How would you describe your film work?
Really crappy. (laughs) Colorful. Maybe out-of-focus a
little too much. I don’t know if all that’s my fault, though—it might be the
camera’s. It’s fast-moving, colorful imagery. I want my films to be a little
bit faster than most of the films out today. I like things to change and I like
different film stocks and I like when it goes from black-and-white to color. I
like mistakes. I like when the telecine skips, or when the projector burns the
Do your clients grant you complete creative control?
For many of the jobs that nobody sees—the stuff that I make
my living off of—I’ll do what clients want, but as far as my surf films go,
nobody can touch those, so I do whatever I want. A lot of weird stuff happens
with film. Sometimes when I get it processed and it comes back to me, I’m like,
“Whoa, I was way off,” or it’ll come
back a weird color, or whatever. The other stuff, when I process it by myself,
scratches can come into it, and the colors can fall off. I know there’s a lot
of stuff that’s going to happen that’s not planned out, and that’s part of the
process, especially for editing.
A lot of times, I’ll just throw footage
into my computer, get it all organized and ready, put my sound to it, and every
once in a while there’ll be something that hits and I can build from that. I
never really storyboard it out. It’s spontaneous, especially in the editing.
Whatever happens, happens. It’s been a natural process for me. Frustrating,
sometimes, like when a file doesn’t render and you lose eight hours of work.
It’s happened to me a few times, but you go through all that and now I’m to the
point where it’s like “whatever”—I know what’s going on. In every film short
I’ve done, even if it’s 30 seconds or a minute, there’s always something where
I’m stoked, like, “Whoa, that’s cool that that happened,” or, “I love that burn
on the film there.”
Many viewers might find it hard to believe that you don’t apply any fake
digital effects during the editing of your films.
Yeah, there are no digital effects in my post-production. I
might color-correct and stuff like that, but the effects are done in-camera. I
use filters and gels that I tape onto the lenses. Sometimes I’ll use a Magic
Marker and put color onto the actual film. The burn marks are real burn marks
because the film is being processed in a bucket. If a frame skips or jumps,
that’s from the film transfer. Sometimes you’ll see hair and/or dust because I
don’t spray the camera out; there are a lot of things you have to do to really
get a pristine, clear picture. I like the light leaks and scratches and all
that stuff. All the mistakes are what I really like about film. During the
making of Polyester, I wanted to
bring those to the forefront more so than, say, a bunch of really good, A+
waves at Pipeline and places like that, like most surf movies today are based
What equipment do you use?
It’s all Super 8 and 16mm. I use Super 8 is because I can
afford it. It’s also very convenient, especially when I’m on the road. I know
that 16mm is extremely beautiful and it’s twice as expensive, so I’d be able to
shoot half as much, and it’s hard when you’re out there because you need dark
rooms to load them. But, yeah, my stuff is mostly 8mm—I have six or seven
cameras that I’ve collected, and with my Beaulieu I’ve sort of graduated to the
top end of Super 8 cameras. Now I can change lenses and I have focal length,
which I never had. A lot of Polyester
and the beginning of Happy Beach was
all hand-held with limited range, so I had to go to spots that broke close to
the beach, or I had to do really pulled-back stuff. So, yeah, I use a range of Super
8 cameras from the ‘70s and early ‘80s. My 16mm is a Bell & Howell from the
art school, I learned how to shoot with a 4x5, which is a large-format camera,
and a step up from that is an 8x10 camera, which for me is the pinnacle of
It’s just so manly.
What makes it manly?
Well, it records the most information, so you get quality
and details and stuff that digital cameras and smaller film stocks can’t pick
up. Imagine how small a 35mm piece of film is compared to an 8x10-inch piece of
film. It makes for more powerful images. There’s something about an 8x10
photograph. We’ve all seen them. You’ve seen the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and
people like that. Many celebrity portraits these days are done with 8x10,
photos in Vanity Fair and places like
that—it’s all shot in 8x10, but nobody really knows. Everyone thinks it’s
digital or something. It’s a really hard process and it’s real expensive; the
camera is big and cumbersome and limiting. But for me, it’s a fun challenge
that’ll probably set my path for the next 10 years or so.
Besides doing films, now doing 8x10
photography is going to reinvigorate my desire to shoot photos again. That’s
why I got it, and that’s why I’m stoked. You can shoot collodion tintypes on
there, which is almost like an instant picture you can get in the darkroom.
It’s really exciting, definitely my
favorite thing to do right now—large-format and tintype portrait stuff—besides
doing film. I’m going to explore it all. It’s going to be hard, though, because
I have a lot of film projects coming my way and I’m getting busier. But one
picture could make my whole life, you know?
Where did Jack Coleman come from?
I was born a poor black child. (laughs). No, I grew up right
off Beach Boulevard with eight brothers and sisters from the same parents. A
Catholic family. It was pretty crazy around my house. I was the fourth, so I
was in the middle, with older brothers, older sisters, younger brothers,
younger sisters. The neighborhood was pretty crazy, a lot of kids, so there was
a lot of skateboarding, playing, ding-dong doorbell ditching. It was a pretty
fun childhood. It wasn’t a strict sort of Catholic family, but my parents were
pretty Catholic. I went to Catholic elementary school for a little bit; ended
up going to a public school and it was, by far, better than Catholic school.
(laughs) In a city whose name shall remain anonymous.
Because the city sucks. I grew up close to Huntington Beach
and Newport Beach—
Westminster? Buena Park? La Habra?
(laughs) —and, um….yeah, I was there till I was 17. Came to
What was your introduction to surfing?
We lived close enough to the beach to where it was a normal
thing that we did every summer. We all would jump into the station wagon and
head down to Huntington or Newport or Corona del Mar. It was my favorite thing
to do all year. We’d do the bonfires, hang out all day. And back then, during
the ‘70s and ‘80s, surfing was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports every once in a
while. There was also a guy who grew up in my neighborhood who was older, and
he was a really good surfer and skimboarder; he definitely influenced me. He
was my hero.
Surfing didn’t seriously come into
my life until later, when I left home at 17, because I played a lot of other
sports. The first time I stood on a surfboard was on a kneeboard, and it was in
Seal Beach. I was blown away. It was the typical first-wave-hooked-for-life
kind of thing. So I borrowed a 5’6” Carl Hayward from some kid who lived down
the street. I took it out at Huntington and snapped the nose on my second wave.
When you’re 12 years old, that’s devastating, you know? Sixty dollars to fix it.
So I just kept the board because I didn’t have any money. After that, it was
like, well, I’ll start boogie-boarding because those don’t break. So I did
that. But it was cool because I learned how to duck-dive, and I could take off
on huge waves because it was so easy. Then, right when I moved to the beach
when I was 17, I made a promise to myself to start hardboarding.
When did photography enter your life?
After high school, I became an actor for three years and did
commercial work. I went to New York and did this acting competition, and ended
up going to Italy and Germany, where I lived for two years. I had really wanted
to travel—that was the main thing. But there were a lot of people coming
through this agency that I was with. I was shooting with a them and I saw how
everything worked, but it wasn’t really that fun. I wanted to be on the other
side of the camera. I thought that I could do it myself and it could be way
better, so I just started shooting pictures of my friends, walking around the
cities, doing 35mm point-and-shoot stuff with an old Olympus, just dicking
Meanwhile, I was over there making
a living as an actor, doing TV spots and commercials and stuff. Some print work
and catalogs, some modeling stuff. I went to Milan for a couple of seasons and
did the runway shows, but nothing big—like a flake of dandruff in the overall
scene. It was fun, though. I was traveling, they were putting me up in places,
I was making enough to get by, and that’s what I was stoked on. I was meeting
all kinds of cool people. Tons of hot chicks. That period was when I got into
photography, into lighting and composition, and black-and-white film stuff.
But I missed the beach. I needed to
get home. So I moved back here and was just cruising around. Totally dicking
around Newport Beach. Partying, working odd jobs, valet, waiter, but the whole
time I was taking photographs, learning the process, because it was still film
in those days. I started thinking about stuff, like, “What am I going to be
doing when I’m older?” I knew I wanted to do photography, so I committed to it
When I was 25 or 26, I started
shooting little kids on the beach around here. They’d just run around smiling and
I’d take pictures of them, and the parents would freak out. I got a lot of work
doing that. Little kids are so innocent and natural, and it was easy for me. I
did that sort of stuff for about eight years.
In 2007, at age 33, I got my first
digital camera, and for the next two years I went to the Art Center College of
Design in Pasadena.
What did you learn there?
To explore and research other artists, not just
photographers—filmmakers, painters, sculptors, everything that goes with art,
because that’s what photography is, too. Before that, I thought I was taking
the coolest pictures in the world. Now I look back at them and realize that I
wasn’t there. School helped me to dig
deeper into the meaning of photographs and lighting and composition and all the
technical stuff, actually understanding how a camera works. Towards the end of
school, in 2009, I started experimenting with film. I knew that I wanted to do
real film, Super 8 and stuff. I remembered watching home movies as a kid, with
the projector with my family, and I wanted to do that—I wanted to make little
There’s something extremely powerful about the sound of the
projector, having everybody get together to watch these moving images against
the wall. Stuff like, “Oh, my god! I remember when you made pancakes on that
camping trip!” Whenever the films ended, I didn’t want them to. But then,
later, I saw a Super 8 short made for a clothing company or something. It was a
backyard barbecue scene. That was when I got way into it. Photography kind of
took a back seat, but it’s always been there.
You’ve done a lot of film work with the Growlers. How did that start?
I met the band through Knost when I was doing a photo show at a place where I wanted
Alex’s band to play. He told me about a band that he wanted to also play, and
they’d play for free, and they were called the Growlers. They would open for
the Japanese Motors. The Growlers were nobodies, a local garage band playing
anywhere they could. That was a fun show, but I didn’t think too much of the
band or anything like that. Two years passed, then I got ahold of this album
that they’d just made, called “Couples Volumes,” and it was about 30 songs that
they recorded themselves. To this day, it’s some of the best music I’ve ever
heard. I threw it into my car’s CD player and it was in there for almost a year
straight. It was this abundance of sound and vibration, and pretty incredible.
I was blown away.
I’d see Brooks (Nielsen, lead
singer) in the water surfing, and one day I pitched him the idea of doing a
music video for the band. I picked out the songs I liked most, and he’s like,
“Okay, yeah, we’ll try it.” We tried one for the song “Acid Rain,” and it
turned out pretty good, and he could tell that I was really excited. It was
shot digitally and looked so insane—HD, great lighting—but Brooks was like,
“It’s great, but it’s….” It was too clean for him. The song was about rain and
water, and I thought about how I could make it so the band would love it. I
decided to project it onto the bottom of a pool, and that turned out killer.
After that, he had some trust in me.
Then I went on a mini tour with
them, just two or three shows up the coast, and that’s kind of how our film
relationship started. I shot film on the way up, of them there, driving,
eating, the show, all that stuff, and I put a couple of film shorts together,
and it turned out pretty nice. From there, it snowballed. I’ve done two full
tours with them, all the way across America, which was great, because when I’d
traveled elsewhere before, it was to Germany, New York, Italy—I didn’t see Kansas
or Colorado or Utah, so it was a way for me to do that.
The Growlers have a lot of music
that had never been released, so I had a lot of film to lay stuff to, and now
I’ve whittled it down so when I go on tour with them, it’s kind of calculated.
The band is kind of at the same
point with its artistic endeavors as I am with my film and photography. I know
I do stuff that people are stoked on, but not everybody likes it, of course. At
the same time, the Growlers are doing music that a lot of people connect with.
When you first began working with them, where were you living?
Down on 47th Street in Newport.
What was your main source of income?
I was doing photography full-time.
For clients such as…?
Clients such as…nobody you know. (laughs) Well, I do a lot of girls clothing
lines, guys clothing lines. They’re all over the place here. It’s steady work.
Yeah. Well, recently I’ve worked with Vestal, RVCA, Volcom, Raen,
BL!SSS, O’Neill, Eskuché. There are
names of other companies that I think you probably know, but I don’t want
people to know I did work for them. (laughs)
come on—that’s part of your story!
(laughing) I know. That is
the story, then. I have my clients, and I work with a PR firm and they get me
some jobs. I make wedding films and stuff, so that definitely helps to pay the
bills. There are a ton of jobs that nobody ever sees and that I don’t show.
It’s just work. I go and get the job done so I can go and buy film and do stuff
that I really love to do, like shooting music videos and traveling and going on
You're a bit of a late-bloomer, eh?
I’m very much a late-bloomer. One day I asked myself, “What
am I going to leave behind?” Well, now I have two surf films; if I drop dead
tomorrow, at least I have these two really cool surf films that, 20 or 30 years
down the road, people will like to revisit. Yeah, it kind of just kicked into
gear. I’d been goofing off for long enough. I found what I loved to do, and I’m
charging it. I’m in this phase of putting my head down and going for it. Maybe
I’ll eventually stop and smell the roses or whatever, but there’s a lot of
stuff I’ve given up to do films.
On your blog, you wrote: “Film carries life in it.” Discuss.
Film is a physical thing that you can grab and pull and hold
onto. You can smell it. You can look through it. It’s something real, and
whatever was shot is what was captured on that film, and, um…wait, what was the
question again? (laughs)
“Film carries life in it.”
It does! My mom gave me some of her film from 1969 in
Hawaii. I threw it into the projector last year and was blown away. To see my
mom when she was 19 was insane. It made me love her so much more and look at
her in a whole different way, because I just knew her as this person who raised
me. This film showed me what her life used to be like before she had nine kids
to take care of.
What is Newport Beach to you?
Home. I’m comfortable here. It’s Southern California with
the golden light. There are beautiful girls. I like the climate, I like the
water. There are always waves to ride. I can jump into my car and go to Lowers.
I just recently discovered Laguna Beach, which is right south of here, and it’s
almost like Hawaii is down the street from me now. Really beautiful coastline,
and I’m exploring all these places and checking out the waves. But Newport is
my home and I’ll probably live here for the rest of my life. Mexico is super
close, too, which is great.
What’s the difference between shooting music films and surfing films?
I kind of mix them together. I almost want my surf films to
be music videos, because I think the sound of the music is the foundation of
what you hear, and then you see. Sometimes I try to make my surf films like
music films, where a lot is happening. I’ve taken from the music films I’ve
done and brought aspects of them into my surf films. Many of the music films
I’ve done haven’t been formal—a few were conceptualized and storyboarded and
stuff—but, for the most part, it’s been sort of free-wing live footage mixed with
travel footage and all that stuff. So, no, there’s not that much of a
difference to me.
Shooting surfing is not that easy
because you can’t just snap your fingers and you have some guy surfing for you.
It’s not really like that. I guess if you became successful, it could be more
like that, but I’m not even there. To get Ford Archbold out of bed before 10
a.m. is really hard to do. To get Knost to surf somewhere other than the spots
he’s comfortable surfing is really hard to do, but it happens every once in a
It’s the same thing with music
films. The band will have a vision for their song and I’ll have something that
I think would be right, and there’s a compromise. So it’s almost the same
process. It’s painful sometimes, but the rewards are really great when people
appreciate it and are stoked at the end of the day.
I would say definitely not. (laughs) Polyester and Happy Beach
are kind of like two weird stepbrothers, and out of everything I’ve done, I’m
most proud of these two films that I made in the last year and a half. There
are a few hundred people out there who like my stuff (laughs), so I feel
successful sometimes. But, I don’t know, man—I have a really, really great
life. I have a nice, free existence, so in that way I feel successful. My bank
account doesn’t agree, though. (laughs)