If you didn’t shed a tear after watching the Ali Boulala Epicly Later’d episodes then you’re either a robot with no emotions or just an apathetic dick. It’s moving stuff, showing that a skater’s story can be about so much more than just skateboarding.
The mastermind behind the Epicly Later’d series is Patrick O’Dell, an unassuming guy who is inarguably one the best skate documentarians in the industry. He’s got a special talent for pulling out raw material from his subjects and showing them in a new light, which is why we were so excited to see him at the helm of the new doc about skateboarding’s greatest magazine, Big Brother.
With the recent release of Dumb on Hulu (skateboarding in 2017 is crazy, right?), we figured it’d be a good time to reach out to O’Dell to see what went into making the Big Brother doc, the impressive Epicly Later’d series, and to get some tips on investing and maintaining a future in skating.
I just typed in your name on Google and I came across this “Is Patrick O’Dell Gay Fan-art Contest?”
Oh yeah? [Laughs] I don’t remember…
Did people back in the day used to think you were gay?
I don’t know, uhh maybe? I don’t Google myself often enough to know, but I feel like this guy Thomas Morton might have made that. He worked with me at Vice and he does TV shows now. He sat kinda behind me and he was really into doing stuff like that.
In full Big Brother fashion, are you indeed gay?
No. I’m married. Well, that doesn’t prove anything. Yeah, I dunno [laughs].
Are you pissed that Reda scooped the Brian Anderson episode from you for Vice?
When we did the Brian Anderson [Epicly Later’d] episode, that was something that was discussed off-camera and he wasn’t ready to do it at that point. I did tell him, “If you ever wanna do it, we could…” ya know? But of course, I didn’t pester him once a year to do it [laughs]. Then I was working on the Big Brother project and then Reda did [the doc]. Of course with all the different stories in skating, I don’t own them and there’s more than enough room for other people to tell stories and make documentaries and do whatever.
Do you think it’s funny or surprising that in 2017 there’s a video about homosexuality in skating?
Yeah, it was kinda funny. Not anything against the doc itself, but I don’t think that skateboarding needs to pat itself on the back too much for its acceptance of homosexuality. I would say skating has been behind on that one, even compared to mainstream culture.
There’s a part of me that’s always been surprised by how conservative skating can be. It’s weird, it was born out of punk, but just in my experience, I’ve found that my friends outside of skating were more open minded and less worried about that kind of stuff than my friends in skating. I feel like, especially in the ’90s if you’re into different shit or if you’re not wearing the skateboard uniform, you can run into a lot of resistance. There have been times that I’ve had to change my interests or pretend I like different music or whatever just for the benefit of trying to be a sort of mainstream skateboard person.
When I lived in San Francisco, I used to go to San Francisco Art Institute, so I had a lot of friends that were gay. At the time in SF, the skate world was much more conservative and jocky than other worlds like the art community.
I was like 18 when I saw Chris Johanson, who did all the art for Anti-Hero. I looked up to him as an artist, but also kind of as a skater. Like, “Oh that dude’s sick, he’s down with Julien [Stranger] and shit.” His band played at the Art Institute and he played with somebody that was transgender I think, and I thought, “Wow that’s kinda crazy, that dude can get away with being into art and stuff that’s not quite so conservative and also be down with people like Julien or whoever.” He could bridge those two worlds.
You just directed the new documentary on Big Brother. Were you a fan of it growing up?
Oh, no I loved it. I always liked reading, and I was probably like 15 or 16 years old when Big Brother started. I grew up reading Thrasher and Transworld. Transworld had the really great photography, and Thrasher had all of the cool people in it, but Big Brother was the first skateboarding writing I read that felt like a novel.
You know when you’re a kid and you read Tom Sawyer, or even On The Road or some adventure novel? I remember that’s what I responded to with Big Brother’s tour formula, and related to the adventure of it. That was the first time I fell in love with the adventure of skating.
I think before that, skating was something I did in my neighborhood but after that, it was like, “I think I wanna go out and have a skateboarding adventure also.” Not just downtown, but traveling across the country.
Also, the way they told the story of the skaters, they kind of documented their lives aside from skating. I don’t think the other magazines were really doing anything like that, as far as I saw. The writing was definitely something that influenced me and carried me into Epicly Later’d as, “I’m gonna also tell those stories in skating.”
Why is the documentary on Hulu? Did they approach you or did you approach them?
They approached me. Hulu wanted to do something on it. They asked Jeff Tremaine and he was like, “Well I’m a subject, not the director,” and it had to be third party’d out a little bit. I was brought in by Jeff to sort of referee the thing.
Did you guys ever think that the Big Brother audience might be too small for a mainstream platform like Hulu?
The fact that it spawned Jackass, there’s a sort of Venn diagram that joins Jackass fans and skateboarders, which combined would be a big audience. I’ve always found with [Epicly Later’d], I’ve seen ridiculous views on some of the episodes wondering “Who are these people?” I’ve gotten feedback from people that don’t skate or have barely ever [skated] and are only peripherally interested in it. I’ll meet somebody and think, “That’s so weird that guy watched the show,” because he doesn’t skate or have any background in it. He’s just some guy, like a 50-year-old German dude in cargo shorts and he’s like, “Oh, I’ve watched your show.” But I’m like that too, where I watch “30 for 30” episodes about players in sports that I don’t care about.
Was there anything that didn’t make it that you could talk about with us?
There was this good section about the washed-up skaters article. It was just people talking about the article and how mad they were that their names were listed.
They put Tony Hawk on the list, so it was kind of a joke. But Tony was bummed and Mike Vallely was bummed, and I think the writers were just sitting around laughing, like, “Let’s put this one on the list,” almost not thinking.
Earl Parker [writer for Big Brother] said to me, “I didn’t know that the people around you were the audience of the magazine. I thought the magazine was for fans of skating and people out in America somewhere. I didn’t think it was for the people in the industry.” He’d get beat up and people hated him and would get mad at him for stuff he wrote and in his head he was like, “This isn’t for you to read, why are you even reading this, it’s for skate fans…”
How was it interviewing Steve Rocco [Big Brother‘s publisher] for the documentary?
It was funny because he’s so argumentative. He’s one of those people that you interview and then he constantly tells you your questions are stupid or you have the facts wrong. There were a couple of times we’d ask a question and he’d tell us our facts were wrong, and we had been doing this documentary for months, so I was pretty sure we had things straight, but I like that style. He’s a provocateur in the magazine and the board graphics and everything he did, including just sitting there and talking to him. He almost gets you riled up a little bit.
How was his house? Was it a mansion?
No, it was really expensive because it was in Malibu, but it wasn’t a mansion. It was like a surf house. He has all these surfboards and he’s really into surfing. The property value has got to be gnarly being in Malibu. It was within walking distance to the beach. I can’t imagine you would know just by looking at his place and at him that he’s one of the biggest dudes in skate history.
I think he did everything he wanted to do in skating and then happily moved on. He sold his brand and people say, “Oh, he must be so rich.” I don’t know how much he sold World [Industries] for, but it seems like you could blow through that. There are people that did a lot of cool stuff back then that don’t have any money now. He went on to do — I believe — real estate, and investing in other companies that have nothing to do with skating that continued to do well for him.
Do you invest? What do you like to spend most of you disposable income on?
I’ve been buying a lot of art lately, which I probably need to slow down on. Whatever check I get, I keep spending it on whatever art piece I can find. If I can find a bargain I will buy photography, drawings, or whatever. But everything else I put in an investment account with Vanguard.
I want to tell pros that they need to start doing that — a Traditional IRA. An IRA is an independent contractors version of a 401K. It’s tax sheltered until you’re 55, then you can take it out, so it’s like a savings account that is invested in like mutual funds, and you’re basically saving for retirement. You’re not supposed to touch it before that.
That’s why Heath [Kirchart] was able to retire. He put money into mutual funds — all of his money. When he retired, he had a couple mill there. He doesn’t buy clothes or cars or expensive stuff, he just put away all of his checks, because with mutual funds you can pick less risky investments. It’s not just like gambling on the stock market. You can be safe. I encourage all pros who are probably not reading this to get a mutual fund or an IRA.
Out of all the pros you’ve talked to and mentioned this to, what percent do you think have considered some sort of savings plan?
I don’t know man, I don’t think anyone is saving. I think most of them are like check to check. Heath, and this is all he’s interested in, is saving and investing. Spanky too, Spanky is a saver. That’s why when he kicked off of everything for a little while, he was still okay financially because he’s been saving his whole life.
Why do skateboarders like Morrissey so much?
I don’t know. I think he speaks to outcasts, he like an outsider, which is why maybe young skaters don’t like Morrissey because they’re not outcasts anymore. But I don’t think all skaters like Morrissey, there’s just as strong number of people that hate him, even in skating. But he does have a little skate cult.
You said you were bullied as a kid and sometimes you still are, what were you bullied for?
I don’t know, just being weird. Like sometimes, I get really excited about something. I feel like I get on the nerves of people. I get hyped. I was just like a target as a kid, because even if I moved, I’d go somewhere else and it would start up again… I think when you’re different, people just want to beat it out of you. It’s not until you get to college and other people are weird and you can explore it. It’s hard to figure out what’s weird about me that people wanted to pick on. I’m a real awkward person and not really very cool.
You’ve worked in skateboarding for a long time now, was there ever a point where you were kinda pretty burnt on it?
I got burnt at the end of Thrasher I was burnt because I was starting to go on trips that were really long that I didn’t necessarily feel excited about, like I wasn’t excited about skaters I was with or teams, and I just started to think like, “I don’t know if going on random road trips forever for Thrasher was what my path was.” I wasn’t necessarily burnt out on skating, I was just like I don’t wanna be camped out under an 11 stair with a fisheye and flashes and hope this dude lands a pop shove-it, so I don’t know if that was burnout or that I just needed a different avenue to tell stories.
What was the process like from the beginning to now in terms of your involvement with Epicly Later’d?
The first couple of episodes we had a cameraman. The initial couple was Bill Strobeck. I was supposed to be the host. I felt like the show wouldn’t have gotten made unless I just went a did it. It wasn’t a priority for Vice to schedule shoot days or schedule a crew, so I just took the camera and I would just go film it, almost out of necessity. If I waited for shoot days and a budget for a cameraman, it would have never have gotten made. So I would just go out and film tons of stuff and basically turn it in. I’d be like, “Make this into something cool.” But I like it better when there’s a crew, I think it comes out better.
Would you have a hand in the editing?
I didn’t edit it at all. There is a woman, named Lauren Cynamon, she was our editor, and she really shaped the look of the show. The editors get it to basically 75% there or more, and then I would start looking at it and be like, “We should cut or edit this.” I usually trust the editor. Especially now that show’s look is established, you can just trust the editor to get it close.
Would they pay you anything for filming an episode?
Yeah, I would get paid for the project when it came out, but I wouldn’t get paid per shoot day as a filmer. I get paid to be the producer, kind of. I would take a hit on filming days just because I just wanted these done. There was a point where I had to start looking at this thing as a hobby instead of a career in order to keep my sanity. I treated it as a calling or a body of work or a personal project. Sometimes the work is its own reward.
What were early budgets for the show?
I don’t remember. Most of the budget goes to editing. As far as my pay, $1,000 or something. Something that was whatever. I’ve always maintained other jobs. I’ve never had Epicly Later’d be my only job. Maybe for brief stretches between other things, but it’s never been like, “I’ll bank off of doing this,” which sometimes sucked. Other times, I’ve appreciated the freedom to do other stuff.
Is there anything you do before committing an episode of Epicly Later’d to someone?
Now I’m a little better at sussing things out early and creating an outline and then talking with the skater then making sure that they’re on board 100% before. I’ve had people be like, “I wanna do an episode” and I’ll be like, “You wanna talk about the time that you were homeless and on heroin?” and they say no, and then I’m like, “Well, I have an outline, and if you don’t wanna talk about that, then what do I say is the reason you left skating? Because I know the arc and if there’s a big chunk of it missing…” There have been a couple of times I walked away. Like, “You know what, I’m not doing an episode on that dude.” Am I just gonna have a bunch of lies in there? That’s not right.
Are there any tricks to video interviews and portraits you do to get people to open up?
I feel like eye contact is important and hopefully communicating to the people what you want. I think when I did my photography and also my show, whenever one of the skaters was uncomfortable I had to figure out a way to communicate that I have their best interest in mind, but also want to tell a story, and hopefully, those two things meet. So you’re constantly trying to navigate people’s comfort levels. That applies to a portrait as well. What story are you trying to tell and how can you get the subject to come on and ride with you?
How do you approach Epicly Later’d for TV vs online?
Well, it’s different with who we’re picking to do episodes on. We kind of had to think of it considering what would look good on tv, and what would be engaging and not just a skate story. With the web, you get more into the weeds of skate history and the little details of why someone got kicked off a team or something.
For television, we’re trying to tell some new stories. For instance, we’re doing one on Heath Kirchart, and I’m kind of just interested in the stories he has that I haven’t already told. Going “Why’d you quit Birdhouse to go on Alien?” might not be as interesting as, “Why did you bike across America?” That’s a move we’ve always done, but there was a time we would’ve got more into resolving the skate gossip.
Yeah, I agree.
It’s always worth it to try to experiment and do different things. I’m nervous about the Big Brother doc, and I’m nervous about the episodes going on TV. Its a risk that people might not like them or whatever, but you won’t know until you start working. I’ve always used skateboarding as an avenue to tell stories about people, to kind of psychoanalyze people. We’ve told the story of dudes quitting companies, let’s talk about some real life stuff.