Catherine Brabec makes her feature film debut with A Life Outside, and does not disappoint.
The film follows a group of six New Jersey men who pioneered surfing at the famed Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, NJ. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed the pier, the lives of those surfers were forever changed.
A Life Outside is not just another surfing movie. Brabec is able to touch our hearts by showing just how important the deep bond between these six individuals is, in keeping hope alive after such a tragedy. This story of deep friendship and self-discovery is about not giving up or giving in, and having the courage to overcome all obstacles.
The film makes great use of stock footage showing surfing across the decades beginning in the 1950's. It also enriches the plot with interviews from surfing legends such as Santa Barbara local, Shaun Tomson.
A Life Outside is a treat for any type of audience, whether you're a surfer, or not.
Brabec spoke with NewsChannel 3 about her film, and discussed just what made this documentary so special.
First off, I read that your film took several years to complete. How long did it take and why so long?
It took close to three years, and the reason it went on for too long was that Hurricane Sandy really affected the story. About a month before Hurricane Sandy came, we’d all gone to Mexico, all the guys, and a couple of the surf legends, as I call them, had joined us. And I came back from that shoot thinking that it was pretty much done and ready to dive into the edit, when the hurricane came shortly after that.
There was no way I could finish the story without including that event that had impacted everybody so greatly. Then we were shooting after that for close to a year, not every day of course, but just following their lives and seeing what the impact was to the area, and the guys, and the surfing. So that’s why it went so long.
Weather can be so unpredictable. How important was the element of Hurricane Sandy in making this film what it is?
Well, that’s a really good question. As I was editing, I thought about what would the story have been, what would the impact have been, if the hurricane wasn’t a part of it. And it would have been a story really about the passion, and the friendships, and the competition, and all these guys looking after each other after all these years...It’s a really good story, but when a disaster hits like the hurricane, it’s an opportunity to, I don’t know, really get to know these people even better and get deeper into their characters.
At what point during the making of this film did you realize you had something special?
I started the film because I knew that there was something special there. These guys were just such amazing characters to me. They’re all in their 60's now, and Seaside Park and Seaside Heights are really small little towns on this tiny little barrier island. And in the summer it’s a total summer destination but, back when it was a ghost town, and all they had were each other.
Surfing was really what drove them, and I thought there was this sort of intense passion started in their own little bubble, being far away from what was happening on the west coast or in Hawaii. So I was taken by them from the beginning.
Is it safe to say that the film shows the evolution of surfing through the decades just like the six New Jersey surfers evolve in their own lives through the decades? And was this your intention?
At the time, in the late 50's, the early 60’s, there wasn’t the surf industry that we have today. Surfing hadn’t been around for a long time. There was no chance of making money or getting sponsorships back then. It was a really pure activity.
What I love about this story is that these guys are the reality of the everyday surfer. They may not be in the magazines and may not surf those 20ft waves anymore, but that’s the reality. These guys are still doing it every single day without cameras, without making money, without fame.
How difficult was it to round up all these surf legends?
(Laughs) I laugh because that was probably one of the most challenging parts of making the film. Not because they were in any way not wanting to be available and be a part of this, but surfers don’t like to be scheduled. Mickey Munoz, for example, who I just absolutely adore, scheduled to shoot him a couple of years ago and I was in California with my camera crew, and it was about an hour before we had first set the time and he still couldn’t commit because he didn’t know if there were gonna be waves.
The scheduling part of it was very hard to pin people down.
That actually leads me into my next question which is, what were some of the challenges and hardships of making this film especially as a woman filmmaker in a male dominated industry?
I don’t know if there’s anything specific to being a woman that would have made it more of a challenge.
This is my first feature film, and you know...there was a lot of new things to deal with. Things take longer than anticipated. Things were more expensive that you would anticipate.
I think probably one of my biggest challenges was in Edit because that’s where you shape your story, and it’s like sitting with a mountain of footage, you know? Like being a sculpture with a huge rock and finding the shape to it. I actually just love that process very much, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of choices to make. There’s things that you leave out.
It was the whole creative process that was quite challenging for me.
Is there a story you can share about any moments, challenges or obstacles that presented themselves?
The week in Mexico with Corky Carroll, Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, and all of the six guys from New Jersey, was just such an amazing group of people to bring together...These guys are just great at what they do and hysterical to be around, and it felt like a once in a life time experience, and on top of that we were filming it.
I noticed a lack of female surfers in the film. Any particular reason why?
Well, you know, the story is about these six men. It’s not gender specific. It’s really about these six guys.
There’s certainly some legendary female surfers but they just did not cross my path. It really was trying to tie in these legendary surfers. They weren’t just in there because they’re great surfers and they had great stories. They really intersected with these guys. I mean, they came to New Jersey and surfed. Shaun Tomson surfed in the Pro Contest at Seaside Heights that Gregg and a couple of other guys sponsored. So there was a reason for them to be in. I never crossed a path of any woman surfer who had come and surfed in the pro contest back then.
"A Life Outside", what is the title referring to?
You’re the first person to ask me that (laughs). The word “outside” in surfing means something. There’s a lot of layers to it and that’s why I thought it was a perfect title. So when you’re surfing you’re either inside the break or outside the break, and you certainly don’t ever want to be caught inside because that’s where waves tumble upon you. Also, the way these guys grew up [surfing] they were a counter-culture. They were outside of what was considered the norm.
So the word “outside” just really struck a chord with me with surfing, with who these guys were. Back then they were, you know, kind of looked down upon.
There will be people that will say "ah this documentary is just like every other surfer documentary I have seen." How is this film different than anything we have previously seen?
I don’t know how much has been done regarding east coast surfing. I know that there’s certainly films that come from the east coast, but not necessarily from that era, or from guys at this age that started way back then.
I knew early on, in starting the production, that the town, the place where they’re from, was a character in the story as much as they are...That they were from this kind of strange place. I think it’s unique to focus on the place and the history of the place. Casino Pier, is to me, a character in its own as well. It was where the waves were.
I think it’s more personal than the other stories I’ve seen. These are every day guys. They weren’t pro surfers. This is like the real every day man.
Without revealing the ending, why did you decide to end your film the way you did?
It became very clear to me that things are gonna go on, life goes on, these guys are going on, the town is going on. New Jersey is going to continue going…I was working on the ending and it became very clear...how amazing it would be to have a ceremony to honor the loss of the pier. For the film, but also for them in real life, it was a time to honor, in a beautiful way, what they had lost...kind of looking forward.
How does it feel having completed your first feature film and being accepted into the prestigious Santa Barbara International Film Festival?
It’s just the most wonderful feeling. I was jumping up and down when I got the news. It’s very validating to get accepted into a festival like this. You’re in your bubble for a couple of years of just focusing and getting the film finished. So when you finally send it out and getting a really great response, it’s just, I can’t tell you, there’s no better feeling than that really.
Catherine thank you so much for taking the time to speak with NewsChannel 3 and giving us an in depth look into your film.
Sure. My pleasure.
A Life Outside will play at the 29th Santa Barbara International on Saturday, February 1 at 11 a.m. and Monday, February 3 at 2 p.m. Both screenings will be at the Metro 4 Theater.
For ticket information and movie schedules visit www.sbiff.org