Call it Serendipity. Call it luck. Call what you want … Doug Walker, was an editor in the commercial business, looking for a project that could connect him with his roots and return him to surfing. Little did he know when he made that decision, the project would find him. There are events that take place in our lives that resets our direction and gives us a new purpose. For some it might be having a child or a near death incident. For other’s it may be as simple as a career change or learning to surf. Doug Walker came upon a stack of photo negatives at a flea market in Southern California and realized at that moment, his life was going to change and he had a new motivation and direction.
The result is his documentary “Lost & Found”. The film traces back the stories from 30,000 lost film negatives of some of the 70’s best and well-known surfers. The beauty of the film is in Doug’s ability to get some of these iconic figures to open up and share stories and knowledge that would have gone unnoticed and lost in the void had these film negatives not been found by Doug on that fateful day. For Doug, the wonderful thing with this whole project is his new found direction and for a lack of a better term, his calling… Since the film has been premiered, Doug has embarked on a larger project in sharing these photos and stories. One senses from talking with Doug that there is something larger than this film at play. Preservation of our culture, our history, and making sure those who might have been forgotten, get their due respects and acknowledgment.
To understand his greater plan, check out www.thelostandfoundcollection.com
Interview by Tyler Breuer
TB: What were you doing for work before you found all those photos?
DW: I grew up in LA around the film Industry. My mom was a producer & my uncles were grips so I naturally fell into it at a young age. I was a child actor then hated it and one day when I was 18 I walked past the editing department at the studios. It was 10:30AM and the editors were kicking back reading the paper and I thought to myself “I like this!” Little did I know that editing would consume my life and hours, but I fell in love with the art of putting stories together. I’ve been an editor for a long time doing commercials.
TB: Had you been a fan of surf films before you started on “Lost & found”?
DW: I grew up skating and surfing. My friends and I skated empty pools in the valley and surfed. Surfing is something that once you experience it, it becomes you. I raised 2 kids, son Merritt 19 and daughter Lauren 16 with my wife. Sometimes with kids you put your passions on hold. As my son was 17 and filling out college applications, that is when I wanted to get back to surfing and wanted to find a project. Little did I know that this gift was in front of me.
TB: How long was your hiatus from surfing?
DW: It wasn’t a hiatus per say. I was snowboarding a lot during the winter and getting my surf in while doing jobs in LA. I grew up there and always found the water temps more inviting. But now I really don’t care. I Just want to surf and give back to the surfing world. If that makes any sense…
TB: I’m sure you have been asked this a bunch, but can you describe the moment when you found the photos and did you realize what you had found?
DW: It’s pretty amazing. 2 days before I found them my wife came home with a new camera. She handed it to me and said, “Go make something”. I flew to LA to do a job and went out early on a Sat morning to shoot surfing. So I filmed some surfers and took the footage back to my office and edited it together and it looked really good. I then called my Producer for Commercials and said, “find me a surfing project”
This is where it gets magical: The next morning was a Sunday and when I’m in LA, I try to attend the Rose Bowl Swap Meet to look for anything surfing related. They sometimes have everything from boards, posters, magazines, hula lamps… Anything that gets me stoked.
TB: And that’s when you discovered the prints?
DW: Well on that Sunday is when I came across the three boxes. I opened the top of the box and inside were large envelopes that were dated by the month and year. I opened the first envelope from 1975 and when I reached inside, I pulled out a stack of negatives in sheets. I held the sheet to the sun and had an instant flashback to the old surf mags when I was a kid. Every month I couldn’t wait for the next issue and there they were right in front of my eyes at 8AM on this particular Sunday.
TB: That’s pretty amazing. Did you know then and there that you had your next project?
DW: Not really, but kind of. I went home with the three boxes. I had my office get me a film scanner and I started to scan a few just to see exactly what it was. Here is another strange part… One year before I found the boxes, I cold called Aaron Chang to introduce myself, as well as share some of my work with him. I was looking to do something with him for his gallery, site, whatever. I was just looking for a surf project. So when I was going thru these negatives, I came across Aarons name. So, I picked up my phone and I had his number and hit dial. I said to Aaron “This is Doug Walker, that guy who called you a year ago, I think I found something really amazing.” He said “Come down for a surf”. I assembled a sequence of stills to music and read an excerpt out an old surf magazine and shared it with Aaron. He looked at me and said “YOU HAVE A PROJECT HERE”. So the project was on… For years.
TB: Am I correct, putting this film together took around 3 years?
DW: It did, but mainly due to my work schedule. I self-funded this and the only way it was going to get done was to build notebooks filled with proof sheets and traveling when I could. I think it also took a while due to people thinking “who is this guy with these negatives”? But I am really proud of this film. It captured pure stories as the images capture as well. While editing the film I found that it had soul. The same soul as surfing.
What were some of reactions you got when you approached them to be apart of this project? Were a lot of them very skeptical? Were there any who declined?
DW: It wasn’t about skepticism. I think as a filmmaker you have to work outside of the box. This was a project about me, my camera & the guys. The other thing is that I always believed that I was doing the right thing and knew if I just kept going, you will win others over. When I first met Dan Merkel he was really tough and now he has become a true friend.
TB: One of my favorite subjects in the film was Larry Bertlemann. I really enjoyed how you made the film not just about the photographers but the subjects in the photos as well. How did you approach him and what was it like to interview him?
DW: Again, you just do it. You get a number and your mission is to do it. I was on the North Shore when Larry said to come on over. He was in Kauai and I flew over. I got a rental car and just showed up. I found that it really didn’t matter between surfer and photographer. What was magical is that I was putting images in front of these guys 30-plus years later. It was an Aloha moment. Which is about sharing.
TB: What was the hardest part of editing this film?
DW: Looking at me in the film. I had cut the film without using me and then handed it off to a girl in my office to look at it fresh. 7 days later she hit play and there I was. Bad haircut, jetlagged, tired. But when I looked at it, I realized that it was the thread. The journey
TB: One thing I’ve found common amongst other filmmakers is the difficulty of editing footage that you personally shot. A lot people can get married to their footage and it’s hard to make the necessary cuts. Did you find that to be the case at all?
DW: Not really. Being an editor for so long, your goal is to always just tell the best story. That is what’s important. This project made me realize something. I found that I make people comfortable and they open up and share. Anytime you can do this, you capture purity and honesty. How can you not love that?
TB: Do you think that is a quality that people can learn or it’s just innate?
DW: I think we all can learn. Sometimes I think people are afraid. But when you allow the camera to be the brush and the subject to be the canvas then anything is possible.
TB: Did you find that the film was as well received when you showed it around the world?
DW: I think its one of those films that is a part of history. You can watch it now or even in 10 years. I think the more you share and speak your heart, the more the film becomes special. I can get really rad and blah blah blah with it but it deserves honesty.
TB: Now that you have been through the film festival circuit, what are your plans for the film?
DW: I have been talking with Paul Strauch about doing something with the Heritage Foundation as well as show with a few more festivals. In the end I’m sure it will be avail soon on DVD & Download as well. And then share the prints for people to see!! History should not remain in boxes!
TB: Who are some of your favorite surf filmmakers at the moment?
DW: I’ve seen a lot of the new films and feel like a lot of them lack story. I really liked “Splinters” and admire Stacy Perelta’s style. I think Shaun did a great job on “Bustin Down the Door”.
TB: With your film, do you feel like the storyline came to you as you were in the middle of making the film? After the film? Or did you have an idea before you set out to make the film? How different was the film you had in your head before you started and what you ended up with?
DW: It’s a documentary so you find yourself constantly looking for that storyline and thread that will assemble together. I have so many stories on the cutting room floor. If you put everything in, it would have been a 6 hour long film. But, I see it as additional material that is archived and can continue to give followers and fans more to taste and enjoy. Overall I’m really happy with the way it turned out.
TB: What is your overall goal with Lost & Found and the Lost and Found Collective? It seems like you are continuing the process and keeping the project alive and giving it a life of it’s own?
DW: I haven’t released the film yet because I want as many people to be able to see it on the festival run. It truly has been an amazing to see it grow. I think that’s really important as we realize how important life is. We have lost some true heroes this year and losing MP recently was really sad as I know a lot of those guys were all just together recently. So, I continue this journey because I believe that it does have a life and possible brand opportunity to be shared. But don t get me wrong, It’s a lot of work every day, night and available time. I believe in it. This is THE LOST AND FOUND COLLECTION!
TB: You mention that you have lots of stories on the cutting room floor. Do you think there is a possibility to put together a series of shorts related to this?
DW: Yes. I would like to also shoot more using better technology. When I started the project the canon cameras were not released yet and now it’s what I shoot with and the visual is really compelling.
TB: What are your thoughts on the distribution and business side of surf filmmaking? Have you talked to any distributors yet? Would you plan on doing a film tour first and then release on DVD and VOD or just straight to on demand?
DW: I’ve been holding out on the distribution aspect and feel that it was the right decision. I feel this way because the film that I am sharing should be shared at festivals and it really has created momentum and fans. I think if it were already released I could have lost that. But in the end I do want to release it for the masses and am talking to quite a few people about different approaches as the industry has shifted radically. For now I just want to stay focused.
TB: Let me ask you this, do you think film festivals should share the box office with the filmmakers at all? I know it’s something I’ve always thought about and struggled with.
DW: I do. I think that they are cool but when they are over they are done with you. I also think its sad because I think a lot of filmmakers walk away feeling a bit used.
TB: How did you find navigating the promotional side of your film? Had you work on that aspect before?
DW: I have done everything on my own. All the marketing, social networking, and word of mouth. I felt that since this film had a lot of hurdles, that it was in my best interest in being the one who puts it out there. I had a couple of calls from marketing people, but coming from the commercial world, I just used my sense & knowledge.
TB: It seems like you had a good run of press and it is still continuing. Must be pretty grueling at times? Did you find that most of the press was receptive?
DW: It is grueling. It’s something you have to be consistent with. Every morning, day and night. Which is hard when I’m working and I have a crazy schedule most of the time
TB: Would you say that your film is a surf film or a documentary? How important is it to distinguish your film from the two?
DW: I think it’s definitely a documentary. I think that there are so many opportunities out there for surfing, except everyone is trying to figure out how to fund it or make some money and its hard. To this day I have made zero dollars. As I am in the middle of taxes, my wife said to me the other day “You spent a lot of money this year on that film”. But in the end I see it as an investment and hopefully people will appreciate the work and aspect of the film now that it has come to life
TB: What is your favorite surf film of all time?
DW: I still love the freedom of “The Endless Summer”. I also really liked “Single Fin Yellow”. I always like seeing the world and cultures as surfing offers that to us all. I think every filmmaker captures a time and period that they are inspired by. I mean Greg Weaver and Spyder Willis were making classic stuff. Simple narration and all the legends killing it. I can go on and on…
TB: If you could film any surfer, who would that be?
DW: Hard to answer. I guess I would love to do a doc with Slater & John John. It’s like the passing of knowledge and professionalism.