COURTESY UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
"Blue Crush" director and co-writer John Stockwell, left, tells actors (sitting from left) Sanoe Lake, Michelle Rodrigues, Kate Bosworth and Mika Boorem, how he wants a scene done in the Hawaii-filmed surf movie that opened yesterday.
Female surf film a gemJohn Stockwell bears no resemblance whatsoever to the natty, well-groomed directors of Hollywood legend.
The director strives for authenticity
and purity in Blue Crush
By Tim Ryan
His hair is a bit disheveled and lighter from hours in the wind, sun and ocean; his face has a deep tan with red burned spots on the tip of his nose and ears. Even his eyes are a bit bloodshot and squinty.
It's because directing the female surf saga "Blue Crush" was no simple day at the beach but three months of 15-hour days, trying to coordinate non-surfing actors, a water photography team and marine safety unit with the North Shore's fickle winter weather and surf conditions.
"Yes, obviously, from a fatigue standpoint, this was the hardest film I have ever done," Stockwell said during an interview at the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. "But to do this kind of film right and authentically, it's what we all had to do."
Stockwell, 41, is a triple threat in an industry where success most often is limited to one area. First, he's appeared as an actor in several films, including "Top Gun," "Losin' It," "Eddie and the Cruisers," "Nixon" and "Breast Men." He's directed Kirsten Dunst in "crazy/beautiful," as well as the Emmy-nominated "Cheaters." As a writer, he's penned "Breast Men," "Cheaters," Mark Wahlberg's "Rock Star," and cowrote "Blue Crush."
Stockwell started surfing eight years ago, and his affection for the sport steered him to do a film with an unusual twist: female pro surfers.
"I've surfed in Hawaii many times and seen how women are often hassled or dismissed in the water," he said. "They get cut off a lot and usually have to fight for every wave.
"It's a very sexist attitude for such a beautiful pure sport, incredibly misogynistic. Even members of our own crew would snicker that 'girls can't surf Pipeline' and 'girls shouldn't be out here crowding the waves.' "
Insuring authenticity made casting "Blue Crush" difficult.
"I wanted to use all surfers in the roles, but couldn't find actors who surfed or surfers who acted, so I settled on training Hollywood actors for the film," Stockwell said.
The exception was Kauai-born Sanoe Lake, a pro surfer and model.
Stockwell said he deliberately stayed away from major marquee stars for "Blue Crush," believing that would be "distracting" in a surf film where the real star should be the waves.
"You would watch a big star surfing and think, 'Wow, I didn't know Sarah Michelle Gellar surfs that well,' " he said. "It's to (production companies) Universal's and Imagine's credit that they supported having the lead being a relative unknown."
The unknown is Kate Bosworth and she was cast only after Stockwell and company had met "every single girl, every surfer, every pro surfer, every Roxy model, every Billabong girl."
The production, Stockwell said, even put up notices on telephone poles near Southern California surf breaks about the casting.
"It would have made my job easier in the water if we had cast only surfers, but it would've been a problem out of the water," he said.
THE PRODUCTION arranged for the film's stars -- but not surfer Lake -- and male lead Matthew Davis to take surf lessons several weeks before filming.
"We brought lots of surfers and girls who said they could surf to (producer) Brian Grazer's house in Malibu on weekends as an informal audition in the water," Stockwell said. "If they couldn't surf Malibu, then they couldn't surf North Shore."
Michelle Rodriguez was cast last, so she didn't get any surf lessons until she arrived in Hawaii a week before filming.
Stockwell praised Rodriguez, who "rarely flinched" in North Shore surf.
"She would always say 'I can handle it' and of course get pounded," he said. "But she was awesome on the jet ski. She actually towed Kate and (pro surfer) Rochelle Ballard into some of the biggest waves some of the girls have ever been towed into."
The scene was shot at big and bumpy Himalayas, north of Haleiwa.
Surprisingly, Stockwell believed at first that having the storyline revolve around a surfing competition was a mistake.
"Surfing began as a rebellious sport with nothing to do with competition," he said. "The majority of surfers have never been in a competition, so who's on top is meaningless to them."
Stockwell forced himself to not think about the pseudo Pipeline Masters women's competition, relying on that age-old theme of man against nature, in "Blue Crush's" case, "a girl against the waves."
"It's more about the experience I've had out there ... that momentary panic of trying to figure out should you go or not and that rush you get when you do decide to take off on that kind of wave," he said. "And I wanted to make a believable movie, so when I paddle out to a surf break, they can't say 'there's that lame guy who made that awful film.' "
Stockwell and company considered using computer-generated graphics (CGI) for wave and surfing shots, but the process doesn't yet yield the results he wanted and Universal did not want to spend the money to perfect it.
"Some of our tests were awful," he said. "We knew we had to do everything in the surf."
There are a few composited, CGI face replacement shots, he said. "We had to do that because Kate cannot surf Pipeline ... well, not yet."
Stockwell praised camera operator Michael Stewart and photographers Don King and Sonny Miller for providing footage that lets "a general audience see surfing like they've never seen it before."
STOCKWELL became a screenwriter out of career survival, "an attempt to gain some control over my future and dealing with my waning popularity as an actor," he said.
His first paid job was at Cannon Films, rewriting "Dangerously Close" for director Albert Pyun, who has recently set up a production company on the Big Island.
"Those were the days when you could run into (producer) Menachem Golan in the elevator, pitch him an idea and be shooting the movie the next day," Stockwell said, laughing. "Those days no longer exist."
Stockwell spent many years earning a decent living, rewriting screenplays with partner Scott Fields, but never getting anything made.
"It wasn't until I started pursuing what I really loved -- writing original screenplays with non-fiction origins -- that I enjoyed real success," he said. "I read an article in Texas Monthly that I took to HBO. It became the basis for 'Breast Men,' the first screenplay I'd written on my own.
"Unfortunately, screenwriting is the one artistic endeavor in which originality is shunned," he said. "Nothing makes a studio more nervous than a screenplay that isn't a clone of whatever last scored at the box office."
Screenwriting is "a lonely, miserable profession," Stockwell said.
"But the pay can be okay and you get to spend a lot of time in Hawaii," he said with a laugh.
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