‘I See Things No One Else Does’

Etienne Aurelius started making movies as a boy growing up on Kaua'i. Now, at 21, he's making films about athletes such as BJ Penn and Makua Rothman for hip sporting wear company RVCA. Coco Zickos photo

Etienne Aurelius has a gift. “I see things no one else does,” says the 21-year-old, who has already accomplished more than some people do in a lifetime.

He sat down with MidWeek Kaua’i while home for the holidays, taking a break from his job at sportswear company RVCA. The brand represents a mix of surfing, mixed martial arts, skateboarding, tattooing, art and music, and sponsors world-renowned artists and athletes such as fighter BJ Penn.

Serving as the company’s filmmaker and producer, Aurelius has been showcasing the brand for the past year.

“So much cool stuff goes on,” says Aurelius regarding his job. “There’s such a big following for this company.”

At 21, Aurelius has his dream job. Coco Zickos photos

He has filmed documentaries for the company with celebrities such as surfer Makua Rothman and tattoo artist Tim Hendricks of TV’s New York Ink. Most recently, Aurelius created a four-part series on Penn, including his last fight in Las Vegas.

“He is one of the best fighters in the entire world and the most-liked player ever,” says Aurelius. “Win, lose or draw, you’re going want to watch him fight.”

Aurelius was able to depict what kind of person Penn is even when he isn’t fighting.

“Everyone knows what the certain star or athlete does (in competition), but that’s a given,” says Aurelius. “But nobody knows about his lifestyle and who he is and what he does aside from all of that. And that’s what real fans actually want to see.”

He traveled with Penn from California to Penn’s hometown of Hilo, to Las Vegas.

“People don’t even understand the struggles and the sacrifice,” says Aurelius.

In every video, he captures that intimate portrayal of a celebrity in a style unlike others.

With mom Lani Petranek at Anahola beach

Rather than a typical narrative documentary, Aurelius films the star holding a conversation with someone else.

“Narrations are informational, to me, it’s just textbook and it’s not creative,” he says. “Conversations are kind of like acting in a way, but it’s real.”

The films also are made with a movie-style depth of field, so they are a cross between a reality series and a feature production. And his final product rarely requires much editing because Aurelius is able to visualize everything prior to filming.

“By the time I hit that computer, it’s already in order and I’ve already got everything I see,” he says. “So before I even get there, I have the whole thing in my head like a big storyboard. My filming edits itself.”

He didn’t always have such a clear mind-set, however.

Aurelius, who was born on Oahu but grew up in Anahola, got involved in what he calls the “party scene” as soon as he acquired his drivers license at 16. He managed to pull out of it a few years later.

With BJ Penn

“My mind just clicked one day,” he says.

At 19, he launched his company, Aurelius Films Hawai’i.

“I always told myself when I’m ready to do it, it’s just going to happen … it’s destiny,” he says of filmmaking.

Making movies was something he wanted to do at 4 years old.

“I’m so happy that he is fulfilling his dream,” says his mother, Leilani Petranek, who helped mentor him. She facilitated many opportunities for Aurelius and other keiki, one of them being a film school.

At RVCA headquarters

“I wanted to create a creative outlet for children on Kaua’i because they don’t have many opportunities,” says the author and filmmaker, who also teaches Hawaiian culture.

Motivated at such a young age, not only did Aurelius win a film festival at age 10 for his animated movie, Dragonzilla, he also became a competitive bodyboarder at 14 and was No. 2 in the state.

“He’s sensitive, but very, very focused,” says Petranek.

“I told myself I can do anything I want to,” he says.

Aurelius considers his surfing videos the first one recorded at 13 with his friend Tyler Newton his filmmaking “roots.”

Aurelius is both cinematographer and producer Photos from Etienne Aurelius

“That’s where I learned how to edit,” says Aurelius, whose craft is all self-taught, “because there’s so much action and it’s so fluid.”

It is the genre Aurelius gravitated to when he moved to Oahu shortly after launching his website and company.

Not long after his move, while filming surfers on the North Shore, Aurelius was introduced to individuals such as Danny Fuller and Rothman. And after approximately a year of making connections and perseverance, he received a contract from RVCA.

“Once I set my mind on a goal, I will not stop until I am there, no matter what,” says Aurelius, who was homeschooled and attended Kapa’a High School.

Now he mostly lives in California, where RVCA is headquartered, but he frequents the island to visit his family and friends and relax.

When he’s home, Aurelius likes to motivate others his age and encourage them to also strive for success.

“Kaua’i is a very good place to hone your skills,” he says. “You can learn how to do anything here. It’s a place to find out what you want to do it’s almost like a practice zone where no one notices or no one cares.”

At his mother’s house in Anahola Coco ZIckos photo

When he isn’t influencing others, Aurelius likes to hunt pigs, bodyboard and take photographs.

He idolizes directors such as George Lucas, but his ultimate favorite is Quentin Tarantino.

Eventually, he hopes to join the movie union, and he aspires to work for a television company and make music videos.

Visit his website at aureliusfilmshawaii.com.