By Tim Donnelly
Last winter, Rob Bryn was starstruck, heartbroken and wanted to be in a movie. The landscape of Rockaway Beach, where he lives year-round, had turned strange for the season already: Beach renourishment projects had piled giant mountains of sands and rocks on the shore. Eventually they would be turned into dunes and jetties, but in the cold months, they obscured the view of the ocean that Bryn and other locals get as a reward for their winter fortitude.
It created an alien landscape in a familiar place, which inspired Kook Mike Goes Surfing, Bryn’s short movie debuting at the Rockaway Film Fest on Monday, along with other locally made or inspired projects.
The film stars a local icon in an existential quest to find the ocean, and things do get a little alien. Bryn — who also leads the band Wild Yaks — made the movie with no money, on a short deadline, using friends and natural beach lighting. He talked to the Groove about how he did it, and why Rockaway Beach attracts so many heartbroken aliens.
Where did the idea to make this movie come from?
It 100% came from that I had a crush on this girl, she lives in Rockaway. She was involved in a movie and she said [to me], "You would be good for this movie. And I'm gonna suggest to the director that you be in it as well.” And then she ghosted me. Then that movie happened, but without me.
It wasn't even the girl or the money. I realized that I wanted to be in a movie and I wanted to make a movie. And then I saw it: while I was having that thought, I saw the film festival deadline was May 19, and I was like, all I have to do is complete a movie by May 19 and just do it. And so I did.
Why did you want to be in a movie so bad at the time?
I mean, I just want to be called upon. You know, like when you're sitting in a classroom, and you're there and you want someone to call upon you and stand up and speak? I just want to be involved. I want to use my voice. I want to use my body. I want to be in.
How did you actually shoot it without a budget?
There's no script. We're shooting on the beach. The only location is the beach and then done. And everyone will wear a wetsuit, done. There's no costumes, everyone wears a wetsuit. Tactics, the movie was made by tactics.
The beach is everywhere here but why did you want to set the movie there?
Have you seen The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie? It’s a movie about horrible people who can't eat dinner. The whole movie is like, these people are sitting down. And they're about to have dinner and they're in people's houses and restaurants and it just never works out that they can eat food. And that's the entire movie. So I thought: I want to make a movie. It's about people who are trying to go surfing, but they can't go, they can't make it to the ocean. Again, I think the pure tactical decision: I don't have lights, I don't need those things. What and where can we go to maximize, that will give the most results with the littlest effort? So the beach is infinite. It's right here, and it's lit.
You worked with the piles of sand that were all over the beach this winter too.
Oh yeah, so in perfect, Waiting for Godot dynamism or serendipity, the beach is being worked on for so long. There's piles of sand and piles of rocks and it's so perfectly an existential wasteland. The nothing. And then we can fill in what it is because there's the blankness. In the city, there's so much you're competing with. Here, it's the blankness, the openness.
What is it about Rockaway that has attracted such an arts community? What about it attracts all these creative people who want to make, you know, kooky little projects?
I think one, it’s affordable. And there's space and time. You can live here and you don't have the clamor of being in Brooklyn. If you can find and afford cheap rent, you can make it work here.
I also think the ocean and the sky is so dynamic and so energetic, so people who are artists are interested in energy. There's this incredible natural phenomenon that's happening right here, the energy of which is washing over us all the time. We live in a resort that people come to for pleasure. So it's fun here every day because every day, all summer long, people are coming to have their best day of the summer.
We live here in the wake and wash of that. And I get super into that. Then in six months of the year, we live in hell. In October through May, nothing. Whatever you can make is what there is. I think the blankness, the fact that the story is not written yet, that more than anything. The town is still to be determined. Tabula rasa.
Did you borrow everything for the movie?
Yeah. My cameraman, when we were making the movie, doubted it, he hated it. And he says, You can't make a movie without a script. And I was like, yes, you can. And also, if you believe that, why are you here? And then when we were editing it, you can hear him talking in the camera microphone, and you can hear him cursing me. But when he finally saw the movie, he was like, “Oh, I get it.”
How did you get your main star?
I love him [Kook Mike, star of the movie, aka Michael Kololyan, founder of Locals surf school and now co-owner of Connolly’s pub] so much. He's a local celebrity. So that was part of the tactics as well. He single-handedly taught at least 5,000 people how to surf. There's so many people that I meet that are like: “the reason I know how to surf is because of Kook Mike.” And he grew up here. Part of the perfect checkmate chess move of the movie was incorporating a local celebrity to be in it.
What does it mean to you to be in the Rockaway Film Festival on a day with so many other local projects?
I'm super stoked. I mean, I'm a community man through and through. This is my town, this is our moment.
(interview condensed for clarity)
Catch Kook Mike Goes Surfing and more films at the Rockaway Film Fest on Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. Catch Rob Bryn in a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream on Friday night on the boardwalk too.