Interview: Filmmaker Alex DePhillipo
Alex DePhillipo came out of nowhere and made possibly the best surf filmever to come out of the Northeast.
Entitled Dark Fall, It started with an impressive trailer and spread like wildfire on Facebook through New Jersey, then New York, and then everywhere. It went on to win numerous film festival awards and was nominated for a Surfer Poll Award in 2010. It follows the life of New Jersey’s best surfers, the lives they lead, the friendships they make and the friendship that bonds them to their coastline. Alex is a hard working surfer from New Jersey. He has spent a lot of time on the North Shore paying his dues and earning respect as one of the more talented surf filmmakers of his generation. We caught up with Alex as he was filming for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and talked about his beginnings as a filmmaker, the making of Dark Fall and how a surf filmmaker makes a living in today’s new digital download world.
When did you first start getting into filmmaking?
When I was in high school, I was pretty young and my dad handed me a video camera because I always loved movies. I started filming my friends surfing and doing “Jackass” stuff, like any 14 year-old punk kids.
When did you realize this was something you wanted to pursue as a profession?
Not until I was failing out of college. I was going to FAU with no direction. I then realized I needed to go to school to learn something I enjoyed. So, I went to film school and I knew I’d be doing this for the rest of my life.
What film school did you go to?
The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Florida for film production.
How was it being a Jersey boy in Florida?
No different. Everyone who lives there is from the North. Plus all of my friends lived down there and my family and I have been going there for years.
What happened after school? Did you go directly to the North Shore?
Yeah. My close friend Mikey Shellem had built property out there and was connected with all the boys. I decided if I was going make it anywhere I might as well take the chance and move to the North Shore.
Who was the first to take you under their wing over there? Did anyone?
I became a real close with Freddy Malone, Kealii Mamala, Flynn Novak, Kalani Chapman and Braden Dias. That was the crew. They would call me up whenever they wanted to do work. It was pretty humbling but also gnarly at the same time.
Any filmmakers or photographers show you the ropes? Or was it more of being on your own and figuring it out for yourself?
Just Freddy. You could say I earned my dues out there like everyone else. On my own.
How was it breaking into the pecking order amongst the other photographers and filmmakers?
It’s not that crazy like everyone imagines it to be. When it gets gnarly out there everyone sort of looks after each other. If you show aloha, you get aloha. Ya know? I try to always smile when I’m in the mix. It goes a long way.
When did the idea for Dark Fall come to you?
Alex DePhillipo: When I was out there on the North Shore, I was looking around and seeing fifty other guys like me filming. I thought to myself, I need to go home and show people where I’m from and tell that story. It is really hard, if not impossible, to be unique in Hawaii. There are so many people, who are just like you, but Hawaii is my second home and I owe my career to that place. It has taught me everything.
What were people’s reactions in NJ when you started Dark Fall?
I don’t know. Not to hate on my home but I will, cause I can. Most people back east are sort of ignorant to the whole scene. They are not used to someone trying to capture the culture around surfing. People try to do it and it always seems to fail or get hated on a lot. I guess as time went on some people warmed up to it, but I don’t really give shit what other people think. I made the film for the surfers and myself.