Vaughan Blakey on 'Red Monkey, Full Moon'
Recently, while doing the runaround at a NSW pointbreak I bumped into Vaughan Blakey, he of Tracks, Waves, Surfing World, Ain't That Swell, and The Hold Down. Have I missed anything..?
We chatted about inconsequential shit: tides, boards, etc until I lost sight of him down the line and he was gone.
Almost immediately I kicked myself because I wanted to congratulate Vaughan on last year's 'Red Monkey, Full Moon'. RMFM was a twenty-minute promo film, small fry in comparison to many other works, but it left an impression on me and I wanted to let him know.
At the time I saw him, the lockdowns were just beginning, our freedoms were being curtailed, and if they continued surfing would be but a memory - at least for a while.
Coincidentally, it's a scenario presaged by Vaughan in the opening skit to 'Red Monkey, Full Moon'. But let's not veer south here, because the film is buoyed by an XXL serve of joie de vivre. Irrespective of circumstances, it's impossible to watch it and not get drawn into the slipstream, making it the perfect film for our current predicament.
I couldn't wait for another chance encounter, I called up Vaughan to talk about 'Red Monkey..'
Swellnet: You've worked on a few different Rip Curl projects. Did that connection begin with Neil Ridgway [Rip Curl CMO] at 'Tracks'?
Vaughan: Yeah, pretty much. When I did work experience, Ridgway was the deputy editor at Tracks. He's been the most important mentor I've ever had outside of my parents.
You guys have had a longstanding relationship. Was it on the back of that relationship that he roped you into The Search?
No, he actually felt The Search was a bit too earnest. It had gone into this space of, I guess, lacking a bit of personality. You couldn't really criticise those films in terms of the surfing in them - everything was first class - but I think he was just going, "Fuck, I just want a bit of ridiculous energy pumped in these things."
If you ask me, that's a good sign, that's the sign of someone who is not scared of change. I guess he just knew that I was the most ridiculous person he'd ever worked with.
Was the trip to #### ##### the first one?
Stu, you'll get killed if you say that out loud.
I'm an editor, I can make things disappear.
Right. Yeah, that was my first one and it was unreal as an introduction, just hanging out with Mick and Mason. It was just a perfect set up. We literally camped in a little circle with no one else around. No phones, there was no nothing, and it gave me a really good chance to understand those two guy, their dynamic, how they ticked...
It's a funny one, because when Mason got signed up for Rip Curl, I didn't see how it could work. I didn't see the fit.
Mason is the ultimate fan of history. He's a massive fan of competitive surfing - he loves anyone who's achieved. He loves it all and he has so much respect for everyone that's come before him, but in his peculiar way he's so happy to just like lord everything.
I think there are two ways you can go if you're someone who really loves the past: You either worship that particular era and only ride those boards and think that was surfing's glory days, or you can be like Mason where you take everything that was great about every era and just suck it into your own game.
So it comes out in a melange.
Oh yeah. He's all over the place with surfing - there's a million different styles. But the cool thing is, he just worships Mick. He just thinks Mick is the best. And Mick has to basically roll with this, not unhinged, but completely unpredictable character.
It seems to loosen Mick up.
100% it does. Yeah.
Now, 'Red Monkey Full Moon', it was filmed over a couple of months in Indo. It has a story of sorts, did you come up with it?
First up, I wasn't on any of those trips in Indo. The first one I was on the trip, so that was really easy. But for this one, I've got a call from Ridgway and he was like, "Hey, the boys have scored all over Indo, classic, classic waves."
He was like, "We want to make a Search clip out of this. I'm going to fly you up there to try and build a story around it." And I went, "Oh, my God." I was stressed out because I was going, a) it's not really a Search trip as the waves are packed and everyone's surfing, and b) how do you make twenty minutes of left-hand barrel riding look interesting?
How is that going to connect with people?
So....I just went, "You know what? I'm going to take this back to a time when Indo was the Search location." So I asked myself, "What did surf movies look like back then?"
I was borrowing a bit from 'Endless Summer' and all those movies that I grew up with, 'Ticket to Ride' and stuff like that.
Yeah, you included that fast-motion passage that reminded me of Bruce Brown, or mid-career Jack McCoy even.
Yeah. 100%. I was tapping the surf movies I watch growing up, so that includes all the McCoy movies. You didn't realise it at the time, but that guy was always making you feel good about surfing. He always did that. Freak at it! Always just fun and silly, so that was my other plan with it, because you know how I was saying it's really hard to engage?
Well if you haven't got a story, then you've just got to be funny. That's what I was thinking. Just think of the premiere and imagine what's going to make people laugh. That's all I wanted. Yeah, so I borrowed that one. I thought the music was really important too. I was going, "What did surfing movies sound like back then?" Aussie Crawl was a no brainer...
That's not a no brainer. Don't pull that shit. It's not a no brainer.
Ha ha...fuck...it's not?
I'd heard that song for years and years and I'd never given it a second thought until it was matched with Desert Point. The song starts with a lead break, which is unusual, starting with a lead break, and the first scene is Mason coming down the line at Desert Point. It's the most perfect match of footage and music. How did you choose that song?
Well there were two things. I wanted to pretend I'm in Bali in the '80s and I tried to go back to when I was 13, in '88, and what did every single Aussie bar in Kuta and Legian sound like? And that's what it fucking sounded like, mate.
It was before techno and stuff, that's all they played. All they played were Aussie pub classics. I was like, "That's it!"
But the other part of it is that I decided on that song purely because my mum's best friend is married to the bass player in Australia Crawl so I had a feeling I might be able to get it for a cheap price. I just thought, "Fuck yes, that's perfect."
Oh, it's a perfect song for Desert Point. There's no breakdown in the song, it doesn't slow down, no cutback section, so it's the same as Desert Point. It just keeps pumping down the line.
Yeah man, it worked out so good. The second we watched it, the second we dropped it on unedited, we knew. It matched perfectly, which I think is unbelievable.
OK. The hat hookup, was that staged?
100% legit. I wasn't there, but I know that Mason and the guy that he swapped the hat with, his name escapes me right now, but he's the little Japanese guy who got the wave of the decade at Pipeline.
Oh, Heit, Heito. No, Kay, Kate...
Keito Keno or something like that?
Yeah, I know the one.
But anyway, that's that kid. When I was watching that footage, I was like, "Who is this dude?" But when I was in Bali for the premiere, that kid was there, and everyone was just lording him. Like he was still riding on the back of that Pipeline wave.
For me, it was goosebumps kind of stuff. Surfing when it's not selfish and you're smiling and sharing with other people - take the hat, hand it back, and then laugh about it afterwards. All the way through that DP session Mason's bouncing around, he's grabbing rail with his other arm, he's shuffling his foot onto the nose. It's joyful to watch.
Yeah, man. That's the word. I think that's one of the biggest things for me personally with surfing, just in general. You know, we work in surf media which has copped a hiding. When I was a grommet reading surf mags, people weren't overly critical. I mean, you could be critical to yourself and stuff, but now we live in the age of hate. That's fine, that's fine, but it's just not my schtick at all. I would way rather just be stoked then be overly self important, or the other side where you're just tearing into anyone who has a go at something.
You don't have a bit of anger inside?
Nah. My mind doesn't even go to those places.
Yeah. Well, that's unreal. And I mean, for a while there, twenty minutes at least, you took viewers to where your mind is at. Impossible not to smile when watching that film.
Well that stokes me out a lot. That's cool.
It's funny that we're talking about this now because we're under a lockdown. The opening skit shows Mick and Mason reminiscing about past sessions when there are curerently thousands of surfers across Australia doing the very same thing. 'Red Monkey' is a perfect film for the lockdown.
The whole world's having a breather, mate.
We're all sitting around like Mick and Mason, dreaming about past sessions.