At the risk of preaching to the converted, it should go without saying that Mike Manzoori is a national treasure. As a skateboarder, Mike pioneered the now ubiquitous ATV meme long before it was a thing, ripping everything from vert to manual pads with equal skill, and has an impeccable pedigree stretching back into the distant past of the 1980's.
After stints riding for Powell Peralta, ATM Click, Adrenalin, Sheep Shoes and various other high-profile skateboard brands, Mike's other passion of film-making returned to the foreground with him moving into a role at long-time sponsor Sole-Technologies as their chief video maker and general Renaissance man.
Aside from his work at Sole Tech, Mike has been involved in filming and editing countless videos over the years, with everything from independent UK classics like his 1994 'Sound & Vision' piece, (which you can watch in full via that link), through to full-length BMX films under his belt.
We caught up with Mr Magoo to chat cameras, avoiding gimmicks, Chris Joslin's superhuman capabilities and fIREHOSE among other things, the results of which you will find below. Big thanks to Mike and all at Sole Tech for all their help in getting this together, and for their continued and unerring passion for skateboarding culture.
P.S. For those of you in the mood for a little historical recap of Mike's personal contribution to skateboarding, you can find a few choice bits and pieces dotted throughout. Set browsers to 'geek' and dive in.
Cover photo by Oliver Barton
Barney Page - Hippy jump. Photo courtesy of etnies
Photo: Sam McGuire
Mike Manzoori Interview - etnies Album
Even somebody as deep into this as yourself must still get butterflies before the first showing of a project that you’ve put so much time into. How was the LA premiere?
I still get very nervous at these things. Part of me wants to not show up but the rest of me is curious about how people will respond to it.
I only went to the LA and San Diego premieres and people seemed to like it.
No matter how well it goes I’m still a nervous wreck.
How long from start to finish has the process of making Album taken?
It’s been in the works for a few years. We could have probably wrapped it up sooner but there were a couple of injuries that riders had to deal with, (Matt Berger had two knee surgeries during the filming), and of course most of them are working on other videos simultaneously, so that means there are sometimes large gaps between filming with them. I was also producing a full length BMX video for etnies during the same period, so that slowed down both projects a little with me being spread so thin.
Do you know how many different countries you have visited along the way? Seems like there was a lot of traveling involved in this one…
We tried to tie in filming to anything we did with the brand over the last few years, as well as a few dedicated filming trips, so we managed to cover some ground. We hit a lot of the US cities, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, China, Spain, UK, Switzerland, Czech Rep., Austria, Germany, France, Croatia, Morocco and probably a few more. A lot of these were smaller missions with a few riders and others were more full on, with a van full of skaters.
I’m assuming that it was predominantly you and Ryan Sherman behind the camera but with the amount of riders and travel involved, did you get help from other people too?
Main camera ops aside from Sherman and myself were Jameson Decew, (the etnies TM) and Oli Buergin for Willow and Barney Page. Matt Berger’s friend Jordan Mayfield filmed a bunch of Matt’s part and of course a bunch of filmers contributed clips of the team.
The gear nerds will also be curious as to what camera set ups you used – are you allowed to tell us?
I don’t care, its no secret. We used Sony gear mostly for cameras - A7s, A7s2, A6500, an old FS700, Ronin – M gimbals and Phantom 4 for the birds-eye stuff.
I try to find a balance of highest quality with lightest and most portable gear. Aside from that we have footage from probably every camera in use right now from RED cams to iPhones, but mostly the smaller Sony gear.
Photo: Mike Manzoori
What about the first thing filmed for the project and the final piece of footage that made the cut?
Probably the oldest clips are some of Nick Garcia’s footage, and the last stuff that was shot might have been Trevor’s SS BS 180 that starts his part.
Despite repeated proclamations that the full-length skate video is a ‘dead medium’, full-length projects, (both brand affiliated and independent) are still very much alive. From the perspective of a film-maker – how does the process and enjoyment of putting together something like Album differ from making say a single person part, or an edit made specifically to go onto the web?
Its certainly a bit more special to be able to work on a full length video these days and everyone involved is aware of this, so there is a slightly different mindset going into it. It’s quite a privilege to get to travel to different cities and countries to go skating. Some of the younger riders had to get their head around the concept of holding onto footage and keeping it secret though because everything is about instant hype these days. After these last couple of giant projects I’m looking forward to some smaller shorter projects now.
Trevor McClung - Frontside lip, Indianapolis. Photo: Sam McGuire
For a project such as Album, do you begin with a cohesive idea? Or is it a case of collecting tricks and then formulating a concept as you progress?
From the start I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to convey because I have been with the brand for so long and knew what it needed in a video.
The main thing was for it to not feel like a gimmick that will look dated quickly.
I wanted to make something that feels timeless. I mainly tried to establish a filming style to follow early on in the project for myself, and the others involved in shooting, and let the skating be the focus. We put our budget towards travel mainly, and then the music. I think there’s a perception that etnies is this massive brand with tons of money but that’s just not true.
Sure, the brand has global reach but as with everyone these days in skateboarding, we are all trying to make the most of what we have, so I’d rather prioritize that the money be spent on getting good skating at new and unique spots and making good music: those are the most important components of the video. All the decoration in the world won’t make a skate video interesting if the action is dull, and new spots for the skaters to get hyped on is essential to that.
Photo: Sam McGuire
I guess with the musical aspect of this one being so crucial to the end product that you had a frame work to base parts around though?
A good skate video boils down to very simple formula of inspiring skating aligned well with good music. Improving the camera work and production value can only take it so far without good skating and good music.
Can you give us a little background on how the score came to be organized please? All the musicians involved in it have serious skateboarding pedigrees and it’s a very diverse mix – how did you go about orchestrating it?
I thought that by making a soundtrack I could help give the video an identity of its own because you can’t immediately place the music to anything else; compared to just using a mix of famous hits that already have a footprint so to speak. I also remember when I got into skating back in the mid 80s there was a sound that was associated with skate culture. Whether it was original soundtrack for old Powell videos, or a Santa Cruz video with bands like fIREHOSE that became synonymous with skate culture, skating had a very identifiable ‘sound’ back then.
Not that I was aiming to just revive the old 80’s sounds - I knew this had to be contemporary - but there was a part of me wanting to return to a by-skateboarders-for-skateboarders-vibe and also pay a little homage to the legacy of those old videos.
A huge influence on this decision was realizing that I actually know a lot of talented musicians who were making music that inspired me. So I decided that all the music was to be from musicians who are from skateboarding culture.
My good friend Noel Paris, who is a really talented musician, artist and skateboarder, happens to have has a sick little recording studio at his place called the Bionic Ear and was down to produce it so that’s where most of the tracks were recorded. The only tracks not to come out of Bionic Ear were the tracks by Atiba and one by Solar Sons, my friend’s band.
I was definitely hyped to see Mike Watt involved, given that Minutemen and fIREHOSE have contributed music to some of the most iconic videos ever – did you get to spend much time with him? Is he aware of how widely both ‘Paranoid Chant’ and ‘Brave Captain’ were circulated because of being on those videos?
I was especially hyped that Mike Watt was involved too. I met him a few years ago when I shot the video for Dinosuar Jr’s track “Over It". His band was also on the tour so we got him to cameo in a couple of scenes, which was fun.
He is so down to earth for someone of such legendary status and was totally down to be involved in this. I interviewed him about this project and asked about old skate videos with his music in them and his responses were so rad.
Totally saw the connection to skate culture back then and saw what skaters did as being real and no bullshit – kinda like his music scene – so he was aware but said he didn’t realize till much later the impact it had. He was on tour in Europe with J Mascis and the Fog, and skaters told him they got hyped on his music through watching VHS Santa Cruz skate videos on repeat. It was great to see how much he appreciated the two worlds overlapping and the mutual respect was genuine. When he came into the studio I was especially impressed with the level of care and attention he put in to making it the best he could.
Musicians like John Herndon and Mike Watt are so talented that they could have knocked out a couple of takes and dipped out. We would have probably been super hyped on just that, but when you see them striving to keep improving and perfecting it for the sake of our little skate video I couldn’t have been happier. They knew what we put into the video on our end and wanted to come through on their parts with the same level of integrity.
With so many artists involved, how did you go about allocating studio time and recording? Did the artists see the sections that they were scoring and work along with it? Or did people arrive with tunes ready?
It was a little difficult to juggle the scheduling of musicians, and so only a couple of tracks had several musicians jamming together. This meant that we had to work on several tracks simultaneously and layer them up with musicians separately or in smaller groups. The core musicians writing and recording the tracks were Noel Paris, Randy Randal, Leo Romero and Frank Velasquez.
Noel wrote the initial outline of most of the tracks based off of some direction I gave him, along with a rough cut of the skater’s parts. Then Randy and the others would layer different instruments and depending on the track needs, we would line up other guest musicians to roll in. It’s a lot to ask for them to show up and on the spot write and record something they are proud of so we tried to set it up where there was a lot of room to play around with ideas, record a lot of takes and edit it later, so that while in the studio they could try things freely.
I sat in on almost every session and gave fairly specific direction to begin with but mostly I relied on their talents as they are the musicians after all, and I was there to make sure they didn’t drift off on a tangent. Noel has a fantastic ear for writing and recording and is a great producer, so between him and the pool of talent, it knew like we were in safe hands.
Photo: Sam McGuire
It must be a different process in terms of editing when you’re working like this, rather than the more traditional method of working out a timeline and then trying to think of a pre-existing piece of music that fits, or working around suggestions from the skater. How did it affect the editing process for you?
Yeah it’s certainly a very different way to edit because you are building the sounds and the visuals at the same time. First they play to a rough cut, then by the time the next musician comes in for a session, I have tightened up the edit to the first take and that continues back and forth a few times, layering one and editing the other until they are intertwined as one. All of this takes a lot longer then just throwing the clips up to a track that exists.
For some parts like Chris Joslin’s I had a pretty specific way I wanted the part structured. So once Mario had laid the drums, Noel, Frank and I chipped away at that one the most. I lost count of how many sessions we did on just that part.
It’s obviously way longer than the other parts and required the music to take you on a little journey with lots of sub parts within. Frank was incredibly patient and just kept delivering creative options for us on the fly. All the musicians involved were great at that, but this part took lot of refining until we felt it did the skating justice. Frank is Noel’s cousin so they go way back and it was amazing watching them work so well together.
Obviously that roster of skater-connected musicians is justification alone, but was part of the idea forced upon you because of the situation as regards music rights these days?
Long gone are the days where skate videos just used tracks without getting permission, some people still do, but for years we have been licensing the music we use, and these days it can be a real pain and takes a lot of time and resources to get permission often with so many disappointments along the way.
Once you get permission it often comes with expiration date too, so you have to pay more to keep the licensing going. So it was a trade off. Instead of battling publishers and paying lots of money to people who don’t care about skateboarding or your project, I decided to put that budget in the hands of talented people who were really down to be a part of it. And then rather than spending countless hours emailing and calling labels and publishers I was able to use that time in the studio creating something unique.
Will there be a download/physical copy of the score available when the video is out?
The soundtrack will be available for free on etnies website.
Photo: Kyle Seidler
I’m surprised that more companies don’t adopt this route really as ‘bad’ free music has definitely had a detrimental effect on a fair few videos in the last few years.
I’ve actually created the soundtrack for a lot of smaller projects over the years before, just not on this scale. I made the tunes for ‘Rain or Shine’ and ‘Aimless’ myself on the computer, and on other projects I’ve worked with musicians directly, like last year when we did an etnies/Grizzly collab promo and Mario, Randy and Noel made the track for that. I really enjoy the process and love adding a layer of creativity to the project. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it when you find a track you are hyped on and align that to footage to make something new of it, but there’s something special when it’s made specifically for the video.
What is it that someone shouts when Trevor McClung switch flips the double set?
[Laughs], that’s Barney shouting, “You’re drinking a beer tonight!"
Trevor doesn’t drink, but I guess Barney decided he had to celebrate the trick going down. I’m pretty sure Trevor didn’t end up drinking a beer though.
He’s such a rad human who can party with everyone and have a good time all whilst staying sober. That’s very rare, at least in skateboarding.
There are so many spots in this video that seem new to my eyes which is great – how does that work – is it mainly the skaters themselves who find stuff, or do Ryan and you have scouts everywhere?
Several factors go into how we end up at all these great locations. First off Jameson, Sherman and myself would plan trips or filming missions and consider the riders and the types of spots/terrain in the area based off what we knew. Jameson would line up someone in each area who could show us around. These people are essential to making sure we make the most of our time in new cities or countries. Often they have a bunch of spots in mind for the skaters we have coming and will have photos of them, so before we leave to go skating each day there are spots lined up to check out. You never know until you get there if it’s going to work out and it often doesn’t for one reason or another, so sometimes we’ll end up checking a lot of spots in one day and just skating a few.
Team riders would also have input as they have a zillion spots in their phones or at least videos where they knew of spots from, so they will ask the tour guide for specifics. Aside from that there are all the random spots you see along the way as you pass by and get sparked. Huge thanks to all the tour guides in every city, they really save so much time and direct you to all the good stuff in town.
Photo: Sam McGuire
How does the work stream go when you’re working with guys like Sheckler, Joslin, Matt Berger, Barney and/or Ryan Lay who have tons of projects and responsibilities on the go at once? Did filming for Album mainly happen on group trips, or did each skater do things on their own?
It was a mix. The team are spread out geographically so travelling together to film is undoubtedly the best way to have everyone focus on the project and get sparked to rip because they are at new spots everyday. Riders who don’t live close to us had their filmers contribute a fair amount of footage and we would also visit them in their hometown so a mix of whatever it took to get it done. Locally we try to be available to everyone on a first-come-first-serve basis, and the proof is in the pudding, you can see who focused on filming with us more and who preferred to skate with their homies.
Aidan Campbell - Backlip, Barcelona. Photo: Sam McGuire
Was Aidan’s boardslide filmed at the same time as Sheckler’s ill-fated 5050 attempt for ETN? How’s Ryan doing now?
Yeah that went down the same day, it was fairly close to our footage deadline so we happened to have a lot of the team in town filming. We all went to watch Ryan grind it for ETN before going filming for the day. Aidan checks it out while Ryan is warming up but steps back so Ryan could do his thing, which didn’t go well as we know. So Ryan is taken to hospital and as everyone from ETN is packing up their cameras we start getting set up ours to film Aidan who was toying with the boardslide again. At one point Aidan says he’d rather come back when there wasn’t a bunch of people, I guess some people had been saying weird stuff, doubting that he could pull out at the end before the fence, so that was discouraging him. I told him, “no problem but with only a couple of weekends left to film and I’d hate for us to get kicked out if we came back", and reminded him that those guys had a permit for the spot that day, so now might be the right time. 15 minutes later he was riding away clean as a whistle. He took it as far as the ledge goes before hitting the dirt and fence and rode away perfectly.
Sheckler tore some stuff and cracked some bones in both ankles so he was out for a while but he’s recovering again fine I think.
When you’re filming with this amount of gear and with top tier pros for a project such as this one – are you getting permits to skate lots of spots, or is it still just a case of going skating and barging it in the main?
We occasionally get permits for projects but this one was just good old-fashioned skate video style barging in the main.
Talking of gear – one of the repeated comments I’ve heard and read online about the video is that, despite it being filmed in super high quality HD, and utilizing everything from drone shots to steady cam rigs, that the filming/editing is in no way intrusive/jarring, if that makes sense.
Did you strive to create a super high quality project whilst allowing the skating to talk for itself, rather than foregrounding the filming process as well?
I’m glad that was noticed. It’s important to me to find that balance of stepping up the production level to progress as a filmmaker but then to curb it from distracting the viewer from the skating. Having done this for a long time and being a bit of a camera nerd it’s easy to get carried away with my gadgets and toys trying to improve my film making skills, so I am constantly reminding myself to reel it back and let the subject be the focus. Maybe the lack of gimmicks is boring to some but I just didn’t want it to feel dated.
Photo: Mike Manzoori
There are definitely shots where drones are perfect – Joslin's frontside flip for example – but I guess the temptation to over-use that kind of technology can be hard to resist at times, right?
Exactly, you can kill a session by getting too bogged down with setting up crazy camera gear too. Folks just want to rip when they are sparked so part of it is keeping the vibe high and momentum going on the session. Certain skaters can appreciate the extra effort and have patience for it, but some just want to rip and get frustrated if I’m tinkering too much. Typically when filming I’m rushing to set up extra camera angles and shoot some B roll extras just in case and then only end up using a fraction of it. So I tend to over shoot a little, but I like having those choices in editing than to not have options.
Photo: Mike Manzoori
I’d be remiss here if I didn’t ask you a few questions specifically about Joslin – did you personally get to film a lot with him?
Yeah I was lucky to have filmed most of his part.
I genuinely thought that he might’ve brought the Pat Duffy curse on himself after the Plan B part, in so far as coming out so hard that he’d never be able to match that section, but I was wrong. Is he actually super human?
His skating really is next level. When he got on etnies right before the Plan B video dropped, he filmed a welcome to the team part in three weeks that was better than a lot of people’s video parts that take them years.
Since then, and during the filming of Album, he has put out so many gnarly video parts; Real Street parts, gnarly promos - that etnies/Grizzly collab promo last year he filmed in just two days! The only reason he didn’t do it in one day was because I’d have him do most tricks two or three times so I could try filming different ways. Its not his gnarliest part by any means and that wasn’t the vibe of the piece, but there’s some amazing skating in there. The line down Beverly stairs he did three times so I could get the stupid drone shot right!
During the few years we have been filming for Album there was only three or four times where I went skating with Chris and I came home without footage because he tried something that got the better of him. That’s a crazy ratio of success vs. failure missions. He always tries to make the most of his time (and mine) and to make sure to get some footage for something. Aside from being gifted at skating he is also a really nice human with a good heart, so it’s always a great experience filming with him and I look forward to it every time.
Chris Joslin - Frontside bigspin. Photo: Kyle Seidler
What’s his process when trying some of the stairs/gaps etc that he does? From Insta and the few interviews he has, it seems as if the guy basically either has no fear, or has complete faith in his abilities – is that the case?
He is very aware of what he is capable of and good at applying it to whatever situation you are in. The main problem he has is remembering all the tricks he can do. He can do so many that even he forgets what he’s got in his trick bag. Most skaters have a few go to tricks they can huck down stuff, but he has so much control over so many tricks that you can throw out all kinds of crazy ideas and if he’s feeling it, he will just do it. The giant double set in Vancouver was one I remember. He was throwing out trick ideas as he warmed up ollieing it and Sherman suggested he nollie flip it, which I have to say took us all by surprise as its not an obvious trick for such a beast double set, but a few tries later Chris is rolling away again perfectly.
Does he warm up for big stuff? That said, I’m not even sure how you’d warm up for a trick like the frontside flip or his ender…
He warms up a little, but typically gets right down to it once he is warmed up. He’s not going to waste energy ollieing a ton of times or kicking his board away; when he tries a trick he’s really trying to stick it every time, which means sometimes it’s a little wild but that’s part of why I like it. Between tries he often breaks down his analysis of what just went wrong, and what needs to change for it to work: his perception sometimes sounds like he’s in The Matrix and is able to see it in slow motion.
Have there ever been any occasions when you were out filming for this project where you’ve maybe questioned his judgment to try something? Does he ever get hurt?
I never question his judgment, it’s more the other way around. People suggest some crazy stuff for him to try but usually if he’s going for something I’m pretty sure he’s got a real good chance of getting it, and getting it quick.
He gets hurt just like everyone, I mean, you can’t jump such big gaps and not get some gnarly heel bruises or roll an ankle here and there but thankfully his consistency means he’s usually sticking it at least, which is less painful than just bug-splatting your body into the ground aimlessly.
Photo: Mike Manzoori
What about altercations with security/police during filming? Has skateboarding’s continued acceptance by wider culture taken the heat off a little bit in that respect?
You still get kicked out of everywhere, but worldwide people are less and less aggressive and hostile towards skating; it’s more like, “sorry guys you’ve gotta go" rather than tickets and handcuffs. The new generation of police and security often mention that they used to skate too, or at least seem to get it, because they probably grew up seeing it around more than the previous generation.
Also our crew isn’t a bunch of wild street kids, they play it smart usually because we know it’s better to not make enemies at spots and better to just sneak back and get the trick under the radar.
So now that Album is finished – what’s next on etnies agenda?
Chris Joslin has an etnies pro shoe about to drop so we’re working on a little promo for that.
What about for you personally Mike?
The last few years have been incredibly busy finishing two full-length videos for etnies (skate and BMX), and I have been putting off getting some work-related injuries on my foot, knee and right hand fixed until these projects were done, so I’m going see the doctor and get patched up and try to learn how to chill out again. It’s been really fun but completely exhausting.
Have you heard about the progress that Long Live Southbank have made on opening up the closed-off space at SB? I’m assuming that you’re keen for a ‘little banks’ session once it’s all sorted?
Yes, I hope to be visiting England soon and once I am back on my feet I look forward to seeing the rest of it back in action after all these years.
Anything else that you’d like to add?
Thanks Sidewalk for many years of support and love for me, and the skateboarding community, we all appreciate what you do. Also thanks for giving me space to talk about the Album video, which I suppose I should mention is available now on most digital platforms and even a few limited DVDs!
Ryan Lay - Nollie heelflip, Dallas. Photo: Sam McGuire
Check out our recent (ish) Mike Manzoori and Neil Chester interview about Mike's absolutely incredible 'Hating Life' section here for a brace of banging Wig Worland photos and the section itself courtesy of @scienceversuslife.
You should probably watch the whole of Hating Life too actually, so it's conveniently placed below.
Once you've done that, you really ought to peep Josh Hallett's Rehash VHS remix featuring all manner of Mike Manzoori footage culled from obscure and not so obscure releases from the VHS era.
If you're still hungry for more, (and let's face it, why wouldn't you be?) go for a poke around the Mike Manzoori tag and delve in further.