Recently, photographer and videographer Patrick O’Dell came to town to throw a photo show in NYC. The show was based around his first ever book, Big River, and showcased photos that cataloged his DIY journey down the Mississippi in a canoe with pals Heath Kirchart and Kynan Tait.
Interestingly enough, we simultaneously heard the news that VICE, the media company that gave birth to Epicly Later’d, was filing for bankruptcy. Naturally, we found ourselves slipping down the Epicly Later’d rabbit hole revisiting classics like Getting High w Pro Skater Antwuan Dixon and the Neckface episode.
Patrick carved out a lane that didn’t exist before in the early/pre-internet era, doing features on skateboarders and other elusive characters that were rarely seen in such a raw and honest light, and for that matter, some that were rarely documented on camera at all.
As big fans of all that Pat does, we couldn’t help ourselves but to nerd out and bug him about his approach during those golden years, in addition to what he’s been up to lately with his more recent adventures.
You just decided to go on a DIY adventure and canoe down the Mississippi river… Were there moments where you were really scared or thought you were gonna die?
Actually, on the first day we went to our canoes, I was with my dog and I didn’t know how the river locks worked. I went the wrong way almost to where you could get sucked in and killed [laughs]. I had to canoe back against the stream and somehow it started storming and there were these really big waves and my boat started to sink. It was filling with water, filling and filling… and filling.
Kynan [Tait] who was on the trip had a separate boat and I started throwing all my stuff to his boat and pailing out the water. I even threw my dog over to him. I was holding on to the side of the lock because it felt like my boat was about to sink, and that was really scary. Nothing like that happened again, but this was within a couple hours of starting day one.
There was another point where this barge was coming for us and Kynan couldn’t get the little motor on his boat to start and this barge was just bearing down on us slowly. If it hit us it would probably have killed us.
Oh god, like the classic action movie trope.
We finally got the motor to start and we whipped away from the barge. Preparing for a month or two months for a trip, and then just getting out there and immediately failing, it sucks. It was an ego blow, but maybe you need a good ego blow once in a while.
“It was an ego blow, but maybe you need a good ego blow once in a while.”
Heath Kirchart also went on the trip with you guys, right? What’s Heath like on a personal level?
He’s really funny and he loves a fucking challenge. The other day in New York, we went to the Empire State Building and it was gonna be the challenge of walking up the stairs of the Empire State Building, who could do it the fastest. But it turns out you can only walk up the building on certain days of the year. I was really disappointed that we couldn’t do it, but we might go back, we might fly to New York just to do it [laughs].
I’m trying to think of another example. Like on skate sessions, he gets a bet going on whether a person is gonna land a trick or not. We even went to a baseball game and it’s like he bets on the outcome of the game.
How many days total was the journey?
I don’t know exactly, but it was more than a month. It felt like Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. Going by raft felt like the appropriate way to do the Mississippi.
What was the trip dynamic like?
It was a funny dynamic because we were all having totally different trips with different goals. My goal was to go down the river and take pictures. Heath had an exercise-focused trip. He would be rowing really hard. I rowed occasionally but Heath did most of it. Kai just sat on his boat smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey while taking pictures and shooting film. He had his computer and all this stuff.
Did you notice any changes in your mentality or physicality after so many days?
Hmm.. No, I just got used to it, because every day we just had to problem solve. We might need gas or food and water or something. We would just wake up and go, because even if you didn’t paddle the boat, the river just flows.
I noticed that everyone on the trip had points where we were kind of over it. Heath at one point was like, “I’m going home, this sucks.” I felt that way at points too. Part of me felt bad because the trip was my idea. It was kind of not what people expected. It was not as fun as we thought at times.
Then I got back to Los Angeles and I’m sitting on the couch kind of depressed, like, “Aw, I miss adventuring, seeing new things, and hiking in towns and overcoming obstacles,” or whatever. I was just weirdly depressed. I didn’t find out until later that all three of us felt the same way when we got home. Now we’ve learned about how people who finally finish challenges like the Appalachian Trail get home and are suddenly depressed.
If there are skaters reading this thinking, “Why the fuck would I waste my time on a trip like this?” What would you respond with?
I think a lot of it is skate-adjacent.
With team sports, you go up and you strike out and your whole team’s bummed at you, but with skating no one’s bummed if you can’t kickflip. No one’s gonna give a shit, but that’s just the goal I’ve set for myself. You naturally just set these weird goals. Like with backpacking, I have this goal of hiking the Half Dome part of Yosemite and to me that’s like kickflipping up a curb.
I noticed there’s not a lot of skate footage of you online. Is there a reason for that? Would love to see you skate.
For a long time some people thought I didn’t skate, but I just never document myself skating. Sometimes I would think a trick I did would look sweet, and I looked at the clip, and it looked so lame and not how I imagined it in my head [laughs]. I think it’s because I get embarrassed by how I look on a board, and I just never I never put it up. Now I take pictures of my kids skating.
“VICE has all the original tapes. I don’t really need them for anything but I just don’t want them to end up in a landfill.”
We recently saw the rumors of VICE declaring bankruptcy. Where does this leave you and your series, Epicly Later’d?
I’m not sure… I was trying to email to get my tapes back. VICE has all the original tapes. I don’t really need them for anything but I just don’t want them to end up in a landfill. At one point there was an Epicly Later’d room in the office with a shoebox full of tapes. It would be really cool to have them. I don’t have all the episodes because I always assumed it’s going to end up on the internet and then they’re forever, but they kept chopping them up and making them shorter and disappearing. Our Arto Saari episode isn’t even online.
If we offered you $10,000 to restart Epicly Later’d for Jenkem, could you do it? Would you even be interested?
I would be interested, but the problem is I don’t think I can call it that anymore. I would have to have my lawyers talk to their lawyers.
When I started the show, I was worried about them firing me and replacing me with somebody else. It was stipulated in the contract that I can’t be fired from my own show.. And then I think they were worried about me taking the show to another outlet, like, Thrasher, so I feel like taking the show elsewhere might not be allowed.
When you started it, was there anything that you were inspired by or trying to emulate?
Yeah, Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends. I was on a trip in Europe or somewhere and I had BBC and I started watching Weird Weekends. This was the early 2000s or whenever it was new. There was a doomsday prepper episode, porn star episode…. Later there was the Memphis rappers episode.
Anyway, as they were coming out, I just thought, “This is what I want to do. I want to take a camera to skaters.” It’s funny because now some of those topics on the Weird Weekends all spun out into reality television. Shows like that became History Channel shows or A&E shows, but I feel like when Louis Theroux did it was really new and uncharted territory.
The early episodes of Epicly were a bit more gritty and intimate and DIY. I liked that. The later ones seemed much more polished and produced. Which style do you personally prefer?
At the time, I preferred the gritty. Now, as a viewer, I would rather watch the Heath Kirchart Epicly Later’d than the Dustin Dollin Epicly Later’d. Originally I remember thinking that our show was about holding the camera and going into someone’s living room, or going into somebody’s space and having an intimate conversation.
The first thing we filmed [for the TV version of the show] was Bam [Margera] in Barcelona. They had a producer with us, a sound person, a camera person and a person doing releases. I had never had that big of a crew. We would go to a spot and the release person would be like, “There’s all these people in the background. There’s a graffiti mural in the background. I don’t think you should film where you can see that.” Then we go somewhere and the sound person is like, “There’s a road here. It’s too loud. We can’t film.” You just find all these reasons why you couldn’t shoot somewhere, and then they were like, “How about we just go to the office?” So we shot Bam in this VICE office. But this show isn’t about shooting people at the Vice Office over and over.
The editing was also harder, because with the web you can make things as short or as long as you want. A show could be eight minutes long or two hours long. With television it would all have to be exactly 48 minutes or whatever. Each commercial had to be down to the second. Suddenly you’re dealing with editing constraints that are new, so that’s why to me some of the episodes feel too long and some feel too short.
“I did the intros because I was forced to.
They gave the show continuity but I hated it.”
Were you ever worried when you put your face out there as a host, like, “Hey, Im Patrick, this is episode whatever,” and being grilled?
I was worried in the beginning, but you just have to put the blinders on. I did the intros because I was forced to. They gave the show continuity but I hated it. I would get like $500 extra bucks to do an intro for Epicly for TV, and I was like, “Did they do that on purpose?” because they knew I was going to try and weasel out of it [laughs].
Did VICE give you a budget for the episodes when it started? How does it feel looking back on them now?
There was no budget, I just carried around my whole backpack with a camera and one Lav mic, and a shotgun mic and did my best, but that involves cutting corners and meeting somebody in an alleyway to get the interview or whatever. A lot of times that adds up to pretty poorly made content. It was also shot on 15 year old camera equipment. The day they came out I thought they were amazing, like we killed it. I haven’t watched them since then and I don’t want to go back and have that idea shattered. Some probably haven’t aged well.
“There was no budget, I just carried around my whole backpack with a camera and one Lav mic, and a shotgun mic and did my best.”
Do you think Epicly Later’d would be harder to do with the younger generation of skaters that seem less likely to put themselves out there carefree?
I don’t know. I wanted to adapt it [Epicly Later’d] to music back when we started, but I noticed no band or singer was going to be comfortable enough to bullshit on camera. Skaters didn’t fucking care. They just sit there and talk, whereas people in other genres, like artists or movie stars, wouldn’t work with you and are so guarded. Skaters just didn’t care, if anything they fed off saying shit. Jason Dill or someone like that can talk and talk and talk and not worry about it. Spanky or Jerry, you do interviews with them and they are totally comfortable, an open book.
What about Kader or Tyshawn?
They are sick but are also still pretty young, I always like to interview older subjects because they have more life experiences and perspective. Sometimes they can be less interesting because they just haven’t had the ups and downs of their career yet. When I interviewed Theotis [Beasley], it was too early. The better episodes have a beginning, middle and end of someone’s career, to have perspective.
I’ve interviewed people in the middle of their career, and those can kind of be these cautionary tales too. Like someone who was taking skating for granted or partying too hard while we were filming with them. There were a couple people I interviewed where I was like, “Holy shit, this persons in the window right now where they are taking everything for granted and someday will look back on this,” and maybe they made it or didn’t, but right then that person was a complete dipshit and did not value the place that they were at it their lives.
Can you give me a name? Who do you feel like was blowing it?
I don’t know… I don’t want to make fun of somebody. It’s all the same trajectory. It’s like an E True Hollywood Story. Sometimes you just see people in the circle of life where they are just blowing it and they don’t care, you know what I mean?
But, like, I look at my own career, and I really wasn’t appreciative of what I had when I had it.
Can you give an example of that?
Like when I worked for Thrasher, I lived in New York and I was drinking and doing drugs a lot. They weren’t paying me very much but I wasn’t hustling very hard. There would be like giant chunks of time where I would just like go out at night until six in the morning, sleep all day… there’s giant chunks of blackness. Getting calls from Burnett or Phelps and I wasn’t doing anything.
I think back and I’m like dude, quit drinking and go to LA. You just want to smack yourself, clean your lens, call up people, and go shoot some shit instead of being like, oh this is so hard, Im gonna get caught up in a scene.
I can’t say any specific decision was a bad one, It’s like everything, you gain maturity as you get older and you look back and wish you used your time differently.
With drinking and drugs, was it more experimental or recreational, or did it become more of a problem?
Well, you know, I had a problem… My main problem was alcohol. I don’t drink anymore.
I heard a rumor that Antwuan Dixon ended up getting mad back in the day because his episode was too revealing or something, that he thought it made him look bad?
I don’t think he cared about the episode while we were filming it but at the time I also don’t think he thought about how it could be received, like, that people could watch it and not think it was rad. I don’t think he was mad about what was in it, but the consequences, like people saying shit. Maybe he got too much pushback.
I think it’s rad, I think it helped him because it made him like a cult figure, like GG Allin, rules don’t apply to him. And there was a bunch of stuff we took out for him, there was like felony level shit, that I took out.
I feel like I did my best to tell the truth and they just didn’t like what they saw. I mean there are two sides to every story. We edited it fairly and used the stuff fairly. I don’t rewatch them but I stand by the show, like we never set out to intentionally make someone look bad.
There was a moment where he was apparently mad and was going to like punch me or something but I’ve seen him a few times since then and he didn’t punch me. We are cool and he actually talked about filming like a redemption episode.
“I feel like I did my best to tell the truth and they just didn’t like what they saw.”
Skaters are so good at pushing themselves in skating or finding the limits to partying, but they aren’t so good at pushing themselves in other more practical aspects of life, like understanding their taxes. Why do you think that is?
I guess because those things are not fun. There’s so much drug addiction in skating and skating is so much about today. You can set a little bit of goals but skaters kind of live in the moment and even if they set a goal, it’s a fun goal. Doing your taxes or doing math, I mean I don’t know it’s not in our DNA [laughs].
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