Q&A - Demi Taylor and Chris Nelson – London Surf / Film Festival

Interview - Esker
Photos - LS/FF

Demi Taylor and Chris Nelson have led incredible careers within surf, snow and skate world. From cutting edge magazines in the 90s to a best selling guide book, to authoring numerous features in surf and mainstream press, writing screenplays and of course launching one of the biggest surf film festivals in the world. We chat to them about a less than ordinary surfing life -


Can you introduce yourselves and give us some background on your journey within the surf world? 

I’m a writer – in print, on line, for the screen - and the Director of the London Surf / Film Festival which I founded with my writing partner and boyfriend Chris Nelson in 2010. Chris was the founding editor of Asylum and Freeride– the UK’s first cross over surf / skate / snowboard magazines. He cut his teeth surfing the frigid reefs of North East England and interviewing counter culture’s heroes and anti heroes.
I started out doing the PR for Quiksilver in the UK so it was inevitable our paths were going to cross. When they did we quickly hatched some grand plans and set off round Europe, exploring the coastline to research our first book together – a surf and travel guide – and we never looked back 

That journey through Europe for the first Footprint guide must have been epic?

That was the best of times. We bought a van and headed off on a year long odyssey exploring the Atlantic coast of Europe, travelling from the Orkney Isles to the desert south in Morocco searching out the best places to eat, sleep and surf. We saw a lot, wrote a lot, learnt a lot, laughed a lot and surfed a lot! We managed to come home and score a publishing deal that set us off on a new path. We released Surfing Europe in 2004 and have written another eight surf and travel books together.

LSFF Director Chris Nelson welcomes Rob Machado to the stage.jpg

You've both been heavily involved in print, how did the transition to curating one of the biggest surf film festivals occur?

The London Surf/Film Festival was born where all the best ideas come to life, round the kitchen table. We realised there wasn’t an event that celebrated the creativity and surf community we have here in the UK. We’ve both been writing about surfing in some capacity for the last 20 years. As journalists, editors and publicists we were already speaking to a lot of great surfers, filmmakers, photographers, makers & doers about their projects, so it was a natural progression to bring those creatives together and provide a live platform for them… about 6 months later in 2011 LS/FF was born. Keith Malloy brought  Come Hell or High Water to the first event and we were off. This year we had Rob Machado present the premiere of the much anticipated Momentum Generation at the festival, multi award winning filmmaker Andrew Kaineder came to host the world premiere of his latest movie Beyond the Noise and we were delighted to premiere The Sea Empowers the debut film from Lucy Jane and Joya Berrow which explores surfing as a tool for social change. We showcased these alongside a hand picked selection of incredible features and shorts from across the globe. 

How did you end up going from curating a film festival to actually script writing a series of films for Red Bull?

We’re writers and cinephiles; we’ve always loved the multi dimensional way of telling a story through film, so screen writing was just a natural step. Peter Hamblin (multi-award winning Director of Let’s Be Frank) approached Chris and I to write The Ripple Effect a documentary series he was producing that explores the lives and achievements of some of youth culture’s most influential icons – from the founders of Atari, Moog and Wired Magazine to game changers like Bob Hurley and lowbrow artist Robert Williams. It’s an honour to tell people’s stories and it’s been great putting all that Netflix time to good use! We’ve worked with Peter on a number of really great projects over the years – the Jack O’Neill tribute is of course a stand out, and we have some pretty exiting things in the pipeline together.

Have you seen the depth of talent grow in the UK and Irish filmmaking scene over the last few years?

We have some incredible creatives here in the UK and Ireland and it’s been fantastic to see that filmmaking talent grow and evolve. We established The Shorties strand at the LS/FF as a platform to showcase homegrown talents. Chris McClean set the bar in the first year with his debut Uncommon Ideals and I am continuously blown away by the breadth of stories told and the level of skill on show – whether that’s through animation, surf action, travelogues, intimate portraits, comedy, collaborations or any other genre.

Do you think there has been a shift in surf film making, away from what would be classed as feature length 'surf porn' to more stylised work.

There’s always a place for pure surfing movies. Absolutely. Dane Reynold’s Electric Acid Surfboard Test blew everyone’s mind this year! But I think you can see that filmmakers approaches are very different now. They are aware that we consume a lot of surfing – clips, images, contests – on line, every day so it pushes filmmakers to make more creative decisions, find a new angle and approach. With the best films, you can see that they’ve thought about it, the whole process, the arc, the action, digital or film stock, the locations, the music, the visuals, the art direction, the surfers, the story, their reasoning for wanting to make a film in the first place. Filmmaking has also become a more democratic process, you can make a good film on pretty cheap equipment so more people have access to filmmaking as a creative outlet which means the breadth of films being made increases, continually pushing the bar and opening minds to what can be done and that to me can only be a good thing. There’s more than one way to tell a story!

AL_PORTRAIT Demi Taylor B&W.jpg

So when you get in the sea what do you like to ride?

Whatever works! I surf, bodysurf, ride a surf mat (always under inflated!!), bellyboard (renamed ‘planky’) but at the moment, you’d be hard pressed to separate me from my Bing Puck… it’s a real love affair…but I’m about to go and shape a board at Open in St Agnes so anything might happen! 

You seem to like your vintage surf wagons. What’s your favourite so far?

Chris - with board_sm.jpg

Big Green is the one I still pine for! It was a 1976 Volvo 245 and it was a thing of beauty! The back seats folded flat so it was pretty much a camping car, we took it to France one Autumn and it was the dream machine and a real ice breaker. It was pretty funny actually – it kept getting ‘papped’ in the car parks! 

What are your future plans for LS/FF and Approaching Lines?

Every year we try to curate an event that resonates with us and what’s going on both in the UK and in the wider waveriding world, so that it’s an authentic slice of surfing right here and now. Our plan for the future for LS/FF is that it remains at heart a community event that celebrates the creativity that exists in surfing as well as the sheer level of talent both in and out of the water through film, art, music, photography, gallery shows, live happenings makers, doers, workshops and panels…. We’ve hosted some massive screenings and some intimate pop ups and I enjoy it all.  But I love it best when the festival can act as a platform for creatives to showcase their work and also as a place that brings people together, where plans for exciting projects can be hatched and the very cream of our culture can be celebrated.

With Approaching Lines Chris and I are busy laying down words and stories for some exciting collaborations we have planned, working with some pretty talented filmmakers and musicians…. Stay tuned!

Is Badlands still bad?

No one is safe to surf in the Badlands. Spread the word!!

For more on the LS/FF check out: https://londonsurffilmfestival.com/

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