101: Chris McClean/Translate

Chris McClean, London, October 2019. Photo: Tozer

“Standing on a cold wet reef in the snow is, at the time, not that enjoyable, but when you look back on the footage it’s all worth it.”

My guest this week is visionary film-maker and photographer Chris McClean, recorded at the London Surf Film Festival in October 2019, where Chris won the Viewer’s Choice Award for his latest feature Translate. The film also had its premiere at the event, a performance that saw the soundtrack performed live by a band featuring composer CJ Mirra and Lee-Ann Curren.

Its the type of typically forward-thinking endeavour that characterises Chris’s work. Like most I first heard of Chris’s work through the films such as Edges of Sanity, Uncommon Ideals and Atlantic Diversions; and the classy marketing projects he worked on for Finisterre.

Lee-Ann Curren performing the Translate soundtrack, October 2019. Photo: Tozer

They were projects which explored particular corners of surf culture and displayed a unique aesthetic, perhaps influenced by his background in the north wast. I then watched in admiration as he joined forces with some of his other talented friends to launch the magazine Backwash, the beautiful annual periodical that explores similar cultural territory to Chris’s films.

He’s one of those single-minded, focussed creatives that UK board sports culture tends to throw up: totally happy to plough his own cultural furrow and wait for the world to catch up with him. Which, I’m happy to report, it finally has. That’s why I wanted to chat to him for the show, and I’m glad I did because it’s a lovely one this. Listen to the episode here:

Show Notes

  • On a houseboat on the Thames.
  • Premier of his film ‘Translate’.
  • Post-deadline bliss.
  • Chasing zeroes.
  • Live visual mixing.
  • The discomfort of being live.
  • “You deliver the best work when pressure makes you deliver”.
  • Inherently lazy.
  • The beginnings of ‘Translate’ in 2015.
  • “A love letter to Europe”.
  • Filming the bull runs in Pamplona.
  • Instinctive need to film.
  • Grimness of bullfighting.
  • ‘Death in the Afternoon’ by Ernest Hemingway.
  • Challenge of presenting a message musically.
  • Addressing wider cultural discussions.
  • Chris’ film style: “My eyes are more drawn to empty waves and waves that spit”.
  • The collaborative process.
  • Financing creative projects.
  • Working with Mark Waters on ‘Uncommon Ideals’.
  • The DSLR filmmaking revolution.
  • Beyond The Scars’.
  • “Graphic design gives you a great creative core”.
  • Keeping work in-house.
  • 14 when surfing “happened to me”.
  • Filming surf in the North East.
  • Surfing Ireland.
  • Going on tour.
  • “The live part is integral, it’s not the same watching it on a computer screen”.
  • Passion projects.
  • Documentary filmmaking.
  • Fighting corners to take ‘The Shot’.
  • Structuring Backwash.
  • Funding print media.
  • Next Backwash issue.
  • Having a young family.
  • “I’ve got to keep challenging myself”.
  • Book binding and screen printing.
  • Exploring creative interests.
  • “Every job as a filmmaker is different, that’s what’s really interesting for me”.
  • Choosing projects.
  • Pitching films.
  • Enjoy the quiet times as a freelancer.
  • Holding the attention of an audience for 45 minutes.
  • Taking a breather.

Places Mentioned

Companies/Brands/Organisations Mentioned