Ellis Bahl
Full name: Ellis Bahl
Nationality: American


When you got the brief from O’Neill challenging you to participate in an experiment to define the future of the surf film, what were your first thoughts? I didn't know anything about surfing, so initially I thought that they had asked the wrong guy. But the more I thought about it, the more it excited me.

What’s you relationship with O’Neill – do you share any previous history or was it a new acquaintance when you first heard from us with this project? I knew the name, but I’m not a surfer and never identified with the culture on a personal level, so I didn’t really know the brand. It was cool because I got to learn about the brand as I worked on the project.

What is the meaning of ‘Unreasonable’ to you? When I think of the word I think of someone who is unwilling to compromise even when it is in their best interest. I can see how that fits into the ideals of surf culture and into the ideals of many cultures who live on the edge, so to speak.

Was your vision for the short film clear from the beginning or did you search for inspiration somewhere specific? If yes, what were your primary sources? My vision for the film came slowly in bits over a long stretch of time. My writing partner, Chris Neilan, and I started brainstorming and came up with lots of different stories, genres, and styles and eventually molded what we liked best into the script we shot with. We didn't search for any outside inspiration, we just kept trying to keep what we liked and remove what we didn't.

How do you see the current surf film genre as a whole? I'm the worst person to ask that question. I have seen a total of one surf film - the one I just made.

Please tell us about the creative process you went through to come up with the concept for your film? For my film, I tried to take the binaries of ethics vs duty and work vs play and heighten them into something dark and surreal. I knew I didn't want this to be a story about surfers, but I wanted to make sure the idea of surfing (whatever that meant to me) stayed in the film somehow. We wrote lots of versions that had all different kinds of approaches and slowly honed in on a version that we liked.

What were your personal highlights during/from this project? I really liked putting on one of the characters' wetsuits and jumping into the ocean with my lead actor and my 1st AD. Directing while getting smashed down by waves is an exhilarating way to work.

Did you experience any setbacks during filming? Shooting on a beach, especially a super rocky beach, turned out to be pretty difficult. It took like four times as long to move alittle bit down the beach or to change a lens. Also everybody got really sunburned because noone remembered to reapply sunblock... so if you can count that as a setback then we had lots of burned setbacks... because we were on set... and our backs got burned.

What were the biggest differences in creating this film compared to your other projects? Prior to this film I had only directed music videos and commercials, so doing a completely narrative project was a big change. The biggest difference and one I greatly enjoyed was having control over sound. When you're doing a music video you've already got your soundtrack (and your video length) set. You then have to edit within these constraints. Whereas on a totally narrative project, you can do anything you want - as long as you have the footage.

Please share a bit of your background – what led you to be a filmmaker and what’s the story behind it? I grew up in upstate new york and always wanted to be involved in movies. When I graduated from college I started making music videos for bands I knew in Brooklyn, NY. I also worked for MTV doing live music videos. Eventually I moved to LA and started directing music videos for a living. That led to commercial work and to this project with O'Neill. This is my first true narrative piece and I hope it leads to many more, because I really loved working on it.


Episode 2: "A Perfect Storm" starring Mark Mathews

The second film in O’Neill’s UNREASONABLE Film Festival is now live! Featuring O'Neill's big wave surfer Mark Mathews, A Perfect Storm by Andreas Roth utilises the construct of an open letter to the ocean to describe the emotions and the mindset of a surfer. The adrenaline rush, the concentration required, the frustration and ultimately, the relationship between the surfer and his/her environment. Andy Roth (Germany) directed a viral film for the Dirt Devil vacuum in 2011, which accumulated over 30 million views on Vimeo and officially was titled the fifth most viewed online film of 2011.