You Are Here: Morgan Rae Berk, NYSFF Founder


You Are Here, Nathan Myers

By Nathan Myers

Photos by Andrea Waters / Kai and Gipsy Photography

The neighbors complained. That was Morgan Rae Berk's favorite part of the festival. After the first night's screenings at the New York Surf Film Festival, there was so much buzz and enthusiasm outside the NiteHawk Cinema the neighbors dropped by to see what the commontion was about. And to ask if they could come too.

That's New York for you. And that's why the NYSFF is such a success. The city is exciting. It's electric. Like a cattle prod into the ass of everything.

"Filmmakers coming to NYC for the first time are so freaking adorable," says festival founder Morgan. "This year's pre-party was right outside the Empire State Building and when the keg finally kicked and everyone stepped outside, all the filmmakers were standing in the street with awestruck eyes, Instagramming as fast as they could."

Screening a surf film on the big screen is a celebration of completing the project. It's not easy making movies on no budget, and then to have it come out as a limited DVD or free internet download is nearly a slap in the face to all the work and effort that went into it. You just can't beat the experience of the big screen.

After five years running, this year's festival was the biggest yet, with the world premiere of Taylor Steele's This Time Tomorrow, Kai Neville's Dear Suburbia and the Innersection Films multi-filmmaker collab Here & Now headlining the three-night festival. There were two theaters running features and shorts, filmmaker Q&As, food and beer service in Nitehawk Cinema and a wild a three-stage afterparty criss-crossing the craziest city in the world with ping pong ball martinis, five-man cross-traffic bicycle rides and other fine madness… perfect way to cap off a week of all-nighter edits.

But Morgan doesn't make surf movies. She just likes to watch 'em. So, why go to all the trouble of setting this up?

SURFING: Why do you put this festival on?

MORGAN: So that surf journalists such as yourself can grovel on my doorstep to borrow a surfboard, because you thought you’d only be watching surf films in NYC, not actually surfing once you got here. Happens every year.

SURFING: Yeah, thanks for that, by the way. Really didn't expect such fun waves here.

MORGAN: Now you know.

SURFING: What's the hardest part of putting something like this on?

MORGAN: Maybe just getting the films. I envision 8 government employees in HAZMAT suits gathered around a table for four weeks in a bunker with a lone package from South Africa addressed to the NYSFF.  They are all scared to open it because it could unleash pure bio terror on the country. There couldn’t possibly be a surf DVD in the package headed to NYC to screen in a surf film fest like the customs declaration says.

SURFING: This is the NYSFF's fifth year now. Would you say the state of surf filmmaking is getting better or worse?

MORGAN: Worse. Mainly because everyone is on this "gotta give it away for free online" bandwagon. I wish Taylor Steele would make some formal announcement to young filmmakers telling them to stop screwing themselves over. They spend so much time, energy, money making these beautiful films — but no one is going to buy them (network television, indie theaters for small runs, etc.) if its been online first.

And if you are going to put it online — at least serve some ads against it. You are not selling out — that is the business model for content online. Let a 30 sec pre-roll run on it and you’d be surprised the coins that will fall in the bank account.

I’m going to compare surf filmmakers to doctors. They get the skillsets and training, but no one ever sits them down and says here is how to run a business. Maybe we should make a webinar to teach surf filmmakers how to make a buck.

SURFING: That's good advice. Having gotten to know so many filmmakers through this process, what would you say they have in common?

MORGAN: They are passionate, creative, intense, thrill seeking…. bah.  That’s all bullshit. The one thing they have in common? THEY ALL HAVE DAY JOBS (and underserved girlfriends because they are siting in an edit room at night instead of in bed). They aren’t doing this for a living. It's a hobby. A good one.

And now, for the winners of the 2012 New York Surf Film Festival…

Here & Now

Kook Paradise

Dane Reynolds, Dear Suburbia

Dear Suburbia

Raw: The Movie

Kook Paradise

Dear Suburbia

Congratulations to everyone who participated in this event.

See you next year at: