Longing for freedom from her everyday life, the stifled housewife of a NASA controller realises the best way to escape earth isn’t on a stupid rocket, it’s on a sick deck. Such is the plot of Toby Morris’ new experimental narrative short Space: A Skate Odyssey, which sees the amalgamation of skateboarding and 60s archival footage to form a dreamlike story which wittingly repurposes traditional masculine values. Morris returns to DN hot on the heels of his sci-fi dystopia short Cooee, to talk working across forms and recreating an iconic time in human history.
What interests you about skate culture and space travel? I’m interested to know what spurred your initial vision of this film.
The initial vision for Space: A Skate Odyssey came about years ago. It was one of those ideas that arrived fully formed and refused to leave until it had been made. I pitched it as a music video about a hundred times, eventually realising that it was better suited to being its own thing and that the only way to get it made was to make it.
Something about combining the energy of skating with a complementary visual element makes for an audio-visual adrenaline rush.
I’ve always loved high concept skate films like Burn by Garth Davis and Spike Jonze’s exploding sequence from Fully Flared. Something about combining the energy of skating with a complementary visual element makes for an audio-visual adrenaline rush. It’s such a well explored genre that the challenge becomes how to do it differently. How can you put your own unique spin on something an audience has seen a thousand times? I also find the whole space race mesmerising. Rockets taking off, the impossible power of the Saturn V engines, the boldness of the whole thing felt like a perfect backdrop for a skate film.
Similarly, the aesthetic of the film, was there a reason you wanted to revisit the place in time where society was more invested in space travel?
I’ve been lucky enough to have done a little bit of work involving modernist architecture around Sydney. This slowly opened my eyes to the possibility of recreating this specific visual world on screen. The whole NASA space program has always fascinated me, but in this instance the idea of bringing the aesthetic to life was more the draw than any specific social commentary.
Working with Cinematographer Drew English, we came up with some specific rules for bringing the period aesthetic to life. We broke down what cameras and formats were available in 1969. This meant big wide shots should be operated like huge 70mm cameras (Arri Alexa), and handheld camerawork should always feel like 8mm (Canon 5D). Once the rules of the aesthetic were set, it became a lot easier to move quickly on shoot days.
I’m curious to know what lessons you bring from your narrative work, like Cooee, and what you’ve learnt from making an experimental film?
Good question! The process was radically different between the two. Whilst Cooee was a huge production which required a huge amount of preparation, Space: A Skate Odyssey developed gradually and felt much looser. We shot a huge amount of footage for Space and whittled it away to expose the bones of the narrative in the edit. This gave us a huge amount of flexibility, but also dragged the edit out much longer. There are definitely pros and cons to each approach which I’d look to combine going forward.
The idea of bringing the aesthetic to life was more the draw than any specific social commentary.
So, in comparison, this ended being more of an evolving process?
The initial approach was to feature skating at the forefront, with some narrative elements lightly sprinkled throughout to maintain interest. Once we were in the edit suite it became clear that opposite approach was needed, the narrative taking the main seat, with moments of skating peppered throughout.
Generally speaking, how’s the current crisis affecting your life as a filmmaker?
Writing writing writing! My writing partner Stuart Beedie and I have spent almost every day recently working over Facetime, developing some scripts which we’re very excited about.
Which leads perfectly into my final question. What will we be seeing next from you?
I’m aiming to have a new short completed in the next few months. It’s a really personal story which I’m hoping will feel like a real progression from our little filmmaking team!