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INTERVIEW

Read an interview about George Saunders on Kite Florida

Who's The Dude With The Camera? KiteFlix! written by Chris Terry (Kite Florida)

George Saunders of KiteFlixI don't think there is a kiter anywhere in the world today whom hasn't seen his work. KiteFlix is the #1 spot for kiting video downloads. His monthly bandwidth exceeds that of WhiteHouse.Com (ya, there's bush there but it ain't the President)! While there are tons of videos on the shelves for sale--KiteFlix breaks the mold with the largest collection of kiting videos anywhere--all for FREE. Is this guy nuts? We went to find out....

We met George for breakfast at the Green Turtle a family owned restaurant in Delray Beach, FL the home of KiteFlix. And I'll tell you what--video production makes you hungry! As he wolfed down his Ham Scramble we discussed his background and the KiteFlix story. Originally from Long Island, George Saunders attended UCLA where he studied English Literature and Film. His sole focus was to be a screenwriter. He started at the bottom of the ladder evaluating scripts and doing rewrites, a "writer for hire" as he said. Finally he began to fulfill his life long dream of writing entire screenplays. George has writing credits on over 20 projects and five if his scripts were feature films: Mission of Justice, Scanner Cops, America Ninja 5, Marshall Outlaw & Malicious. Folks, I'm not sure if you know what an accomplishment that is. Over 50,000 scripts per year are submitted and only a couple hundred or so get made. The odds of 5 films is off the charts.

Then life through him a curve ball, it was the mid '90's. There was a tragic death of a loved one, LA was on fire (Rodney King riots), and it was shook to the ground (the earthquake of earthquakes). In addition to this crap he was working on a project with a group that was not going where he wanted to go. The producer said the film didn't have enough violence! With personal loss and enough real violence in the streets George did what all of us dream about--he told the Hollywood scene to shove it! He pack his bags and left. Can you imagine having the balls to walk away from being a Hollywood screenwriter? I can't.

The entire Hollywood experience, while very important, left him feeling empty. You can tell from talking with George it is important for him to contribute positively to society. It's funny because he is the opposite of his screenplays. I think this dichotomy is what gave him the courage to leave LA.

Now that he was free with money in the bank and no responsibilities he decided to venture into the "independent film" arena where he could produce films that had socially redeeming qualities. He ended up in Austin TX for a while; a hotbed for small film production. As he stated, "once his script was sold all he got was a chair on the set". Now he had a chance to do more. It was here in Texas George learned the fundamentals of film production that are used in KiteFlix today. In 2000 his family called and asked him to join them in Florida as they had relocated from NY. With the latest technology of DV Cams and PC based editing, there was no reason why the "independent filmmaker" couldn't work anywhere. So once again he pack his bags and moved. Good thing for us Kiters.

For a couple of years he experimented with his equipment. Never being part of the actual film production process George learned, like everything else, it is much more difficult than it looks. Practice, practice, practice. George's typical day would be a "dog" film at the each--the unpredictable of movements of Aiko help George hone his camera skills.


Aiko (I-ko) the KiteFlix mascot

The summer of 2002 it happened. He was panning around the beach with camera and there was a "surfer" over his head! There were two local riders on a downwinder: Andy DePhilippis and Bill Kraft. George used his entire tape on these guys as they went by. Immediately he went home and started to edit, adding music by Crystal Method and arranging the wicked air shots to the wicked sound--the very first KiteFlix video was born. While at the time he didn't know what "Kiteboarding" was but he did know immediately it was his calling. Prior to this George described himself as a "Filmmaker in search of a subject."

 

Bill Kraft & Andy DeFilippis

Enter the web. Like most people at the time, George dubbed the videos to VHS tapes so others could share in the fun. However this was very time consuming and costly so he decided to post them on the web to simplify distribution. The KiteFlix domain went live in August of 2002. This was the world's first site dedicated purely to Kitesurfing videos and remains so today.

While our discussions latest over 3 hours and George's passion for his work had shone the entire time it was clear that the "fuel" is feedback from viewers. He still recalls getting his first email from someone in the South Pacific in perfect detail. On a daily basis he gets messages like: "Last time I watched a video that got me so pumped up, I wound up spending 9 years in the army!" or "DUDE! Very cool site. Now I can show the guys at work what this sport is about. Needless to say you dropped some jaws" or "It's like watching The Terminator but it's all kiteboarding" or simply "Keep up the great work we all depend on you for the no wind days" There is no doubt that these letters are not only appreciated but keep KiteFlix going.

I asked George if he felt there was any distinction between his kite videos and the others available on the web, DVD or VHS. He was quick to point out that other videos on the market were excellent and he is a fan of many kiteboarding titles and filmmakers but his real role models are skiing, surfing and skateboarding directors like:

When pressed he said that, "If there is a difference it might be that KiteFlix is less about the tricks then it is about the ride." Day 1Each KiteFlix video is different and can range from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and they all seem to convey a mood and tell a "story" of sorts. We spoke at length about this. While most other videos focus on the hottest new riders and their moves, KiteFlix films mostly locals and friends. This choice of talent has brought its share of criticism from some industry insiders. George recalls more than one occasion where he's heard something like, "Your videos are great but you need to film better riders. Let me introduce you to...". In his typical laid-back style he just rolled with the punch and commented, "I am sure the top kiteboarders have enough cameras on them without me getting in the way and I do look forward to my chance to film them but people who make comments like that don't understand what interests me."

George says he is fortunate to have a talented pool of local riders to film in Florida but he chooses his subjects based more upon "their character and not their technical prowess." He also believes that every rider (unless they are total beginners) have their "moments" each time they are out on the water. His years developing stories for film taught him about these magic "moments" - if you can string enough of them together you will have a great film. I asked him, what makes a magic moment? "They are around us all the time if you open your eyes. In kiteboarding it might be when a guy finally lands a trick he'd been working on. Just because the trick might not have been executed well doesn't mean that he didn't feel the same exact exhilaration and rush as a top pro would have felt if it had been done perfectly. So cinematically the moment I look for in editing might not be the execution of the move but the expression on his face when he lands. An ear to ear grin is worth a thousand words. This is cinema at its purest form - life unrehearsed - real and in the moment. After so many years of sitting in a room typing up made up stories I cannot tell you how refreshing this is for me."

Hamish MacDonaldIt seems like the negative aspects of Hollywood and life has made a lasting impression on George. You can tell when you talk with him there is always a call for balance and positiveness. You don't have to be a Pro to be on KiteFlix and it's not about the tricks it's about the ride. So what is next for KiteFlix? He said enough people have been asking him to put out a DVD so there will be one coming. He claims to have enough footage for ten DVDs but he's been trying to avoid stringing together just a series of clips. "As a screenwriter at heart, I'm looking for the story, a hook or a through line to pull it all together. Maybe I'm over thinking it but that's just the way I am. But if people want to see my videos all they have to do is click on my website. I post new videos all the time. One very positive aspect I see about releasing a DVD is the quality. I spend a lot of time and effort getting the clearest and best shots I can and if people could enjoy them on a big screen at full quality, well, that would be pretty cool."

The time we spent with George Saunders wasn't what we expected. His passion for his work, his background, his loss and wins in life added up to be much much more than "a dude with a camera". The Warren Miller of Kiting has arrived.

- Chris Terry, Kite Florida

Chris Terry of Kite Florida filming in Miami




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