Franklin Stephens Footage Feast
This week's Footage Feast goes to Ipswich legend, street barbarian and section-producing machine Franklin Stephens. Part of the OG Unabomber team as well as a fleeting moment skating for Cliché, his prolific output in various scene, shop, tour and magazine videos has led to an incredible amount of footage being available for this one, all of it banging. Rumour has it that Stephens was part of the original tests by the British government to create a monster-legged 'super soldier' able to leap incredible distances, before a funding cut saw Thrasher swooping in to buy the research and use it to create Aaron 'Jaws' Homoki
Due to the sheer amount available we haven't included all of the edits where you can find Frank; but luckily if you want to explore further and watch, say, the Cliché Roast Beef tour, or Channel 4 skate tour documentary No War For Heavy Metal, it will take a mere click upon those words to take you there.
Otherwise, start clicking through to see Frank laying down some of the rawest street skating to come from these isles...
Above photo: Joel Peck
Rollersnakes - Video Log 6 (1995)
There can't have been many people throwing backside 360 kickflips down stairs anywhere in 1995, let alone in Ipswich, but Frank definitely was. While more of his footage from the same period has since surfaced it was this section, reprised from the Ipswich scene video Tough Guys, which gained him national attention - taking on stairs, rails and ledges with equal enjoyment and a natural feeling for the four wheeled plank under his feet.
Rollersnakes - Video Log 7 (1996)
Another year, another Video Log and another round of Franklin Stephens bangers - mute grabs and back 360s down stairs, seemingly unplanned technical lines and ragdoll-type slams.
271 Abingdon Road (Mid 90s)
Also taken from around the time of these two Video Log segments is this footage from Will Sansom's 271 Abingdon Road, which has already been ably described on this site in the past;
"Ripped straight from a VHS found at the bottom of a dusty set of draws in a Bath cellar comes the first of God knows how many random clips made up of footage from in and around Oxford (and pretty much everywhere else) in the late 1990s, with a heavy presence from Sidewalk affiliated humans both past and present."
The last part of three is pretty much entirely Frank vs a car park, along with a couple of outright hammers...
Playing Fields (1997)
Flowing lines, high stair count and a grind up a handrail - this section from the classic Playing Fields has all the right elements, set to a nostalgia-evoking Throwing Muses track and capturing the essence of Frank's determination and willingness to take a slam, particularly in the Canary Wharf backside flip roll away and the ensuing state of his back!
Unabomber - Unapromo (1998)
Backside ollieing his way down stairs and away from the clutches of the menacing security guards, our hero frontside half cab flips his escape off into the shadowy city...if Unapromo was a comic strip rather than a skate video, the line at 1:10 would definitely be the final page-worth of frames. The second half would act as a sequel, with the finale being the defeat of the ollie into bank and a ride off into glory. It isn't a comic strip though, so just press play and enjoy some street gnarliness.
Unabomber - Headcleaner (2001)
Once again Frank shows willing to throw tricks into the abyss with little thought for cartilage longevity, while also taking some creative street lines to car parks, benches and grim looking bank spots for Unabomber's classic Headcleaner.
Covert Media - First Broadcast (2001)
Frank torquing a full cab down London Bridge ten like some kind of urban helicopter propelled by the physics of shred is one of the many moments in his section for First Broadcast which demand a rewind. The inclusion in this version of Jimmy Boyes' mini section is the icing on a particularly gnarly cake.
Hoax - Before Capture (2003)
As on the previous page, here's two gnarlers for the price of one; this time courtesy of a shared section with Neil Smith in Hoax's Before Capture.
Sidewalk - In Motion (2004)
Two songs' worth of basically having a fight with skateboarding - just check the martial arts pose rolling away from the front board at 2:09, or witness the slams that went into his Southbank cab flip here. Absolute warrior!
Cliché Skateboards - Freedom Fries (2004)
Post-Headcleaner, Frank found himself briefly on the Cliché team - with a couple of tricks in Bon Appetit leading to his having a full part in Freedom Fries and putting together knee-crunching stair lines, while very possibly still wasted from the party last night...
Unabomber - Urbane Mob (2006)
In 2006 Unabomber released Urbane Mob with a reshuffled team including a newly returned Frank, who was back in the mix hitting everything from perfect marble plazas to tetanus-ridden poles and haggard walls.
Drug Store Skate Shop - Dreams that Money can Buy (2012)
Rain or shine, stairs or trees, skating goes down in Dreams that Money can Buy regardless of the variables!
"Drop hammers not bombs!" Mark Kendrick's psychedelia-infused ode to garage rock and skateboarding Shads includes a full Frank section made up of old and new footage, all of which is banging and which brings us nicely up to date with regards to this post. Let a selection of Frank Stephens' hammers captured in still form carry you to the end of this post, out the door and possibly onto a board and down some oversized stairs...
Cover Stories - Sidewalk Issue 200 May 2013
Sidewalk issue 74 : November 2002
Cover photo: http://www.wigworland.com/
So Franklin, this cover is nearly a decade old now – what was happening in your life in 2002?
- Well, if memory serves, that day I was having a great hair day. I can’t really remember.
What do you remember about shooting this with Wig?
- I always looked forward to working with Wig. I’d done this pop shove before, so I was just hoping I could harness some confidence from that. We went to a car park near by and I jumped a salt bin to warm up, then I had a go. To Wig’s and my surprise I landed it in five tries and we went for a pint and a curry… Hooray!
You grew up in Ipswich, which had a really strong scene back in the early 90’s. There were loads of good skaters, people were already making videos, you were travelling about etc – how come? Was there nothing else to do in Ipswich?
- Well Ipswich is much the same as anywhere else of equal size and wealth for stuff to do. When I first started there were a lot of skaters, but within two years most had given up and nobody was making videos until my generation. We started the video thing and as for travelling, London is an hour away, you could bunk a train to skate old Southbank and the rest. I always considered that travelling was big part of skateboarding.
What was your first picture that was published in a skate magazine? What about your favourite picture of yourself over the years?
- The first one was a video grab in the second Sidewalk of a backside 180 flip down Liverpool Street doubles. I really liked a photo Wig took of a frontside 180 over a salt bin around the same time as the pop shove cover. Kingy got some good ones. The 5050 on the red Biffa skip was good too! It’s always a lot of fun with Andy Horsley.
What’s your favourite Sidewalk cover and why?
- Harry at Broadmarsh banks from Issue 3 and Ali Boulala in the street pipe in Bristol from Issue 13: There are just so many great covers to pick from.
How early on in your skate life did sponsored skateboarding become a thing for you and how?
- I guess as a pup I didn’t think about it a whole lot, I wasn’t outstanding and all that belonged in America (1987). You needed to ride comps as well, the pro street skater was only just emerging: Hensley, Natas, Alex Moul, etc. It kind of happened for me because I got into filming skating, making videos for me and my mates, and these early films made it possible to get seen. As I got better it became a bit of a necessity to look for sponsorship as I was going through equipment at an expensive rate. Luckily Rude skate store owner Matt Kerr thought it was a good idea to hook me up a board a month when I was about 18 and it went on from there.
Myself and Rye worked it out and you, Joe Gavin and Baines have had the most video parts out of any UK skaters: how many sections have you had over the years and which ones evoke the best memories?
- I think it is 9 parts for general release and 7 parts for scene and shop releases. My last being Drugstore’s ‘Dreams That Money Can Buy’ by Lewis Ross and Sam Avery. UNAPROMO has a lot of good times and I think that comes across.
You’ve also filmed and edited a fair few videos over the years too – what do you like about that entire process?
- It is really good to work on a project with a group of friends, trying to get a mood across. It’s a rad experience to help people create something that represents them, and that they are proud of. Personally it is good to have control over that shit, as there are some editor/filmers who don’t realise that their role is to represent the rider.
Tell us a bit about Unabomber – yourself, Harry and Vaughan are in this issue and Man had an interview in 199 – what are your most cherished memories of that era?
- Hard to pin it down to one thing really, it was just a lot of fun driving around in the late nineties to see the team. Selling product to get to the next town/city. Breaking down in my shit cars and laughing at our predicament at the side of the road, knowing we were the Bomber, a team of mates and just stoked to be skating with each other.
Silvester told a story about you trying to switch backside flip Lloyds back in the day and slamming so hard that you ended up pissing blood – do you remember that?
- As for pissing blood I think I got very dehydrated and my piss looked like steaming cola! I don’t really try anything I don’t think I can land, I bail like a wuss but know that if I keep trying I will do it in the end, and slamming is just a part of skating.
The backside flip down the big gap during the Vans Warped Tour/ skate riot in Docklands in 97 still gets talked about to this day – right down to the clapping nun getting BGP’s in the sequence: what do you remember about that day and that session?
- I remember that the Vans thing was a joke. It was when Vans had lost the plot! And f*cking Reef were trying to put their hands on our skater holes so we all left. Danny did loads of stuff real quickly. I think Luke McKirdy spotted the up-off line first so all props go to him.
What happened between you leaving Bomber, joining Cliché and now – what have you been up to?
- Well, after Cliché I joined Bomber again. Rollersnakes had bought it and Rob Johnson (rad chap) asked Harry if he could run it. I wouldn’t have had anything to do with it if it were not for Harry being in charge. After it had been going rad for a good while and a sick team had come together, things started to f*ck up, trying to get us to sign non- negotiable contracts whilst someone kept knocking up pro boards with our names in huge letters so we laughed it off. Ever since I have been a member of the hobo society.
I’m sick of people asking me, “When’s the Playing Fields DVD coming out?" – so for my sake if nothing else – what’s the story there? What are you doing? And when’s the provisional release date?
- Well, I got hold of the master copy at the end of last year and I now have a nice digital shiny version. I am adding a couple of bits as extra chapters on the DVD and it should be out by the end of June/beginning of July.
You’ve done some seriously heavy shit over the years and have a back catalogue of banging video parts/interviews/photos but you never made any money at all out of skateboarding – what’s your take on that from today’s perspective?
- I enjoy trying to get a good photograph or line on video. It’s an extra dimension, something else to the whole experience. I’ve always been able to do most of the things I have wanted to do in my life. I like to think money hasn’t controlled my decisions. I never started skateboarding for money or fame.
If I were to ask you who had been the most important/ influential skaters for you personally over the last twenty years, who would you say and why?
- Personally Harry has always delighted me. He is not a role model but his take on skateboarding and life was always inspiring to me. Him, Mark Channer and Alex Moul showed me how to be a UK skateboarder.
What’s the pinnacle moment of UK skateboarding in your opinion?
- The pinnacle of UK skateboarding for me was last Tuesday when someone made me the best cup of tea I had ever had. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve had it yet.
You had a part in First Broadcast which is arguably the best independent UK video ever made – what do you remember about that process? That video was kind of Playing Fields but ten years later eh?
- I wouldn’t really compare the two films I have to say, but it was good to work with Chris Massey: I liked him and his filming. Adam Mondon did me proud and got some classic Ipswich spots covered and Dan Magee was an absolute gent.
There’s a story about you and Mouly skating in Ipswich years ago whilst Jeremy Fox watched from the sidelines as a kind of ‘audition’ – is there any truth to that and what do you remember?
- Very much true, Jeremy wanted to see what I could do so Alex and I skated some half wet benches in a churchyard whilst he sat and smoked on a gravestone. It all worked out in the end, we travelled about together and skated some parks, in the end neither of us were very impressed with each other and went our separate ways at Radlands, but at least I got to skate with Alex.
You’ve just recently joined John Cattle’s Wight Trash – what happened there and, are you stoked to be riding for the same team as Flynn, Nowik and Avi etc?
- Yeah I’m stoked, you know everyone is on it because of John and what he is about: he’s got the wight attitude, (laughing). He wants input from the riders because he cares about what it means to have a board out. John’s giving me a board and he really, really, really wants me to choose a shape and a graphic, this is a first!! I’ve had nine pro boards already; this will be the tenth.
I know that you’re pretty much disconnected from the Internet and the whole Social Media octopus so I’m interested to know what you see: what was the last skate video that you paid attention to?
- The last Death film was good, it’s a bit old but I really like the $lave film ‘Radio Television’ too, but really I am happy to just watch my old videos a lot of the time. The Internet is good for buying stuff but I am not that bothered with it. When I was a kid you weren’t considered a proper skateboarder if you didn’t know the latest shit. To keep up cost more money than I had as a kid so as an adult I am happy to say it doesn’t matter. Skateboarding is for doing ultimately: it’s not football.
Can you imagine a life without skateboarding Frank?
- Yes, and it’s weird and scary.
What do you think are the most important things that you’ve learned along the way with the 20 years of skateboarding passion?
- Bones Swiss with the shields off are the best. Travelling and new terrain are at the very core of skateboarding. Contrast bathing works really well.
- Big thanks to Evie Janssens and Molly Southgate for looking after me after my knee broke.
Ollie. Photo – Horse
Frontside smith grind, Ipswich
Photo: Joel Peck
Backside flip, Canary Wharf
Photo: Andy Horsley
Have you seen that tree? Valencia, 2005
Photo: Some twat
'Vague Idea' Unabomber ad (1998)