Interview: Tez Plavenieks
Pics: Carl Prechezer
Towards the end of the 90s there were a flurry of Brit flicks popping onto our cinema screens –the UK film industry was certainly alive and well. Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and Human Traffic will be familiar to many but it was Brit feel good surf movie Blue Juice that held the most favour with SUP Mag UK’s editor. As a land locked surfer it gave a perceived insight into what being a Cornwall dwelling wave rider was all about (rightly or wrongly) as well as providing an antidote to the big budget Point Break movies of the world which also hail from that era.
2016 marks 20 years since Blue Juice first hit our screens and it now has a large cult following. With the movie’s director Carl Prechezer being a super enthusiastic stand up paddler we couldn’t resist hitting him up for a chat about the film, how he discovered surfing and what made him convert to SUP.
Tell us a little about your background – how did you get into the film and TV industry?
I could lie and say I watched Billy Wilder in the womb but my filmmaking origins are a lot more straightforward – central St Martins, the Royal College of Art and then USC in Los Angeles, thanks to a BAFTA Fulbright Scholarship. When I came back to the UK I put it all together with a short film called The Cutter, which was Oscar shortlisted, and the rest is history.
Having never made a film about surfing before how come you hit upon the idea for Blue Juice – what was the inspiration and motivation to make a Brit surf flick?
My best friend starting going out with a girl from Newquay. He came home with tales that weren’t quite California and I was hooked.
How did you manage to attract such a roster of top thespian actors? What did you think appealed to the likes of Sean Pertwee, Ewan McGregor, Peter Gunn, Heathecote Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Stephen Mackintosh?
The script. It was different. It was also a golden time and that cast was on the rise. Right place, right time – cliché but true.
What about the supporting cast of Jenny Agutter and Keith Allen – these two are well respected actors yet they only played minor roles in the movie?
Once a film has momentum and you have people attached it’s very appealing, there’s a buzz. We were buzzing loud enough to attract a lot of interest.
Blue Juice also used the expertise, knowledge and skills of local surfers and industry types. Was it key to the film’s success that you had their blessing and input?
Steve England, Rob Small (now a respected Fanatic SUP team rider), the crew from St Agnes and St Ives, they were key. It wouldn’t have been possible without them. They doubled, they advised and every now and again they raised a cautionary eyebrow making me think twice. It was very important to make them happy and to get it right.
The soundtrack to Blue Juice was spot on. In particular you worked with Northern Soul legend Edwin Starr who recorded a version of Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up that plays out during the end credits. How did you go about compiling the music used in the film?
Edwin Starr and Primal Scream were integral to the film’s soundtrack, they were in the script, so we spent a lot of time trying to get them on board. Music for films is very hard, especially when you have a low budget, but in the end they all liked the film and got on board. Edwin was a total gentleman; being in the studio with him was a pleasure, one of my best memories. Some of the other bands involved were, shall we say, a little more challenging.
The surf scenes are pretty authentic and one of the main reasons Blue Juice works on this level. We understand La Santa, Lanzarote, was the chosen location for some of these action sequences. How come you ended up here and what issues did you face when shooting surf?
We wanted to film the surf scenes in the UK but we all knew how unpredictable conditions can be and movie financiers don’t understand the concept of waiting. Every hour, every day you’re burning money so we needed security and the one place you stand a chance of scoring big waves, that’s within striking distance of the UK, is the Canaries. I’d seen photos of La Santa and thought it could work. When we flew in the guys were going mental. It’s big! I said great! They said no it’s too big. As a director I was thinking brilliant! But as we walked to the point you could literally feel the ground shaking. We were a small unit, no jet skis and no emergency boats. We had to be safe so we had to wait. Waiting with surfers not surfing in a holiday complex with five bars is a challenging situation. In fact, that’s a film right there. Luckily two days later as the hangovers cleared the waves calmed and just before sunset it was super pumped corduroy as far as the eye could see – I still get shivers down my spine thinking about it. That’s the big wave in the movie. That was the legend.
Why do think Blue Juice has gained such a cult following over the years?
It’s a real time and a place movie. Everyone can remember where they were when it came out. It was also released at a time when people were riding a (false) wave of optimism, it’s a feel good film and it was a feel good time.
With Justin Kerrigan recently confirming a sequel to other 90s Brit flick Human Traffic (featuring Danny Dyer) can you envisage Blue Juice 2 emerging?
Wow, you could go so many ways! When we made Blue Juice there was no Hangover, no In Betweeners and no movies about mates on a stag night. Now it’s a global industry. But I’d like to see something that was closer to the film’s original concept. A Big Chill style story that’s bitter sweet – that feels like now.
Talk to us about your personal surfing experience. We understand you didn’t actually ride waves until you started making Blue Juice?
I lived in California and the closest I got to surfing was a boogie board in the shore dump – I had no idea. I learned how to surf because I figured – Point Break style – you needed to paddle out to talk to the surfers. So I made a fool of myself, which I think the guys liked. Of course from there I was hooked. It then went to surfing in the US, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and even Italy – Bella Vita, now there’s a great film.
And now you SUP. Stand up paddling still has a degree of stigma within surfing circles so what made you start swinging a paddle? How did you discover stand up?
I moved to Brighton and realised: it’s not going off, that often. (Apologies to locals who regularly surf amazing spots I don’t know about). SUP had just started and I saw these guys out on the water and thought it looked pretty cool. Then one night a storm blew through, sent us swell, and we paddled out to the old pier – the rest is history. I started hunting around, found the Witterings, the local rivers and realised it was the perfect sport for where I lived. Of course I went overboard, bought a Red Paddle Co inflatable, which is amazing, and have now SUPed all over the world.
Do you still surf or is it mainly stand up paddle boarding now? Do you find switching between the two easy or is there a preference?
Ha! Funny you ask that because I took all my boards to Devon recently and it really taught me where I was at. I think I spent an hour trying to paddle my longboard into inappropriate waves before switching. So no, I think it’s the SUP life for me.
Where do you normally SUP – is your riding all about waves or do you paddle flat water as well?
As I said Sussex is amazing for everything. The Witterings, rivers, the sea, you name it. If you’re into the sport you just have to get out there. At the same time my Dad lives in Devon and my favourite spot is Puttsborough. But also with my Red iSUP I’m able to surf while on the road and have had some great times in Portugal and elsewhere Europe. In fact, I just went back to Sicily, where the family’s from, and there was a rogue wave pulsing through. I don’t think the fishermen knew what was going on. A nun from the nunnery opposite came out to greet me and said: ‘you’re very good on that boat’.
What’s in your quiver bag – do you have a selection of SUP kit or are you a one board/one paddle man?
I have an old Starboard which was my first board, my Red Paddle which I love and goes everywhere with me and a Nah Skwell for surfing.
What do you think of UK SUP in general – do you see it becoming bigger than surfing or would you see it sticking more as a niche discipline?
I know from travelling the world that it’s really becoming big. I’m blessed to spend time in Cape Town with work and SUP there is huge. I think it will grow and grow but let’s see…
Globally stand up is gaining followers all the time and with such a variety of ways to paddle anywhere with H2O is potentially ripe for SUP shenanigans. Do you think SUP has any limitations or is it a sport for all comers wherever they find themselves?
I think it’s a really attractive sport for everyone, especially for fitness. Look at Sicily where I’m from. Yes there are waves but they’re rare. With a SUP you can have fun all year round, paddle to your mate’s house, have lunch, and then paddle home. Actually if that’s a Sicilian lunch you’ll probably have to wait until the day after to do anything!
How would you go about convincing newbies to get involved with SUP – what’s the one thing that would inspire getting out for a float?
There’s an old commercial that says: don’t talk, eat. In SUP land it’s: don’t talk, paddle. You know how it is. If the conditions are right leaving the world and its worries behind and paddling out to sea can’t be beaten. For younger folk I think river paddling is really fun and no one can argue with a good surf. As they say: ‘everything thing seems better after you’ve taken a few waves’.
We have to ask: could you see yourself making a film about stand up paddle boarding? Or even narrowing it down and focusing on UK SUP?
Definitely. Loads of ideas on that front – a round UK paddle inspired by Roger Deakin’s great book Waterlog; a fictional film based on the older guy appeal of SUP, and so the list goes on. Like I say, the ocean is in my blood, it’s a constant source of inspiration.
How easy would it be to do something like this? We appreciate funding is key but do you think there’s an audience?
Look at Bella Vita. I believe that was crowd funded. There’s a lot of ways to get films made now, but the thing that hasn’t changed is you need an original and good idea, something that connects.