Don't Trust Anyone Who Doesn't Drink Wine (Or, Why Sam Pillsbury Hates Surfers)
Courtesy of Sam Pillsbury
It's been established: With airline crashes, it's never one thing. It's usually a combination of three. More on this later.
I love the sea. (Yeah, that's why I live in Arizona.) I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, where it's impossible to be more than 15 minutes from the ocean -- on a small hill you can see both sides of the island.
We spent three weeks every summer sailing the coast in my parents' 32-foot sloop Flamingo. Apart from drinking wine, I windsurf. I body surf. I boogie board. I snorkel for abalone. I dive for scallops. They go really well with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or my WildChild White. I am never so happy as when I am in the ocean. It's my belief that's our amniotic fluid, and when we enter the sea, we connect with where we came from.
When I was 18, I decided to try surfing. It seemed it could be like part of the ultimate immersion experience.
First problem for a student, which I experienced as a drummer in a rock band, was transport. You need a vehicle.
So, I borrowed one and a board and headed off to a renowned surf location, Muriwai Beach, 45 minutes from Auckland, 30 kilometers of unbroken black-iron sand up to the Kaipara heads, with westerly exposure to massive swells rolling in 1,500 miles from Australia.
It's not warm -- rather like Malibu -- and I didn't have a wetsuit, like the cluster of surfers hanging around the break out there, but I braved the elements and headed out.
Now, the first thing you need to know, getting out ain't that easy. The board keeps getting tossed back by the breakers, and it's really tough on the upper body. All you have for propulsion is your arms. That's why a lot of surfers have those great pecs.
But that's the least of it.
When you get out, it's a whole new community. If they let you join.
Because there's relatively small space right there, where the good breaks are. So it's crowded.
If they let you in -- and believe me, it's a trial out there -- you are literally cheek by jowl.
And here's the downside: You have to listen to the dialogue.
Which goes something like this:
"Hey Choppah! What's you do last night?"
"Nuthin' much. Got pissed [this in New Zealandese for drunk], chundered [NZese for vomited], banged this Sheila [NZese for woman], flaked out. How about you?"
"Nuthin' much. Got pissed, chundered, banged this Sheila, flaked out."
Now, here's the thing. You have no choice but to listen to this. You're all jammed into this little cluster at the right spot, which, by the way, isn't delivering all that much in the way of aquatic thrills.
I lasted about an hour, froze my ass off, and vowed to never go surfing again.
Here's the other thing . . . That getting pissed and chundering was on the worst beer imaginable. And these guys don't drink wine and never will. Even Chateau Cardboard (NZese for Bag-in-Box wine) is too expensive. Or if they do, you do so by lying on your back with open mouth and turning on the faucet. It goes down and back up again with alarming speed. So I took up windsurfing -- a perfect balance of body with the elements. No fossil fuels being burnt, the hiss of water sluicing under your board, that fluttering whisper of the trailing edge of the sail, sun kissing your back, spray delicately cooling your skin, the crusty accumulation of salt on your brow. And absolute silence. You don't have to listen to moronic conversation. You're alone on the water in this perfect relationship with nature. Heaven.
Far from the cluster of the hungover inebriates in the distance, waiting for the perfect wave. And I hate waiting . . .
So, fast-forward 45 years.
The Worst Film Experience of My Life.
It's called Endless Bummer. Boy, was that ever true. Please don't ever watch this terrible movie.
Pillsbury meets surfers once again.
It started nice. I was prepared to revise my opinion about surfers. This was a cute script, apart from the fact that we had $3 million, and this one would cost $15. And the guys seemed like a small, smart bunch of renegades. They had a band that played regularly in Ventura. The story was about their lead singer, one of the cheerfully worst singers alive. As a kid, he lost his board to an out-of-towner, and he and his friends went and got it back.
There was an appealing anarchic quality to the story, and the script was a small, gentle coming-of-age piece with reverence for the magic of the ocean. I could make a little character piece with these oddball guys.
I didn't demand "final cut." This is so, as director, the owners of the property couldn't mess with it after I was done. As these guys knew nothing about filmmaking, it didn't even occur to me. Mistake number one.
The first danger sign I missed was at a beach party with the execrable band. A lone outsider was hangin' around the aging surfer chicks. Suddenly he was staggering about, blood spurting from his nose. Territorial violation. The fascist side revealed. Again, the worst beer imaginable and endless cigarettes. No vino. I put it down to an aberration. Mistake number two.
Short version: I seconded my vineyard to others and plunged in. The Chinese Investor fell out a week before we started shooting, so we refinanced with terrible terms, slashed the budget and my fee. The shoot became a mismanaged nightmare, as the owners took more and more control, and when I finished, the movie was recut about a thousand times by about 10 people who tried to make it into a hip, wacky teen movie, adding toplessness and farting scenes with atrocious dialogue.
You cannot make a Ferrari out of a Honda Civic. It's fatal. And one of the truths about Hollywood -- hardly anyone can write a script or make a movie. But any moron can rewrite or recut it.
And I have no problem with topless scenes and farting, but at least the dialogue and acting should be good.
I should have known. The evidence was there. And they didn't drink wine. I should have known. Mistake number three: These guys smoked like chimneys the worst shit cigarettes you ever saw and drank nothing but Bud Light. I couldn't breathe for a week after that party.
Three mistakes = plane crash.
People ask me why I don't make movies anymore. It's not the case. I just ain't making movies anymore where I don't have control over the result.
That's one of the reasons I make wine. I own the company. I do whatever I like.
I like it better like that.
I got back to Arizona in time to make the 2007 wines. Phew, all was not lost.
Uh-oh. I just remembered. My Hollywood agent is a surfer.
But he loves wine.
Okay, so I don't hate all of them.
"Everyone Gets a Turn" wine recommendation:
Mark and Rhona from the Willcox Bench in Cochise County want you to try their new Zarpara Vineyard Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Crisp, bright, and bursting with citrus and pear on the nose and palate. $26.
Sam Pillsbury has made dozens of documentaries, TV series and feature films in New Zealand and Hollywood as writer, director and producer, and now grows grapes and makes 100 percent Arizona wines in Arizona. He lives in Phoenix. You can get more information about his wines and tasting room at pillsburywine.com.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.