Once in a while, a special film comes along that has the ability to transport you — mind, body and soul — from the time the lights dim to the time the credits roll. You can’t quite figure out how you’ve changed but when you leave the theater, you feel somehow different. Transformed. Time Well Spent, the award-winning documentary that showed at the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival, is an example of this transformative genre.
The 83-minute movie is the brainchild of James Fazio, a surfer and filmmaker who took four boys with deeply moving life stories, (of loss, homelessness, poverty and pain) and gifted each with an incredible trip to surf in Panama and give back to the ailing communities in that country. Growing up, the boys all found calming refuge in the ocean, and Fazio sought to give them a surf experience they’d never forget.
Three of the boys (Kross Brodersen of Hawaii; Declan Bradley of Ocean Grove, Australia; and Yeferson Bellido of San Bartolo, Peru) were able to travel to Panama and the fourth boy, Henry McAlvany, (from Bali, Indonesia) was unable to make it due to passport complications. Still, the filmmakers put together a surf trip in Henry’s home country, complete with charitable endeavors and incredible breaks.
The optimistic, take-whatever-challenges-may-come attitude of the filmmakers translates onscreen, as we watch the boys grapple with the inner demons of their lives and turn intense hardships into happiness. James Fazio, who is credited as director, producer, editor, screenwriter and cinematographer for the film, digs deeper into what it meant for him to experience Time Well Spent.
WEST OCEANFRONT: Your film, Time Well Spent, recently won the audience award for best Action Sports documentary at the Newport Beach Film Festival. (That’s huge by the way, congrats!) Why do you think the Newport Beach audience connected so deeply with your movie and the story it told?
JAMES FAZIO: Yes we were shocked and thrilled to win the audience award for best Action Sports! A huge honor for us, especially at Newport [Beach Film Festival]. I think people of all social status and cultures can relate somewhat to this story, whether you surf or do not surf. It is about living through difficulties, feeling hopeless and alone but then finding that you are not alone, that there is hope and that you are worth something. The film is about how no matter what you’ve endured, you can make a difference in this world and in others’ lives as well. Also, I think in a time of viewing so many superficial content on TV, Time Well Spent has an authenticity to it that is refreshing. [I’m] not bragging on anything I have done but it’s evident in the courage that the boys in the film have shown. The choice to be transparent and authentic in front of the camera in hopes that it will give hope to someone else in the future, I think that is a huge reason people can connect to the film. The boys come through the movie and connect with you at your level and where you are at in life.
Time Well Spent featured some seriously awesome music, especially during the high-intensity surf scenes. How did you select what tracks to play? And did you have a favorite tune?
There must have been plenty of logistics and planning involved in the trips you document but was there anything — beside Henry not being able to join the boys — that surprised you during the course of filming?
To be honest, for us to have actually made this documentary and have a finished product is a surprise and miracle in itself. We didn’t have funding and we barely had equipment to film the doc in the beginning. We felt like this film was something God had placed on our hearts to do and to take these boys on the trip. So we did. I mean, we had told the boys a date we would go on the trip and to pack and get ready to go but we didn’t even have the funding to buy their tickets until a week or two before the actual trip. It was a two-year roller coaster ride that I wouldn’t change for anything. I would do it in an instant again if we could do the same thing for four other boys all over again.
The cinematography and camera angles are absolutely stunning. How do you look at a scene and decide how best to film it? Is there a special trick to filming waves so you capture them at their most poetic and beautiful?
Thank you again! We really wanted to show the beauty of the boys’ home countries and the countries and cultures we visited with the boys. So we had ideas of what we wanted to film and how we wanted it to look and just made sure we best represented on camera what we had in our heads. [There were] a lot of failures and a lot of victories, too, but I guess that’s how it is in everything. As for the water cinematography, we were lucky to have Elliot Gray. Elliot was our Director of Photography and he has one of the best eyes out there, especially when it comes to anything in the water. To film surfing, you have to have a real knowledge of waves and the ocean. Typically, most any surf photographer or cinematographer is or once was a surfer or some type of wave rider because the knowledge of how waves break and predicting that is essential. So, for Elliot to get the shots he did, he had to predict where the waves would break and would place himself in the perfect spot to where the boys and waves would come directly at him. He took a lot of beatings to get the shots he did. After each poetic, beautiful shot of the wave barreling, Elliot was getting slammed on the sand or reef. Took one for the team!
Four boys. Multiple locations. Countless surf breaks. (Unfortunately) two separate trips. When storytelling with such rich narratives, challenges and complexities, is there any method you use to figure out exactly what shouldn’t make it into the final cut?
Yes, there was a lot that didn’t make it in the film and there is still a lot I probably could have taken out of the film but chose to hold onto it. I think what it came down to was what I was wanting the film to speak to people when they watched it. [I wanted them to understand] that there is hope in your darkest places and that your past does not have to define your future. So from there I just made sure I represented and justly told the boys’ stories best I could and made sure I only showed what they were comfortable having others see. First things first was to honor the boys and their families and help them to see that their opening up and being vulnerable on camera could potentially help save someone that might be in a desperate situation without hope.
As Kross finished constructing the house in Panama, after experiencing homelessness himself, it was clearly an emotional, almost epiphanic moment in the film. What was it like being there as he addressed the people whose home he just built?
Ah man, that moment was so special for Kross and really for all of the boys and our team. Cameras were shaking and cinematography wasn’t perfect because we were all crying but no one cared. It was all about that moment. Where I think we all felt more like family. That day changed it all for us and the trip was continued on to be a trip that would make us family and friends for life after that. It was a breakthrough moment for Kross, like you mentioned. Where he almost went from a victim of his previous circumstances to victorious as someone who can make a difference in other people’s lives.
Some of the spots where your crew took the boys to surf were insanely remote, tucked-away hiding places in the (seemingly) middle of nowhere. How did you find the best breaks? Did you have conversations with locals or knew someone with knowledge of the ideal locations?
The night your film debuted at the Newport Beach Film Festival and the final credits rolled, the crowd burst into applause. After all the hard work, grind and passion you put into this movie, as you sat in the theater and filmgoers cheered, what were you thinking?
Ah, it’s just a huge blessing really. I never imagined we’d have been in the Newport Beach Film Festival. I always feel an overwhelming amount of thankfulness. This project wouldn’t have happened without the help of so many others. So many generous people giving their funds, time and encouragement to make this film possible. The huge payoff for me, really, is seeing the film give others hope or inspiration. It sounds super cheesy I know, but that’s the thing that gets me the most stoked.
During the live Q&A at the Newport Beach Film Festival, you mentioned that you would eventually like to do a full-length documentary on Yeferson. Is that still in the works and if so, how far along are you in the process?
Yes! His story is what brought me to want to be a filmmaker. I wanted to tell stories that show how hard life can be, but how there is always hope to hold onto. The film will not actually be a documentary but would be a feature narrative. I currently just have a treatment of that film; I am working on two scripts at the moment. One is how Yefersen went from a street kid to one of the top surfers in Peru and now, an architect. The other film is based on a true story of a women from South East Asia who was trafficked as a young girl and how she came out of it all to help bring other women and children at risk to freedom. Both are feature narrative films. I really have a passion to tell Yeferson’s story, so we will see which one we can get funding and all for first! But it is definitely a film you can look forward to in the future!
You also mentioned you got into filmmaking at age 19. What’s your best advice for an aspiring filmmaker? And for the surfers reading this, any knowledge to drop about filming a movie focused on the ocean and time (well spent) among the waves?
I think one great thing I was able to do while learning how to become a filmmaker (and I am still learning) was to surround myself with people who were much better at it than myself. Being able to learn from others who really know what they’re doing is priceless. Be confident in yourself and your creative vision. You know what you want to say and how you want the story to come out onscreen. Don’t be afraid to fail because you will fail. Just learn from those failures and go for it! Filming in the ocean and waves just takes time and patience for all the elements to align. A lot of early cold mornings but it all pays off in the end. Remember why you wanted to tell stories in the first place and remind yourself of that when it’s hard and tiring. Lastly, you can do a lot with a little. We didn’t have much equipment in the beginning, but as we were able to show what we could do, we started getting more equipment from people who saw the vision. Have a great story and work hard to tell it!
// All images via TimeWellSpentDoc.org.