Illustration by Emma Ulriksen for Village Psychic.
Death isn’t fair. It’s unfair that I had something else planned this week. I hadn’t expected to talk about Jake Phelps today, but it’s nearly impossible to consider myself a writer writing about skateboarding without doing so. As close to a figurehead for the subculture of skating that there is, Jake Phelps, for me, had codified into a self-erected rusty bronze statue of himself to…himself. His voice had become unmistakable and stale, unwavering in misdirected leadership qualities, inflexible for an editor-in-chief of skateboarding’s biggest magazine: facing forward, blinders on, dragging the past with him as fast as he could go down Dolores without giving a fuck. He glorified a lifestyle that could kill anybody.
His influence is undeniable and complicated. The same bravado that imbued Skate & Destroy into vast strands of modern skateboarding’s DNA perpetuated a boy’s club that is just beginning to crack. He’s been there every step of the way since I began skateboarding so it’d take a while to untwist the ways his influence is connected to my experience. His power as a human and openness as a flawed, stoked, troubled, original, uncompromising, full throttle individual offers something anyone can stand in awe of. I didn’t expect his death to feel so heavy for the state of skateboarding and I haven’t had enough time to process what it fully means for it; I didn’t expect his death at all.
Recently, I found myself hoping that the leadership at Thrasher would start giving some more control to their younger voices – or even recruit new ones – and I think they’re beginning to do that. It was refreshing, and Phelps’ legacy articles were beginning to find a balance with the slow march of change. It’s unfair that Jake Phelps isn’t here to be a part of that change. It’s unfair he died early with so many more unknowns to give.
RIP Jake Phelps.
Forwards, to this week’s clip:
There’s people who throw edits together, and there’s those who make skate clips. These visionary auteurs add to their oeuvre each time they release something. I wanted to start celebrating their contributions to skateboarding by interviewing some of my favorites. Incidentally, the same week I had the idea Johnny Wilson released one of his now few-n-far-between personal works. And it’s a doozy. I asked him a few questions about it and he responded at the airport. This is a case, of course, where images speak more than words but he shared his personal insight into what gets his clips going and I’m thankful to start this interview series with him!
Why and when did you start filming skateboarding?
I started filming when I was in 9th or 10th grade, but I didn’t even want to be a filmer or anything. My friend had a camera and didn’t really use it so I bought it or borrowed it from him and just started filming my friends for fun.
This one has a very apt name – “Skate clip.” Where’d that come from?
I hate putting a title on a video, I don’t know why. I’ve just been referring to this one has “a new clip I’m working on.” So when I went to post it I just put what it is, a skate clip.
What’s your mentality when making a skate clip? Do you have a plan or wait until footage accumulates and just do something with it?
I guess both. For this clip, I just had a good amount of footage and looked at it all together and thought “maybe I can make something with all this.” Then Nik was down to film some more for it. Also, for the past year or two I’ve been working for companies so I haven’t been able to make something of my own.
Do you utilize different filming approaches based on who’s skating?
Maybe a little bit. I try to have it always looks similar though. Or I’d like to think it looks similar.
What do you look for when watching a skate clip?
I look at everything: who made it, who’s in it, the music, where it’s filmed. Music is such a big thing, I have so much trouble with music.
What kind of trouble with music?
Finding the right song is very difficult. You don’t want to have the skaters be upset because they hate the song. It’s so much pressure because music can make or break a clip.
Do you watch skating on the internet? If so, what are some of your favorite clips and who’s making em?
My favorite clips always involve my friends. I like the FA/Hockey videos – their filmer Benny makes really cool videos. And 917 videos – those I like, obviously. Supreme videos I like too.
What I love about skate clips and the reason I have this blog is that I feel like individuals do a great job of representing their personal scenes and, by relation, the greater world. Sometimes this is deeper than people want to go about this stuff but, in this context, where do you see your place as a documenter of the culture and humanity around you?
I honestly don’t know. Like you said people don’t really think about it. Myself included. You’re right, though. I literally just see myself as documenting my friends.
How was the SOTY trip for Tyshawn Jones? How does filming for something like that differ than filming for, say, the Supreme video or a larger project versus your own clips.
The SOTY trip was crazy. So many people were on it – skaters and Tyshawn’s friends. It was a lot of fun but very hectic at times. A lot of Supreme guys were on it so it didn’t seem that different to me. Those kind of trips are fun because everyone is having fun, they don’t have the pressure of a big video on their mind.
Obviously, footage of Nik Stain is a treat. Where you aware you were accumulating what basically amounts to a full part?
At first I wasn’t aware. Then he was like “Let’s try and get more stuff and see what happens.” So when I realized that was going on, it was fun to work on it. It felt like a mini project, and Nik was down so that made it easier.
Can we expect anymore personal work from you soon?
Yes, I really hope so.