August 4, 2016/ / INTERVIEWS/ Comments: 10

photo: ying

photo: allen ying

When I first met Colin, he was filming with some kind of completely lame Sony Handycam. Not even a TRV-900, just straight dad cam status. Since then, he’s become both a keeper and a pioneer of the VX1000, and one of the most imaginative and invigorating skateboard filmmakers today. Colin’s proclivity for non-conformity, whether it be skating roofs or subway cars, or placing style and execution above gnarliness, may seem high-strung, but it’s not. The energy he brings to skateboarding is firmly rooted in fun. All the unusual, unexpected, and inspiring moments in his videos come from Colin’s unwavering desire to have and promote fun. And if fun is your endgame, skateboarding becomes simple, and dad cam footage becomes cool.

Right now you’re laid up on your couch with a walking cane because you were just in the hospital for a back procedure. What happened?
Well, there’s discs in between the vertebrae in your back and they’re supposed to be like little shock absorbers. But mine basically burst. If you look on an MRI, the other ones will be roundish shapes, while that one’s a black line. It bulges out into the nerves that run down my body, and that causes a lot of localized pain as well as muscle spasms. I’ve been dealing with this for three years and it’s been getting worse and worse, even though I’m doing everything. I’ve had epidural injections, trigger point injections, physical therapy twice a week, exercise, stretching, massage, accupuncture, accupressure.

Did all this stem from filming?
I have no idea. I’m sure part of it was filming and skating, and part of it is genetics.

If you have any leftover Percocet, are you gonna sell it?
No. I need it.

photo courtesy of colin read

photo courtesy of colin read

To take a step back, how did you get into filming and making videos in the first place?
I never wanted to be a filmer. I just ended up being the one with the camera. At one point I ended up getting really hurt and the only way I could keep hanging with my friends was to film until I got better, then that led to this.

Is your filmer name, “Mandible Claw” the name of a pro wrestler’s special move?
Yeah, Mankind.

Do you have a history of choke slamming people or being choke slammed?
I don’t think I’ve ever choke slammed anyone or been choke slammed. I’ve had a bouncer choke me out before. That was Daniel Kim’s fault for sneaking beers into the bar.

You’ve used animations and lo-fi special effects in all three of your videos, Mandible Claw, 561 to NYC, and Tengu. Why do you like these?
Because they’re funny to me. That’s it, really. I watched [Mandible Claw] recently and I couldn’t believe how bad all the effects were. I made almost all of them within Final Cut, which is insane looking back. I hope now mine are more refined.

Your filming style has also evolved. Tengu had more fast cuts to alternate angles of tricks, not nearly as much slow-mo as a lot of skate videos, and based on the Spirit Quest trailer, you’re even filming with two cameras at the same time. What’s influenced that evolution?
A lot of it’s just being trapped inside my own head. I haven’t been watching skate videos for the past while, just ‘cause I’m hyper focused on what we’re working on. I took a lot from nature documentaries. Trying to recreate the feeling they produce, like witnessing something out of the wild.

What’s important to you about establishing your own style as a filmer?
I think it’s important in whatever you do to find your own little way of doing it that can be yours, something you own and work on. Otherwise I don’t think it’s very fun. It’s like playing in a cover band versus writing your own music.

It does seem like there’s a standard style of filming a skate video.
There’s just a standard skate video, you know. There’s a couple different formulas people follow. I don’t want to fucking call people out, but I think skate videos for the most part right now are extremely boring. Some are really great and fun. Zach Chamberlain’s new video was really fun. I think people need to try to have more fun with what they make instead of sticking to what they think works. If I did stick with my formula for the last video, ‘cause that seemed to work, then it wouldn’t be any fun this time around because I’d be making the same thing. The only thing that’s fun is trying to do something different.

”I took a lot from nature documentaries. Trying to recreate the feeling they produce, like witnessing something out of the wild”

You moved to New York in 2010 and earned an MFA in creative writing from NYU. Did you initially want to pursue a writing career?
I’d still like to write. I haven’t in years. I’m pretty one track minded, so when I’m working on something it’s the only thing I can really think about, and that’s been these skate videos. But I’m retired as of now, so I’m gonna write again.

You’re retired from what?
From skateboard filmmaking.

‘Cause I’m happy with what we’ve just made, and I’d like to do something different. I’m sure in six months I’m gonna be losing my mind trying to make another video, but for now… Maybe this is what I’m telling myself because I physically can’t, with my health.

photo: mike heikkila

photo: mike heikkila

If you go back to writing, what are you going to write?
Erotic skate fiction? No, I don’t know. I think skateboarding is wholly incompatible with writing somehow. At least fiction. Whenever you see skating in a movie it comes out whack. If anybody tries to write about skating it ends up trying to describe skating to non-skaters, and that always falls flat, so I like to stay clear of the whole crossover.

Writing and filmmaking are two distinct media, but they’re both about telling a story to an audience. Is there anything from your writing interests that influences your filmmaking?
I don’t know if there’s much of a correlation, but the mindset definitely follows. Writing is about channelling a narrative, and I think filmmaking and even skate videos are the same. You should tell a story even if it’s not a narrative story and it’s not through words or skits. It should still get a story across to the viewer that has identifiable themes and a structure that you can feel, a beginning, middle, and end. The audience should grow.

You used to have two different web series, New York Clips for SLAP and MCVX for The Ride Channel. How did those come about?
After 561 to NYC came out the guy running SLAP hit me up. Those were all off cuts from Tengu, the video I was working on at the time, so that was a nice venue to get rid of stuff. When I got fired from SLAP, The Ride Channel wanted me to pick it up, which was really great ‘cause I was broke. That came at a perfect time. I did one season of that and it was too much of a hassle, so I let that end.

Why was it such a hassle?
It was a lot of hoops to jump through. The Ride Channel wanted permission slips from all the people in the videos and I had to get music rights and talk to artists and be a producer and all this stuff that I really wasn’t interested in. Also, I got really sick of skate media through those types of channels that were a constant onslaught on people. I didn’t want to be part of the problem anymore.

photo: heikkila

photo: mike heikkila

Did you make any money off either of those series?
A little bit. The SLAP ones were $100 or $200 a pop.

Do you ever want to earn a living from making skate videos?
Nah man, I’m retired. Retirement’s great. When I say I’m retired, I’d like to retire from filming skateboarding. I’d like to take all that time filming and spend it actually skateboarding. When and if I physically can again, ‘cause all I really want to do is skate.I’m sure I’m as soon as I’m physically able I’m gonna start another project, because I have so many ideas that are unfulfilled. I just can’t really do the whole fisheye filming thing anymore. But there’s a lot of other ways to make films.

Would you use drone cameras? You can just sit at home and film?
That’s the thing. There’s a lot of great VX filmers but there’s no like ace pilot drone filmer yet. Maybe that’ll be me. Maybe I’ll be the Red Baron of drone pilots.

Before you were retired, did you ever want to work as a company filmer?
I made promos and videos for companies that are my friends’, but ‘friends’ is the key word. I only really like working with companies by people that are already my friends, and people whose stuff I like in the first place. If it’s something I’m not really excited about I’d rather have nothing to do with it. Also, you can’t make money in skating. I did for a couple years, I did the web series and gave clips for other videos, standard skate filmer stuff, and it was just exhausting. I’ve really enjoyed working on my own stuff and doing exactly what I want to do, and not having to answer to anybody. I’ve been content just being a human being and making skate videos how I want to with my own money.

Instead of like a marketing plan run through your video?
Yeah. When giant companies make skate videos, they make them to sell products. They’re trying to seem cool, rather than doing something meaningful for skateboarding. For me, it comes down to having a creative vision and not letting anything get in the way of fulfilling it.

Spirit Quest, your new video, is coming out next month. Can you describe the quest?
It’s a safari. It’s a skate safari.

Will people get lost when they see it?
There’s a high chance of people getting lost inside this video.

What sort of animals are you going to bring to the premiere?
I was gonna say on the flyers that all animals are allowed since it’s a skate video made for animals, like the Metalocalypse show for sea animals, but I don’t think the theater will allow it.

But we could try, right?
I guess it’s worth a shot. If it’s a quiet type of reptile or something, it’ll probably be OK.

Like Tengu, Spirit Quest looks like it will be a really international video. Why is that important to you?
I love to travel, and skateboarding’s international. The people you meet are from all over the world and are all different types. Following everything else, they’re just my friends, so if I end up meeting some Japanese people here in New York, I’ll probably go to Japan to hang out with them. My dream was to go to Africa for the video, but I didn’t get to do it.

You also incorporate international skating differently than the way big company videos have filming trips simply to have footage at specific non-U.S. spots.
Oh yeah, other videos will have twenty minutes filmed in China but not a single Chinese skater. Where’s the Chinese skaters? I’m trying to see them. I bet there’s some fucked up good Chinese skaters.

What’s the sketchiest spot you skated while making Spirit Quest?
There’s a clip of Matt Town where we’re skating next to a projects building and a guy comes out and says, “I’m about to go upstairs but I’ll give you guys five minutes to skate.” Then we skate for about two or three minutes and the guy comes back with a baseball bat and says, “Alright, I was nice. Now it’s time to shed blood.” But Matt said, “No dude, one more try.” He tried one more and made it, then we ran.

photo: mike heikkila

photo: mike heikkila

Do DVD sales from your videos make you much money?
I don’t think I’ll ever make any sort of “in the green.” I’ll always be in the red. I can’t even begin to imagine how much money I’ve spent making this video. How many cameras and lenses I’ve bought, all the plane tickets I’ve bought, all the medical bills I’ve incurred, all the medical debt from those, all the physical therapy just to keep me to be able to keep filming. It adds up.

When the single person video parts premiering online were first becoming common, a lot of people thought that spelled the end of full-length videos. I think it’s fair to say that didn’t come true. Why do you think that is?
The same reason movies still exist even though there’s TV shows. They’re different entities altogether, a different art form. That being said, I pretty much hate the single part things. There’s exceptions, but for the most part they feel cheap and a lot of time seem like a waste of what could otherwise be a bigger, more memorable project. The content farm has got to keep churning, man. The wheel keeps spinning no matter what.

”I pretty much hate the single part things”

Over the past few years, skate video websites like Thrasher and Transworld started premiering a new independent video online nearly every week. Is this good for those filmmakers?
I think on a case by case basis it is, but the problem again is oversaturation. It’s awesome that so many people are making their own videos and have a bigger outlet in which they can show the world, but when they come at such frequency, each individual one tends to get lost. If Thrasher premieres a new full-length every week, then you don’t fucking remember the one from a month ago. Somebody put two years of their life into that, and it’s replaced by the next one. It’s a hard thing to figure out. I don’t think there is any good answer for the best way to make sure your stuff is seen and remembered. It’s good that there are outlets for non-industry skaters to have their stuff seen, but they can easily be taken advantage of and swept under the rug when the next video comes out.

Because those videos add to a website’s constant online stream of content, they’re also able to leverage that with their advertisers. Do you think the filmmakers get any money?
There’s no way. No. They’re not getting anything.

photo: heikkila

photo: mike heikkila

Why is it important to you to have a premiere in a theater instead of online?
The whole point of all of this is getting to watch the end result and celebrate it with my friends in person. That’s the whole point. I’ve talked about this with Josh [Stewart] and he’s said the same thing. The moment you live for is the premiere. Finally you see the result of all your efforts, and for this one my friends are coming from all over the world to see it.

Making skate videos is hard as shit. It takes your money, time, and even your health.
Which part of making videos makes you the happiest?

Fuck, retiring. It feels great. All the parts are rewarding. Filming when somebody finally lands something they’ve been working for, or editing and finding some great connection or some good parallel, or figuring out some effect that’s really funny. And of course the premiere. Enjoying it finally, then never watching it again.

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  1. dino coce

    October 24, 2016 8:23 pm

    Legenda.napravija premijeru u hrvatskoj skoro za 100 skejtera.prvu u europi.

  2. Mateoito

    December 12, 2016 7:58 pm

    SQ is hands down the best thing that happened to skateboarding in a long while! Had the same motivation to go riding like after watching label kills, sorry, tilt mode’s mandown as a teen…
    Thank you very much Colin!

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