Bruce Brown: Iconic Filmmaker Dies at 80

By Rasya Arasy

The only man with a camera on one hand and passion for surfing on the other; can turn a $50000 budgeted movie to an iconic $33.2 million surfers’ cult classic “The Endless Summer”.

 

Bruce Brown had his documentary released in 1966 that follows two surfers on a surfing journey around the world. The meaning behind the title is that they aimed to follow the summer season around the globe; so if they travelled from one country to another at the right time and the pace, they would be able to live every day for a year, 365 days, of summer.


According to his son Dana, Bruce passed away peacefully in his sleep. Most likely due to heart failure.

Bruce has always had the passion for filmmaking; mainly of surfing. Born in San Francisco, and moved to Long Beach, South California, made him picked up surfing at a very young age. Bruce never missed a day without surfing since he was 11, always one with the waves. Post high school, Bruce joined the navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Within his two years of service, he even managed to make time to shoot surfing movies.


When he was young, Bruce started out with filming surfers with an eight millimetre purely for fun and because he was a mommy’s boy, he wanted to show off to his mom. Things escalated quite quickly for him, after a number of surfing films, Bruce had people coming and paying him 25 cents to watch his films.

Bruce wanted society to see what surfing is all about, and to show that it is an authentic sport, not just a beach activity. To turn around the false representation society has over surfers; that they are not beach bums. That is what inspired him to make “The Endless Summer”.

With just the budget of $50,000, he asked two Southern California surfers Robert August and Mike Hynson if they are willing to ‘follow around summer’ from Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, Tahiti, New Zealand and Hawaii for a literally endless summer to catch the waves. Bruce told Dusters California “Gosh if you’d travel around the world, at the right speed, you’d be in the middle of summer 365 days a year.”


It was a struggle for Bruce Brown to find a distributor that owned movie theatres and film distributor networks that could handle all the movie’s promotion and marketing. Many of them distributor companies didn’t believe that ‘The Endless Summer’ would sell out to the people of the United States.

However, Bruce knew that people would like it. He took his own initiative and promoted it himself. He showed it in schools, drive-in theatres and a number of venues when he was on tour. The feedback was overwhelmingly promising. Bruce put everything on the line, to the point where he borrowed $50,000 to switch 16 to 35 millimetres and rent the Kips Bay Theater in Manhattan to promote it. But all the hard work paid off. A distributor Cinema V reached out to Brown and after polishing up the movie with a soundtrack, ‘The Endless Summer’ grossed over $30 million worldwide.

His success did not end there. Mr Brown himself took interest in dirt bikes and he made ‘On Any Sunday’ in 1971, a motorcycle racing documentary featuring Steve McQueen who happened to be producing the movie as well and this movie was nominated for a 1972 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. What’s great about Bruce’s documentaries are that he managed to deliver the real-life experience through the camera and make the audiences feel one with what is happening on screen without the complex computer-generated effects.


With a bigger budget, Bruce made ‘The Endless Summer 2’ with better visual technicality. Unfortunately, it was not as big of a hit as the first one. According to critics, even if the scenery in the second movie is amazingly breathtaking, the narrative is not as engrossing as the first film.


Nonetheless, in his recent years, he continued on surfing and had a great life alongside his two children Nancie and Dana, with eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.