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Film Maker Finds Fame Overseas

November 13, 1985|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

SAN DIEGO — In Australia he's a celebrity. In his hometown, he gets no respect. Chris Bystrom may be one of the last in a vanishing breed, a maker of quality surf films. Although he has only a handful to his credit, Bystrom is generally considered one of the top half dozen independent surf film makers, and he drives around the country and flies around the world personally marketing the richly colorful films he has made of his favorite sport. All that work so far has gotten him to the break-even point.

Bystrom estimates that his biggest and best film, "Blazing Boards" has grossed an impressive $250,000 in the tiny surf movie market, including a six-week run at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. But it has taken 18 months for the film to cover its costs. Bystrom's net: "Practically nil."

Now comes "Beyond Blazing Boards," with blue-green wave after lazy wave, shot by Bystrom in Australia, Bali, Isla Natividad, and Baja California. There is even a trace of social commentary on its video track as it moves from smoggy Los Angeles to an Indonesian paradise. Although Bystrom plans to release "Beyond Blazing Boards" as a theatrical film in Australia and possibly Japan, he is distributing it here as a videocassette, the first full-length surf video in stereo.

But the surf's not up when it comes to the market for the 87-minute cassette--with a sound track filled with the ska and reggae sound of the Untouchables, the mainstream rock of Australia's Hoodoo Gurus, the synthesizer instrumentals of Michael Shrieve and the jazz-inflected fusion sounds of Tony Creed.

The surf video scene is awfully slow, Bystrom has discovered. And the chain stores that don't deal well with independent film makers aren't making things any easier, he said. When he hit the streets last week with the new cassette, he sold more than 100 to video outlets and surf shops. But he's afraid that, with its $60 retail price, the cassette will be copied more than bought.

He left Thursday to peddle his video on the East Coast for three weeks before returning for what he hopes is the California Christmas surf video rush.

Bystrom longs for Australia, where surfing "is as popular as baseball and football" and where on arrival he is snapped up by the national talk show circuit. In fact, he is moving Down Under, whether "Beyond Blazing Boards" makes a connection in the video market or not. Of his latest cinematic effort, Bystrom said: "If it doesn't work, this is pretty much my last shot in the film business."

CITY SCULPTURE: Installation of the long-delayed Charles Ross sculpture "Light, Rock and Water," planned for the plaza of the Wells Fargo Bank Building at 1st Avenue and Broadway, has been delayed once more, according to the Centre City Development Corp. Major reinforcement of the plaza to support the weight of the piece, which includes a pool of water and a series of large prisms, was to have begun last week. But construction details must be ironed out. According to CCDC, the actual installation should begin in about seven weeks. The work should be completed by February.

GLOBE GAB: The Old Globe Theatre made an assault on New York last month.

Artistic director Jack O'Brien, an old New York hand, and Globe national press rep Charlene Baldridge sallied forth, suitcases in hand and datebooks jammed with appointments. With O'Brien leading the charge, they contacted the culture vultures of the Eastern Establishment media. The duo hit Time and Newsweek magazines, saw Clive Barnes at the New York Post, Howard Kissel at Women's Wear Daily, Brendan Gill at the New Yorker and Dick Hummler at Variety. They hit Harper's Bazaar, American Theatre magazine, Theatrecrafts, Horizon, Connoisseur, public television station WNET and the Arts and Entertainment Network. They didn't go by the New York Times. Instead, they talked with the Associated Press theater writer, Michael Kuchwara.

O'Brien, who's on the National Endowment for the Arts' council on musical theater, talked about the state of the national theater. He urged the editors and writers to come out for a visit. He talked about what makes the Globe unusual. It works with a repertory company for half the year, and does a lot of Shakespeare--a lot for an American theater, that is.

They also served as spokesmen to curious New Yorkers for San Diego, the symphony, the opera, the Horton Plaza theaters and the new Symphony Hall.

The big lesson learned on their trip: "You can send people media releases till you're blue in the face, but until they hear you articulate what's in those paragraphs, they really don't understand what you're up to," Baldridge said.

ARTBEATS: Korean violinist Kyung-Wha Chung will play a solo recital at 8 p.m. Sunday at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon. Sponsored by the La Jolla Chamber Music Society, the date came up suddenly, according to the society's Geoff Brooks, when an appearance in Oregon was canceled. . . .

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