The OP might as well be asking, "what makes a great song?" or, "what makes a great photograh?"
In all art (and I do see film as art), there's the mechanics... the technical end... and there's the creative/expressive part. Art that's done well from a technical perspective can still fall flat in terms of creativity the ability to make the viewer feel something or take them somewhere; and visa versa. But that's not to say a film that's rough around the edges can't be good art... Taylor Steel's Focus is a good example. It was a totally new and creative approach to surf films, and even though it wasn't technically perfect, it really wow'd people at the time.
So I guess my answer would be that there are certain aspects that help a surf film be great... creativity, artistic flair, content, the technical stuff... and context - it has to have meaning in the time and place of the audience.
Punk rock and combo waves do it for me.. as sick as some of the airs guys do today are i cant stand watching a full movie of one trick waves.. i wana see a guy get shacked come out throw a full rail turn get back in the barrel and come flying out of it straight into an air.. its all about the flow
blows anything I have seen outa the water mate. Cool style, great landscapes, and awesome use of lighting.
That was awesome..
Despite that cool video, I'm surprised that the Northeast has so many advocates of surf porn. "Time and place of the audience" is a good way to put it, LB. For me, living an hour inland, my time dedicated to surfing involves so much more than just on-wave time. Machado in the drifter weirded me out too, but i can appreciate a bump in the road on your way to catching it good. Ripping a turn so hard it makes you unconsciously grunt really loud, or getting spit out when you thought there was no chance in hell you were going to make it is what keeps me coming back for more, but THE SEARCH is where most of my time is spent. There's so many factors that need to jive up for us to get great waves in the NE, and when it happens, a little background isn’t always a bad thing on a local video. Geography and bathymetry are what makes the good spots even hit, and the majority of vids out there don't even give you so much as a lineup shot, much less a zoomed out panaromic of the area.. of course, please zoom IN when you find interesting, umm.. subjects.. on the beach..
For me, I like to see videos where they show the guy paddling into the wave. Not sure why, but when the first part of a clip is the guy already on the wave it takes something away from it. Maybe cuz you can see the background and the swells rolling in and you can see the wave go from a bump to an actual breaking wave, but thats something i always notice when it is not there.
Also music. I thought the drifter had an unbelievable soundtrack. there were a couple songs that really stood out for me there. but music is all preference.
also i think id rather see a full session and not just kellys part or joels part etc. but i guess thats all based on what you are filming, whether its filming random surfers for a year straight or a surf trip. and to my next point, for a video i like seeing actual trips.