One of the joys of watching independent, crew-based skate videos is observing their maturation with each passing project. The skating gets better — obviously — but videographers have their own way of figuring things out right in front of your eyes. The tone, the pacing, the ~vibe~.
Michael Nicholas’ Untitled popped up on the Free site this past September, and felt like it came out of nowhere in a way that few things today are capable of doing. This was a fully-realized video featuring unknown kids who — in twenty minutes, right then and there — cemented their stakes in skateboarding’s future. Untitled was the most confident “first” video in memory.
We had Farran track down its creator to find out a little more.
What was your introduction to skate videos?
I walked into my cousin’s room one time at a family gathering, and he was watching The DC Video. It was Josh Kalis skating at Love Park. I already skated but I’d never watched a video. I couldn’t understand how his feet could stick to his board and how he could catch it so well.
Is there anything you saw early on which struck a chord on the production side?
To an extent, yeah. I was always interested in creative work, not just video or photography-based. Being in L.A., you get exposed to a lot of that early on, if you pay attention.
Joseph Campos by Razy Faouri
When and how did you start filming skateboarding?
I moved to the suburbs for a bit in middle school. My best friend at the time lived across the street and his mom had an old VHS camera. We were in this little town, bored out of our minds, so we started to make these little skits. I started using my skateboard for them and then in high school, we met a bunch of kids who skateboarded really well — compared to ourselves — so him, them and I just began filming.
Did you go on to study film or anything related to visual arts?
I did a lot of graphic design early on, messing around on Illustrator and Photoshop. I took a few video-related classes, which were mostly learning how to write scripts and basic video stuff. I was mostly into photography though, and obsessed with the darkroom in junior college.
I jumped around a lot. At one point, I didn’t want to do any of that and I got into financial advising — earning how to work with money and whatnot — I find that stuff really interesting. In college, I took a bunch of courses on subjects that I was interested in, learned what I needed to know, and then I just left.
You were working at Milk Studios until recently, how’d you end up there?
Through my buddy Nick Jojola, whom I met while I was living out east. He was like a big brother type-of-figure while I was in high school. He taught me a lot about working with analog and photography in general. He was working there full-time. When I moved back to L.A., I hit him up, and he mentioned interning at Milk. He knew I wasn’t interested in working in skating and that I wanted to do more commercial or production work. I trusted his opinion that interning at Milk was a step forward for me, even though I’d basically be a bitch there, but once I’d passed through that, it could potentially lead to a lot of things.
Kyle Teh by Ben Colen
Do you think there are any misconceptions about that industry?
You’ve just got to think with a larger point of view. You might start off doing what seems like “bitch work,” but you’ve got to see the bigger picture. You’ve got to be willing to get your hands dirty, and I feel like a lot of people my age aren’t willing to do that to get where they want to go. Kids want everything fast and easy these days. So I’d say no, not at all, especially if you understand the people you’re working with. It’s all about communication and being upfront.
That’s another reason why I don’t want to work in skating. You’ve got to answer to a bunch of older dudes who think they know it all because they’ve been pro since the ‘90s. Skating belongs to the kids. They don’t work for you, you work for them. You’re lucky to have had an audience this long, so appreciate that these kids even buy your shit, don’t abuse them. That’s my message to all the older company owners.
How far back did you start working on Untitled?
Patrick was 15 at the time and he was already so good. From there, Joe and I had arranged to go filming one weekend and he said that he was going to bring some friends along. I don’t really like filming with a large group of people, but Joe brought them anyway. On that day, he brought Seven [Strong], Kyle [Teh], Kader [Sylla] and Sawyer [Bourdeaux]. It was weird because Patrick grew up with them and we all unintentionally started to skate together at the same time. Some things just happen for a reason.
When Covid happened, production stopped at my job. During that time we were filming a lot and, at that point it was pretty obvious we were making something.
Kyle Teh by Michael Nicholas
Apart from L.A. High, there was a lack of landmark spots which was refreshing. Was that deliberate?
We’re kind of weird about spots. L.A. is very small. You’d be surprised. If one spot comes up, then everyone’s going to flock there, and by the next day, it’ll be the new hot spot. It’s happened to us a couple of times.
Are there any filmers or videos which you’d say influenced Untitled?
Alright, so who are you inspired by outside of skateboarding and how does drawing on their influences manifest in your own work?
Everything I do is my own personal composition of all the influences I’ve ever had. That consists of musicians, architects, financial advisors, publishers, fashion designers, gear nerds, etc. Some that come to mind are Ralph Ginzburg, John Bogle, Rick Owens, Jackson Chambers, Noah Dillon, Jim Goldberg, Connie Converse, Kyle Teh… They constantly fluctuate. It’s not necessarily their work that inspires me. I never like anyone solely based on their work, I study them. It’s the little things.
I’m sure you’ve heard to this no end, but a lot of people seem to have drawn comparisons to “cherry.” Although, for me, the only comparison was that your video brought back a strong feeling of “Who are these kids I’ve never heard of?” – and I left it interested in seeing what comes next. However, it’s impossible to manufacture that. How do you feel about the response so far?
I completely understand that point of view and agree. There definitely was no manufacturing involved with this video, and a lot of people seem to recognize that. It’s awesome.
Seven Strong by Michael Nicholas
Not a day goes by without something coming out that gets criticized for biting Bill’s style. I didn’t find that with your approach. There were subtleties — maybe influenced by Bill, Johnny Wilson or Benny Maglinao — but you’d crafted something distinct. I don’t know how to describe it other than feeling unique in a “post-HD” way. How conscious were you of making something which wouldn’t be seen as emulating anyone, and how difficult is it to put that into practice?
I guess that if you really care about what other people think, then it can be a real fine line. As I said, nobody influences me in skateboarding. Even if [those filmers] didn’t exist, I would film and edit exactly the way I do now. That’s just how I do it regardless of other people. From a surface level point of view you might think otherwise.
The lack of names in videos has been pretty prominent over the past few years. It works for shorter pieces but, with a full-length, I want to know who I’m watching and, if you’re the skater, then surely you want people to know that too? Especially if it’s your first piece of exposure. I appreciated how you balanced that, just layering handwritten titles over everyone’s face at the start.
I’m glad you recognized that. When I sat down and began editing, everything came together in a sincere way. I didn’t want to have titles at the beginning of their parts but, I didn’t want to be “cool guy” about it and not have any titles at all. The kids didn’t want to have titles, but I was like, “Dude, people need to know who the hell you guys are.” I thought it would be cool to have opening credits, like a movie. And that’s what it was.
Titles and typography are important in crafting the feeling you get from a video too.
I agree. My brother Ryan is an illustrator. He helped with some of the ending credits and some of the concepts when it came down to the lettering. I didn’t want anything too fancy, so their titles are just their own handwriting. I wanted it to feel really personal, from small things like that to the songs they wanted to use, and if they didn’t have a song, we made a song for them.
Patrick Omara by Razy Faouri
Who are the guys playing music right at the start and into Joe’s part?
A couple of days before I started editing, I met this kid, Jackson Chambers. He’s this little genius who can do anything. He DJs, he sings, he builds motorcycles, just a little weirdo, Jack Of All Trades.
Logan [Lara] was sending me music, but it was too much of his vibe. Like, 917-type stuff. I met Jackson and asked if he wanted to make a song for Joe. He called over his friend Dave, who plays drums, and they riffed for over an hour straight. I still have so much music from that afternoon. What you see in Joe’s part was what I chose to use.
It was super organic, man. After they did that song, Jackson says, “It’s funny, I haven’t played guitar in six months,” but it was the coolest thing I’d seen and heard in so long. It had so much range.
Joseph Campos & Patrick Omara by Michael Nicholas
I’m blown away by how unceremoniously you released the video and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It comes across like it exists solely for yourselves, and just watching it felt like stumbling across someone’s diary entry.
I journal a lot and I told my brother that I wanted this to feel like you’re inside one of my journals. A reason I couldn’t really translate that [was] because I’d have needed somebody to custom code our website, which can be expensive. I ended up making it on a website builder in a couple of hours. It needs work, but it’s fine for now. What you see is what it is.
Once we determined that we weren’t going to name the video anything, it was like, “Well, what the fuck do we name the website?” We knew we wanted to make stuff down the line, that we could display and sell, but we didn’t want it to be tailored to skateboarding. I was trying to figure out a name that wouldn’t sound like it was strictly skateboarding-related, something that would sound cool, but intimate and vague.
I go in and out of music phases really quickly, but I was listening to a lot of classical at the time, specifically Steve Reich, and I thought, “It would be sick if we were like an ‘ensemble.'” You know, have an “ensemble room” — as in the area where an orchestra warms up before they go out and perform. So that’s kind of what it is: a space.
Elaborate on why the video doesn’t have a name a little more.
It was a mixture of a couple of things. Mostly laziness.
I wrote out a note as to why I didn’t want to name it anything. It felt kind of corny, but at the same time, it worked. I told them that we didn’t need to explain ourselves to anybody and the footage would speak for itself. They were kind of scared we weren’t naming it anything, and with the note thing too, but I was like, “Who cares? This is how we feel about it. If people don’t like it, it’s not a big deal.”
They were cool with it. I don’t do anything unless the kids say “Go ahead.” I don’t make decisions based on what I want. Everything you see up on the website, the way it’s done is curated by me, but it goes through everybody. They all have a say and I make sure everyone has input. It’s a very collective process, and just because I’m the one physically doing it, doesn’t mean I’m the only one that did it.
Joseph Campos by Michael Nicholas
What’s important to keep in mind about putting out a full-length video nowadays?
To have fun and not take it too seriously. People treat it like it’s a real job sometimes and it’s not. It’s not a big deal to accept that either. It’s skateboarding, you’re playing with a piece of wood and filming it. There are wars, people dying and kids starving out there. You shouldn’t worry about skateboarding videos. I feel stupid talking about skateboarding especially at a time like this in America.
But when you do skate, have fun with your friends and enjoy their company. Personally, I’m very exhausted from skateboarding videos and the ethos behind skateboarding in general. I would be perfectly fine if I never watched another one. The physical act of skateboarding and the presence of the people I care about is much more important and appealing to me than watching what anyone else is doing.
Would you say a full-length video is a valuable experience for anyone who skates, films or just as a group of friends?
It’s tough because, as I said, we didn’t go into it thinking we’d make a full-length, it just kind of happened. Do I think it’s valuable? Sure, yeah. It was a great experience making something with my best friends, the people who I love the most, but would I do it again? Probably not. It was a one time thing which happened so naturally that I feel if I tried to do it again, it wouldn’t be organic.