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ShopTalk: Interview With Cruiser, Filmmaker, Yacht Designer Tony Fleming

Tony Fleming has a lot to say about living a nautical life of adventure, and rightfully so. In the second part of his ShopTalk interview, get a closer look at what makes his film-making mind tick.
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Read Part one of Tony's interview in the ShopTalk section of PassageMaker's March 2016 Issue. 

Describe your love of being on the water?

What I like most is the freedom where one’s actions are mostly dictated by natural forces rather than a bunch of rules. Freedom is an over-used word, which many people take to mean that you are free to do anything you damn please. To my way of thinking, you cannot have freedom without its handmaiden, responsibility.

If you have freedom, you must also take responsibility along with it. But, for me, that is part of what I like about being out on the water. You are responsible for safety, judgment, fuel, water, food, weather, and indeed your very survival.

 Tony Fleming: Yachtsman, Designer, Filmmaker.

Tony Fleming: Yachtsman, Designer, Filmmaker.

What kindled your love of filmmaking?

As regards films, that is another long story. I have always been interested in taking photos from the days of the box Brownie when I was a kid. I have always taken photos but when I was in Hong Kong in the early 1970s, I found myself looking for another hobby.

I decided on movies because it still involved photography but added other elements, such as the manipulation of time plus story telling, titles, and music. There was no video in those days so it was film and I went with 16mm film even though it was expensive and I couldn’t afford to shoot much.

I had seen the usual amateur stuff and was determined to do a better job. I bought books and learned about editing. The latter was a nightmare back then, using scissors and glue and an edit once done using original film could not be undone. I learned through my mistakes and then had to stop when I went to Taiwan to build the Fleming, because I had no money and had to live off my savings for 18 months.

I got into it again several years later when people began to ask for videos of the boats. Fortunately this was at the start of the digital camera push and non-linear digital editing. The early systems were a nightmare, with computers crashing and destroying hours of work. I have always preferred to figure things out for myself and so I persevered and kept up with the technology as it progressed. I like the idea of doing everything myself and always prefer to work that way whenever possible.

I say I do everything from acquisition to exhibition. I shoot the video and follow the whole process up to designing and printing the labels on the DVDs. I write and record the narration, which involves research to find out the facts. I don’t perform the music but do select it from copyright-free sites. I find that telling the story is like assembling a mosaic from bits and pieces, which is a very time-consuming but an immensely rewarding process.

I try to push the envelope and incorporate a new technique with every new video. It is a continual learning process. The current tools and equipment we have at our disposal make this much easier than before and of course, as with everything, you learn by doing.

I consider myself very fortunate that my hobby dovetails neatly with the boats. I have an opportunity to go cruising and an outlet for my photos and videos which, in turn, support the marketing of the boats. I have interesting subjects to photograph and a purpose to taking those photos.

I can use the non-cruising months to build the videos and, at the same time, relive each trip and communicate with people we have met along the way.

Greatest innovation in the modern-day passagemaker?

I think the greatest invention to make any kind of boat is fiberglass. The mold-making process is demanding but simple and fairly low tech. A boat built of FRP requires much less maintenance.

Desert island reading?

If I had to have one book on a deserted island it would be a “How To” book, preferably something like, How to Build a Boat from Nothing. Or, perhaps, How to Survive by Eating Disgusting Things... (Editor’s note: Neither one being an actual book, unfortunately.) n