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A chat with the legendary Taylor Steele


Revered director Taylor Steele doesn’t make many surf movies these days so when he does the entire surf community goes into meltdown.

In the parlance of their tribe, right now they are absolutely frothing ahead of the release of PROXIMITY.

It is a buddy movie of sorts, with Steele pairing together four legends of the surfing world with four of its rising stars, each pair so perfectly fitted the whole premise of the movie just seemed right straight away.

The greatest of all time, Kelly Slater travels with his heir apparent John John Florence. Master big wave charger Shane Dorian teams up with young gun Albee Layer. Style and life guru Rob Machado shares waves with his modern counterpart Craig Anderson while two of the world’s most charismatic, charming and exceptional surfers, Steph Gilmore and Dave Rastovich travel together to Mexico.

The teams visit locales none of them have been to before, the sense of adventure and the unknown and the relationships that develop guiding the way in what will no doubt be the surf movie of the year.

It is a far cry from the action packed-punk stylings of the iconic 90s Momentum movies that made Steele the star he is today.

“Nowadays I don’t make surf movies as a career, it isn’t my bread and butter anymore,” Steele said ahead of the Australian premiere in Sydney.

“So it has to be something I just feel like I need to make so I just drop everything and do it. And the idea of showing my favourite surfers with the person who is kind of the next of them, or of a similar spirit, to think what they would do in the water when pushed together and what they would do on land and what they would talk about and how they would interact.”

It soon became clear that it was these interactions that would provide the backbone of the movie.

Although Steele initially aimed to create a movie packed with exceptional high performance surfing as the centre piece, the insights of these unique surfers shone through.

Make no mistake, however, the surfing is also remarkable.

But bringing back a sense of adventure and the unknown, like the great surf movies of old, lends Proximity a more immersive feeling.

“We went into the first couple of these trips with all the intentions of competing with the biggest surf movies for action but as we got there I found it just as interesting hanging out there, getting ensconced and letting that be part of the story,” Steele said.

“We just adjusted on the fly and let the story tell itself and for me it was having these surfers together being part of that.

“Some of the trips we got better waves some we didn’t but it was like the waves became the third character behind the location with the real story being these two surfers.”

Steele himself, like all of us, has matured since he shot to fame as an 18-year-old film making phenom.

As you would expect and hope, that maturation has translated to the way he creates his art.

“For me storytelling is the most interesting part of movie making,” Steele said.

“I did years of just action-based movies and then more of the capturing the feeling of a location so now it is telling stories. And the people that we picked, they were picked for a reason because they are thoughtful, they are intelligent, they are well travelled and there is more to them than just being athletes.”

It is also a very modern production, with the movie itself accompanied by art from photographer Todd Glaser and virtual reality pieces from Temme Media.

It is modern, Steele says, but produced with a nostalgic wink to the 90s.

“The virtual reality side of it is definitely a way to tell the story and make the person feel like they are there,” he said.

“You can be transported to some of the locations, all of a sudden you are in Mexico with Dave (Rastovich) and Steph (Gilmore) sharing a wave with them. That sort of thing is mind blowing.

“But the whole idea of the project is that it has many layers and you experience it in different ways.

“I guess in a way it is my romantic version of the 90s when my VHS copies were played more than once and I think this project is a counter challenge to the webisode mentality.

“It is meant to be revisited whether it is in the art gallery and then you see it in the theatre, then you see some of the VR stuff, then you watch it at home and later on your phone.”