I was first turned on to Steve’s work about three years ago, when I picked up a copy of Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables. Recently, he worked his way back in the tube with A Paradigm Shift. APS has a killer soundtrack and includes some of my favorite surfers; Kassia Meador, Alex Knost, CJ Nelson, Dane Peterson, Tyler Warren, Chris Del Moro…and more. Here’s our interview with the man behind the film.
Where did you grow up, and when did you start surfing?
I was born in Redondo Beach Ca. That’s the area where I had my first experiences with the ocean. I was like a moth to a flame; I was just drawn to the ocean. I remember my aunt would take me to the Palos Verdes cove when I was 4 yrs. Old, and I’d wade in the tide pools. My family moved to the Big Island of Hawaii when I was 7 and that’s where I started riding waves…body surfing and belly boarding. We moved back to the mainland (Redondo) when I was 11 or 12. That’s when I got my first surfboard; an old Velzy/Jacobs 9’3″ balsa, for $20. That must of been around 1963 or 64.
When did you first get involved with film?
I got involved with filming in the early 70s when I was taking photography at Maui Community College. That was my foundation. I started my first surf movie in 1989. It was called On Safari to Stay, and featured a 13 yr. old Joel Tudor, Wingnut, Donald Takayama and Skip Fry. I made it with my good friends Chris Ahrens and Greg Weaver. Spider Wills was a consultant.
What was it like working with Greg Weaver and Spider Wills?
That was a kick in the arse mate!!!!!!!!! So many stories that I can’t tell ya all… but when I’m with Joel and Wingnut, we always relive a couple of the episodes. The stories keep gettin better and better. Weavers da bomb mate, and Spiders a total legend. I learned a lot from Greg and spider! I’m very appreciative of that experience .
Your most recent project is A Paradigm Shift, can you tell us about that?
Well, A Paradigm Shift is a relatively fast paced, tightly edited movie with a bitchen soundtrack. It’s a bunch of great surfers in I guess what you’d call “the alternative” vein of surfing. Ya know…great surfers riding all types of boards, in all types of waves. We shot it in Australia, Hawaii, Mexico, Micronesia, and California. I worked on it for a little over 2 years and am stoked on how it turned out!
How do you go about picking the surfers for your films?
I have been very fortunate in that regard! The surfers in my films are people that I’ve met over the years… friends; guys and gals that I get along with and work well with. It’s not that I pick them, really…because they all can pretty much work with any of the alternative surf filmmakers out there. My crew of surfers is a pretty eclectic group. They are relationships that I have developed organically over time. It’s a symbiotic thing! I feel lucky and blessed to get to work with the “A” list surfers in our longboard/alternative (longboards,fish,hulls, eggs, retros, alaia’s ect.) genre. For what I do, it’s all about the surfers. You can have the best surf in the world to shoot, but if the talent level isn’t there then all ya end up with is a bunch of bitchen waves being ridden by so-so surfers. Nobody really wants to watch a film like that, do they?
Any favorite surf flicks?
Yeah, I really liked Ozzie Wright’s 156 tricks. It changed the way I looked at what I was doing at the time. CJ Nelson turned me on to it. In the beginning I was also influenced by Bud and Bruce brown’s films. Mac/Freemans films are also always a good watch… many others too!
Any other filmmakers you would like to collaborate with?
I respect a lot of the film makers out there, but for now I prefer to do my own thing…. but if Steven Spielburg came calling I’d be all ears. ha ha
Any hope for a third Safari movie? :)
Funny you should ask, thinkin about it…. Looking for funding… anyone out there want to be an “executive producer?” Call me, well see!!!!!!!!!
What’s next for Steve Cleveland?
Like I just said, thinking about going back to my roots. A story driven movie? Ya never know…just doing my own thing, with a lot o help from my friends!