Talking story with Jack McCoy
Last year Jack McCoy had a one off show in Perth sharing the stage with Wayne Lynch, each reflecting on Jack's filmmaking career.
Turns out it wasn't quite a one off but a dry run for a larger tour with a similar concept. Swellnet recently spoke to Jack about surf filmmaking and his upcoming tour.
Jack, the movie landscape has changed incredibly since you first made Tubular Swells. Back then you played to halls, but now there’s Instagram and people expect small clips every other day. What’s the future of surf filmmaking?
What I hope will happen is that people embrace sitting down for longer than three minutes. People who make commercials are storytellers in thirty second slots and that’s what everyone’s attention span has been focussed upon. I’d like to see it go back to where people will sit back and focus on someones art that’s longer than just three minutes.
That would be my dream, but whether that’s going to happen soon or not, I don’t know. Though I do think there will be a time in the future when people get back to doing that. I’d like to see more than just short clips, I’d like to hear some stories. Stories are the greatest way to keep the culture alive.
Oral storytelling is so important. You ride a wave and it lasts maybe ten seconds, and if you got a great one you’ll tell your friend that, but if you got an exceptional one you’ll come in and tell that story for the rest of your life. That’s the thing that’s beautiful about storytelling, and also about surfing.
You've had a particular way of telling stories on film: Consider MR in Storm Riders, the boy from Newcastle made good, smokestacks in the background, rocking up at his local on a beautiful offshore day…
...in a silver wetsuit!
In a silver wetsuit. It told a story about his background, where he came from, what sort of person he was. Not just an international jetsetter but he came from a particular place, and that place shaped who he was. We don't hear about those things anymore.
There was a movie that came out about John John Florence, View From a Blue Moon, and I’m not putting it down, it was a good film, but it didn’t tell me about John. I didn’t learn anything about him.
Some films today don’t let you know much about their stars. There’s no story there. And you know, the stories don’t have to be exact…it was Wayne Lynch who taught me all about smoke and mirrors. We’d film a shot of us driving under the Great Ocean Road sign and then we’d cut to a secret spot with us climbing down these cliffs and then we’d show a scenic that’s 300 kilometres away, because back in the day everybody would watch the films over and over looking for clues to where they were filmed.
Oh don’t worry, they still do it today…
We’d love to throw people off the scent! For Rabbit’s Storm Riders sequence at Burleigh I put him in my old station wagon and we drove down to Kingscliff to the other side of the river, there were pelicans in the foreground and he paddles across the river…
And I thought you just stuffed up the editing!
Ha! Next thing he’s surfing Burleigh. It told a story - not always true - but there was a story. With Gerry we loaded the boats into G’Land and lived in the treehouse - so it’s all storytelling.
The beauty is that in my new tour I get to show the audience what happened backstage.
So what’s your new tour called
Jack McCoy Talk Story. When I was young in Hawaii, the old folks would say to me [Jack assumes deep native Hawaiian accent], “Eh boy, come over ‘ere, I want to talk story with you”, and that’s where I got it from.
Strictly speaking, as a filmmaker you don’t talk story, you show story, why are you choosing to do it this way?
I went to Bruce Brown movies as a kid, and he’d introduce the show and sit there and narrate the whole film. It was live and in person. This was Bruce Brown in full flight when surf movies were done that way, and the thing I got from Bruce was that he was a storyteller.
I also consider myself a storyteller. I’m still trying to share the same stoke, the same vibe that I got back then. The show is a journey to the places that have inspired me, with the people that have inspired me.
The stories will include the planning, the execution, the life and death adventures, all while working with great surfers.
Is it just yourself up on stage? Do you have props?
Each of these shows I have a special guest or two. The one I did in Perth last year was with Wayne Lynch. What I did was start the show and tell people what inspired me and how I got into filmmaking and then I start talking about the films I made.
My first film was Tubular Swells with Dick Hoole and I talk about how back in the day we’d do the first run and then make a short film afterward, and then show the film again and we’d use the short film - in this case it was A Day in the Life of Wayne Lynch - to draw people back to see the film a second time.
So I invite Wayne to come out on stage with me and talk about how we made the movie. He talks about jumping off the cliff, he talks about hanging down there in the Otways for six months, and we have this conversation, and then I go into the next movie, Storm Riders, and we talk about that film and we share that together.
That’s the shows I do with Wayne, and at the end I bring him back and we do a Q&A. Anyone can ask Wayne Lynch a question, now’s your chance to get up close with the legend. The same will go with Occy, Parko, Rasta at other shows.
The surf characters step off the screen…
Yeah, and we tell the backstories. I call it the backstage pass as to what happened. You know, like I’ll be doing a Gold Coast show, and Occy and I will talk about the sequence in the Green Iguana with Occy’s brother Rocky. How did Rocky come about? Well I share that story on the night. It’s a classic.
Parko and I will talk about why his dog narrates his film. It’s a behind the scenes look. Like someone taking you into Abbey Road and telling you how the Beatles recorded.
You also include younger filmmakers on stage. Why?
I was given two slots at Vivid this year, which is a real honour - Vivid is the premier speaking and music extravaganza. I thought at least for one of the shows it’d be good to have Wayne and Rasta together. For the other show I thought it’d be great to give back to another generation of surfers and I wanted to include who I believe is the best young filmmaker, Kai Neville, and Craig Anderson, whom I don't know that well though I admire his surfing.
I’m going to put some of their clips together and let them share with me what they were thinking and what they were doing. I thought it’d be a wonderful opportunity to have the people who are interested in their movies a chance to be in the audience as well.
I was so stoked when they agreed to do it and it just so happens that Craig has a new little film and he’s gonna let us show it. We'll be one of the first places in Australia to show it. It’s a chance to see it on the big screen and ask the filmmaker what you think of it.
Let’s stop for a moment, Jack: Craig’s new film is playing at your show?
Yeah. It’s twenty minutes long and that’s gonna be the highlight of the second half of the second Vivid show.
How will that be couched on the night? What context?
I just did an Insti post today: George Downing told me once. “To go forward you have to go backwards”. So I’m gonna spend the first hour telling a condensed version of my story and then the second half I’ll invite Kai and Craig on and we’ll go through the movies Kai’s made: my fave clips, their fave clips, talk about them. Then we’re gonna show Craig’s movie and finish with a Q&A.
It’s a great little film. Craig produced it himself and Kai edited it for him, so it was like this great collaboration. I love it. You’re gonna dig it too!
You sound like a fan.
The thing about Craig’s surfing is that he has the full game down as good as anybody, but he does it in a style that is so rare. When I watch other people, especially on the tour, it’s wiggle wiggle POP, wiggle wiggle POP. But then when I watch Craig and he’s smooth as silk.
You’ve got a few different nights on the tour. Can you tell us who’s appearing?
OK, so the first show is Kai Neville and Craig Anderson at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Two weeks later I’m again at the MCA but with Wayne Lynch and Dave Rastovich.
Then I go to Noosa with Wayne
Then the Gold Coast with Occy and Parko.
Then I travel to Byron with Occy.
Coffs is after that with Rasta.
Then Newcastle with Occy and I’ll probably get a mystery guest…..by the name of Peter McCabe. Ha ha..
Then the Central Coast with myself and Occy.
So what I gather is that no two nights are the same?
No. There’s different people and there’s no set script.
Bit dangerous with Occy?
Aw no, it’s gonna be a heap of fun.