[The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema is back for 2021, bringing you a range of surf cinema, cult classics and family favourites from the clifftops of Cornwall, including two screenings of Blue Juice. Browse the full lineup and get your tickets here. Or, subscribe to Wavelength now to get free entry to a screening of your choice.]
Despite its uniquely Cornish depiction of the surf experience, you don’t have to be a keen-eyed core lord to clock the fact that many of the action scenes in Blue Juice are in fact filmed elsewhere.
Director Carl Prechezer had wanted to do them all in Blighty, but the unpredictability of the conditions and the soaring costs associated with waiting for the right day with a whole film crew on hand forced the production to seek its fortunes in Lanzarote instead. The task of scouting out the locations for each sequence and starring in them fell to the film’s team of surf consultants and stunt doubles, which included Brit-surfing luminaries Rob Small, Steve England and Gabe Davies.
Recently we caught up with Rob to find out more about his work on the 90s cult classic. You can read part one of our interview here, which details his month of prep with the actors before shooting got underway in Cornwall. In our second instalment, Rob recounts some stories from their trip to Lanzarote:
Rob Small: We finished filming in Cornwall by mid-October. It was getting colder and the production team and the actors all went home to see their families. We’d finished shooting and were flush with cash, so we just said let’s go surfing!
Steve and I ended up going to the Azores with Gabe Davies, Chris Power and Johnny Burt for a Carve photo trip. We scored incredible waves and the local surfers threw a party for us and told us where to go. It was such a good surf trip. And then Steve and I were going to fly to Lanzarote as soon as we got back because we’d blagged a three-week ‘acclimatisation period,’ before filming started there, so we were going to be there for 6 weeks in total! We’d had such a good trip we just wanted to extend it, so we asked if Gabe could come with us to Lanzarote. They said “We can’t really afford it,” but we just said “Don’t worry!” and kind of kidnapped him. I think they ended up employing him, because Gabe’s the most capable man on the planet. So we all had three weeks on per-diems staying in La Santa. They told us we couldn’t get suntans, but that went out the window after about two hours!
We were staying at the sports hotel. You go in there and you see football players, Olympic athletes and cycling teams winter warm training. They were all a bit flash, and they just couldn’t get us! After three weeks, the crew started to arrive.
[Ed: “Waiting with surfers in a holiday complex with five bars is a challenging situation,” director Carl Prechezer would later tell SUP Mag. “In fact, that’s a film right there.”]
One night Pete and Carl said they needed to go to the airport to pick up Mark Thomson, who was doing the water cinematography. He’s Dan ‘Tomo’ Thomson the shaper’s dad, a Lennox local, proper formidable character. He’s got himself in a bit of hot water recently with Jodie Cooper… although I don’t really know the full story.
[Ed: In July 2019 Mark Thomson was found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm on former professional surfer Jodie Cooper and sentenced to 300 hours community service.]
Mark was George Greenough’s protege and he had all his water cameras and all of his handwritten instructions for putting them together and using them. You could see from them that George was a genius although they were nearly illegible.
Mark turned up with no shoes on. He’d flown from Brisbane, via London without any and he’s like, “I don’t fucking wear shoes mate” and I was like, “Mate, it’s fucking December, you’re going to want to put some shoes on.”
We went and had a couple of beers and dinner and it was all slightly fraught. I remember him saying, “I’m stuck on this fucking desert island with a load of fucking pomms.” Me and Steve were laughing because the surf had been about 20 foot that day, booming La Santa, we’d had to go around the corner. I told him and he said, “You wouldn’t fucking know a 20-foot wave if it landed on your head.”
This guy just didn’t know where he was, because no one knew where Lanza was in those days. We got up at dawn the next day and went down to La Derecha and his jaw just dropped. I just said, “Yeah, it’s like that all the time mate.”
El Quemao was going phoaar, like 15 foot. The slab was going Teahupoo mental. He got his surf mat out and just paddled out there. It was four of five times overhead, and we’re just laughing and saying, “He’s on a fucking mat!” And then this set comes through and he deflates it and swims down to the bottom. After doing that a couple of times, he blows the mat back up and rides a wave, going about a thousand miles an hour, bouncing out of the water and we just thought woah, this guy’s insane. Once he realised we could surf a bit and had some water skills, there was a bit more mutual respect.
Of course all the filming was done on 16mm film, so it was really demanding. He’d shoot maybe 30 seconds of film, then have to come back to land, strip the camera down in a dark hood and change the film. It was a brutal amount of work.
Sean [Pertwee] was really good. We jumped him off the rock at the back of the point at La Santa. He rode a wave and got caught inside by a big grinding one! I remember being out there as it was coming and Steve saying to him, “alright, get off your board now…” his eyes were like that! [mimes big circles] I mean I was shitting myself too!
For the dream sequence, we took him to a wave called Chicken Left which is basically dry at low tide and there’s urchins everywhere. He had a POV camera on his board, which in those days was a big steel box, and it was about 6 foot, with rocks everywhere and we just pushed him into a wave. You can see his face while he’s going down it and I don’t think there’s any acting on that bit.
In the final sequence of the film the guy who takes off on that massive wave out the back of La Santa is a local called Sergio El Halcón, Sergio the Falcon; a waterman par-excellence. He’s a sailor, a fisherman, a surfer, probably in his 60s now. It was 15 foot that day and he was the only one surfing. In those days, there were only about 5 guys there who could surf waves like that.
When we set the doubles up, Steve England was doubling for Peter Gunn and I got the job of being Ewan [McGregor]. Sean, who was a little bit older and blonder than both of us and needed someone who was a bit bigger built. We suggested Jonathan Owen, of the Owen twins, who were both in the top ten in Europe at the time. Jonathan was living in Lanzarote, so we thought it would all work really well. But he’s notoriously wayward; he’ll do exactly as he wishes. He agreed to do it but then he buggered off skiing with his girlfriend. But of course, we had an identical twin, so Jamie Owen ended up doing it instead. The big joke was that we ended up needing a double for the double, because we were three doubles in by that stage. So it’s him in that nice opening sequence and at the end.
I did Dean’s wipeout at El Centro. My job was to go over the falls on a fucking belter for that scene. But I think there were some insurance issues, so we ended up doing it on an 8-foot wave rather than the 15-footer Sergio’s surfing. I think 5 years later, after living there, I would have forced the issue but to be truthful I was relieved. I had to do it about 10 times and I got smashed up. There were no skis in those days either, no water safety of anything. Steve England was my water safety and he was on a 6’0.