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Johnny Wilson interviewed by Pontus Alv

In former times, there were maybe three full lengths a year and that’s all you got. They were released by renowned skateboard companies and the guys who made them, the filmers, hardly got more attention than their name in the credits. By now, times have massively changed. New videos are popping up every minute, mostly just uploaded on YouTube or Instagram by the filmers themselves, whereby they come to the fore more and more. And that’s well deserved. Cause let’s be frank – they’re the ones with the spot lists, the ones that get the crew together for the session, that have the best ideas for tricks, and know how to stage spots and skaters in order to skyrocket views. That’s why filmers nowadays are their own brands. One of this new breed is the New York based Johnny Wilson, leader of the “most productive crew”. When he releases a clip, it’s not about the brand he filmed it for, but instead you’ll ask your friends: “Did you see that new Johnny Wilson clip?” It was a no-brainer that a passionate filmmaker like Pontus had to talk to Johnny for this issue and got him on the phone while he came to Paris with Vincent Touzery to skate with the Bloby’s.

With all the internet stuff going on, you might have a buzz for two days with a clip and then it’s gone. It’s such a demotivating feeling for me.

I still like it to put footage out. I mean it sucks that it’s just for such a short time frame, but I feel like that’s just the way it is now. Everyone puts everything online. You see so many clips on Instagram and you’re just like, “That’s for Instagram?!”

The Dime guys came to Europe and they were like: “That’s not worth enough for filming. That’s for Instagram.” I don’t know if they were showing off or something. They posted a pretty decent clip. Maybe it’s part of a new marketing philosophy that we don’t understand. I mean the bottom line is still to put the shit out there, but the problem is that there’s too much shit out there. Do you sometimes feel fed up with it?

I skate every single day. That’s pretty much all I do. Recently I was talking with Vincent about this. Sometimes it’s scary because you ask yourself how much longer you can skate. My whole life is just skating. Sometimes it’s too much skating for sure, but I do love it at the same time.

You’re young and you’re in a really good position because you can hang out and film with people that you like – the Johnny Wilson crew. Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t like the skater you got to film with?

That happened only a couple of times, but I’m not gonna name the two.

Johnny Kev Frenchfries Alexpires

Photo: Pires

I always say, “I’m not filming that.” I’m not a fucking robot. I do it for passion and I film things that I like. Sometimes that’s hard to say when you are with a friend or even a friend of a friend.

That’s the classic way. When you are skating with your friends and you start filming with a fisheye, so people know if you’re filming or not filming. And then the friend of a friend goes up to the rail and you just have the camera. That’s definitely a bad situation. At the same time, I feel like anything can happen when I’ve got the camera in my hand. So I feel like it’s always good to hit record.

At what point are you over it when somebody doesn’t land a trick? Do you ever say, “Fuck it, I’m done”?

I never straight up said that. If this guy has been trying this for so long and he’s putting this much work in it, then I should at least keep filming him. I guess sometimes I’ll make it known, but I won’t say it. I just say something like, “Ah I’m so hungry,” and usually they can sense the vibe. Luckily, most of the time the guy is like, “This isn’t working,” and then I say something like, “Yeah, don’t let this trick wear you out for the day.” But I’d never be like, “I’m over this.”

"My whole life is just skating."

I have this kind of rule where I give the skater 66 tries. I think if you can’t make it within 66 tries, you probably won’t make it that day. When I watch your stuff, it feels like everything is pretty spontaneous. Sometimes you watch a video part and you feel that he has been trying that for two weeks until he finally lands it. And there’s something forced with it, which I don’t like. I prefer it when you are coming to a spot and just start skating and then filming the vibe and everything.

In New York we are skating around everywhere and at most places you get kicked out really quickly. So it’s always pretty spontaneous. I think this is just the way it differs between New York footage and any other city footage like the L.A. type of footage, where you can see them driving there in a car.

Do you ever leave the camera at home?

No, never. For example, you see that spot where there’s always a car parking and this day there isn’t and someone’s like, “I’m gonna try it!” You just never know.

Sounds like you’re very dedicated to filming. Do you ever blow it while you are filming a guy doing a super hard trick?

For sure. Rather fisheye than long lens, though. I used to film fisheye all the time and I never used the screen. When I got the HD camera, I started using the screen more often and it really helps me, but now it’s broken and I can’t use it anymore. The other day I filmed something and I cut this kid’s head off. And one time Cyrus [Bennett] did this trick and I watched it on the computer, but I never uploaded it onto my hard drive. So I accidently deleted the clip. That happened twice. I understand when skaters get mad about it, but I just sat there for three hours. Sometimes I pay for cabs to go to the spot and the skater doesn’t get the trick, but I’m not gonna get mad at him. I feel like the skater always knows only one side of the story, whereas the filmer sometimes knows both sides.

Do you have any stories about ending up in a sketchy neighbourhood and, for example, getting robbed or threatened?

I got my camera stolen in Venice at the sand gaps, but it was in a van and I wasn’t even there. My whole bag got stolen including my laptop and all my clothes. It was so shit.

New York is a hot place to skate. What’s your opinion on the whole ABD stuff?

There are a bunch of us living there and we all are pretty connected with the New York scene, so for the most part we know about ABDs. But if you watch all the old New York stuff, like Pat Smith and the guys from Zoo York, you see that they’ve done a lot of shit on the spots that we go to now. There are a lot of ABDs in New York, but there’s still so much to be done. There are so many spots.

"I feel like anything can happen when I’ve got the camera in my hand."

Let’s say you filmed a trick of Alex [Olson] and haven’t put out the footage yet and another guy does the exact same trick at the same spot. Would you be bummed and not use the clip?

I’d probably still use it just because I like Alex’s footage and I think everything he does is pretty cool. But in general, something similar happened recently. There’s this half cab crooked grind of Jake Johnson on this rockway rail. I believe it was in the GX video. Even though I saw the video, I didn’t remember that clip and then I put out a clip where Cyrus does a half cab crooks at the same spot. It was crazy because both of it was filmed fisheye from the top.

I’m pretty old-fashioned with these politics. I mean, if you take a guy like Alex Olson frontside-flipping a bump to bar and then you take Rodrigo TX or Cyrus, even though it’s the same spot and trick, you have three different styles. Even if they are filmed in a similar way, I’d still enjoy watching all three of them.

I guess for me it really depends on who did it first and who did it recently.

French Fred was really a pioneer with his rolling long lens zooming in and out shots these days. Just as much as [Bill] Strobeck is now in times of HD.

Bill is also really into old skate videos. He’s really influenced by these old videos and shit. Even non-skate movies.

When you’ve lived through the late ’80s and early ’90s, you realize that now we are so back in ’92 again with the way people skate and dress and also the overall vibe. There are all these classic elements waiting to come back to surface again.

I just noticed this recently, if they’re filming a line in these old videos with this fisheye-long lens, there is no skate audio and then once the trick starts, the audio goes up and when they’re landing it, the audio goes back down to nothing until the next trick. I thought about doing it once in my clips and see what it would be like, but I feel like it wouldn’t look good nowadays.

Maybe I’m a bit nostalgic, but there’s so much cool shit from that time. People were still trying to figure out what skateboarding was like and how you can film it. These days, everything is set in stone. There are no rules, but just because you watch certain stuff, you fall into the same mentality. Also, the sad thing with skating is that if somebody breaks out of this formula, everybody is like, “Oh that’s the new trend,” they jump on it and rape it into pieces. It’s the same with Bill Strobeck. The way he made HD footage look interesting is the reason why I wanted to get an HD camera.

Me too.

"I always wonder if it’s just cool to our group of friends and other guys don’t really care to watch."

What videos are you watching besides stuff friends of you are involved in?

I liked Jerry Hsu’s part in the Emerica video and his B-Sides. It might sound mean or rude, but normally if it’s not my friends, I don’t really care to click on it.

Yeah, I know what you mean. What I believe makes a good video is a group of people that you wanna watch.

I also like the Bru-Ray clips from P-Stone. I don’t know him at all, but me and a lot of my friends like those clips. But some of them only like the ones where friends of them are in and I think most guys who are in the industry think the same.

If I don’t have a personal connection, it’s hard for me to get excited about it. I wanna stay open, but I think Cherry was the last full length that got me hyped and before that it was Mind Field.

Yeah, I feel the same.

Johnny Filming Kev Alexpires

Kevin Rodrigues – Wallie Backside Grab | Photo: Pires

I’m always hoping for other videos that are coming and then the guys just blow it. Wrong music choice, wrong editing…

Another reason those full length videos take so long. There’s a long list of guys you don’t really care for, then the budget’s so big, it’s a big corporation and you have the music rights – all these factors can’t make it really cool, they make it wack. So it’s hard to enjoy the whole thing. These adidas, Vans videos… it’s nothing people gonna go back to watch that shit. I don’t wanna talk shit, but it’s a bummer that you spend a lot of time and money to something that could have been done way easier and cheaper.

That’s a good point, that these big companies have all the money, all the budget, equipment, filmers, photographers and in the end it makes no sense. And also another thing is, I wanna film where the guys live. I mean sometimes you make a tour, but when it comes to a part, I wanna see Dennis [Busenitz] skate in SF. He lives in that area, let him skate there. I don’t need to see a video part with Dennis, one clip in China, one clip in Paris, one clip in London, one clip in fucking Japan.

I don’t wanna see any China footage ever.

All these big videos. “Oh, here’s his part. He’s at this spot in China.” Why you don’t show the whole session? Why you take all the guys’ tricks there and put it in different parts and over the time of this one hour video I’m going back to this fucking spot twenty times.

This part with Bobby [Worrest] and Hjalte [Halberg], that was sick for Nike. It was relatively low budget, in the sense of Nike. There were a couple of trips, there wasn’t a crazy production, Ben [Chadourne] filmed it with one camera. And then that Karsten [Kleppan] and Janno [Jan Henrik Kongstein] part, that was sick too. I think those two relatively low-budget things were good for Nike

Skitch Johnnysussingham

Photo: Sussingham

What I’m trying to point out here is the filmer is everything. These days, the filmers are superstars just like the skaters. Strobeck, Ben Chadourne, you – you are superstars. Whenever you guys release a clip, the world is watching and the name of the filmers become some kind of brand.

Yeah, it’s crazy! I was talking with Kevin Rodrigues about this last night. It has always been like, who’s the filmer? Where’s the filmer? We need a filmer. The term filmer… it’s hard to explain. I guess I’m a filmer, but at times the term filmer is hard to think of it like that. And now Bill or Ben or Logan [Lara] or Tao [Tor Ström], these filmers that have this new thing and they’re attached to a group of guys. I guess it’s the same thing with us, like you said earlier: “Johnny’s crew”. A crew attached to the filmer’s name…

I think that’s sick, it’s about time! You’re known for your videos and if a big company would hire you to do their full length, people would already be talking about it. And it’s refreshing to see that big brands are trying to get out other clips that are sick because of the filmers they’re working with.

But I always wonder if it’s just cool to our group of friends and other guys don’t really care to watch.

But if you care and you’re hyped, that’s all that matters and if the world doesn’t get it, fuck them. And it’s interesting that these big brands put together a big budget and crazy plans and it turns out super bad and when they just let the skaters do the job and not try to direct it and put Snoop Dogg in the mix and rebrand what we’re doing, it captures that feeling to get you hyped to skate. That’s what it’s all about. It’s like watching a porn video and you get all hyped up. But we’re living in a bubble. A few years ago I was hanging out with Tom Remillard in L.A. and I told him that I’m hyped on the new Bronze clip that came out and he hadn’t even heard of it. We’re picturing that the whole world knows about those clips and then you go outside the bubble and they live in a complete different world.

Ishod [Wair] will watch an LRG demo tour to Brazil, something I never ever would watch, but at the same time he’ll watch a Bloby’s instagram clip. He’ll watch everything.

These days, I have a super hard filter on my head, where I only watch things that I know they make me feel good. Sometimes when I feel fucking nasty, I go home and put on the Berrics and want to watch some shit and an hour later I feel so terrible and ask myself: “Why the fuck am I even involved in skating?” I don’t wanna get depressed, so I only watch very selected stuff. Last question then. How is working with Bill?

I first met Alex Olson and we were skating around New York and then we met Bill through him once or twice. Then I became friends with Sean Pablo, Aidan [Mackey] and Sage [Elsesser] and met him through them a couple times and we became friends. We started hanging out more and the first time Supreme did a Paris trip, Alex was also on a 917 trip and a couple of ours just came along with him. Then the 917 guys left and Todd Jordan, the Supreme team manager, said: “You wanna stay maybe and help?” So I stayed in Paris and helped them for two weeks, went back to New York and came back again in February to film again. That’s how it started. Bill is crazy, he’s really sick. For Supreme as a whole he did a lot with Cherry. Supreme’s always been a big deal, but recently it has been next level and Bill has a lot to do with that.

Before Bill there wasn’t a skateboarding Supreme program. Of course also Dill put together all those kids. Before that nobody really talked about Supreme in skating, it was kinda dead for many years.

Yeah for sure, Bill and Dill definitely had a lot to do with what Supreme is now and how it’s a part of skating with the videos, team, and stuff.

Does Bill ever give you directions, tell you what or how to film?

Yeah he does, Bill likes all his footage to look the same.

Vince Johny Close Alexpires

Photo: Pires