Canadian-American filmmaker Brent Storm has gone from making promotional and wedding videos to director of his first feature film—White Rhino, about three epic swells in 2011 and 2012 that big wave surfers are still talking about. (That is him pictured above with his fiancé and White Rhino producer Julie Romaniuk.) The film gets its Hawai‘i premiere when it opens the Honolulu Surf Film Festival on July 6. Storm will be at the festival to talk about his film. He answered a few questions in advance about his “labor of love.”
You’re a successful commercial filmmaker with a wide range of clients, and WhiteRhino is your first feature surf film. Why did you choose these three swells as the focus of your debut feature?
Thank you, We had decided to do interviews behind five of [photographer] Brian [Bielmann]’s favorite photos to share on social media and they just so happened to be focused around those events. I realized when I started editing the shorts that there was a larger story to be told but it wasn’t until we met one of Brian’s good friends, Randy Olson, a marine biologist-turned-filmmaker, that the story really started coming together. We met with him for a brief meeting and he gave a bunch of suggestions that really helped design the storyline. On top of that, we had incredible footage come in from some of surfing’s finest cinematographers (Tim Bonython, Bruno Lemos, Ryan Thomas, Mike Morrissey, Simon Saffigna, Nick Pollet, Stephen Spaulding) along with amazing photos from Peter ‘Joli’ Wilson and Erik Aeder that really helped make this film. It was a collaboration from the entire surf community and without them none of this would have been possible.
Was it a lot of work getting access to all the footage?
Since Brian Bielmann has been in the surf industry for over 30 years he has a solid relationship with some of surfing’s finest who helped us on this project. It was pretty cool to see these guys sending over footage in support to Brian and this project. We explained to them what we were doing and as the footage came in the story got bigger and better which inevitably left us with this full feature.
How many hours do you estimate you spent going over footage and selecting the best bits to tell your story?
Well, we started this project in November 2016 and the last cut of the film was this past April. So about two and a half years.
How and where did you conduct the interviews with surfers?
It was held in Brian’s studio on the North Shore, The vibe was super chill and most of the interviews happened when the surf wasn’t on so I think they were just killing time.
How many hours of footage of interviews did you need to take to get all the great quotes?
We actually didn’t spend that much time doing interviews. I think the longest interview was about 45 minutes if that. I believe we got all those great quotes because the surfers were comfortable being at Brian’s place and we didn’t have a massive production so that probably helped as well.
Kai Garcia uses the term “white rhino” in his interview. When did you know that would be the title of the film?
The White Rhino is essential the wave of a lifetime. It was Kai ‘Borg’ Garcia (Water Safety Patrol) who actually coined it “the white rhino” when he witnessed those sets. He was referring to the rarity of the wave as if it were a mythical creature and that’s why he says, “That was unicorns and white rhinos.” I remember one of my producers telling me to start thinking of a title and that stuck out to me a lot, so I decided to go with it.
What was a favorite experience of yours that emerged working on the film?This whole thing has been quite the trip. I was a wedding cinematographer living on the North Shore and was starting to feel burnt out from shooting weddings all the time. I needed to do something to rejuvenate my creative juices, something that wasn’t going to feel like work— that’s why we called this a passion project. There was never any backing, this whole film was created from the labor of love and the generosity from some of surfing’s finest. But the entire experience has been highlight after highlight and it just seems to be getting better and better. I was originally stoked that Brian enjoyed the film to begin with, to put 30+ years of Brian’s photography into a film was more of an honor than a highlight. As for highlights, getting into all these film festivals has been pretty cool. It’s crazy to know that the film is playing in Australia one day and then Paris the next. Getting to attend some of the festivals has been an incredible experience and now knowing the film will be releasing on iTunes on August 13 is another major one!
How did a Canadian become a surfer and divide time between the mainland and Hawai’i?
We really have no surf where I’m from, although the Great Lake Surfers will tell you otherwise. I grew up skateboarding/snowboarding and eventually went on to live in Park City and Mammoth Mountain for snowboarding. But that dream fell short due to a pretty bad wipeout. I eventually moved to Palo Alto, California, to work and attend the Digital Media Academy at Stanford University. With Santa Cruz only an hour away, I figured that would be a great place to get out in the water. Eventually I fell in love with surfing but shortly after I ended up moving back to Canada where I started a wedding cinema studio called Bright Sky Weddings. In Canada we only get five months of good weather and the remaining seven months are too cold for weddings. Being a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, I decided to shift my business over to Hawai‘i for the winters and Canada for the summers. I eventually ended up staying in Hawai‘i for four straight years and that’s when we began this project.
Will this be the film’s theatrical debut in Honolulu?
Yes! We are so stoked to be bringing it to Honolulu for the first time!
Get your tickets to see White Rhino online.