The Coast is powerful, unforgiving—and exactly what Hayden Peters was looking for. In the midst of facing mortality, Hayden changed his life, trading the bustle of the city for salt water, a surfboard and a sea kayak. But Hayden wasn’t the only inspiration behind the latest offering from NRS Films. Skip Armstrong, the director who brought us Of Souls + Water, Dream and Nobody’s River, is once again the creative genius behind the project. We asked Skip to share a bit with us about why he chose to make this film in particular, and what it meant to him to do just that.
NRS: Who came up with the initial idea for this film and why was it born in the first place?
Skip Armstrong: That’s a great question. Hayden and I work together frequently and we were driving to Seattle for a job when he mentioned, “the ocean can teach you many things.” I asked him for an example, and I’ll never forget the answer because it was such a compelling way to look at one’s place and their general worldview.
Hayden said the ocean is like a mirror that echoes back everything you’re putting out there. If you’re arrogant the sea will smack you down. You will not win against it. If you are timid it will make you feel scared. Hayden said if you’re willing to work with it, the ocean will work with you.
Growing up in a landlocked state and having spent very little time on the coast or on the ocean, I was intrigued. The Coast was really born out of that very conversation.
NRS: Why focus on the coast as opposed to other rugged landscapes? Why the ocean and not just water, or rivers, in general?
Skip Armstrong: One amazing aspect of filmmaking is that I get to immerse myself in environments that are interesting to me. I’m super interested in the ocean and wanted to learn more. I knew that September was an amazing month to be on the coast, so I booked the shoot for that time of year. Also, of the NRS films that I’ve been a part, we were missing the color palette and aesthetic of the sea and I wanted to bring that. On a fundamental level, the ocean is beyond dynamic and stunning. It’s huge almost beyond comprehension, and what I see while looking out on the coast is such a small fraction of what’s out there. That’s interesting to me. I wanted to show different sides and different moods of the ocean and that’s why the aerial and underwater perspectives were a must for this project.
NRS: Shooting on the coast can prove challenging. How did the weather, waves and general conditions affect the shoot and the final product?
Skip Armstrong: Yeah, it was definitely more challenging than I had initially thought. Salt water, sand and wind are not friendly to cameras and gear. It was terrifying being out at sea with all my gear from a financial perspective. Once I got past that, it was amazing. The weather delivered everything I was hoping for: Sunny days, reasonably good surf, huge storm days and rain, all within a two-week period. We were certainly on Mother Nature’s schedule and had to be opportunistic with whatever that day brought us. There were a handful of shots that I never got because the weather never lined up. I feel very, very lucky with what we did capture though.
NRS: What is your personal relationship with the ocean and how did it impact the filmmaking process?
Skip Armstrong: I’m a total rookie in the ocean. Hayden actually shot the underwater footage. I tried but the ocean felt my fear and smacked me down. Shooting from the beach was a lot of fun but I always wanted to be closer to Hayden when he was surfing. There is definitely a patience game when working with the ocean, but I was happy to be there for every second. All the inland shots were right up my alley, they were a lot of fun to get.
NRS: What do you hope to inspire in people through this film?
Skip Armstrong: I’d love for the audience to get a sense of how cool of a person Hayden is. There is an aspect that speaks to mortality and facing our own death–I’m curious what effect that will have on people who watch this short. And simply, I really want the audience to have a sense of what the coast looks like whether they have been there before or not. It’s a cool thing to be able to share a slice of the world via film with people on all continents.
NRS: Why does the film choose to leave Hayden’s final diagnosis a mystery at the end?
Skip Armstrong: We talked about this quite a bit. I originally wanted to include that he was cleared of the illness at the end of the film. But test screenings almost unanimously said the film felt more powerful withholding that piece. Also, Hayden is starring in the film so clearly the diagnosis was incorrect. To me, the big takeaway is the question: How do you want to live your life? I didn’t want emphasis on the details of the illness to take away from that bigger message of the film.
NRS: The Coast is a pretty poignant reminder of our own mortality. How did that impact your treatment of the film?
Skip Armstrong: I actually didn’t know that Hayden had this illness and period of his life when we sat down together for the interview. When he said those words I was like: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What?” We then spent quite a bit of time talking about it. It was an honor to be trusted with such a personal aspect of his life and one that I don’t think he’s shared with many people. I think it takes a lot to be vulnerable like Hayden is in the film. So after the interview, I knew how I was going to structure the story. I then spent three days listening to so many different songs before finding the amazing work of Ben Lukas Boysen. And from there the film really shaped itself.
Skip Armstrong is an award-winning director and cinematographer, as well as the owner of Wazee Motion Pictures, based in the Columbia River Gorge.