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Inside the mind of Pontus Alv

When I contacted Pontus via Facetime he first showed me around the Polar headquarter. It’s gotten bigger than what it was, they now got two bunks, a shower and a kitchen to offer the teamriders a small place to sleep for their visits. I ask him if he occasionally slept here while editing the video but he denies. He lives just two minutes from the office and tries to keep a more natural rhythm this time. Office in the morning, home in the evening – even though he worked night and day for the last videos, just sleeping when his eyes kept on closing. His girlfriend disclosed to me that he got to know her during that period and told her their relationship would last forever if she could just get through that with him. This time it’s more of a structured daily routine, notwithstanding all the obligations besides the video. He actually can’t mellow out anyway, since there are iPhones, as he admits, and he wants to stay in touch with all of his teamriders. Starting with that topic the chit–chat turns to an actual interview on the first Polar video ”I like it here inside my mind, don’t wake me this time“.

Pontus No Comply180 Web

No Comply 180 vor der eigenen Haustür

Now that I have this infrastructure of logistics, distribution, sales, productions, my plan is to offer the riders to have their own thing in the future. It’s important to grow with your riders. I always see it as a platform. If Nils (Svensson) wants to make a book, we just put it in the system. We have all the channels ready. It helps people. You wanna do T-shirts? We can do it and the guys don’t have to go through this hell and find factories that won’t try to fuck them over, which lets them lose the inspiration of creating. I went through hell and I can help these guys now, so they can focus on creating. The Bloby’s dream about doing a brand but don’t know how to do it. When I started it was the same.

Inspiring others to inspire themselves – your maxim. Is it also the main theme behind the film?

Nowadays I don’t have that much time to do everything myself. I like to connect people and talk to them about ideas. I like to talk to the teamriders about tricks, it’s kinda that you direct all this people and plant all this seeds. I talked to Hjalte (Halberg) and said: „I think you should do a halfcab kickflip backside 50-50“. I don’t have the time to do it, but I wanna see it. Next thing you know, he sends me the footage. That’s sick. It’s a platform where people can feel free and feel that someone is guiding them. Especially with Kevin (Rodrigues). He was super good when he came to Polar, but he was still work in progress. Then you push him in certain ways and he gets inspired and pushes it in certain ways and is experimenting. He asks me: „What do you think about this outfit? What do you think about this trick?“ I always told him the early grabs he does are super sick and he pushed it to new levels. You try to be an engine for everyone. Like when Fabian (Fuchs) came here. He had a lot of skills and knowledge of making stuff, but then I showed him old animations. All the animations are from „Rhythmus 21“, a film by Hans Richter, he’s my god. He’s one of the pioneers of abstract films that solely communicate in a visual way. Of course there are a lot of original ideas, but we live in a time where everything has been done and you get inspired and take your own twist on it. Same with the music in the video. There is a lot of old music in it that has been used before.

"A full length is the master challenge for a company and also for the guys"

What do you like about those old skatevideos and the songs?

I felt the responsibility to pass that great videos, that great music, that changed my life to guys like Oski (Oskar Rozenberg) and David (Stenström). Dane’s (Brady) song is an old H-Street song and with his skating it is really touching. That’s the same way I was touched when I watched this videos aged ten. I thought, should that just rot, because of rules like it has been used or should we say, “Fuck it, it was 25 years ago”. I wanted to present the songs again with modern skating and pass the history on to new generations. I also wrote in the credits, watch this video or that video, because right now skateboarders are looking at all times of skating. Guys like Dane and Kevin are checking all the old videos and take inspiration from the past to mix it with new things. As a result you have early grabs to boardslides down rails.

Funny you mention that, ’cause I wrote in the editorial about the connection between the generations. What’s your take on that?

From the 80s to the early 2000s there were all these hidden rules. In the 90’s everybody had to have small wheels, do pressure flips and wear a certain uniform and so on. It was not about skating, it was about trends. And now the rules have been broken down. It’s okay to do whatever you want. That’s what skateboarding should be. Completely free expression. Nobody is gonna hate on you no matter what outfits you wear or tricks you do. Like it was in the early days of streetskating with Mark Gonzales and Jason Lee, they were experimenting with everything. Somehow somebody then decided we need to have rules, we need to have a structure. There was this obsessive thought about pushing skateboarding forward to the next level. Then we pushed it so far, it became so boring. Everything was about the craziest trick down the craziest rail. It had no soul, just trick machines. Then the soul came back. Of course there are trends, but skating now is more free than ever. You can go skate vert and afterwards skate a manny pad. I like that and that’s how I tried to have my team; to have it all. Cause I love skateboarding in all formats.

Skateboarding is post modern now – anything goes.

Yeah, like football. I like the total football. Before it was a structured way of football with a strict formation, but then it was like: “You think this guy’s in the back? Now he makes a goal. Boom!” They’re circulating everywhere. That’s more enjoyable for the viewers, because you don’t know what to expect anymore. You see a slappy and the next thing is a flip to slide. It’s all mixed, with total freedom of what setup you skate or how you dress. It’s the perfect time where everything clicked together. I also like to break down the rules of all that ABD stuff and bullshit like: “Oh, this song has been used” or “You cut of his head in this photo”. So what? The photo is sick anyway. It’s about energy rather than this whole structure of what is good and what’s bad. It’s just radical expression of a feeling, it communicates something.

Did you choose the title because of that? Because the time now is like a dream?

It’s from Brian Lotti’s part from the Planet Earth video Now ’N’Later. It’s a groundbreaking videopart, it still feels so modern. I liked the song as a kid. It charges and then switches to this more instrumental, kind of alternative rock thing. Kevin wanted to skate to a punk song but if it’s only punk I have a hard time working with it. That’s why I chose this song. For this video I really involved everyone and wanted everyone to be happy with their songs and their parts. Not like back in the days when you filmed a video part for two years and then you get the VHS tape in your mailbox. You film and send the footage and get the video back when it’s done. And then I skated to this shitty song I hated, The Distance by Cake. Till this day I’m bummed about it. I tried to learn from all my experiences as a teamrider, to avoid being that guy when I’m the boss. Just saying: “Fuck you, I do it way”.

"Aaron had two years of footage and we could only use three things out of it because of the framerate"

I remember interviewing Kevin a while ago and he was concerned about what footage he should send you, cause he thought, once you’ve got it, you might use it. Was he very picky?

Kevin already had a lot respect for my work before he came on Polar and for him it’s a big honor to be part of a film I made. Of course he put in everything he had and he wanted it to be perfect. Kevin thinks a lot, he’s an intense person. He’s really into one thing, like slappys or one dressing style and three months later it’s a new thing and the other things feel outdated to him. He finished his Polar part, then he shaved his head and changed his style of skating. Filming a full length video shows a progression. You see Oski growing up in this film. When we started filming, he was 30 centimeters shorter. It tells a story and gives the video more depth.

How does the video differ from your other videos?

It’s the same thing, just trying to do my thing better and better. The level of the skating is higher than usually, cause I had so much footage to select from. I was able to be more picky. I don’t want to mention names but there were some guys who had a lot of footage, but a lot of it wasn’t very interesting and I don’t use it just to be nice. You’re collecting a lot of stuff over the years and then you’re sitting there with a lot of skateboard stuff and a lot of Super 8 stuff and a lot of artsy stuff and the journey starts. What is it, what I want to say? One thing I always wanted to do is paying tribute to the history of skatevideos that changed my life. But it’s a journey, you don’t know what it’s gonna be till it’s there. In the end every video is a portrait of your state of mind of skateboarding at a certain point of time.

Besides making the video you had to film a part yourself and run Polar. How did that effect the video?

I filmed all the guys that live around Sweden, but I have an international team and I can’t film with them every day, they have their own filmers. The biggest problem for me was, that this film was filmed with 10-15 different cameras and formats. Everything from NTSC VX to HD with fucked up framerates. Aaron had two years of footage and we could only use three things out of it because of the framerate. It was pretty much impossible to convert it to look good. When I discovered that, Aaron pretty much had to go and re-film his part. But he’s the most productive skateboarder in the world. Filming a part is no big deal for him. He could do it in a month. It’s no problem for him to get heavy stuff all day long. Dane filmed his part with a VX and you have to scale it up 22% and if the VX footage is bad from the start, the problems get bigger. The amount of filters I needed pushed Adobe Premiere to the max of what is possible to do. The retouching of this film was insane. In the end when you watch it, you shouldn’t be disturbed by the color correction or anything. It should just be one piece. But the craziest thing is for sure, what you said before. I have to travel, film the guys, organize everything, be the team manager, pay everything. So many times you go to a spot and I think: „Wow, this spot is sick! I’ll skate ten minutes and then maybe I’ll try a kickflip.“ Then I turn around and Hjalte is just kickflipping it as a warmup… So I sit down and point my camera at them. I’m older and these guys are fucking on top of the game. Sometimes I can’t skate with my team, because they’re too good.

But you managed to get a good part as well.

I wasn’t supposed to have a part. I told myself it’s impossible but then last year from spring to fall I just went for it and went out a couple times a week on solo mission with my filmer Thor (Ström). It was crazy. Production, collections, boardgraphics, catalogues – keeping the company alive. At the same time skating, filming, editing. Insane. I have ten jobs.

"98% of everything that comes out is just skating on a timeline to a song"

Why is it still important to do such a full length video in times of instagram?

Sure, you can go out three month, do a couple trips and then edit a ten minute clip. We did two promos like this and I thought about keeping on doing these little power edits. They get you hyped to skate. But a full length is the master challenge for a company and also for the guys. In a promo you film two hammers and a few lines and you’re done. But for a part you really work on your skating. You get a different depth in it. Also as a brand it is important to show the full thing and you need these 45 minutes to tell the story. The people who like you can get the full kick. If you like Hjalte, now you have five minutes of just Hjalte in your face. But it’s a challenge, not everybody can hold together a 45 minutes video. Look at Vans. I love Vans shoes but I didn’t like the video, it’s unwatchable. It’s just this crazy fucking thing. Worked five years on it with millions of budget and in the end I can’t watch the thing. It’s not just having the best skaters, the best cameras and the best budget. You still have to be able to pull off a full length video from A to B. I watched Andrew Allen – sick – I liked Dustin Dollin and then I skipped to AVE. That’s not the way a full length video should be. It should be like Video Days or Hokus Pokus, you put it in and watch the whole thing. Not just part, part, part.

Do you think there will be a renaissance of the full length video and people will be fed up with all these online clips? Will there be an information overload soon?

I think we already passed that level a long time ago. Brands think they have to put out clips every month. New product, new shoe release, new part, new this, new that. Everyday it’s just a big feed. Somebody has to stop and think: Is this really healthy? Is it healthy to flood the world with skating? 98% of everything that comes out is just skating on a timeline to a song. Nobody is thinking: Wait, is skateboarding not more than this? Is it just a bunch of hammers to a song? Shouldn’t somebody try to do an artistic thing? Something a bit deeper that connects with something, sets a vibe, sets a tone, sets a spirit, sets something. I love old Alien videos because of all the Super 8 films of Neil Blender where he is doing all his little doodles, his robot toys or his life on the beach. All those shots that show more. We all love watching sick skating, but I also wanna know more about the spirit of this guy. Showing the culture. More than just one guy jumping down shit. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes those parts can be great, if they’re well done, but it needs to be more than that. My rule is – this is a secret – your brain can only concentrate 30 seconds on skateboarding. After that, there needs to be a break. A couple of artsy shots or something else that breaks it. Those breaks are so important for people to get it, to breath for a moment and then you can start attacking again. I often find myself watching videos that I’m into, but then I can’t concentrate anymore. It’s too much. Your brain can’t take more information but the video shoves you more information down the throat. „Get more, more, more! It’s gonna be so sick!“ There’s no effect. It’s like, okay, I just watched three minutes of fucking hammers, hammering my brain out and I don’t know what I just watched. It was just an insane amount of skateboarding on an insane level and after that you’re glad it’s over and then there comes song number two, with slow-mo’s and a super-super hammer part. That’s how I feel watching 98% of this videos. I feel so shit, I feel so useless, I don’t wanna see skateboarding for a week again. I can not do one trick from the video and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s the most important thing with skateboard videos. Just normal human being skateboarders, doing some stylish stuff that looks enjoyable. A slappy 50-50 around a corner. Just good feeling, good sound, good attack. You feel like you could do some of these tricks. You wanna feel connected to those guys and not see a superhero hollywood stunt movie. They push skateboarding to a an insane level, but as a viewer I can’t connect to anything. The most important thing for a video is to connect to the people. And it’s about dynamics. Skateboarding has it’s own dynamic. There is something really chill and then – boom – there comes a sick hammer. Then you go back to something more accessible and then comes another hammer. That makes this trick stand out so much more. If you have 200 hammers in a row, there’s no effect.

You already mentioned Hans Richter and old videos. What else inspired this film?

Every video is a journey, you don’t have a fixed plan and see what happens. You go out, skating with the boys, that’s were I like to be the most. Like a coach or director. Let’s say Hjalte has an idea for a line and tells me what he wants to do and then I say: It’s cool, but it doesn’t have the right flow. For example backside kickflip then halfcab kicklfip creates a flow, but backside kickflip and frontside halfcab flip doesn’t have a flow. You always have to think about the motion. How you spin and how the camera motion goes with it. Maybe it’s harder to do, but it looks better. When I’m out there filming, there are those little things where I always try to direct or guide the guys.

Because you couldn’t be out filming all the time, was the Polar WhatsApp group an important thing?

Of course. Everyone is sending footage to the chat. It’s the classic team spirit. One guy sends footage and everyone is like: „Holy shit! That’s insane“. And they get fired up and want to get some as well. And I’m in the middle of all of it. Sometimes I tell the guys that it’s super dope, but I don’t like how it’s filmed and sometimes they go back and re-film it. It’s just communication and I always try to be involved and give my input. A lot of filmers know what I want and most of the time it’s fine, but sometimes they also send me a preview from the location when they’re there and ask how they should film it. We try to get it as good as possible. Skating is 50% and filming is 50%. So many times I watch videos and I think a line is insane but I don’t like the filming. How many times do you see a line filmed from the back? This is the worst way of filming skateboarding. What I always try to do is to hide the future for the viewer. When you film from behind you see where he goes and watch his foot position and figure out what he’s gonna do. I always start filming a line from the front, cause the viewer has no clue then. The more you can hide, the more dramatic it gets, the more energy you add to it. Strobeck is really good with that, with all the close ups and the zooming to the face. You see Sage sweating and the expression on his face, then he zooms out and you see him grinding down a rail full speed. So many videos have bad filmers that are no good skateboarders. They just somehow ended up being a filmer for a big brand but they’re struggling to follow their guys. I’m sorry, but it’s so important for a video. Sometimes you have to film from behind, cause it’s the only way possible, but I always try to spin the camera, go around the skater, let him pass by, catch up, get in the front again. The whole Magenta filming is about that a lot. Just moving around the skater. That creates a little bit more excitement.