In Frame: Tom Jennings

Mining the Indian Ocean for cinematic gold

For the surfing youth of the ’90s, Christmas wasn't only a time for spreading the holiday cheer. It was primetime for the release of the blockbuster surf flick: Loose Change, Focus, Momentum 2, What's Really Going On, Searching for Tom Curren, all movies strategically released around that mid-December deadline. If you were lucky, your X-mas stocking bulged with a VHS tape presented by Taylor Steele, Sonny Miller, Jack McCoy, ...Lost, or the Astrodeck clan. That tape would last you till you were forced to watch your least favorite surfer’s section. And by then, you were down at Warehouse Music trying to find all the CDs from the soundtrack. I still hear "Against the graaaaaaaiiin" in my head from time to time.

Boy how times have changed. Fast-forward twenty years and you're lucky to see a surf film that doesn't have bits of film particulate floating around on Instagram. There are filmers everywhere. Gone are the days of holding footage for a North Shore section. That is, unless you're an incredible water cinematographer willing to put your body in places with a 20-lbs of housing to produce something completely timeless. And Tom Jennings is that man. He’s a cherry-on-top kind of guy. Those slow motion water images you see rolling through your periphery? That might be a Jenno shot. That slow-motion wave you hooted in unison with friends at the Cluster premiere? Most likely Jenno's, as well. We caught of up with the man who brings you those ooohs and ahhhs to see what he's working on now, his high-demand clientele, and what we can expect next.

How many trips have you done this last year? It feels like we've seen your stuff everywhere.

I haven't really done many trips out of West Oz in the last year. I went to Bali to shoot with Freestone for his Low Profile flick, and I went to Southern Australia with Jay [Davies] for his upcoming film. But apart from that, I've just been chasing swells up and down the coast. West Oz is a big place and the waves are as good as anywhere in the world, so there's a lot on offer when the conditions line up.

Who is your “go-to” crew for shooting, and what’s your most memorable trip with them?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years shooting with guys like Creed, Jay Davies, Brendon Gibbens, Dillon Perillo, and Ando. Those guys helped me out so much. They pushed me and gave me confidence in both the shooting realm and also dealing with companies. Plus both those guys introduced me to other world-class surfers.

There has been so many memorable boat trips and road trips, but one that sticks to me most was a strike mission with Craig and a few other legends to a Pacific island where we absolutely scored. It was right at the end of shooting for Kai Neville’s film Cluster. There was a really tight window and we didn't know if we'd be able to get the clip to Kai in time. It was huge but shifty and I kept getting absolutely smoked as I was shooting from the water. I didn't end up getting any proper keepers. That sucked so bad. So we got up super early next morning and padded out in the dark because it was a religious holiday on the island, and you're not allowed to go surf, or do anything, but it was still pumping. We were torn, but we weren't going to sit on the beach all day once the sun was out and sip coconuts.

Long story short, we ended up getting some crackers, which was epic, but when we came back to the beach, we had to walk past a church, and we were getting so vibed. We raced back to the hotel to upload the clips. I think the world premiere was later that week.

What are you currently working on?

I spent a lot of time last year working with Jay for his upcoming project. Other than that, I've been spending most of my spare time working on bodyboard film as a side project. It's work in progress because I get called up to shoot trips so often that I have to keep that one on the backburner.

One of the reasons we wanted to talk with you is because, like we mentioned earlier, your work is everywhere. How can this be?

I guess I've had quite a few clips in a bunch of different edits. I was lucky enough to get a few clips in Dane’s Chapter 11. Volcom’s Psychic Migrations was epic. A fellow filmer, unfortunately, had been injured, and that prevented him from swimming and doing water cinematography. I got hit up from Volcom and they asked if I had a RED and if I could shoot for them. The very first session with those guys was swimming out in 10-foot slabs. Straight into the deep end of the pool [Laughs]. I somehow held my own and pulled it off. From there, I went straight into another Indo boat-trip. It was a lot of fun, but there was a really steep learning curve for me with filming for Psychic. But in the end, everything came together.

Who would you want to make a film with in the future and why?

I like my crew. I want to make a film with Creed, Ando, Jay Davies, guys I'm close with, also all the West Oz lords. There's also a couple of filmers over here that I’d love to involve with my projects, because its almost impossible to make a well-rounded film by yourself these days, and the more cameras you have, the more flexibility you can get when it comes to constructing sequences that are worth watching, for people who have an attention span greater than that of a goldfish.

Can you pinpoint moments of inspiration? 

My biggest inspirations initially came from Taj Burrow's film Montaj and Chris White’s Tension bodyboard film series. That's what got me into filmmaking. Especially since they were based out of West Oz and contained footage of some of the crazy waves around here. It's something I could relate to. I was lucky enough to grow up watching 10-ft North Point and The Box absolutely firing on the weekends when my parents took me to our family farm in Yallingup. But it was around the start of high school that I started paying more attention to how these films were shot. I started appreciating the work of Rick Jackovich and his Taj films, or Jon Frank and his Rip Curl films, and also Chris Bryan’s filmwork on the Young Guns videos. These styles of cinematography inspired me, but it wasn’t for years until I was actually able to act on my passion and pursue it as a career myself.

What are your favorite waves to shoot and why?

I’d have to say my favorite wave to shoot is North Point. Its got a bit of everything. It's such a fickle mistress that always keeps you on your toes. There's a few other waves up north in the desert, waves like The Right and Cyclops — those are amazing to experience, but there's something about the bay and the crew at North Point that always keeps me wanting more.