Johnny Abegg - Filmmaker

When and where did you start surfing?
I started surfing when I was 10 in Tasmania at a place called Dodges Ferry. The wave we surfed was Park Beach, it was voted as one of Australia's Worst Waves in an issue of Australia's Surfing Life in the late 90's. But it was a great place to learn, apart from the cold.

What is it that you love about surfing and the ocean?
Surfing is basically the backbone to my being. If I don't surf I get grumpy and irritable. It's almost an addiction to some degrees. I've always loved the ocean and I love how it's ever changing. It's a bit of a life-blood for me in my life.

Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?
Hmmmm... I don't really have a standout session. But there is a time in 1998 when Broken Head (where I live in Byron Bay) turned on for a few months, my mates and I would hang out the park bench that overlooks the point, wag school and surf our brains out. It was the best I've seen the wave, as now it is very fickle. Hopefully it will come back one day.

You're a pretty creative guy from the looks of things, when did you realise that filmmaking and your other artistic ventures were your calling rather than competitive surfing?
That evolution just sort of "happened". I was competing on the WQS (World Qualifying Series of Surfing) at the time, and I was 20k in debt. On my third year I thought "Why not document the experience", as a lot of us where struggling and going through some pretty hectic situations to realise the surfing dream. I racked up a handycam on credit card, maxed my cards out at 27k by trips end. I got home and taught myself how to edit and made my first film called On Credit.

What kind of things influence the films you make?
Personal experiences drive the core values of my filmmaking. They are the most challenging and also the stories that no-one can take away from you. I love when you get something intimate out of someone.

Bay of the dead. Amazing. How did that one come about?
Bay of the Dead came around after On Credit. I had a good friend from NZ named Jason Collins who came into town. We both had an affinity with film. He had written the backbone of a Zombie/Surf film idea and we had already made a couple short films together. So then we just banged all our ideas into one project, grabbed a bunch of footage of local surfers and stuck it all together. One of the funnest film experiences I've had to date.


You're also one of the founders of Common Ground, can you tell us a little bit about the philosophy behind what you guys are doing there?
CG came up when I met Tim Manton, who moved up from Bondi. Along with my work colleague at the time Dave Keam, we thought Byron could need a more digital savvy representation of the community. Tim also saw the success of Aquabumps in Bondi, so we took inspiration form there, brought in more stories of people/music/events of our community and have evolved it ever since. I know do it additional CGer's Kirra Pendergast and Tommy Leitch, it's a great way to keep connected to the community, and also represent it. A bit of a labour of love so if the surfs good or I have film commitments I don't do too much with it, but it ticks along.

Do you have any big projects that you're working on at the moment?
Festival based videos for Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival and I'm doing a couple in Tasmania as well but there are a little hush hush for the time being.

How have you changed as a person from when you created your first film to where you're at today, and how has that effected your filmmaking?
Hmmmmm... I still think I'm the same old aloof Johnny really. I still get so nervous every-time I go into a shoot, a project, or whatever. I still feel like I'm learning every step of the way and half the time I don't even think I'm that good at what I do. But I love it.

What is it that you love about your job?
I love how there's really no right way to make a film. It's all up to you, or the team behind it. I love how you can bring stories to life, how you can capture moments in life that may never be repeated. I love how creative it can be.

Do you have any advice for budding surf filmmakers out there who aren't quite sure how to create something 'unique' ?
I often tell myself that nothing I do is original. It's all been done before by someone. Once I realise this, then I focus on the stories that mean a lot to me. I often hold personal experiences close as inspiration for projects as well. I've also burnt out a few times commercially, so you have to keep both in check. Finding balance commercially and creatively is the ongoing battle and if you can keep both sides of your filmmaking going then you are doing alright.

Where can we find you online? 



Posted by: Matthew Ryan, on January 29, 2014
Categories: Interviews