When Bruce Brown premiered The Endless Summer in 1966, it was an instant classic—and it was exactly the calling card he needed for a meeting with actor Steve McQueen. McQueen, a fellow motorcycle aficionado, signed on to help finance and star in what would become On Any Sunday. The documentary was released in 1971 and garnered Brown an Academy Award nomination. Fast forward 43 years and his son Dana, 54, a filmmaker in his own right with classics like Step Into Liquid, is carrying the baton. On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter comes out this fall.
The Red Bulletin: Dana, you were about 11 years old when On Any Sunday came out. What memories do you have of that time and the film?
Dana Brown: Dad’s office was just a couple blocks from our house, so we’d go over to the office and sometimes see some of the footage. And he’d take us to the races, and the racers would come by and they were like my brothers and my idols. The fact that he was hobnobbing with racers was even more glamorous than the fact that he knew Steve McQueen.
How into motorcycles were you at that point?
Dana: Dad and Mom had a pretty big ranch, and we’d ride all the time out there. I never really raced, though. I think I went to one trials with Dad—pretty sure I thought I’d won but I ended up finishing about 65th. That kind of took the starch out of my competition career on motorcycles. But you know, I’ve ridden off and on my whole life and I just really like motorcycle people. They are really so nice and humble, you kind of just want to tell their story. So when this opportunity came up, I jumped at it.
How far does the apple fall from the tree? Dana, when did you say, “I want to be a filmmaker like Dad.”
Dana: I took film in college, and I always admired what he did specifically, and then in college I came to find out they were saying you have to start as a PA [production assistant] in Hollywood—that didn’t really appeal to me, so I didn’t go into film right away. I was just writing sports stuff. I wrote for Surfer and had a column in the Santa Barbara Independent. I was working a few jobs and had a couple kids.
Bruce: He was sort of between jobs, and I knew he was familiar with my stuff, so I just hired him to resurrect these old surf films. We were going to get rich in the video market—which didn’t happen. But when he got into it I could see that we were on the same wavelength. And the stuff he did on his own, I liked it. I like his films. You know, he does a whole different style than mine. Part of it is the time, though. Plus, he’s a lot smarter than I am.
Bruce, how is Dana’s style different?
Bruce: I think he’s got a little more human-interest stuff, featuring some unusual characters. And his movies have people talking, and most of my movies didn’t. And he’s got access to all kinds of cool camera equipment and stuff that didn’t really exist in my era.
But I do remember in the original On Any Sunday, you did have some pretty cutting-edge POV shots on the racetrack.
Bruce: [Laughs.] Well, we had a helmet that we modified that would hold a World War 2 gun camera that juts out on the side. And then we actually had it rigged up where we had one in front and one pointing back, and God, that thing weighed about 20 pounds. So none of the racers were too anxious to try it because if they fell they’d probably be dead. But we finally figured it out—we offered them $100 and then they lined up to use it.
A far cry from the GoPro, huh?
Bruce: [Laughs.] Yeah, thank God they didn’t have them at the time, because I probably would’ve overused them.
Dana, you guys shot this using the most cutting-edge gear. Was it tough to avoid getting mired in the tech of it all?
Dana: Oh yeah, I think half of the deal anytime we’re shooting is for me to make sure we’re getting the stories and not just so worried about all the technical aspect of all of it. You want to make sure you get the heart, and not just the other stuff.
Do you feel action sports films are evolving?
Bruce: In general, I think the bar for storytelling in action sports filmmaking is pretty low right now.
Dana: I would agree. You could trip over it.
Bruce: Especially the surf ones—they’re just some kind of weird music and just all surfing and there’s no story at all. It’s just boring.
That’s a digression from Endless Summer, because you actually had a story.
Dana: When Dad did it, it was just him and a wind-up Bolex. He had to tell a story. When you’re standing there, that kind of under-gunned, you can’t say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what we say, we’ll just strap 52 GoPros on everything and do a helicopter shot and we’re golden.”