Taylor Steele Discusses the Evolution of Innersection

In late 2009 Taylor Steele dreamed up an ambitious, but entirely feasible concept: to create an online platform for surfers and filmers to submit their best short segments and let the public decide what they like best. Essentially, the people are responsible for making something they like – forget the blame game. Six months into the project, it’s working. We caught up with Steele to get his insight into the progress thus far.

Aside from some effective marketing, why do you think Innersection.tv gained traction so quickly?

We knew the talent was out there. Great surfers. Great filmmakers. We tried to set this up as a win-win situation for everyone. If a section doesn’t make the movie, the surfer/filmmaker gets their footage back in two weeks. They’ve got some exposure. Gotten some feedback. And gotten a kick in the ass to do something with their footage that’s been lying around. The surfers that do qualify, they get to be part of a pretty exciting project coming out. Offering up $100,000 didn’t hurt either.

To recap, with one quarter left, who’s made your video thus far?

As I write this, 10 sections are qualified: Nate Tyler, Mike Losness, Mikala Jones, Dylan Graves, and Nat Young from winter. Peter Devries, Craig Anderson, Matt Meola, Cory Lopez, and Luke Cederman from spring. And from this round, well, we’re just announcing the winners. (Josh Kerr, John John Florence, Clay Marzo, Pat Gudauskas, and Ozzie Wright qualified in the summer round.)

Essentially, the world has now seen this movie for free (although by no means have we seen the final edit). Knowing that, how much will it cost to own this compilation?

The DVD is going to be completely different. These are just the application videos. Most of the footage, editing, music and themes for the sections will be all new. All the qualifiers have been working really hard this year at improving their footage. Price will be same as most DVDs, cheaper if you download, but I always like a physical DVD.

With sheer numbers involved in social networking and hackers, etc…it’s hard to be fair online. Have you identified any cheaters, and how do you compensate for it?

We built a system we think is pretty fair. All the users get to rate, comment, and view the videos – which definitely contributes to how they’re sorted on the site – but in deciding the Top 10, we pick out a large group of our most active users and make them the judges. These are people who we know are watching ALL the sections, rating them fairly and commenting intelligently. Sure, they may have a favorite or a friend, but they’re also picking nine others. This has been working really well so far – for the best sections, the vote is nearly unanimous. After we narrow down to a Top 10 list, all the members put these into their own order, which equates to a point system (this is how they judge the Oscars). And that point system ranks the five that will make the video.

You always gotta be careful about people trying to cheat you on the Internet – and we’re still a bit new to all this ourselves – but we’re trying to keep Innersection decided by people and not numbers or clicks.

What’s been the most controversial call of this contest so far?

Well, we’ve had several great sections disqualified because of re-used footage. Owen Wright, Matt Wilkinson, Flynn Novak… in all those cases, it wasn’t really the surfer’s fault. They didn’t know the footage had been used somewhere else. But if someone brings the clips to our attention, we really have no choice but to disqualify. Otherwise it sets a dangerous precedent for future rounds.

Who or what has impressed you the most?

It’s fun to see impressive sections from guys I didn’t previously know much about, like young Maui surfer Matt Meola, or Canadian Peter Devries. But what I’m most impressed with is the guys who have a whole vision for the project – guys that see the big picture. On one hand, you have guys like Craig Anderson and Josh Kerr who qualified easily, and actually held back some of their best clips to surprise people on the video. Then there’s guys like Mike Losness or Mikala Jones who came up with really creative concepts, worked hard throughout the year to improve their sections and are building something really unique and cinematic for the final movie. Because in the end, it’s all about making an amazing DVD. That’s why we pull the sections from the site after each round – we want people to feel really surprised when the see the final product.

How did you come up with $100,000 to give away for the project’s top-rated video? And what’s the rationale behind giving it exclusively to the surfer featured in the clip?

Innersection’s editor, Nathan Myers, actually sold one of his kidneys to come up with the $100K, which was a nice contribution to the project. The reason for giving it to the surfer is that he’s the only fixed medium in this project. Some films are made by sponsors, or friends, or some filmmakers make a deal with surfer for a certain percentage. Many of the sections are filmed by a bunch of different guys, then assembled by someone else. Plus, you can learn to stand on the beach and keep focus in a few hours, but it takes a lifetime of dedication to pull of rodeo flips. We figure, we’ll give the money to the surfer and he can work out how to distribute the wealth on his own. Besides, most filmmakers would be dead within a week if we handed them $100K.

I’m sure you’ve learned a few things about the Internet along the way. What’s been the biggest lesson in organizing Innersection.tv?

That there are actually dozens of Kelly Slater’s out there [laughs]. We’ve been really blessed to have most people commenting under their real names, being honest and fair on the comment boards, the members have mostly been really great in this regard. It’s probably one of the more special parts of Innersection. It’s hard to get an honest opinion on anything in the surf world, and yet here on Innersection, we’re actually getting opinions from people actually using their real names. That’s great. But I suppose the thing I’ve learned, which I already knew, is that you’ve just got to ignore the anonymous haters. You can’t stop people from hiding behind anonymous screen-names and spewing out hateful opinions, but you don’t have to empower it either. Just ignore it. Coming from no one, it doesn’t mean anything anyway.

Do you envision this as an annual contest?

Innersection will keep going. And keep evolving. We learn from doing, so each year should hopefully get better and stay interesting by constantly evolving.

With one quarter left, what can viewers expect, and when will the final product hit shelves?

The last round is going to be the best. Guys have been saving up their clips. This is last call for all the perfectionists out there. I think the last round is going to have more great sections than we’ll have room to let into the movie, which is a shame, but it’s also the nature of the competition.

The DVD will be out in the beginning of December. That will be the final voting forum. That’s where we decide who gets the $100K grand prize.