Interview with Filmmaker Beth O'Rourke | Worm Dreams Big

WORM DREAMS BIG: A TRIBUTE TO THE BENEVOLENT BAD-ASSES OF THE WOMEN'S LONGBOARDING COMMUNITY was selected for the 4th Annual NYC Women's Surf Film Festival 2016, featuring surfers Erin Ashley, Jen Smith, Julie Cox, Shaney Jo Darden and directed by Beth O'Rourke and and Jeff Den Broeder.

Erin “Worm” Ashley’s has a big dream: raise awareness about the importance of early breast cancer detection by partnering with The Keep A Breast Foundation and throwing a good, old fashioned style surf contest with the best women longboarders in the world at First Point, Malibu, California.

Worm, professional logger and aloha gladiator, has a truly unique vision that run counter to the high-pressure, stress-inducing, modern surf contest rules. She believes (and proves) that rewarding surfers for skillfully sharing waves is the perfect recipe for celebration and revelry. Worm’s states, “Share in the good times, thow[ing] down zero bad vibes...that’s what I’m trying to maximize”. “We haven’t gone so far as to call it a contest. We’re more hanging out, having a good surf. One of the things we miss is...sharing a wave takes a lot of the contest out of contest. Showcasing women’s an epic thing. But to be able to do it for an incredibly rad cause is more important.”


Where did you grow up and where do you call home now?

I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. For the last 3 years, I've called Ventura, California home. Before that, I spent 23 years in San Francisco — the place where I really grew up.

How did you get started in filmmaking and why? 

I started making short films in the 90's as a way to show branded storytelling concepts to clients. Many years later, I began writing and producing customer stories for television advertising. It was there that I began working with Jeff den Broeder, my SeaLevelTV creative partner. I'd burnt out after 18 years as an advertising creative director and was looking to create an ocean-focused product that was in line with my/our world view. We saw an opportunity to tell out-of-the-ordinary stories about people that center their lives around the ocean.

How did Worm Dreams Big come about?

I knew Worm through the surf scene and our club, Malibu Surfing Association. She was asked to create an "aloha-style" women's logger invitational and she chose to partner with Shaney Jo Darden, the founder of Keep-a-Breast. The President of MSA (at the time), asked if SeaLevelTV would cover the event and we happily accepted.

How did you come to meet the surfers featured in the film?

They are all part of our clan here in California.

What was some of the challenges in making this film?

Not many, really. We had a fantastic crew on the beach and in the water. I remember that I was scorching hot that day! Seriously, though, It's always a challenge making a documentary film. We created this without funding, for the love and purpose of raising awareness about preventing breast cancer. The true challenge lies in getting more young people to check their breast on the regular.

Where was the film shot? Tell us more about the breaks? 

The film was shot at Surfrider Beach in Los Angeles, California commonly known as First Point, "Malibu". Malibu is so famous, it probably needs no introduction. If you want a great overview of this historic place as it relates to surfing, look no further than Matt Warshaw's Encyclopedia of Surfing.

"Definitive California point break, often described as the "original perfect wave," located on the northern arm of Santa Monica Bay in Los Angeles County; a surf-culture hothouse, and the center for much of the advancement in surfing performance and board design from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. "Malibu," surf journalist Paul Gross wrote, "is the exact spot on earth where ancient surfing became modern surfing."

Tell us more about the surf culture and scene in California? 

There's so much scene all over the place. California, specifically 130 years ago at the Santa Cruz river mouth, was the first place 3 Hawaiian princes introduced surfing to North America

Is there a discrepancy with the number of women and men that surf in the water in California? 

At some breaks, I notice that there is a discrepancy. Sometimes you get that magical moment when you look around and there are more women and girls in the water than men. That really makes you aware of that imbalance or representation. But most of the time, I'm out numbered in the line up and it really doesn't bother me.

Do you feel that women’s surfing has improved over the past decade? If so in what ways?

Absolutely. However, you have to know that women were ripping just as hard as the men since the 60's. Joyce Hoffman, Margo Godfrey (Oberg) and a whole host of other women were holding it down with class, style and world-class athleticism.

Now, we see women like Keala Kennelly winning the Barrel of the Year award against a field of men — now that's dramatic progress that can't be ignored.

Where has been your favorite places to surf and shoot surfers?

Anywhere on the Malibu Coast and in Ventura. The surfers are incredibly talented (especially the women), the waves and land features provide an aesthetically mind-blowing backdrop. And, of course, you have all that history behind that stretch of coast.

What can't you live without when you travel?

Great question. Sunscreen and some kind of device to capture movement and sound.

Where do you find your personal inspiration? 

Definitely the ocean (I live on the beach) and the women and girls around me who are true to themselves and what they believe well as some venerable men out there. Also, in more quiet moments, I paint and compose music. For me, it's a must to constantly create. That may sound very self-involved, but I really like to progress a little each day and practice my craft. I know from doing...if I'm not doing, how can I know? It's a way to constantly experiment with new ways to communicate ideas in different media with different tools. I'm very interested in how VR (virtual reality) can bring people deeper into a meaningful storytelling experience. I've been involved in a few workshops that are enabling me to understand how I might use this emerging idea to fold into filmmaking experiences.

Whats next for Beth?

Securing funding for both of my projects: SeaLevelTV and Unwavering, a new documentary project about chronicling the lives of some of the best big wave women surfers in the world.

But what's really next is always the question: when can I get in the water?

SEA LEVEL REEL - We hope you enjoy our reel featuring over a year's worth of "salty stories of substance". Thank you to all the generous people who have devoted their time and voice to helping us build out our vision to bring you short documentaries that reach past the hype, deep into the hidden corners of ocean-centric-culture where the resplendent, vulnerable heart of humanity resides. For inquiries: