Inside “Urchin Howl”

Filmmaker Chris McClean talks us through the first ever Instagram surf movie

Scenes from the first Instagram surf movie, Urchin Howl. Photos: McClean

Scenes from the first Instagram surf movie, Urchin Howl. Photos: McClean

Social media has given us all a mild case of ADD. Tweets have replaced web stories, Vine replaced YouTube, and Instagram replaced Facebook in a race to make information easier to consume. One person who is embracing the impatient era is UK-based filmmaker Chris McClean. McClean takes the term “short film” to new extremes with his project, Urchin Howl, which has been edited into a series of 15-second clips to be released on Instagram. Starting on September 2, a clip from the film will be posted on McClean’s Instagram (@chrismcclean) every day for one week. Watch the 15-second trailer here, and read what McClean has to say about the project below.

What made you decide to put a surf film together in this way?

I was working on a couple of ideas for a teaser and saw that Instagram had been updated to allow video imports. The teaser for Urchin Howl looked good condensed down to 15 seconds, so it just kinda grew from there. I showed it to Lewis Arnold (friend and collaborator on this project) and he really liked it. When CJ Mirra sent the track over, it sounded great and it just grew legs from there.

What are some of the challenges of making a surf film on Instagram?

Fifteen seconds is short--very short. Quick clips were the way to go, since there’s not a lot of breathing space in there. I’m planning a feature-length surf movie and wanted to get the feeling of a feature into Urchin Howl somehow. Hopefully each episode works as a stand alone clip, yet sits nicely in the series. There’s been a few late nights to make it all work.

Like your 2011 short film, Uncommon Ideals, does this focus on surfers and waves in the UK?

I’ve been lucky enough to get invited on a few trips so horizons have been broadened. The classic North Sea waves are in there but it also features Central America, Ireland, the Basque Country, and some Scottish slabs. Surfers include the Basque legends Kepa and Eneko Acero, Portuguese ripper Nic Von Rupp, Fergal Smith from Ireland, Freddie Meadows from Sweden, and from my own coastline Gabe Davies and Sandy Kerr.

Can you tell me about the soundtrack? It seems like it would be tricky to score a surf movie in 15 second increments.

I thought it would be trickier than it was to be honest. When I showed CJ Mirra the idea, I wasn’t sure what would work apart from it needed to be quirky, nicely paced and easy to cut to. We kept it as one track to keep the flow rather than cut it in to seven separate sections. It’s pretty frantic with layers of sound so they come and go as the film progresses. It wouldn’t work without a strong juxtaposition, and the track is killer.

Once all the 15 second segments are released, are you going to put it up in its entirety online, or is Instagram its permanent home?

That kinda defeats the object of the project, but I’ll be the first to admit watching it in 15 second bursts is pretty awkward, so maybe...we’ll see.

In a world of rapidly shrinking attention spans, is this format the logical conclusion of the surf video evolution?

I hope not, for me it’s just an experiment. It’s an awkward platform for developing a surf film, although a fun one. Independent films are changing for sure. I think iTunes and film festivals are where it’s at right now for well thought out shorts and documentaries, but this is just for fun. It makes me smile and I hope it has the same effect on everyone who watches it.

Will the sequel to Urchin Howl be on Vine?

Now there’s an idea…with six seconds per episode, I won’t even need a minute of footage for the series. Boom! You heard it here first!

Update: Full video now available, click links below.

iPhone/iPad |

Android |

1080 HD |