Sean Gilhooley is a 45 year old Australian who’s been surfing since he was 15 and living in Bali for the past 6 years. Precisely in Bali is where he kick-started his careers as a surf videographer, first videoing surfers from a warung at Ulu’s, then onto working for the Indonesian Pro Tour, and making an incursion, now, with INDO, into more ambitious projects. Released at the beginning of 2013, INDO is his very first debut as a surf film maker, earning him recognition and fans in Indonesia and abroad. Having learned from mentors Jack McCoy and Matty Guy and from some of the best surf photographers living in Bali, plus countless hours of self-teaching and research through the Internet and his own trial and error experience, Sean went for it. We met for a little Soul Talk.
– the idea
How did the idea of INDO come about? Because I work with the Indonesian Pro Tour, I know a lot of the guys like Pipin and Bebet. So in 2010, 2011 the schedule included Mentawais, Nias, West Java, East Timor, Padang. When I saw that I realized I could make a movie. Up until then, footage I had I would put it up on the Internet but when I saw I was getting footage of 12-second barrels I knew I wanted that in a DVD and not just on the Internet. I guess at first I was filming whatever footage for the Tour, but towards the end, all my camera work was revolved around the idea of INDO, including the shooting during 5 boat trips around the islands. What was your original idea behind INDO? Originally I wanted to show what was unique about Indonesian surfers to the world and show something that would connect the people a bit closer to the surfers. But in the end we realized that they were just like any other surfer.
– the surfers
Didn’t you find any difference between the Indonesian pros and western pros in terms of personalities, life styles, how they make a living, etc? Well yes, anybody that has been to Indonesia knows how Indonesians live by the day. They follow their immediate needs more than anything… like if they feel hungry or sleepy or whatever… and they function from that. Western people can be very career-driven and motivated. Indonesians are more laid back in that respect. I actually learned a lot from them in terms of how to travel. They are very respectful people, whereas me as an Australian, we are not very respectful a lot of the times. When we travel abroad we tend not to behave. It was funny though, that no matter where we went they would claim to be locals. We got the best waves everywhere. Indeed, in the movie one of the surfers/narrators explains how Indonesians are not as serious about the sport as Australians, more relaxed about it. Would you say that is a reason for not making it to the top 44 big time yet? It contributes for sure. They do feel some financial limitations when travelling though. The top guys earn a good salary for here, but if they were to go to Europe, what they usually live on in a month wouldn’t last a few days or a week. So they don’t get full support from their sponsors to try to make it to the top 44? Yeah. Well, I think it’s hard for the sponsors as well. Because, Indonesia is so cheap that you go to another place where prices can be 10 times what they are here so it’s kind of like very hard once they get an international sponsor… ehmm… But if you think about Oney Anwar who made the podium in the last 3 events of the WQS he was in…he got a wild card for the World Pro Junior Surf… you know, it’s possible… Then it could be a bit about that not-so-driven thing at a high level. There are guys that try though. Dede Suryana tried for a few years on the WQS, he’s still trying, I think… Indonesia has the best most consistent waves in the planet. You would think there would be a bigger presence in the top 44. Do you think it will happen? I think it will. It’s interesting what happened in the WCT in Keramas; Putra Hermawan beat Brett Simpson – and he had Kelly Slater on his toes a bit too. Given the conditions he could have out-barreled him, but he beat him by outsmarting him. So there is a progression. And he will get better at competing every time. Also these guys don’t get a lot of coaching. In Australia you make it at the state level you have a coach for sure. I don’t think any of these guys have coaches. I think, though, that Oney is ripping right now so if he was gonna make it, he will make it in the next 5 years. How close did you get to these surfers when shooting INDO? Pretty close. Some of them are my good friend. You know, good friends. I spent some time with Mustofa Jenksen and his family. We both had new babies. We are good friends.
– the money
How did you finance INDO? Well, I never walked into a meeting with any brand where they said they had the budget. It’s usually “we don’t have budget for that”. I pretty much funded everything. I had a lot of help from Thai Little from Bali Belly TV in terms of the packaging. Jason Childs helped with the photography. They were happy to support the project and didn’t charge anything. I had a lot of help from musicians like Kid Mac, End of Fashion. They all donated world-class music. And other people as well. When it came to printing the DVD, I did get help from the brands, minimal, but it was help. Speaking of financing, just recently the Indonesian Pro Tour lost Coca Cola’s big sponsorship, how was that taken? It was a shock for me because I lost my salary! But in a way it’s been good because it opened the Asian Pro Tour. The Indonesian Tour is still on but the incentive is little compared to 100,000,000 Rp that the champ used to get plus other expenses that Coca Cola would pay for. Now the brands organizing the events are the ones wearing the costs. So there will be lot less events this year in Indonesia. So we are focusing more on the Asian Tour which I think is more viable. Because at the end of the day it is about selling a product, you know. Selling a drink or selling a t-shirt or whatever. So it makes more sense to try to sell it all over Asia rather than just Indonesia.
– the audience
Going back to INDO, what audience did you have in mind when you envisioned the project? I’ve always been a surf film fan that relied on surf films whenever I couldn’t surf. I wanted to go for the core surfer. I wasn’t too confident I could market it globally because I got feedback from people saying “DVD market is dead” “put it up on YouTube”. Lucky for me Indonesia and Asia in general didn’t have the surf film culture like we did in Australia. So you were thinking about the Indonesian market? Yeah, for sure. I wanted everybody in Indonesia to see it. And I know from the Asian Tour that Indonesian surfers have a lot of fans, like in Thailand the guys were being stopped for autographs and stuff. They’re icons in those parts of Asia. It struck me as odd that all narration was in English and I couldn’t find subtitles in Bahasa Indonesia… How could you fully reach the Indonesian fans and surfers when most could not understand the narration? That’s something I would definitely do differently next time. I would put subtitles for sure. It was my first DVD production so going to print I was a bit rushed to have it out before Christmas. But I definitely wish I could have done it. How do you think INDO is different from other surf films? Well, there have been films about surfing and surfers in Indonesia, but I don’t think there has been one with only Indonesian surfers. Also the level of production was different with higher quality equipment that has ever been used in Indonesia. Also we used a lot of water shots which is not as popular anymore these days. And it’s much harder to get those water shots and I prefer watching and shooting water shots. Would you say INDO belongs to the Surf Porn genre? Yes, for sure.
– the likes and dislikes the easy and the difficult
What part of creating INDO did you enjoy the most? Being in the water and getting that shot from the right place with the right wave, the right surfer, the right moment, you know? I also enjoyed the premier at Poco Loco a lot with all the boys; we had some drink sponsors so everyone was kinda drunk and very enthusiastic. I really enjoyed sharing INDO and the moment with everyone.
As his first ambitious project, INDO felt overwhelming at times, particularly the business part of it which Sean doesn’t seem to enjoy a bit, “it was time-consuming, and emotionally overwhelming”. Thai Little got his hands into it and Sean swore he “would not do anything like this on his own again”.
How difficult or easy do you think it is to create original surf films? I think it’s difficult. You know, everyone has different ideas on what to do, but getting those ideas happening is the difficult part… It’s like everyone that comes to Bali has the idea of making a t-shirt but… you know, I have respect for people that actually do things…You make that t-shirt, you know? It is hard to have original ideas as well, but it’s a lot harder to have them and do them.
– the music
I had a wish-list and some fell through. I worked out a deal with the music score producer where I would send her the footage to Los Angeles along with an idea of what kind of music I wanted and she would get back to me. We were very lucky with End of Fashion who had just fired the publicist, a main obstacle to get the music, and they were very happy to be part of the project. Kid Mac and I worked together before so… and a lot of people were just happy to get exposure. So after I had all that music I would see which one would work better with the footage and story line.
– the cinematography
I am a very visual person. I wanted the audience to see what visually stuns me see when I surf or shoot. But when it comes to shooting anything, I want to try different things. If I’m going to shoot on land I like to have something else in front of the camera. INDO is described in the cover of the DVD by Matt George, editor of Surftime Magazine and former editor of Surfer Magazine as “The most visually stunning and breathtaking documentation of surfing to ever come out of Asia.” What do you think of that? Yeah, I’ve done many trips with Matt and he hooked me up with a lot of material. You know he is the writer of “In God’s Hand”… and yeah, that was a great comment, a great review from him.
– the marketing hook?
I watched INDO with my woman Kara and she noticed how on the back cover of the DVD there is a picture of the back of a bule girl wearing a bikini and yet that was not part of the film… Yeah (chuckles). I left that to the specialists in that area… I did think that it was out of place as well, but it is one of those things that you roll with… they told me it sells… so… Even the other pictures are not part of the film, I think. Maybe one.
– the future
Sean just got his new equipment and has already been talking to some of the surfers he didn’t shoot a lot for INDO. A new project at brain stage is on the way. Similar cast, yet higher-level production, with some audio and story line tuning-up. I want it to be at least twice as good. Even more visually stunning. Making sure of getting the right light, no camera shaking. It all has to do a lot with equipment. Water camera equipment, drone cameras and you know, next project will be using 2K cameras which… You know about that? No. Yeah, uhm. Higher quality. A bit more dazzling.
Makasi for the interview Sean, congratulations and the best to your upcoming projects. Yeah man, thanks for the interest.
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