and we would work on the guys’ parts for two years and then edit a section. But I felt like the level of surfing jumped to a point where the sessions going down were good enough to showcase the sessions and not just the parts. We were getting so much content that it was fun to show the locations, the lifestyle, the surfing and sort of just keep it raw.

And I did that for the last three films, almost to the point where I got burned out on it, you know what I mean? I started to see a lot of other similar movies, all session based. So I guess it was getting burned out on that vibe a little bit and then getting psyched on skate parts and parts in general about a year ago and I was like, “Fuck! It would be cool to try and like, bring that back.”

I also think it has a lot to do with the onslaught of web clips. There are so many fucking web clips being put out there, everyone is like “Oh, your session out in Bali today…there’s a web clip.”

How involved are they with creating their own sections? Like, do they come up with ideas, like, “Fuck, I wanna play a guitar solo”? Or…

K: I’m always open to collaborating with the guys on what they want to do, and most of their ideas are pretty on-point. If it’s not I’ll ah…. I want it to have a pretty cohesive look from start to finish so it’s not just completely random. Otherwise, you know, there’s been films, part films, where surfers directed their own parts, and sometimes they should just surf and let someone document them.

Who’s going to be in this film?

K: So the crew I am working with has been Creed McTaggart, Noa Deane, Craig Anderson, Dion Agius, Mitch Coleborn, Dane Reynolds, Jack Freestone, Chippa Wilson, Dillon Perillo, Brendon Gibbens, and Conner Coffin and Ryan Callinan.


What about flavour from other parts of the world? Like, what about a Brazilian dude, or like a…

K: I guess that comes back down to like the essence of the project and stuff again. Like, I’m so detached from that world, I just I haven’t ever hung or connected or been remotely drawn to like a Brazilian surfer. Like, Gabriel Medina fucking rips but he doesn’t seem like the sort of surfer I’m going to sit down in a bar and have a beer with. Which is fine, like he is on a completely different path in his career and that’s what he does and I’m doing this over here.

What kind of video stuff does someone like Gabriel Medina do? Like does he do web clips?

K: Yea, like those guys are just so contest-driven that they’re just doing their thing. Like he’s going for a world title and he will just bang out a few web clips on the side and they’ll be gnarly, but. It seems like, I dunno if they’re even psyched on it, but it’s seems like it’s just to keep brands happy and keep the consumers, you know, be relevant…

Almost more of an obligation like…

K: Just like, fuck, social networking and stuff, you know, they’re like on the pulse on that side of things too.



So what kind of trips have gone down for this?

K: For the project it’s been like, in regards to location, the exact opposite to what I’ve done in the past of trying to find new interesting locations with backdrops and vibe and everything that looks beautiful. This has been more about, “lets go to waves that are gonna be productive and that are gonna be gnarly.”

So we spent a lot of time in Indo filming Sumbawa and the Mentawais and boat-trips. Western Australia is always productive, just a lot of reef-breaks because they’re always so high performance and South Coast of Australia down there, there are a bunch of slabs and reefs that you can just get wild on. So it’s been a lot of your standard, high-performance spots. We did a trip to the Canaries which was cool but again it was kind of like, we weren’t getting hammers there. It was good vibes, we were like “fuck!!!” but it was hard.


What do you think about interviews in surf movies?

K: I think if they’re done right they’re cool.

Talk about, with surf movies, the difference between telling a story as opposed to giving a feel. It seems like a lot of your movies, they have a feeling, you know?

K: Well, I feel like you can tell a story through the visuals if you shoot it a certain way. With my films, I want to give them a vibe of like, hopefully it’s something like “Fuck I want to get off the couch and go travel or go surf, paint, do something.” You know what I mean? That’s the kind of vibe I want to give off so that it’s not just bland.

Do you ever get frustrated when people are like “Why didn’t you put this guy in your film?”

Fuck, there’s so many idiots out there saying that so I’m used to that sort of shit.


What if Kelly Slater came up to you and wanted a section?

I’d be like, “Cool dude, come do some trips with us, we’re going to Yoyo’s next week.” But he just wouldn’t come, you know what I mean? I’m always open to working with people and I’ve never been that person to be really cut throat. I guess it’s like, you’ve got to commit just as hard to the project as I am, the surfers have to as well. Because otherwise, if you don’t, I’m gonna be like “Fuck you, I’m not going to work with you.” If you’ll just do a couple of trips, or you don’t have time, it’s not how we do it.

Have you ever gotten screwed over, like a guy comes to you and wants to be a part of it and doesn’t really come through.

K: Fuck, I’ve had that throughout my career for sure. I’ve been working on surf films for 10 years now, since I was working with doing the little DVDs for Surfing Life. Surfers have bent me over heaps of times, but I was a grom and it kind of comes with the job and you deal with it.



You’ll always have the best of intentions that people are good humans, that it will come around and people are not always going to be assholes if you work with them, but some people are just fucking assholes.

It kind of seems that what you showcase is that there are these guys that are the craziest surfers in the world who are really nice and all get along and there’s no attitudes and egos.

K: That happens rarely and, when you get a good momentum like that, it’s cool to push that and try help find an avenue for that and help that shit blossom. They’re doing all sorts; they’re making their own movies, they’re creative dudes and they’re helping brands and working on clothing ranges. They’re just doing it all. Those guys should be rewarded more because they’re influential to the whole next generation of kids. So it’s cool to show.

Who’s getting the closing section?

K: The curtain closer? I don’t know, it’s too early but it’s fucking so close. I’ve set myself a deadline and I’m over it already, I already want to push it back. Reynolds has been emailing me and he’s all pumped and I’m psyched for him to get back in the mix with the guys because he’s been injured so there’s some fucking gnarly dudes. So I don’t know, it’s hard to tell.

I remember the Kelly vs. Andy, who’s going to close?

K: Yea it’s kind of cliche, which I feel is kind of lame. I might end it on a huge tube, I don’t know.

You should end it on a longboarding section.

K: Seriously, a bodyboarder might have a part.

What do you think about, besides the kids that are frothing on it, what about a guy that’s landlocked in Germany, is there stuff he can pull out of the film too?

K: Oh yeah. I get crazy fans, or whatever, from Germany and Israel and places that are, I don’t know, maybe they see something in it more than I see it. You use your commercial markets – like America and Australia and standard surf areas – and it gets around, which is cool. It’s definitely not just for the kids.

Do you ever think about the fact that you’re kind of like the last person making surf films? I guess that’s not really true but…independently…

Nah, there’s heaps of people doing it. I don’t know, I’m still pretty passionate about it so I guess that’s why I’ve done it probably for so long and the films might be a little bigger. It’s fucking hard man, there’s no money in it.

Back in the day there would be a lot more stuff coming out of it.

K: There’s no money in making independent surf films, you have to get super creative and hustle just to even make this shit possible.

For a lot of young filmers, they’re working for companies and doing a bunch of shit that they’re not really psyched on because it’s tough, there’s no money in independent films. Like, where are you going to sell it? You used to sell DVDs and VCRs, you know, like “Stock the shop up,” because the kids couldn’t get enough of it because they didn’t have anything. Now they have access to everything, which is cool because they are watching, but they are oversaturated with shit online.

It’s a very tough and very weird time to be making content, for photographers, for filmers, for writers. The Golden days of working on magazine stories, photography, books, it’s not like that anymore. It’s cool, you’ve just got to adapt and do your shit, but it’s just different. It’s a different landscape and it’s changing rapidly. Fucking Instagram, I don’t know, for photographers it’s hard, like what do you shoot photos for now?

Fucking Instagram? Dude, that shit’s crazy.

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