Interview: Jack McCoy with Riley Blakeway

“…the biggest goal when making a film is to connect with someone on an emotional level. Whether it be sad, happy, funny, or whatever. Movies need to be evocative in order to be memorable.” – Riley Blakeway


This edition we delve into two minds whose mentalities are separated by generations. One a pioneer and nurturer, while the other inheriting and living up to a standard somehow set higher than the time allowed. Even though we couldn’t get Riley Blakeway and Jack McCoy in the same room, we did manage to round up a couple email interviews in an attempt to portray to you the lessons to be learned from the old school and the new school, and how they’re looking lined up next to each other today.

Ages and date of birth?

Riley: 21, 1989.

Jack: 48, July 31, 1962.

To get an idea of the lie of the land between you two subjects; Jack, what do you know of Riley Blakeway… And Riley, what do you know of Jack McCoy?

Riley: Jack has been renowned for his surf cinematography and filmmaking for a very long time! He paid over $20,000 for a cold play song once, unless that’s urban legend… I’ll be surprised if Jack knows who I am!

Jack: I have to be honest when I say I have not seen any of Riley’s films.  When I’m working on one of my own, I try not to see any because I don’t want to be influenced by anything to do with surf movies.  I just try to focus on my own productions. I have an associate, Jacob Woody Wooden who’s been working with me for about three years now and he checks everything out and tells me what’s good and what’s wrong with what’s out there, based on what he knows I like. Every now and then he’ll show me something crazy that Dane or Jordy are doing.  However, if there are no water shots in about three minutes of a film I loose interest.  So having said that maybe Riley would like to come around for a beer one day and we can have a show and tell if he likes. The offer is now out there. Hope you don’t feel it’s disrespectful, it’s just I like to stay in my zone while in production.

What year have you been behind the lens since?

Riley: I’ve had a camera in my paws for as long as I can remember. Photo cameras came first… My Dad got me into photography really early.

Jack: Probably before Riley was born; 1970 with still cameras, and 1974 with motion picture cameras.  I believe the five years I spent shooting stills was invaluable as it taught me composition, dimension, tone, light and shade.

What was your first set up?

Riley: I think I was about eleven when I was given my first video camera. It took straight VHS tapes and it was massive. “Cutting edge a few years ago!” My Dad assured me.  My friends and I would film each other skating until the battery died and all productions were then subject to the garage with an extension lead. I never could figure out how to get the footage off those damn tapes!

Jack: My first stills was a Minolta with a 15mm wide angle and Pentax 300mm. My first film setup was a Bolex Rx16 turret mount with a 10mm Swaitar Angenieux 10 x 12 to 120mm, 230mm, 385mm, 650mm century. My first water housing, round bulky Plexiglass with the Bolex inside.

What did you have to go through to get to where you are today? Hell and high water or shooting the breeze, waiting for lady luck to fall in your lap? (I would imagine the second options is unheard of)

Riley: I think it goes without saying option A. Anything worthwhile takes time and a whole lot of persistence. I dropped out of a Uni degree midway through my first year to make a surf film. I’ve spent every day since consumed in all things filmmaking. It’s all I think about. It was a lot harder when I had no contacts or opportunities and I had to work side jobs, but I’m fortunate enough now to be making a living out of it.  I’ve come a long way in the last two years and there is still a long way to go.

Jack: The Second option is definitely unheard of. I learned from the school of hard knocks. For one thing, we had manual focus aperture and speeds.  Try follow-focus a 600mm lens with a guy flying down the line at you.  You were either bang on or way off.  Same with your exposures, 1/3 of a stop off and it was too dark or overexposed. I read everything I could and asked questions whenever possible from my peers.

Your first recognised film and what year was it?

Riley: SPECTRUM, which was released last October [2010]. I dropped out of Uni with no contacts and a shoestring budget with an idea of making a surf film from scratch. It was easily the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done! I came close to failing so many times. Ozzie had a sick section played to a Jap Motors track. Other than that I can’t even watch it now, it makes me cringe.

Jack: Tubular Swells 1975 with Dick Hoole.  Back in the 16mm days, you made the film and then went around and showed it to people in the theatres.

What is the most important aspect for you to portray in a film?

Riley: I think the biggest goal when making a film is to connect with someone on an emotional level. Whether it be sad, happy, funny, or whatever. Movies need to be evocative in order to be memorable. I know that’s what keeps me coming back.

Jack: A moral.

So, what fuels your inspiration?

Riley: I think music fuels my inspiration the most. Whenever I get a track stuck in my head I usually can’t stop thinking about it until I try cutting something to it. Other than that I love skate films, Vimeo shorts, music videos, etc. I watch a lot of Hollywood films, but they have minimal influence on my work in surfing. Light inspires me heavily also. Also, certain people I meet and places I go; I draw inspiration from everyday life.

Jack: To set myself challenges, not to make the same film, come up with new angles and to come up with a good story to move my audience.

How much does travel play a part in your job? Riley, I’ve heard you say before that you’re determined to be a vagabond for as long as possible, but Jack you have a family to see to…

Riley: This year [2010] I have spent a total of about 2 months at home; it’s been amazing. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position with minimal bills or obligations other than my film work. I pretty much roam the globe with my camera and a few bags! I’m sure it can’t last forever… or can it?

Jack: Well, like most surfers I love to travel so I always try and set myself some places I love and a new spot or two I’d like to check out.

What’s the biggest effort you’ve ever gone through to get the shot you wanted?

Riley: A couple of years ago I went on a day trip with the Volcom team out to an island called Todo’s Santos in Mexico. I swam about 500 meters on top of my pelican case to film from the island. I’d spent all day on that blistering hot island before the tide went out and an 8-foot set clipped me on the way back to the boat! We didn’t get one usable clip that day so I’m not sure if it counts.

Jack: Carrying 80 pounds of camera gear from the road down the track to Ulu Watu to Padang to shoot all day (land and water shots) and then head back again to the road.  Or maybe swim in and out from the beach to the break, up and down the reef for 8 hours 5 times to reload my high-speed camera at G-Land.

How has surf cinematography of the past influenced the industry today?

Riley: I think it’s important to know the history and the roots of any industry. This year I based my second film ‘Water & Oil’ around the vibe of Alby Falzon’s film, ‘Morning of The Earth’ from the early 70’s.

Jack: When I grew up surf movies were the social hub of the surfing tribe.  Everyone came together for a big night of socialising and seeing what the latest was going on in Hawaii or California or Australia, who was doing what and seeing the footage action that we’d seen a few months before in the mags.  It was very special and extremely electric. Today everyone wants instant satisfaction and is happy to view on a 2-inch screen. We’ve been conditioned to view things this way. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, just that it is different.

Where do you see the future of surf filmmaking? We’ve seen segments shot from helicopters, every angle of water shots and even seen the Imax take to the high seas. What’s next?

Riley: Hopefully surf films keep their soul and don’t become too technology dependent. It’s only natural that filming techniques progress as new technology arises, but at the end of the day, a good story will always prevail.

Jack: Less surf porn, better storytelling and more water shots.

How much does the artistic component of filmmaking come into play when shooting your reel? And how much importance do you place on it?

Riley: To me, it’s 50/50. Good surfing is important and a film can’t survive without it, but I think boring angles are monotonous and get old really quickly. I believe in nice cutaways and scenic’s, as well as capturing all of the elements surrounding the session or place.

Jack: Art was my favourite subject in school and has always been a part of my films.

Do you work with a team or work by yourself?

Riley: Most of the time I work alone. I like to have complete direction over the entire project from beginning to end. I can be a little stubborn at times.

Jack: I work with a team. The numbers depend on how big the production and how ambitious our dreams. For my first two films, I worked with Dick Hoole. From ‘Performers’ to ‘Sik Joy’ I shot everything; land, sea and air by myself. In 1995 I did the Billabong Challenge where we had to make sure we shot every wave. I had six cameramen including myself and when in the editing room I was able to learn so much about angles it was not funny. I use that experience every time I go shoot as I understand that a few more feet this way or that will produce something totally different.

How much time is spent on post production?

Riley: Countless hours. I’m on my computer doing at least 15 hour days when it’s editing time.

Jack: It depends on the production.  Storm Riders was almost eight months, Surf Hits Jungle Jet Set Vol 1 took three months, Iguana took four months, Blue Horizon took seven months, and A Deeper Shade Of Blue took 15 months.

Got any funny stories from clips of a film that will remain never before seen footage?

Riley: Plenty! Ford Archbold and I having a rap battle in Hawaii would have to take the cake.

Jack: A friend driving through a 10 ft x 15 ft Mirror with his rented Suzuki Jimney in Bali.

Jack, how do you view the younger guys today and Riley how do you view the older guys of the industry?

Jack: I’m not too worried about the younger guys. I do have an assistant though who has been working for me for three years now on A Deeper Shade of Blue (ADSOB).  The reason he’s been around for so long is because he’s keen to learn. I’ve very much enjoyed teaching him as much as I can. He’s a good listener and has a thick skin to put up with my desire to turn him into a professional filmmaker, not a surf shooter.

Riley: I have the utmost respect for the pioneers of the industry. It’s important to remember where it all started! As long as the respect is mutual.

Now I came across a term in cinematography, and let’s just say I’m not sure if this will make sense, but what famous ‘Chopsoky’ character would you best describe yourself as?

Riley: (Riley’s speechless).

Jack: Jet Li.

On a more serious note, what accolades have you achieved in your career?

Riley: I’ve worked for some big companies on some big projects in my short career. I haven’t stopped since making my first film. My biggest accolade would have to be winning ‘Little Weeds’, a contest STAB Magazine put on last year (2009) for surfers, filmmakers, writers, etc.

Jack: My mom liked my films when she was alive; that was pretty special.

What can we expect to see from you guys in the far future?

Riley: Films that make you smile.

Jack: More angles and stories.

Lastly, what do you get up to in your free time, when you’re not behind the lens?

Riley: If I’m not making films there’s a good chance I’m watching them. Either that or answering emails. I skate every other chance I get.

Jack: Read, Write, Surf, Rock On…


For from Riley follow this link to his website.

For more from Jack follow this link to his website

Browse the Trunk Junk collection; maybe even pick one out for yourself.

© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016

Jonathan Boonzaaier Editorial Journalist Riley Blakeway and Jack McCoy