Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Sept. 23
Meet Dean Cropp, Storm Surfers 3D's underwater stereographer
The most exciting 3D thrill ride of the summer contains no special effects and the only costumes these heros don are wet suits. Directors Justin McMillan and Christopher Nelius follow tow-surfing legend Ross Clarke-Jones and two-time World Champion Tom Carroll on their quest for liquid nirvana. Seated before a bank of computer monitors, the wave hunters track giant storms hoping to find the biggest, baddest, most dangerous waves in Australia. In addition to being the first stereoscopic surf documentary -- and a terrific adventure yarn -- Storm Surfers 3D, opening Friday at the Gaslamp, serves as a historical document, transporting audiences to a remote spot in the Indian Ocean heretofore unseen by human eyes. An exhilarating experience, perfectly suited for the entire family, that demands a big screen presentation.
Halfway through the screening I scribbled “Interview DP?” on my notepad. This time the directors or subjects wouldn’t do. It took some work, but I was fortunate to track down underwater cinematographer Dean Cropp, the man who -- without getting my feet wet -- placed me inside the barrel of a wave. It was early in the morning when Cropp, currently in Perth at work on another project, and I connected.
Scott Marks: In your estimation, has there ever been a badly photographed surfing documentary? Don’t quality cinematography and photographing crashing waves generally go hand in hand?
Dean Cropp: I think it’s hard to make a bad surfing film because the subject is so beautiful. Crashing waves have sort of a mesmerizing effect to them. However, shooting a surfing film from the shore and being out there on a Jet Ski filming 30-foot waves coming at you -- and then adding the difficulty of 3D -- is something completely different. The beauty of our subject is what drew us to it, what convinced us that this would be an amazing film. 3D is an optical illusion, that technological thing that will make your head spin when you get into it.
SM: Was this your first foray into the third dimension?
DC: We played around with it, but when it came to shooting a feature film, the answer is yes.
SM: And this was actually shot in 3D as opposed to a stereoscopic conversion.
DC: Yes. We did not convert at all. We went out there to get it all natively in 3D. We believed strongly that if we captured the real event people would feel that in the cinema. There is a huge difference -- the untrained eye may not be able to tell whether it was a conversion or natively shot in 3D.
SM: Prior to SS3D, my go-to surfing films were Riding Giants and it’s doubtful that any film in this genre will ever top the big Kahuna of them all, John Milius’ Big Wednesday. When it comes to sheer visual thrills, SS3D set a new standard. A two-part question: what, if any, surfing films did you watch prior to your work on SS3D and how many, if any, 3D films did you consult?
DC: We of course watched The Ultimate Wave Tahiti because that came right before us. That gave us a benchmark. IMAX has this legendary status of being as good as it gets; the biggest film format, the biggest cameras, the most amazing lenses. The problem is once you go down that road with enormous cameras and enormous gear, you can’t get as close as we did. We used that as our visual benchmark and we loved the things they did in 3D. We wanted it to have more of a feature film feel to it, like Big Wednesday.
SM: There is a great debate among viewers and critics over the validity of 3D. How did you feel about stereoscopy going in and has it changed after making the movie?
DC: It’s changed hugely. I went in thinking I know how this works. And I do. I understand the science of why we see in stereo and how the optical illusion works. We talked to a lot of experts and when we told them where we wanted to go they told us it’s not going to work, that it’s too hard. They questioned why we would want to go to the trouble of too much water on the lens and this not working or that not working. All these things were thrown at us. Nothing beats going out there and testing it. We would spend our weekend putting different camera systems together, going surfing, going paddling. You take a bath in the process and then look on the screen and realize that it worked!
SM: What has the audience reaction been like?
DC: My 80-year-old Auntie came to one of the first screenings we held. It was in a big, beautiful cinema near where I live. I even sat her in the right place -- the ‘sweet spot’ in the cinema. After it was over, she came up to me and said, ‘It was so exciting. It was amazing. I felt like I was really there.’ She hadn’t told many people, but she used to surf back when women weren’t allowed to surf. This took her back decades to her childhood.
Storm Surfers 3D opens it's exclusive run tomorrow at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15. Click for showtimes. For more information about Dean's underwater adventures visit accessallangles.com.
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