Working for a surf and skate magazine can sometimes be a strange reality.
Despite sleep deprivation and economy class becoming your new bedroom, having a foot in the media circus has a few perks. Getting to meet people you’ve looked up to your whole life is definitely one of them.
Although we’d been wanting to make Los Angeles a strong part of Volume V for a while, plans took longer than expected to materialise. However, once the Amex (god bless) came out the wallet and plane tickets started getting booked, the list of Californian residents we’d always wanted to pay a visit to was taken out of the drawer. Top of the list was Mr. Joe Guglielmino – aka Joe G.
For those who might have been living under a rock for the past two decades, Joe is responsible for some of the most memorable surf films in recent times. Think Secret Machine. Year Zero. Electric Blue Heaven. Strange Rumblings in Shangri La. Cult of Freedom.
There’s always been something about Joe’s work that’s fascinated me. Despite being gorgeously filmed on 16mm film, Joe’s renowned for making no compromises, always blending strong storylines with what’s at the very edge of modern surfing and distinct aesthetics.
But it’s probably his way of embodying it all that I’ve always respected the most. Straying far from the constant self-promotion game we have to cope with every time we unlock our phones, Joe has always appeared as this mysterious but humble guru. One that would work in the shadows for years, only to come back to light with a movie that will keep the dream alive for generations of surfers and film enthusiasts alike. Anyways. You get the point. Joe is the real deal. And I’m sure that anybody from the surf and skate world who’s ever worked with the man will agree with that.
One month on and here we were, knocking on Joe’s front door in Long Beach. It’s 11am, and his wife welcomes us into the Guglielmino household; Joe is waiting for us in the backyard.
“If this was the afternoon, we could open a bottle of red in honour of France! But it’s a little early. Do you guys want coffee?”
Joe is a busy man, and after confirming the myth of him being gifted at everything involving les arts de la table, we quickly get right into it. As he shows us the Arri and Bolex he used to film Strange Rumblings, the Cuban beans start kicking in and we get chatting about his filmmaking debuts, working on Avril Lavigne music videos, plus his take on the current era in surf filmmaking, amongst many others things.
Wasted Talent: We’ve been told to ask you what you were doing in California after moving from Florida…
Joe G: Oh God, let me think. I did all kinds of stuff. When I first moved from Florida, I was basically doing nothing. I was sleeping on my friend’s couch in La Jolla. I did all kinds of jobs before I started doing surf stuff. One of my first jobs was ripping toilets out of housing projects in East San Diego. I worked for a guy who was a crazy pot afficionado at the time. He was really into weed, and telling me about the nuances in each strain. He had a contract with the city to go to the housing projects and take the old big toilets out, and someone else would come and put the new smaller ones in. I did this for like three days and then I quit…it was pretty dirty. Plus I’m not that into weed…(laughs)
After I was out there for a while, I ended up going to college down in San Diego and I got a degree somehow. I studied Management and my final year internship was arranged by my girlfriend at the time. Her Stepdad had a financial services company, dealing with the wealthy elite of La Jolla, and I was working for him. He liked me because I was from Florida, and was a real hard worker. I was down for anything, you know? He was like, ‘You’re not like these Californians! They’re so lazy! When you’re done with school you’re going to come work for me, and you’ll make a lot of money’. The people working there were doing well. They drove Ferraris and stuff, and I was like, ‘I’m doing it. Let’s go!’
I told my parents, ‘I’ve got a job out of college, I’m going to make all this money…’ I was already going to the office for my internship but it was only for a few hours a day. Now that I had the job, I had to be there super early because the stock market in New York opens at 8:30am or something, so here it’s like 5:30am. So you have to be at the office by 5am. My very first day, I was putting on a tie at like 4:45 in the morning, looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Then I get in there. All these people are doing all this crap, financial stuff or whatever, they’re going to lunch at 10am…and I was just sitting here processing the people and the whole scene and I was like, ‘This is not how I’m going to spend my life’. So yeah, I quit the first day!
On the side, I was surfing a lot with Taylor Steele, Benji and Jason Weatherley at the time, and that was at the height of Poor Specimen, and I just told Taylor, ‘Hey man, I just quit my job; I want to come work for you at Poor Specimen’. And he was like, ‘You can’t come work for me – I’ve got no money’. And I said, ‘Yeah but we’re gonna make more money and you’ll pay me when that happens’. He said, ‘Well, if you want to come work for free until we make more money then you can…’ I was in! ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do it!’
So I told my parents that I quit my job…but that I had another job. And they were like, ‘What are you doing?’ and I told them, ‘I’m gonna work with this guy Taylor Steele’. They asked, ‘How much are you getting paid?’ I said, ‘Nothing! I’m going to make surf movies!’”
How did you first get in touch with Taylor originally?
It was all pretty random. I surfed in La Jolla and they were filming a lot of the movies around there at that time. I started surfing with Jason Weatherley, Benji’s older brother. We were actually playing a lot of basketball together too. That crew was always hanging out at the Weatherley’s house and I just met everybody and they somehow let me into their little crew. For me, as someone from Florida, I worshipped all these guys. It was like being let into a club that I had no business being in. So I just went for it. I took any opportunities they gave me.
What were you doing for them at the time?
Shipping boxes out of Poor Specimen (laughs). We started a distribution company. At the time, Taylor was dealing with all these distributors, and after looking at his finances, we were like: ‘You’re getting ripped off. They’re making all the money.’ So we thought about doing our own distribution. I said, ‘Everybody knows your movies are the best, so you can just call the shop and say you have a new movie and the shop will order it’. So that’s what we did.
At first for me, it was just shipping boxes out. Then things started to get a little more organised, and we hired a few people for sales, and this little distribution company grew. It started to do well. That was when they were doing Loose Change and it grew from there; they started doing more and more stuff. So I worked with them for around five years, from ‘97 until 2001 maybe.
When did shooting come into the picture for you?
We had Dave Emgie and also sometimes Jack Johnson, who used to film for Taylor. Pretty crazy crew. But the guy who was really the foundation of filming was this guy Dave Emgie, who was travelling around the world and filming with all the surfers. He was a warrior and an unsung hero at Poor Specimen for the work he did.
I didn’t like the sales part of the business. I knew it was important, but when we had this set, what I really wanted was to work on the movies. And so Taylor would let me do more and more. I went more into producing at the time: coordinating travel, finding and clearing music, working on post, trying to push the edits so they could be better and better.
What got me interested in film was when Chris Malloy did Shelter with Taylor. Working on that project and seeing the film come back really got me interested. I met Scott Soens, one of the cinematographers who was shooting that movie, and we really clicked. For me, Shelter was so sick, but they did it in a way where it was more of a vibey movie, you know? And we were doing the Poor Specimen stuff that was super high performance. For me, the movie I wanted to make would look like Shelter but have the surfing of the Poor Specimen films. I wanted to blend the two worlds. Like, let’s shoot things beautifully, but have really really gnarly surfing.
Was it around that time that things started happening with Globe?
I worked on Momentum: Under the Influence for Poor Specimen, which was the most I had ever been involved in, in any of the projects. Right after that, I left to go work on music videos and stuff like that. I moved and started working in Hollywood, and that was crazy. It was a totally insane world up there. I hated it.
It was interesting because I learned a lot about the process of production – how to make films, use camera gear and everything. But it sucked. It was just awful for me but I learned a lot and it galvanised my love of the surf industry. I was working with a young friend of mine who was a really successful producer. We worked on music videos for artists like Avril Lavigne…etc. It was so silly! We did the music video for her first single, Complicated. And they were trying to use skaters. I had to call people who were really involved in that world and try to get them to skate in this Avril Lavigne video. No one had heard of her at the time and the label people were like, ‘Yeah we’ve got this girl, she is punk! She writes her own songs! She skates!’ At that point, we didn’t know who she was, and we thought, ‘Okay, that sounds cool!’…and then we listened to her songs and were like, ‘This sucks man, this is really bad’. Then we had to do the video. When she came they were trying to show us how authentic she was being like: ‘Look at her skating!’ She was struggling to tic-tac back and forth and I was thinking, ‘Wow this is crazy!’ I decided I needed to get out of there. Avril became a big star though, so what do I know? (laughs). Maybe she rips at skating now…
Anyway, at that time, Globe had CJ, Damien, and Taj, and my name got passed around when they talked about doing a surf movie. I was working a lot with George Manzanilla during the Poor Specimen years; he was a key editor for them. I believe it was Taj telling Globe that they should get us to make the movie. And so they called, and I was like, ‘YES, get me out of here!’ I was so done with LA and was very excited to go do surf stuff again after spending two years in Hollywood. So we started working freelance for Globe. Things then started gathering momentum and we really got going from there. George is another behind-the-scenes guy who edited many of the films we made at Globe and is a huge part of what we did and continue to do there.
We know you have a lot on your plate. What are your current jobs?
I don’t know… (laughs) There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s pretty insane.
Globe wanted me to do more within the company, and other things they have going on. They had some opportunities to work with some of the skaters. I then met those guys and thought they were great, so I started doing more stuff on the skate side of things, which is still a work in progress. On the surf side we’ve been working on Cult of Freedom. Creed is working on a part for the project that I’m super excited about. His surfing is so fun to watch. And Dion has been stacking clips for a while, for something big we have coming for him toward the end of the year.
So yeah, I’ve been working on a bunch of stuff for Globe. We’ve gone on that crazy run of full length videos during the past few years, so right now we’re working on smaller pieces, which I’ve been enjoying a lot. To be honest, once we did Strange Rumblings, I kind of looked at it and was like…we got so lucky with that movie. The places we went to, the waves we scored… We won all these awards, and everybody did such an incredible job individually. Everything clicked. It was just a really special project, and I was like, ‘Holy shit. Trying to outdo that right now would be really hard’. And at the same time, Globe was saying, ‘Hey, we don’t know if we want to do another huge film right now. Why don’t you go more experimental and try smaller pieces?’ I had been losing sleep about how we were going to do better than Strange Rumblings, so I was in.
Also – I personally take that stuff so seriously, especially if it’s a film. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do great for the guys, make them proud to be a part of the projects. I don’t sleep when we’re doing a big film! And looking back at it I’m like, what was I worried about? But during it, I was a fucking wreck. So I thought it’d be good to take a few years where we just have fun with the projects. I used to be really crazy with footage too. I had to shoot everything. I had to control everything. But I’m letting go a little bit of that now, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Plus, Beren Hall and Dave Fox are out there filming with the team and they are about as good as it gets so we are in good hands. I still love to get out there and run a bit of film through the cameras though…(laughs)
What about Octopus? It’s all kind of a mystery.
Shrouded in mystery! I’m associated with the group they call Octopus…you can say that.
Things have been good yeah. It’s fun because for better or worse, it’s just a real old fashioned surf company. When you focus all the energy on what matters to real surfers and forget everything else, it works!
Chippa’s part was so fun to see come together. He was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna film, and everything I’ll do for the next four months will be for Octopus’. And when he came back with those clips, we were like, ‘Wow. You did that in 4 months?’ He’s absolutely on another level.
Octopus is just cutting the surf company idea back to its basics. It’s not rocket science. You get rid of all the bullshit, and focus on making really good products for people who are trying to go surfing, then market those products with video parts a real surfer would dig, with the guys who are the best at what they do, and things seem to work out. So far, so good. Hopefully Octopus can continue to grow in a healthy way and sponsor a bunch of surfers and make the surf industry dream come true for the next generation of kids looking for a job and chasing their dreams.
We wanted to ask you how different surfing and skating are, from a filmmaker’s standpoint. What is the difference between the crowds, but also the filming process?
Filming skating is a grind. Surfing you’re posted on the beach, drinking wine if you’re in France (laughs).
To be honest though, it’s really refreshing doing skate stuff after spending my career doing surf films. I think the surf stuff is harder in some ways, and easier in others, but as far as the way you’re received when you go somewhere, surfing is amazing. You travel with a crew, and it’s always like: ‘This guy is the most connected guy in the whole country and he’s going to meet you, and show you the time of your life wherever you go.’ And everywhere you go people welcome you with open arms! Whereas with skating, you get to the spot, security is chasing you out, you’re trying to go to this other place, everybody is pissed off that you’re there. It’s tough. I respect the skaters so much. Physically what they do is really gnarly on their bodies. Also everybody is fighting them to get them away from what they’re trying to skate. It’s always a battle to get something. The pressure is on. Cops are pulling up and they still need to get what they came here to get…I’m so impressed by how driven and focused these guys are. So yeah, I was blown away when I first started going out with the skaters. It was definitely grittier and it’s not as much of a pleasant experience, but the respect you get for those guys and what they do is huge. And same for the filmers. I’m not a skate filmer. I get out to do my thing, get a couple of shots, but the guys who do that full time are so fucking good. It’s no bullshit. They know exactly what they need to get. They know what angle would work for what trick, and they nail it whilst I would be shooting a cloud or a tree or something, you know? (laughs)
But I think what’s great about me getting involved in that skate world is that what I do is a little different, and hopefully it adds a different element to what has been done before. It’s really fun to combine these things. In my opinion, there was a time when skate videos were pretty boring. As far as tricks go, it was sick, but I would get so bummed when seeing such formulated structures. I’d be asking guys, ‘Why don’t you have a little narrative, a concept or something?’ and they were like, ‘You can’t fucking do that in skating!’ But why not? I thought that skating was against the rules, not playing by the rules. It’s changed though. People are doing incredible stuff in skate filmmaking now. It’s really fun to watch.
Have you been watching Jim Greco’s latest videos?
Oh! It’s crazy. His videos are insane. What’s crazy is that a lot of the things that make someone a good skateboarder, also make a good artist too, and he’s the embodiment of that. I watch his films like I’m watching a Scorsese movie or something. You see all the influences in his work, and he also executes it really well, which is not easy. I’m a fan.
Your movies (especially Strange Rumblings) always feature little stories. Are all of these planned in advance, or does it all happen in the editing room?
What we did for Strange Rumblings was fun. Looking back at all the previous projects, especially because we were shooting film, we were focused so much on action. And you’re always like that on a surf trip, you’re focused on the action. But after the trip, we would be sitting around, drinking beers and talking about all the other crazy stuff that happened that never makes it into the film. Crazy conversations, chance encounters, and other things that lead us to great waves, great times, etc. So when we first started talking about Strange Rumblings, the idea was to make a film about that stuff!
So our plan was to go somewhere unique that would put us out of our element and then I would keep my eyes wide open looking for these opportunities to come up. Something would happen and I would imagine little stories, like what if that girl we met had an uncle in the Icelandic royal navy?…or something. Then I would write these little stories during the trip, and later on, we would go back and shoot the scenes that told the stories, which kind of already happened, but we made them a little bigger, exaggerated. We were always keeping the last day or two of each trip open to go actually shoot this stuff. Whilst we would be shooting surfing, in the background we would be prepping for these scenes, like ‘Hey, see if you can find an old Icelandic house in the countryside!’ Little things like that. That was all so fun, because it all kind of really happened, we just made it a little bit more grand than what it was.
For me that’s the funniest bit. When you’re making a skate or a surf movie, the surfing or skating can end up seeming dated as years go by. At the time, it’s really sick, but five years later, you wonder, ‘Why were we all hyped about that?’ Whereas when you look at the great films of any era, there’s always something else going on. Something else for the viewer to get involved in. So for me, it was always about making movie where there’s something else other than the action going on. And that was the thing we tried to hold ourselves to: we wanted the surfing to be really, really gnarly, innovative, and representative of what’s happening right now, but within a package that says, ‘Hey! We’re taking you out of your life for a minute on our little fantasy ride.’ Strange Rumblings is probably the project we did that best in.
Do you have specific feature films or directors that inspire you?
Damn, there’s so many…the reason I like the Greco stuff is because I like the whole 1950s French and Italian cinema, all the New Wave stuff. I love Antonioni’s films. I love Godard. Masculine/feminin is one of my favourite movies. I love Truffaut. The 400 Blows is a crazy movie. And Fellini, the master. That whole era is what originally inspired me, and inspired us at Poor Specimen. Because that’s what we were thinking back then. Like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do Hollywood movies!’ This was right when DVDs came in, and they had all the extra features on them. We’d sit there watching all these films, like Fellini’s, and all these great directors. We were studying the behind the scenes so closely. But yeah, Fellini and Antonioni are people that I really looked up to. We had a kid who was an intern at Poor Specimen called Dustin Lynn. He’s now a crazy filmmaker in the art world. He was a little stoner kid from La Jolla, and he would trip out on Antonioni’s films. He’d be sat there, going ‘Maaan, look at the way he uses space!’ Hahahaha. I didn’t have as much of an eye as he had, but when he pointed it out I was like, ‘Yeah, wow’. And now he does these short films for huge fashion labels and they look just like Antonioni’s films. It’s crazy, he’s really talented. But yeah, we were just kids in San Diego studying the work of those greats. It was a lot of fun.
What about in recent years? Anything that got you excited?
I have such a hard time with new movies. I loved The Revenant. I thought that was crazy. I love Terrence Malick’s films. The Tree of Life…I have three boys, so I was crying like a baby when I watched it. I was weeping man; it was ridiculous. The Thin Red Line…are you kidding me? That’s why I don’t really want to be a real filmmaker outside of surfing, because these guys are just too good. But yeah, my wife and I have three boys. My oldest is ten, so for the past ten years I haven’t watched as many movies as I used to. I watch them on planes now! (laughs)
Wait, I’ve got to talk about The Big Lebowski too. Everyone you ask about movies that inspire them talks about the fancy artsy ones, but The Big Lebowski is, no bullshit, one of the greatest films in all of cinema. The character development in that film is nearly unparalleled and the dialogue is so clever it hurts…I think it’s the ultimate Los Angeles fairytale.
With the amount of videos released everyday, and all these pieces being almost disposable nowadays, what do you think it takes for someone to spend an hour to sit down and watch a surf film?
I think there’s actually a huge need for it. After Strange Rumblings, when we started working on Cult of Freedom, everybody I talked to told me, ‘Make it five minutes, nobody wants to watch anything over five minutes now.’ And I was like, ‘Fuck that. Make it good at whatever length it takes, and people will watch it.’ And they did, thankfully!
So I think now, there’s stuff you put up every day. You don’t think about it too much, and that’s cool. Then there’s these mid-length pieces that more dedicated viewers sit at their computers and watch, which I’m having fun with right now. But then I think there’s still a very big need for the hour long surf film. You can make an event out of them! Real surfers want to go to a premiere and be together with 100 people, staring at a screen and cheering together, you know? I think that’s pretty rare now, and the reason why they stopped happening was because a lot of people were making them and they…ahhhh…sucked (laughs). There was too much stuff and not enough of it was good. Some of it was good, but it ended up getting washed away with all the poor quality stuff.
We’re almost at a nice quiet time now, where if someone would put out a really good full length surf movie that’d be good, I think everybody would come and watch it. It’s a cool time, because you’re still going to do the short stuff that people watch on their phones, which is great. I don’t really participate in social media. But I’m looking at it. Every once in a while I’d be like, ‘Holy shit, Italo did another huge air! That’s crazy.’ But what I really want to watch is a whole movie of crazy stuff which someone put a lot of time into, and you can get lost in…and I think others still do too…
I think surfing has to go back to where it was when I was growing up. There wasn’t a ton of money, and all these outside people and outside companies were not involved. The industry only consisted of people who really loved surfing and wanted to see it grow. It was hard to make a film. It was hard to get it out there, and when you did it, it meant a lot. It meant a lot to the surfing community too. It was a rallying cry for us surfers and it made us all feel like we belonged to something special. It was not just a huge company ticking boxes on a long to do list of surf marketing, like ‘Look guys we made 20 surf films this year!’ No you didn’t.
Surf films have to be loaded full of the real passion and effort from the surfers and filmmakers involved, and of our awe of Mother Nature and the dance we do with her. The experience should blow your mind and make you want to scream as you run towards the beach with your favourite new board.
That’s the feeling that I had as a kid watching surf films, and it’s the feeling we’ve been trying to recreate with the Globe movies. Standing in the middle of the forest in France, drinking wine out of barrels with 300 people yelling at the screen for Year Zero is still something that matters today. At the end of it all, surfing is still this small group of people who understand something that the rest of society doesn’t. We see something in the world that others can’t and the way we celebrate it together is through films. And I don’t think that will ever go away.