What It Takes to Ride the Big Waves: An Interview with Director Bruce Macdonald

{By Ellery Sadler}

I’ve never heard someone talk so calmly about shark attacks before.

Bruce Macdonald started out our conversation with the announcement that a young man, who was surfing not too far from Bruce’s house, had just had his leg bitten off by a shark. And he was glad that he was doing an interview with me instead of surfing that morning like he was planning too. And I was glad too.

I’m falling in love with South Africa. And surfing. (Or at least the idea of surfing.)

And when I saw The Perfect Wave, I fell in love a little bit more – with the incredible beauty of the shore and the soft accents of the people and the rhythm of the waters, South Africa holds an allure that’s hard to ignore. After I watched the film, I knew I needed to talk with the director and find out more about the man behind this movie.

The Perfect Wave interview

Me: How did you get started in film?

Bruce: A long time ago when I was 19, South Africa had conscription and I chose to go into the Navy. I loved surfing and thought that was a good choice. When they asked me what department I wanted to go to, I decided to go into the video department. And I fell in love with cameras and went to film school. I love image capturing and story telling.

Me: What was your first project?

Bruce: It was about Neil Young’s song Old Man, about the homeless and the affect of drugs and alcohol. It is a really powerful song.

Me: What’s your favorite part of being a director?

Bruce: Oh the whole package really. I love every aspect. The first step is giving input with the script and looking for locations and estimating cost and blocking the scenes. It starts with a lot research and planning and then going out to shoot. Sometimes it’s stressful. But stress is a good thing if you manage it well.

Me: What was the most challenging part about filming The Perfect Wave?

Bruce: Working with water. I’ve surfed since I was thirteen (and I’m still young in spirit) but water is always changing. It’s never the same. There are always safety issues and swells and changes in wind.

For the box jellyfish scene we shot in three different locations. A tiny bay, and then the part where he is actually stung was with underwater divers in a pool (we had to blackout the pool), and then part at a reef in Bali. You have to be smart, and have sense for how it all fits together.

Me: Wow, that does sound hard. I can’t imagine trying to visualize it all at once like that.

Bruce: Yeah, and sometimes you can’t go where you want to or get into the places you want to. So like in the bar scene in The Perfect Wave, it was supposed to be in Bali, but it was actually shot in Cape Town. The second before entering the bar, when Ian is crossing the street was a real street in Bali, but cutting to inside the bar was a place in Cape Town – 4 weeks later. It can be challenging, since you have to make sure everyone looks the same, wardrobe is the same, moods are the same.

Me: What impact do you hope The Perfect Wave has on people?

Bruce: When Ian stood before Jesus and saw all the people who never set foot in church – the heartbeat of the film is to touch those people. I’ve had so many emails and letters from people who say ‘I went and watched The Perfect Wave by mistake, and my life is changed forever.’ There was one drug addict who saw it and gave is life to Jesus in the theater right then and there. That is the kind of impact I hope it has.

Me: Where do you see the future of Christian film headed?

Bruce: A lot of people make movies to make money. And a lot of people exploit the church because it’s such a soft market. I think the next step is going to take brave people who make them for non-Christians, but with a strong message. So many go the safe route and make films that everyone knows the church will like. I think it’s time we find a way to step outside our comfort zones to speak to people outside of the flock.

Me: Yeah, I agree with you. A lot of times it seems like Christian film is not up to par with other independent films.

Bruce: Absolutely. Christian media needs to push production quality. Just because it’s Christian doesn’t mean it needs to be poor quality. 

Me: What’s your latest project?

Bruce: My latest is a business venture with Morgan Freeman. We’re making an animated feature film based on creating Africa’s first superhero. The guy who wrote the script for Tarzan and Hunchback of Notre Dam is writing this, so we’re pretty excited for it to come out.

And another one is called 7th Wave it’s a docu-feature about what it takes to ride the big waves. I want to find the heartbeat of these men who ride giants. We’re looking for financial backing on that and I think it is going to be incredible.

Me: Ok, this is one of my favorite questions – what is your favorite movie?

Bruce: Well, my family originated in Scotland and I love Braveheart. I’m always inspired by the courage of a great leader.

Me: What advice would you give someone interested in becoming part of the business?

Bruce: Watch as many movies as possible. And make relationships, and then keep them.

Me: What’s the next thing you’d like to cross off your bucket list?

Bruce: I’m being encouraged by my friends to start training to ride 40ft waves … I think I’d like to do that in the next couple years. I would like to make some more films, meaningful films, that inspire people to make good choices.


Media has a responsibility. Each of us has a purpose. I’ll follow where He leads.

You can connect & learn more about The Perfect Wave by checking out their Facebook page here.