Photos by Rohum Pourtahmasbi and Isaac Boxall
Last weekend saw the culmination of three years’ blood, sweat and toil by Rohum Pourtamahsbi with the premiere of ‘Rolling: Without Footage It’s Fiction’ – an insight into the process of skateboard filmmaking and the lengths that filmers have to go to for their art. Focusing on the contrasts and similarities between making skate flicks in the UK and the US, the film features such camera-wielding luminaries as Isaac Wilkinson, Ty Evans, Henry Edward-Woods, Greg Hunt and Dan Magee.
Attempting to interview Rohum after the interview definitely highlighted the level of glamour which graces UK skateboarding as a whole; after getting the boot from House of Vans halfway through the first question, we headed to Southbank to continue the conversation only to find the Undercroft full of teenagers drinking and fighting in what seemed to be some kind of end of school year piss-up. Ending up in a quieter yet even more ammonia scented corner of the Southbank’s façade, Rohum decided to use the facilities just as an unsuspecting worker bought out the rubbish bags to put in the very corner where urine was flowing freely. Queue a hilariously awkward couple of minutes where Rohum is in far too full a flow to stop and apologising repeatedly whilst pissing, the guy with the bags is shooting amused/helpless looks from me to him and back and I’m in hysterics at the top of the alley.
Once this is out the way we sat down on suspiciously damp wooden pallets to talk about the project, how Instagram has changed consumption of skateboard media and the upcoming Death video amongst other things, all the while allowing the piss-reek of Saturday night London to seep into our pours. The life of a skateboard journalist is always intense…
So Rohum, what decided you on the idea of making a documentary film about skateboard videographers? How long has the project taken to come to fruition?
It’s taken two years to make. I guess the reason I wanted to make the film was that I was a filmmaker myself and also studying filmmaking at university. I realised that the reality and world of a filmmaker outside of skateboarding and the world of one in skateboarding are two completely different things. I don’t think people really take enough notice of how much work goes into skateboard filmmaking. When I narrowed it down…
Bouncer: You need to leave now.
I’m in the middle of an interview!
Bouncer: We’re closing.
Can we just finish this question before we go outside?
Bouncer: We’re closing, just go.
You guy’s fucking suck!
(Back on track in the piss alley)
Anyway, I was in my final year of uni tasked with making a short documentary. Up until then I’d been practising typical student narrative story telling. The thing that struck me with the documentary idea was that I could go back to skateboarding, which I hadn’t got to really do for two years. I decided to try and merge the two worlds, the one I was studying and the one I was actively involved in. I realised there was a whole story that wasn’t being told about skateboard filmmaking – obviously The Berrics have done short documentaries, Sidewalk has had features in the past. Growing up I’d always be interested in that and I wanted to incorporate Sidewalk’s idea of exposing the filmmaker role and The Berrics’ intimate, personality stories on a skateboarder.
I knew a lot of these guy’s personalities just from following them on social media purely out of interest, but there’s never been a film where it’s been covered as a whole. You’ve got guys like Ty (Evans) who are spending millions of dollars on equipment, but then you’ve got people like Jake Harris or Henry Edwards-Wood who are killing it here and they’re just using low budget cameras.
A quick break is had to watch Rohum’s mate drop in off a skinny ledge, off a drop and straight into a cobblestone splat.
There’s always been this separation between “Oh, this is what Ty Evans is doing, that’s how I want to do it" or “Henry’s doing the underground shit, I should be doing that", and for me it doesn’t fucking matter – if you enjoy a video, you enjoy a video, right? It doesn’t matter, Ty makes We Are Blood and the majority don’t like it, then Henry makes a really low budget video and everyone loves it!
And the dichotomy between US and UK filmmaking really came across in the video, did you have that planned from the beginning or did it come about naturally as the project progressed?
Yeah it was planned from the beginning – I had to show those two worlds because if I didn’t, it would feel one sided. And I didn’t want it to come across as showing independent videos as better, or commercial videos as better…it doesn’t matter. You can do the mainstream stuff, then as Magee pointed out in the video, that commercial stuff is needed to push the independent stuff and keep people wanting something different. I’ve always agreed with that statement, it’s something that’s unspoken.
When Fully Flared came out, I don’t think many would disagree that it’s one of the greatest skate films ever – just the way it was put together, the anticipation for the release, all of it. That was the first skate video I ever saw, so for me that was setting the standard. Then I saw Landscape’s Horizons straight after and was like, “How did I go from enjoying an hour long video that had a huge budget, slow mo, all that shit, to Horizons, which spoke to me in a completely different way?" It made me want to be a London skateboarder, you know? I want to copy that style, I want to skate like Jin Shimizu, that’s what that film did for me. It’s just relatable. Nowadays relatable skateboarding has become even more popular it seems. So those two worlds, they’ve both affected me in such a way, positively and in equal measure. I had to make my own experience clear on screen.
The video covers some vast ground with regards to who is interviewed - how hard was it to get hold of, and speak to the amount of people that you did?
You know what, it was and it wasn’t hard. Now with social media, it seems so easy…I Instagram messaged most of the guys and they pretty much all responded. I don’t know why [laughs], maybe just the idea for them was quite interesting. Ben at Sidewalk helped me a lot with the UK side of things, but for the US guys, direct messaging them and having them get back to me, it’s still unreal to me. You’ve seen the film now and their responses – it feels honest, perhaps I’ve managed to catch a side of them that people don’t often see.
And I guess no one has really touched this on such a scale before, which is going to catch their interest.
Break to watch mosher drop round 2, another bodyslam to cobbles…
I should be filming this really! Oh fuck, did I just knock that beer down? Sorry, did it get you? But yeah, I’m glad that no one has really - I talked about this with a few of the interview subjects and they all agreed that it hadn’t. To have an original idea in skateboarding now, it feels almost impossible. Obviously I took influence from Sidewalk and The Berrics, as well as a few documentaries, but I like to think I hit a certain area of that subject that hasn’t been touched.
You were saying before the video that this spiralled from a five minute uni project – was it tough to find the budget and the means to bring it up to this scale?
I’ve had nothing – a little bit of Indiegogo, just through friends, and family have helped out as much as they can. One thing I’ve noticed and learnt about making my first full length film is that your first length, no matter what, no matter who’s in it, is always going to be a test. There’s no bad blood in there either, I completely understand. It’s just approaching companies to help fund the film, it feels impossible. No matter who I spoke to, it never quite fit their vision. I can’t blame them, who am I to them? I’ll be the first to say it, it’s hard to trust someone who’s never made a full length film before. If I was in there position I’d have some concerns.
So it was hard to make it completely on my own…but I fucking did it, somehow. Oh my god! [At another mosher drop attempt]. And I’m proud that I did it. From a five minute to a full length, and I never wanted it to be that! Each interview came to two or three hours, there was over ten terabytes worth of footage, if I didn’t make a full length I would have been wasting it.
The three trailers for the video highlighted the lengths that skateboard filmers have to sometimes go through to get 'the shot' - what was the most surreal filming moment you witnessed during the project?
There were a lot of moments in the film where the story behind it is a lot more meaningful to me than to the viewer I guess. The most surreal moment…Yes! [The mosher drop is finally achieved to general hype from all nearby]. I think the most surreal moment for me was actually hanging out with Get Lesta. Ever since they’ve been on the scene I’ve been so stoked on them, it’s the epitome of skateboarding for me. The way Callun makes his films, the way the group hangs out with each other, it brings back a feeling that sometimes you don’t experience after so many years of skateboarding. When you’ve been in the same place and see people drift away, get other priorities, then to see them? They’re fucking killing it!
Last year Primitive teamed up with them, they made Get 420, that was my favourite video of last year! And to hang out with them, it was surreal. The last day of filming for Get 420 I told Cal, I need to be there. I went up, managed to get that fakie hardflip of James Bush’s and that moment it felt like the end of the film for me. We’ve got that sequence of Isaac and the premiere stuff, but for me the main core of Rolling, that particular day was it. We had so much fun! Big up Get Lesta.
Going a bit further north, how did Isaac Wilkinson end up narrating the video as well as being a subject?
That was so last minute dude! During the last month, I’d finished the film and I felt like there was still something missing. I really wasn’t piecing the film together for some reason. Anyway, me and Isaac got really close, when he bought out O-One-Fuckin’-Six-One I was hyped. He was doing HD but VX style, other than that me and him had really similar personalities. I went over for my birthday, helping him film his uni project, which is when I was like “Dude, you need to be in Rolling. There’s room for one more and that person is you." Because me and him, we’re in quite a similar position, we’re both quite new to the skateboarding world. I mean I didn’t want to be in my film, but I felt like Isaac had the closest personal experience to me at that point in time, so I wanted him to be the voice of this film.
He really set the story in motion, I feel like without him the film wouldn’t have the same impact. The moment I recorded him I was like yeah, that’s the film done now.
While the rise of Instagram has some people decrying full length videos as a thing of the past, it seems like more filmmakers are becoming ‘names’ as it were; people recognise a Greg Hunt project, a Jonny Wilson project, a Ty Evans project. Do you feel like filmmakers will, at some point, become as recognised as the people in front of the lens?
I really hope they do – I just want to know that these people get recognitionfor their work. I know people do know what goes on behind the scene and there are people who will respect that Greg Hunt has made X amount of videos or that Jonny Wilson has been killing it underground. I feel like people do see that and all I want to do with this video is push that even more.
When it comes to full lengths and filmers being recognised, full lengths are the way forward. To me, full lengths aren’t determined by the skateboarders. They’re not always going to know how their skateboarding should be represented – you might be into trap music, right, but does that mean you skate well to trap music? Let me think of an example…Trevor Colden, OK? Jason Hernandez put together this video part of his and he used really smooth soul music, it worked really well. Trevor Colden is quite into trap music and when you see that part next to another one, with smooth skateboarding set to trap music…no, man! I prefer the soul music, it flows with his style more and I couldn’t give a shit if he loves trap music [laughs]. It’s so crazy – Magee says it in the film, it’s crazy how much music and sound influences what you’re watching because it can make or break a part.
I follow a lot of young filmmakers now and I don’t judge them for it…I mean let’s face it, we’re out on skateboards to have fun and they are having fun with it. These guys are taking a camera out, having fun with their friends, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily make something memorable. These days it’s become so easy to make single parts rather than full length videos because it’s almost made to be throwaway.
You don’t have to think about the structure of the video as a whole, how different sections will fit together, how music choices interlink…there’s an element of structuring which is removed from the equation.
Exactly – Tony Hawk actually said it in the Nine Club Lakai Premiere episode – you can’t call it a video part if it’s not a part of something. That’s accurate! I feel like when the first single part was introduced, that changed skateboarding. Dylan Reider’s part, P-Rod’s part and Torey Pudwill’s part, they were pretty much the first three I think that went “OK – here’s the skateboarder, not the brand."
You automatically buy into a skateboarder’s fashion etc. because you love their skateboarding. The problem I have with all of these single sections and with social media clips is that it teaches young skaters that full lengths no longer matter. You can post shit up on Instagram every fucking day, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it. People will use and abuse social media to show off their skateboarding, but people like Heath Kirchart – he’s not on social media and everybody loves him!
A lengthy, drunken discussion on Instagram and the impact of social media on skate videos meanders through various other subjects, whilst the steaming urine puddles grow ever larger a few feet from where we sit.
Carrying on with the subject of skate footage mediums, how much online flack did you take for smashing that broken VX on film?
Oh my god dude, so much shit! I hope that when people watch the video they understand why I did it. I guess when you’ve watched the rest of the film then it comes across that what I’m saying is that the HD/VX argument doesn’t matter. I don’t have anything against the VX even though I prefer HD footage – I grew up watching VX videos and most of my favourite videos were shot on VX. When I got the amount of hate that I got for smashing it, I was honestly more hyped than bummed out because it proved my point! Smashing a VX and getting the reaction that I did shows that people care more about this fucking camera than the skateboarding that people are trying to record.
I understand that the way the tool is used creates a unique feel in a skate video, I have nothing against it, I just wanted to show people that it doesn’t matter what the fuck you’re using – the skateboarding is more important.
You've also been doing some filming for the upcoming Death video Into the Void, how's that coming along?
Yeah, I’ve been filming my friend Charlie Spelzini and Dave Allen. I started filming Charlie because he said he needed some clips for the video and I was coming to the end of this project. I always had this idea of creating a project which follows a narrative storyline, but is still a skate video. After a while shooting with Charlie, I spoke to Nick to see if he wanted to do this idea I had with Death because there wasn’t a company out there that I’d rather do it for. They’re coming up for, what, 20 years deep?
Growing up, Blueprint and Death were head to head for me. Seeing the way that Death are involved in the Hertfordshire scene, it’s really touching. So I started filming Charlie’s part, I sat down with Zorlac and pitched this idea and he was keen. To have Zorlac put that much trust in me, I couldn’t have asked for anything better!
So this is a Death project which will follow on from ‘Into the Void’?
Yeah, following Into the Void. It’s called Hand Me Downs and it’s about following skateboarding through the ages in terms of the way the skateboarding is done, but also how the skateboard filming is done. So you’ve got Super 8 cameras filming slalom or whatever, going on to bowl and vert skating in the 80s, VHS cameras - it will go through each decade on both sides of the lens focusing on how things progressed and changed going up until now, with RED Cameras etc. This film will show all of that, but through Death’s perspective from where it all started up until now. There will also be a focus on the ams. Death’s team is renowned, the OG team, but there are all these gnarly skaters on the am and flow team! It’s so sick that there’s that amount of skaters on the team, but they need more recognition for sure. I want to make sure that the next video is all about these guys.
Death, unlike everything else, has always been the same and stayed true to their vision of having fun and being quirky. While some brands try and adapt to the latest styles - and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that by the way – Death has always been the same. For me, that’s fucking sick. In a way I think Zorlac sometimes feels like he’s out of touch with the latest things…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! If that’s what you’re in to, run with it. When I spoke to Zorlac about the project he could tell that I wanted to show the true essence of the videos that we all grew up to love, I want it to feel fun. I want it to feel nostalgic, but also for skateboarders to watch it and then want to go out and skate. I want them to go out, have fun with their mates and I want the video to fuel that, which Death videos always have done in the past. I want to focus on every good aspect of a Death video and just exemplify it. Death has always been about a certain side of skateboarding and I want kids to have that alternative to the clean cut stuff. Death is always going to be there man, the one that brings you back to your roots!