Tim Bonython - Filmmaker
I was born in Adelaide, South Australia and lived pretty much on the beach, the ocean was my backyard so I was constantly in the water. We moved to Paddington in Sydney when I was about 12. Paddington is a pretty artistic area and my father was a director for contemporary and modern art gallery. Around that time I started to get into photography and surfing, I was catching the bus to Bondi everyday after school. Those two things kind of tied into each other when I started documenting surfing. I was dating this girl whose step father (John Laws) had a movie camera just sitting in his office at the their house, I asked if I could borrow it to which he told me ‘I could have it if I was going to make something out of it’. So I got the camera and I started filming which I guess was the birth of my film making career.
How did you get to where you are today?
I worked with a couple of established film makers and companies in South Australia, just working with 16mm etc. but at the time with surfing, there wasn’t much money in that kind of thing, so I shot on Super 8 which allowed me to shoot as much as I could. Before the internet and even VHS tapes, it was all about getting the film, shooting & editing it, processing in a couple of weeks, basically just filming, editing and getting it into the market as soon as you could. Back in the 70’s and 80’s there wasn’t much opportunity for people to see something fresh. It wasn’t until Bells Rip Curl Classic in 1981 that I got the opportunity to document a contest or event, I then took the footage home, edited and then screened it at a local Adelaide pub two weeks later. Having a market like that made me feel that this is something I can do and make money from, which will allow me to travel to wonderful locations. Bells was the biggest it has ever been (even too this day) in 81 when Simon Anderson consolidated his presence with a triple fin board which was very much where modern surfing began. That was when I really decided that I wanted to shoot these big waves and document this evolution of surfing. I’m still doing the same thing now, and that’s what the Australian Surf Movie Festival is for, to gather all these unique surfing opportunities and putting it on the big screen.
When I document a great wave I recon get the same feeling I think that a surfer would get conquering a monster wave. Maybe not the same heart rate as theres. If you can exclusively capture a key moment in a surfer’s career, it feels so rewarding. Especially with those big wave surfers. They’re not just putting their bodies on the line for the fun of it. It’s about being in the right spot at the right time. Missing that moment is something I don’t think about. It’s paramount in my field to capture it. They rely on me.
What is your most memorable session?
I enjoy shooting the Right in WA, Mark Matthews craziness when he drove himself into a 25 foot wall of water was pretty awesome. Obviously you don’t want to see these guys get annihilated to the point of injury. Unfortunately some of the best moments are the most dangerous ones. To be part of that unique experience is really something. The most memorable moments are always those crazy big swells. Obviously I love to document big wave surfing and people love to see it. Back in the day it was all about going to an event and documenting the whole thing and the free surfing around it, but now it’s changed, I don’t have time to sit around on tour for days on end especially now when everything is so immediate. I just love to document the best big wave spots. Last week I was in South Australia, I could’ve been in 10 different places for that one swell and you really have to pick the right spot. What I got in SA wasn’t unbelievable, but still great. I’m always after that moment that just shows the power of the ocean and the craziness of these guys taking on these waves. The moments that make people say ‘Oh my God, this is crazy’.
Do you get out for a wave yourself?
I do now a lot more with my kids, but when it’s big and I’m traveling its all about doing the best job you can and at the same time not spending a lot of money on carrying all this stuff with you. You don’t want to be carrying surfboards, wetsuits etc on top of all the gear you already have. I pick and choose when I surf. When I’m working I’m working so I have to focus on that. There isn’t a lot of spare time when I’m on an assignment. However a lot of the guys are constantly trying to get me to bring my board along so they can tow me on to one of those monsters. But I doubt it. haha
Nup. Not a monster. I’ll do 6-7 foot at Ours or something.
Favorite destination to film?
Teahupoo on a crazy day is always exciting to document. The Right & Shipsterns are good, it’s not all about the wave and what it does, it’s also about the surrounding beauty of the waves. It’s about the relationship between Power and Beauty. I love those moments where the sun is shining through the back of a monster as it unloads.
I have a dream of incorporating live music into my oceans-cape footage. More dreamy sounds rather than surf music, so having this live musical aspect at the screenings. The right music can really enhance the images, it’s about that connection between vision and sound and the experience they create, especially in a live environment. CLICK HERE and enter the password FS700 to check out an exclusive edit.
What kind of editing tools do you use?
I’ve always accessed other guys to edit my stuff, but I’m starting to get my head around it these days. You don’t need the best of the best editing equipment, it’s all about how you put the footage together and the story it tells. You don’t need all these additional crazy effects etc.
Any tips for young filmmakers?
You’ve got to be innovative. It is difficult for filmmakers to make a living in the surf industry. If surfing is what you're passionate about, you need think that you can use it as a stepping stone. Showcasing your work on YouTube and Vimeo etc isn’t going to make you money alone, however platforms like that as well as social media are great for getting your work initially out in the market and promoting yourself. I love what I do. It’s not about the money. Chasing these swells is my favorite thing in the world, but in saying that I’m not just going to do it for fun, it is my life and I need to make money from it in the process to keep pursuing my dreams and to innovate and tell stories. You NEED to know how to tell a story. It isn’t about capturing a montage of waves and making what is basically ‘surf porn’. People want to see these journeys documented. You have to create an experience and take people on a journey. But one thing is for sure, there aint a lot rich surfing film makers. Rich in experience and satisfaction however, this is true.
Where can we find you online?
Craig Sims - White Horses & Surfing Life Publisher
Luke Kennedy - Editor of Tracks Magazine
Simon ‘Swilly’ Williams - Surf Photographer
Jarra Campbell - the Bondi Alchemist
Greg Gordon - Owner of CR Surf
Shayne Nienaber - Surf Photographer
Alexa Hohenberg - Owner of Still Stoked
Christine Deveney - TapaReef Owner & Creator
Russell Ord - Surf Photographer
Richard Kotch - Surf Photographer