Friday, May 3, 2013


RIVER RUN is a favorite among the SDSFF screening panelists.  A festival darling, if you will.  SDSFF's (newest and yet unconfirmed field reporter) Ken McKnight gets to the bottom of what is nothing less than a revolutionary surf film.

"River Run" Q & A With Dirk Brandts

This year the 2013 San Diego Surf Film Festival will highlight over 35 long and short-form surf-themed international films. One of the selected shorts, “River Run,” has a mat theme to it and comes from the creative mind of Santa Barbara local Dirk Brandts. Dirk is a very experienced mat rider and filmmaker. Recently Dirk was asked by Ken McKnight to tell us a little about the film:

Q – Congratulations Dirk on your film “River Run” being accepted into the SDSFF for 2013! How does it feel?

Dirk – Thanks! It's terrific on several counts. The San Diego Surf Film Festival has really gained inertia this year, and so has my own film producing. So I was very grateful that they accepted this piece, and it feels good to have that traction and to connect with an audience.

Q – Can you tell us what “River Run” is about?

Dirk – Well, it's short and sweet and simple on its face--a man rides his surf mat down a river to the sea while a boy watches. But I hope that the simplicity invites the viewer to invest some sentiment of their own into it, and find additional resonance.

Q – How did you come up with this concept?

Dirk – I've camped near that particular river and made that ride myself scores of times since my college days in the mid-70s. It always struck me as a cinematically interesting prospect, and eventually I just got around to filming it. I had more story in mind when I shot it, but the editing process revealed that I sort of over-thought things--I tend to do that--and so it eventually got distilled down to a clear essence.

Q – Where was the filming done and why did you choose that location?

Dirk – I grew up in Santa Barbara and my family had some property up in Santa Cruz, where I went to college for a spell, so I toggled back and forth a lot and got to know the coast pretty well as young surfer. The location is very susceptible to weather, highly unpredictable, and a bit remote, but there's a period in the spring when conditions usually come together.

Q – How long have you been working on this project?

Dirk – Truth be told I've made versions of this film a couple of times already with older technology. Some people think it's a film that I'll just keep making over and over again in different iterations for the rest of my life, which doesn't sound too bad to me actually! But shooting this particular piece spanned two seasons, from 2010 to 2012. A lot of time for an 8-minute blip!

Q – What was involved in putting the production together?

Dirk – I wanted to keep it compact and efficient, because there was quite a bit of hiking involved. It was basically a couple of light camping trips with surf gear and a camcorder. Besides watching the weather to gauge water levels in the river and the potential for surf, I just needed a few dedicated souls to back me up. Ken Mcknight was the key figure -- a guy who never lost his stoke and upbeat attitude despite countless long hours in the cold, cold water -- while John Landreth, Steve Senese, Maria McCall, and Decker helped me wrangle the gear. The shooting was straightforward in an almost documentary style, although we sometimes did 2 or 3 takes. I was pleased that very few people are visible in the movie, despite shooting openly in public places surrounded by onlookers. And finally, I edited on a Mac with Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, with valuable input from Paul Gross.

Q – Why did you choose a mat as a vehicle to go down the river instead of say a surfboard?

Dirk – I'm in love with surfmats, what can I say? We've ridden hard boards at times, and bodyboards, but mats just hit the spot. Surfmats are fun, they're easy, and they're challenging, all at the same time. I realize that mats aren't for everyone, but those of us who have the fever are kind of giddy about them. The first trip up there with Ken was really fun, because it was the first time we met one another in person. We chattered non-stop about every nuance of mat riding for a couple of days straight! And that's part of what I like about surf mats -- they seem to energize a playful, fun-loving element in people, even crusty old seamen like us.

Q – The young man in the film is your son Decker, correct? How did he like being part of the film and did he understand the overall concept before and during the filming?

Dirk – Yeah, my son Decker… he completely understood the process because he was in an earlier version, and he works with me on movies all the time. I don't exactly force it on him, but I've always made sure that daddy's work is visible and and available to him, and he's welcome to participate in it. So he understands the rhythms of the work schedule, and the necessary coverage as we shoot a scene and so forth. He's a very natural actor, with a great sense of timing. I love working with him.

Q – The film score is pretty dreamy? Where did it come from?

Dirk – I graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1972, with a talented group of kids during a charmed period of time. It seemed like everyone had some special gift. So my friend Jeff Bruner became an award-winning music composer for films and television and commercials and so forth. I called him for some advice about working with a musician, and he went well beyond advice and generously provided an actual soundtrack to me, something that he had produced a while back but which had never gotten used. I tried several other pieces of music with the film, but this was absolutely the best choice. It really adds a lot of dramatic power to the visuals, and makes it extraordinary.

Q – What do you hope viewers will get out of “River Run?”

Dirk – I decided many decades ago that surfing would not be a means to an end for me. In my life, it's a form of play, and that's an end in its own right. There's a kind of innocence in that value, and I hope that viewers will see it in "River Run" and in other work that I'm producing.

Q – What’s next for Dirk Brandts, besides riding your mat? Any more film ideas brewing about?

Lots of film production--both personal projects and commercial jobs for Pantopia/Mission Cinema. Right now we're deep into a stop-motion animated music video for a fine singer/songwriter named David Poe--animation is laborious, but the result is so beautiful. I'd be really pleased to continue growing in this direction.


Info on the San Diego Surf Film Festival is here!

2:00-4:00pm: (SET 4)
ALASKA SESSIONS- Frederick Dickerson and Matthew McNeil
RIVER RUN- Dirk Brandts
*Filmmaker Q&A
*Food and beverages provided
Location: Bird's Surf Shed

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