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How to become a skateboard filmer – Robin Pailler

Posted in: Interviews

I shared more than one hotelroom or drink token, with this half British, half French gentleman. In times before the lockdown he was one of the persons I met the most, because I was constantly traveling and he was as well. So it happened that we ran into each other at a contest in Malmö, a week later at a shoe release in Paris and another week later at a production in Barcelona. Robin is not your typical skateboard filmer, since he has a more documentary approach – which we like a lot over here at Solo. And if you ever look for a buddy to go on a roadtrip from SF to LA, he might be a perfect choice as well.

Photos: Marcel Boer

How did you start with filming?

I guess I’ve been obsessed with cinema since I was a kid. I subscribed to movie magazines when I was young and would spend all my time reading about films. When I was twelve my Mum threw out all my magazines because films were all I was talking about and she kinda got worried. Later on I ended up going to university and graduating in film- and television-studies. Most of my friends from uni moved to London and did unpaid internships etc. but I couldn’t financially do that. So I just worked two years at Apple until I had a bit of a mental breakdown. Around that time I remember seeing Desillusion magazine were looking for bilingual interns and they’d just released the This is Dylan Rieder issue, which was a new approach in skateboarding at that time. I’m half French and always wanted to live in France, so I went for an interview and three months later I moved there and started a five month internship. It was unpaid and after five months I ran out of money. They then offered me a job so long as I had a drivers licence. So I went back to the UK, did a week’s intensive course, passed first time and then went to Sheffield and shot a piece on Jerome Campbell. That was my first video and a month later I went to New York to shoot Stefan Janoski with Pierre David. Not long after my boss Seb Zanella entrusted me to go to North Carolina to shoot Lost In Crookslation with Chet Childress. I remember feeling really nervous at the time as it was my first big project. Luckily Chet really gave me everything during those five days. He was so stoked that somebody would come to North Carolina to shoot a piece about him. I think that video really gave me the confidence to pursue filmmaking.

What advice would you give to people who want to go your way?

I’m not sure because so much has changed since I started in 2013. Instagram was still relatively new and not the networking/portfolio hub it is today. I guess I was lucky because I was working for a magazine that had sponsored projects with brands. Nowadays my advice would be to film your friends and practice your skills. There are so many good skateboarders everywhere, you can basically make a video in any city. You just need to be friends with the skaters. It’s all about the hustle. You’re gonna struggle at first. But here’s my advice. Find your niche. I could never be a fisheye filmer for example. Hence why my work always has a more documentary aesthetic. Don’t try to be something you’re not comfortable with.

"There’s been plenty of jobs where I’ve slept on someone’s floor, simply because there was no budget for hotels."

Did you make some mistakes? Which ones are better avoided?

A lot of my mistakes were technical. I remember once I didn’t focus the eyepiece on my Super 8 camera correctly and as a result all the footage I shot was out of focus. So I guess first off, get to know your tools. Experiment with cameras and formats and figure out what works best for you. Another thing is social skills. Building relationships with the people you’re filming because skateboarders can be quite neurotic. Some people don’t want to be filmed whilst they're warming up, whereas others are like: “Are we filming or what?”.

Were there ever problems on the business side?

No, I was pretty lucky with that but I’d say, don’t undersell yourself! I think I probably still undersell myself. Sometimes I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I offer to do it for very little money. For a recent project I pitched my rates and even went a bit higher than usual and was told by the producer that I was the cheapest out of all the filmmakers he spoke to. So don’t be afraid to go high people.

You’re a freelancer. Would you recommend that?

That depends. Personally I like being freelance and the freedom it offers. But when it comes to skateboarding there’s only four or five top brands you can work for and everyone is competing for those budgets. So in that sense the struggle is real. It’s all about the hustle. It can also feel like a popularity contest at times which can be kinda demoralising. Like how many Instagram followers determines how good your skills are? I’m probably my own worst enemy in that I don’t engage in social media enough. But I also feel like if someone really values your work they’ll reach out to you, regardless of your social media status.

If you decide to be a filmer, travelling or moving to a bigger city is kind of necessary, right?

I guess moving to a bigger city will certainly help in terms of networking. Travelling’s a great part of the job and that’s what I love about it. You have to be prepared to be on the road and leave at any minute though. I remember Christmas 2018 getting a phone call asking if I want to go to Rio in a week. Those spontaneous moments are amazing. But the cons are you have to sacrifice a stable life, which can put a strain on certain relationships. You end up spending a lot of time alone and missing friends and family. Living out of the bag and sleeping on sofas can be tiring. There’s been plenty of jobs where I’ve slept on someone’s floor, simply because there was no budget for hotels.

You went to uni. Is that necessary or can you just go out and film?

That depends. It certainly helps but maybe isn’t as necessary as it once was. Not with regards to technical knowledge anyway. There’s a million tutorials online. You can just google everything now. I guess you just need to be hungry and not afraid to ask questions. Personally I loved uni as most of my studies revolved around film theory and critique and I just geeked out on that stuff.

Besides being a good filmer, what skills do you need?

Editing is a huge part. If you have great footage but don’t know how to edit it, it means nothing. Colour correction is something that I wish I learned sooner. Storytelling is also vital. Personality wise you have to be outgoing and you need to be prepared to sit in the gutter for three hours. Patience is key in the skate filming world. Oh and be humble.

Do certain projects require certain equipment?

No-one’s ever asked me about equipment before a job. Sometimes they have certain requirements in terms of what they want the piece to say but for the most part I guess people who work with me know my style and have never requested anything specific in that respect.

What’s your setup?

For Super8mm I shoot on a Canon 1014XL-S. For 16mm I have a Krasnogorsk K3, it’s a Russian camera with a super 16mm gate. I bought it off Sirus F Gahan actually. Big love Sirus! Digitally I’ve been using a Panasonic GH4 for years and recently upgraded to a GH5. It’s still a DSLR so it has its limitations compared to Sony FS models or R3D cameras, but for the size and weight it still produces amazing results.

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