10 questions with award-winning director Taylor Steele

Get Frank chats to world revered and award-winning director and producer Taylor Steele currently in Auckland to premiere his latest movie – Proximity. The film features the most prodigious collection of surfing talent on the planet. From 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and current champ John John Florence, to big wave icon Shane Dorian and breakthrough performer Albee Layer. Six-time women’s champ Stephanie Gilmore, radical activist Dave Rastovich, and style masters Rob Machado and Craig Anderson complete the cast.

Why did you want to make Proximity?

Surfing has grown up a lot over the last decade. We wanted to create something that reflected that. Proximity features four legends and four rising stars, who each bring their own athleticism, thoughts and experiences in this visceral look at modern surfing.

You seem to be a jack-of-all trades. Director, producer… is there anything you can’t do?

I am not really that good at any of those skills. Yet my determination gets me by and knowledge to hire better people around me. I will say it helps to know how to do it if you want to direct others on that specific trade.

Why premiere Proximity in New Zealand?

I’m stoked to be here as I haven’t been since 1994 and it was such a great time. The local surfing community really looked after me. When and if the opportunity comes up, I’d love to film in your beautiful country. I really hope you Kiwis enjoy the film.

What happened in Chile that saw you lose valuable film footage?

My RED camera went into the big waves via a drone crash in the Chile ocean with all the footage and drone never to be seen again.

You have spent you career filming in extreme elements, was there a time you thought you were in real danger?

I’ve been in danger many times from car crashes in India, running with the bulls, gorillas in Rwanda or from locals scared I will mention their secret spots - I never do! 

What’s an interesting fact about Proximity most people don’t know?

Stephanie Gilmore is the first female surfer in one of my movies. Kelly had never been on a trip with John John. In fact, all the different surfers had never been on a trip together.

How did famous New York artist Richard Phillips come to design the artwork on Kelly Slater's surfboard for the movie?

I met him surfing in New York eight years ago. Then about six years ago we made an art film for his gallery the Gagosian. I knew he is a fan of surfing and hoped he would like the idea of designing Kelly’s boards for the project. 

Despite the scary big waves do you live a glamorous globe-trotting existence?

Usually the surf trips are quite down and dirty with the crew usually surviving by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, with a crunchy helping of sand thrown in the mix. Then passing out after spaghetti for dinner. Yet the premieres in New York for Proximity were very contrasting to filming. They were presented in art lofts with fancy people and food around. So, it was a nice reward for the surfers to celebrate in this way after their hard work. 

If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Nothing from Rob Machados 90’s playlist (He’s burned me out on that for decades). Whenever I hear the rolling stones I like it but Pennywise Bro hyme would be the track. 

How did you always find amazing waves for the surfers to ride and film?

Finding good waves with no one around can be challenging. We drove for two days straight in Chile all day without surfing, we were constantly checking waves both of those days from sunrise to sunset without going in the water. In Europe the forecast for the biggest day was flat so we almost cancelled but waited and found a new crazy scary wave elsewhere.

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