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Tor Ström Interview

"Getting paid to play with your friends!"

Tor Ström aka Tao organically found his way into a career as a professional skateboard filmer mostly due to attending Bryggeriets Gymnasium in Sweden: with just the right group of friends and the introduction to Pontus Alv, who promptly put him in charge of filming for Polar full time. As the filming passion turned into profession, he has picked up analog photography as a hobby and spends a lot of time photographing on the side and making darkroom prints.

Good morning, Tao! So this is where you start your days, in the kitchen at the laptop?

Sort of. I had to book my flights to London!

Do you start the day watching skate clips or do you not even watch that many?

I don’t really watch skate clips, I mean, I guess I do sometimes.

Do you watch old stuff?

I’ve got a playlist I watch all the time. Mostly parts. Like this one: Chris Senn! I only watch old skate clips.

What’s wrong with new stuff?

So boring.

Anything recent that stands out?

I like John’s Vid.

Yeah, that one is sick. It’s got crew vibes. I guess it’s kinda like you and the people you film with.

With new clips, I usually just watch it if my friends are in it. Otherwise, I don’t really care. It’s a lot of shit, you gotta separate yourself. I don’t necessarily get inspired by watching skate videos, I’ll watch other stuff instead.

What kind of stuff?

Movies, nothing specific. Lots of how-to videos on YouTube about how to fix cameras or some random game show. Stupid stuff. I was browsing skate clips the other day and I was like, “Ah, it’s so boring.”

Do you think people think the same about your clips?

It’s the same, I guess.

You have one of the best crews though! Oski, Ville, Heitor, all of those guys are some of the most sought-after skaters these days! All those guys turned into something really special.

It’s just my friends I went to school with.

Do you think going to a school like Bryggeriets has anything to do with it? Does it actually help with your development as a skater?

It’s not necessarily the school, mostly the teachers and the community it’s built from. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the school.

Is that how you got into filming?

I was filming my friends before a little bit, I had just gotten a VX before I started school. We had our little crew we’d film with. I was more interested in learning how to make real movies and do short films. Actual movies. In my class, no one gave a shit about that, they just went to get an easy grade. So I just filmed skating instead. I went to class with Oski, and Pontus asked him who he was skating with, so he told him I was filming. Pontus told him to bring me one day, so he introduced me to him. I guess Pontus liked me, so he took me under his wing.

What was that conversation like when he basically told you that you could film full time for a living?

We never talked about it. He was like, “I can teach you and maybe in the future we can do something,” and then it just naturally happened. I moved into the office and he told me if I film for Polar, I can stay there for free, which was nice. I got to move away from home.

Are you involved with Last Resort too?

I film for it too, I guess, I help out. It’s under the same roof.

You’re basically freelance, that comes with challenges too, right?

I get a steady pay, but I live a little more expensive than I should.

Do you film for anything besides Polar? The other day you filmed and photographed something for Vans.

I film all my friends. If they work on another project, I give it to them and make extra money that way. I usually spend the Polar money, and everything else goes straight into tax.

Skateboarding is certainly not the best paid industry…

…but you also get paid to play around with your friends.

Very true!

Can’t complain.

"I’ve fucked up so many times, now I know what to do and what not to do."

TAO 43 FA Jonas Skroder by Tor Strom

Jonas Skrøder - Stalefish shot by Tao

You’ll head to Malmö later to film with Oski, what is he collecting footage for?

The Polar video.

He just released his new project, the trucks! How long has that been in the making?

Lurpiv! So long, maybe a year or two, but he has been talking about it for a long time. We were always laughing about it a little bit in the beginning. Now it’s fucking dope. He’s doing it with J Mag [John Magnusson], the Swedish Mark Gonzales, that’s so sick. He works for Bryggeriet and is one of the reasons Malmö’s skate scene is so big. [Jonathan] Lomar, who’s doing the Oski documentary, is doing all the video stuff.

Are you organized?

Depends on who you ask.

So if I ask you?

Fuck no! I think it’s crazy that it’s still working. No, honestly, in some parts I’m really organized, in other parts I’m not. I usually wing it, but I learn from all my mistakes. I’ve fucked up so many times, now I know what to do and what not to do. I’m less organized when I’m at home than when I am on a trip. When I go on a trip, I have to do everything. I book the trip, drive the van, get the house, and pay for everything.

So you’re basically a TM too.

On a trip, I guess I am. On trips, I get my shit together.

Hard job, being a TM.

It’s not easy, but it’s fun though. I travel with my best friends. Hardest part is to tell your friends, “Listen, we gotta get our shit together,” that’s a bit annoying. But, in the end, they all know me so well, they know I don’t like saying that, so they’ll be easy on me.

What about filming outside of skateboarding, are you still interested in that?

I am, but I don’t know who to do it with. I have so many ideas for short films. I come up with an idea and it’s really funny, I write it down, but it never really happens. Sometimes I get really inspired by watching movies, I write it down and then forget about it. I have a lot of friends who work in film, but it’s hard to go through with it.

Oski is quite the actor, judging by the Lurpiv commercial.

Actually, I’ve been talking about it with Lomar, he makes cool stuff. Every time we get drunk, we’re like, “We should do this, it’ll be funny.” One day!

You’re featured in the new Dorkzone clip.

I haven’t seen it. I cringe so hard watching stuff with myself in it. I don’t know if I’ll watch it.

Felix Adler Tor Strom DSC 7583 DF

Ville Wester - Gap 5-0

Do you go on SLAP often?

I look at SLAP forums more than I watch skate videos, to see what people’s opinions are. It’s so dumb because it’s only old, pissed-off skaters.

Your last clip, Until Then, what did people say about that?

I don’t know, let’s see… I guess they like it.

It looks pretty positive. The Sondre [Mortensen] slam was fucked!

It was fucking gnarly. He did it and then he wanted to do it again. The one he made was the one before the slam. He ollied it, landed it, did it. He thought he could go higher on the ollie. We were like, “Alright, you sure?” and he was like, “Yeah, yeah, I want to try a bigger ollie.” That slam happened right after, and we were like, “Fuck, he died!” It was so gnarly, me, Ville, and Nils were like, “Fuck, what’s going on?” He got a concussion from it and was feeling crazy for a week. That was fucking gnarly.

You uploaded that straight to your own Vimeo without really promoting it.

I’m really self-critical. When I did the “Polar Rico” video, I kind of freaked out because I felt so much pressure from it. I like the way it turned out, it was my first real thing for Polar. I stressed so much. This one, I wanted to be my own thing, without pressure, just have fun with it. I finished it the same day I posted it. Once I uploaded it I was like whatever happens, happens.

That clip was super dope!

I don’t get any views.

You did not advertise it.

The ones that know, they know.

You’re not insecure about the way things are filmed, it’s more about the final edit, right?

It’s the feeling of the clip. When you make a clip, it can be filmed shitty, but if it has a good feeling, then it’s more the vibe, the end product that matters. If the filming is good, of course it is going to be better. Some of my favorite clips are filmed on a shitty handy cam, but you get a good feeling from it, that’s what matters.

Did you show it to anyone before putting it out?

I showed the process to some people. Bits of it, never the whole thing. I just wanted to be done and put it out. I’m weird when I edit, too. There’s always a lot of pressure, but I like it. I’m doing the clips for my friends. If they’re stoked, I’m stoked. If it shows the good times we had, I’m happy.

Where did you find the music for that one?

This one is songs I always listen to. I love “Hüsker Dü,” the last band in the clip. It’s a song I listen to a lot. It’s called “Celebrated Summer.” I found an acoustic cover of it, so I put the two together. I like to mix the songs a little bit. A song has good parts and parts where it’s kind of shitty, so I try to cut out the shitty parts and only use the good parts. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I try to do that with all the music, it gets more unique. I think I cut into every song in this clip, everything is a shitty remix by me. It’s fun to do. The first song is 30 seconds of the chorus and the last ten seconds of the song. The other one is a Devo song I remixed. This clip is more my music I listen to compared to other clips I’ve done.

TAO 43 FA DSC 7370

Ludvig Håkansson - Heelflip Bodyvarial

What are you filming for right now?

We’re doing a full-length video, but I am not editing that, it’s Pontus. I’m just filming for that. I’m also doing a clip from a camping tour.

Did you plan that trip as well?

It was a nightmare to piece that thing together. It’s because I always do everything last minute and it comes back to bite me in the ass every time.

It always eventually works out, so you never really learn from it as well.

No, exactly, I always make it work. It’s fun.

How much time do you spend traveling usually?

Six months out of the year, I guess. More or less.

What are you filming with?

A camera!

A camera?

It’s an HPX170.

Industry standard, I guess. You gave one away the other day.

Oh yeah! I have like five of them. I really like the kids in Copenhagen, they have this crew called “Slappyknukle,” they started skating a lot of street. Some of them started attending Bryggeriets and borrowing their camera. It’s the same I have. They told me they borrowed the camera so much that people were starting to be bummed on them, so I told them to take one of mine. I had one where you need to duct-tape the battery in and I can’t use that, I need a fully functional camera, so it was just laying at home. I think what they are doing is really cool! So I wanted to hype them up, give them something! They’re like 16 and younger, proper shrimps.

Do you have secret settings you use for filming?

I use the settings that P-Stone gave me, don’t really want to change it. But color correction and stuff afterwards is more important.

But you got your personal approach for that.

That’s just something I figured out myself by experimenting.

Are you trying to be consistent with the look throughout your videos?

I usually take it clip by clip. If I find a look I like, I’ll try and stay with it. I feel like all my clips look different, but I liked the way the last one looked, so I’ve been trying to stick with that.

How do you feel about spots in Copenhagen, is it hard to find new stuff?

I was talking to Heitor about it the other day. There aren’t many spots you just go and skate, it’s always about filming a trick. We’ve been driving the car all around Sjælland lately to find spots. That’s been really nice, seeing other stuff than Copenhagen, going into the suburbs. There are so many spots in Copenhagen, good spots for sure, but a lot of blown out spots, too. It’s hard to find stuff no one really skated. Everything is so old in this city, all the spots have been there forever. You find something and then you talk to Anton [Juul] and he’s like, “Yeah, we used to skate there like ten years ago.” Sometimes I show him a clip and he’s like, “Damn, it’s sick you guys found that, we used to skate that back in the days.”

Where else could you see yourself live and film?

Paris! I don’t really care where I live as long as I’m around my friends. That’s the most important part for me. Now in Copenhagen, though, I’ve got such a good setup with the darkroom and everything. I really like it here. I don’t really see myself moving. When you travel so much, it’s nice to have a base where you can do all your other stuff, not just skating. I feel like I found it here. I love going other places, I could do half a year here or there.

Last winter, you put in some work in the darkroom and you made a zine that sold out pretty much immediately.

I think I have like four left. It was just a test, I eventually want to do a photobook. I got a photo show coming up as well.

If you weren’t filming, what would you be doing for a living?

I’d probably be a chef, I like cooking. Never really gave it too much of a thought, it all worked out so well. Maybe I’d work somewhere else in film, not in skateboarding.

You grew up racing motorcycles?

I did motocross for eight or nine years, but mostly for fun. I entered some races, but it was just for going fast on a track and hittin big jumps.

Do you still do that sometimes?

Last time I was in Portland, we skated at Mark Scott’s house and skated his bowl. He has a motocross track in his backyard. So I was like “Yo, can I try this?” and he was like, “Yeah sure, you know what you’re doing?” I was like, “Kinda.” He has this big jump, I did it first try. It was so fun, I forgot about how nice it was.

Besides filming, you also shoot a ton of photos, one of Jonas (Skrøder) is featured in this interview.

Photos are more for fun and memories, filming is my job, I guess. But I love filming. With photos, I don’t know that much about it still, I learn new stuff all the time. It’s really exciting, you can do so many things in the darkroom. It makes me want to try things, working with it physically. Filming is all on the computer and I am not a big fan of sitting in front of a screen. Doing prints by hand, doing it physically, is pretty magical! Every time you print something, it’s the same feeling, like trying a trick for hours and then you land it. It feels good!

So you’ll head back in there for projects in winter?

Every damn day! If I’m not traveling.

"I got it, I lit at least a thousand grills"

Did you ever get in trouble for filming?

I got arrested in New York, that was wack! Deep in Queens, Andrew [Wilson] found some rail, it was like a roll-on grind. He tried it and we got kicked out. The security guard came out and was kind of gnarly, so we decided to leave. Andrew really wanted to do it, so we were like, “Fuck it, we’ll do it tomorrow!” We go back and start trying. All of a sudden, five undercover cops pull up. They’re like, “Stop!” One of them looked like a security guard, so we were like, “Whatever, it’s fine.” Andrew keeps trying and they get really aggressive and one guy comes towards me and yells, “I’m undercover NYPD,” and I was like, “I don’t see a badge.” I slowly walk backwards and he yells, “He’s running, he’s running.” I’m like, “Dude, I’m not running, I don’t know who you are.” The other guy comes and they push me on the car, almost threw my camera down. He slams my head onto the car and puts me in handcuffs. Then he yells, “Where’s the weed, where’s the fucking weed.” I’m like, “Dude, I’ve got no fucking weed!” He’s like, “I know you guys got something, you’re reeking of weed.” They were so aggressive, just really harassing me. This lady walks past and is like, ”Yo, what are you guys doing, these are my friends,” but they detained us and I was shit scared. They took us to a basement of a police station. We were sure they’d beat us up. We asked them what we did wrong and they said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out.” They wrote down our IDs, the guy gets Roman’s passport, and he is like, “What fucking state is Paris in.” He gave us a ticket for $250 and court date. We asked if we could pay right away and just leave, but he was like, “No, you have to show up for court 23rd of December.” We told him we’d leave in a week, and he’s like, “Not my fucking problem, fucking figure it out."”

Did you show up for court?

No, still haven’t been back in New York. I don’t know what’s up with it, but I’ll see next time I’ll go there. But that was pretty much the gnarliest thing I ever got in while filming. Actually had a knife pulled on me too by a 16-year-old little kid for skating.

Your real name is Tor Ström, where does taousengrills come from?

We were out camping, kind of drunk, and trying to light the fire. I was like, “I got it, I lit at least a thousand grills,” that started to become a joke for a long time.