Racking Focus

Rory and Gerry at Uluwatu

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When shooting from a telephoto lens was a skill not yet replaced by advancements in camera technology, Spyder Wills was one of surfing’s most talented guns for hire. According to Greg Weaver, “follow focus”—the ability to pan smoothly and keep a subject in frame while adjusting the focus ring on a camera to keep the image sharp—“was what you had to learn to do or you couldn’t shoot movies in the old days. We didn’t have any of this auto-exposure or auto-focus. Spyder Wills can do it as well as anybody in the world.”

The year after Gerry Lopez first surfed Uluwatu, Wills spent five weeks at the break, documenting Lopez and Rory Russell through an excellent run of surf. For decades the footage sat unreleased. Then it was appended to the skate film Downhill Motion. Presented here, courtesy of Wills and Weaver, is an excerpt from the half-hour reel. It’s easy to overlook Wills’ deft work with the cameras of the time (which is kind of the point). As Lopez put it, the ability to remain invisible was one of Wills’ marks as a filmmaker: “He was so low-key, [he] almost never said anything about the stuff he shot and months later…he’d set you down and you’d just go “Holy Cow! Where were you? We never even saw you. That’s how he liked to operate.”

For more on the adventures and cinematography of Spyder Wills, check out Kevin O’Sullivan’s feature story “Racking Focus” in issue 23.4 of TSJ.