Spotlight Chicago — An Interview With Mark Dunning About Deep Dish & ‘Terminal’

Intro & Interview by Mike Munzenrider
Photos by Mark Dunning, Alex Hupp, Frank Verges & Mike Heikkila

It’s rare that a skate video is so clearly evocative of the time in which it was made. There’s a sense of pandemic emptiness that runs through Terminal, Deep Dish’s latest video, nearly all shot in 2020.

Mark Dunning, lead filmer and editor of the Deep Dish series — now up to eight titles — says one of the reasons he makes videos is to shine a light on Chicago skateboarding, because he says it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. He also says he’d long sought a particular shot of Chicago, showing it as “deserted or forgotten,” something which he says that he finally achieved in Terminal. Perhaps that purposeful emptiness was heightened by the past year.

It was under COVID-19 conditions that Dunning, a year ago living in New York City, says he made his way back to his hometown Chicago. With rumors of New York going into lockdown and the uncertainty behind it, he says he and his girlfriend packed their car and drove west, thinking they’d work remotely for a week before heading back.

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You drove home, thought you’d only be there for a little bit, and ended up never leaving. I know in the early days of the pandemic, nobody knew what you could actually do, but I do remember being like, “I can go skating.” That seemed like a safe thing to do. Did you have a similar moment like that and did the gears start moving for maybe making a video?

Skating felt pretty safe to me. I remember when we packed up and drove back here. In the back of my mind, I wanted to skate at least a couple of times with my friends before I came back to New York. It was just something we always did — we didn’t know the best way to approach it at first, like wearing masks. We mostly stayed downtown and met up there, so it was mainly contained to just being outside.

I think making a video is always just something I’m working on. I don’t think there was a point where it was like “I’m going to make a video.” It’s just a matter of skating and having the footage build up.

Photos by Alex Hupp

Were you meeting up at Chase a bunch just because it was opened up? It’s so heavy in Terminal.

Chase or First National — whatever you want to call it — that’s always been our meet up spot. We pretty much start and end every session there, because it’s easy with the train or parking.

I’d say in recent years, it’s been getting increasingly lower bust, which is crazy because when I first started making videos, it was a pretty quick kick out; we’d have to mission stuff there. Then, they started to get fed up with that, so they installed an intercom they could kick you out with, without coming outside. Then, as time went on, they just seemed to stop caring as much.

I guess on work days you still get kicked out sometimes, but on weekends, you can skate all day with as many people as you want, which is pretty crazy.

In the past year, some kids have done some shitty things there, like spray paint the back of a security guard, blowing it up like that. I heard the Uprise dudes and Dave Ruta went into the building and talked to security and did damage control with them. They played a huge role in maintaining that relationship and keeping the space skateable, so it was super awesome they did that. If you skate there, respect the space and the employees.

So you’ve got the meet-up spot that’s more open, and you’re making a video. Was Terminal the same routine or was it different because of COVID?

It was different in the fact that a lot of the dudes in the crew worked restaurant jobs or at bars. A lot of them were hit pretty hard by the pandemic and they lost their jobs.

The upside of that was that gave them a lot of free time and availability to skate. Everyone was able to focus on the video and filming a part they’re hyped on.

It was kind of new, but it brought back feelings from the original videos where we were younger and had the free time. It felt more like when we were first filming together and we were hyped. The video was one of the few constants that we could all focus on during these uncertain times.

Photo by Mark Dunning

Are there any Chicago filmers or videos that you would count as an influence on what you make?

The year before making my first video was the year Chity came out, and I would say that was the first all-Chicago video that came out for a number of years. That was a big eye-opener for me of what the city had to offer and what a Chicago video could be. That had a huge impact on really getting me to focus on creating something around Chicago.

The old Uprise videos like Surprise and Chicago’s Finest really hold up over time. I’ve been revisiting those recently and noticing touches, like the high contrast black and white title sequences that I’ve also done. So I’m wondering if there’s some subconscious thing going on there. On top of that, there’s Doug Kenyon’s All We Got Is Us, and some of his other videos.

But I’d say growing up, my biggest influences have been outside of Chicago. I think that was part of the reason why I did want to put a lot of effort into creating something based around the city, because it felt like it was getting overlooked or forgotten by the skate industry.

Growing up, I was just obsessed with collecting independent videos. Static to me was like the Holy Grail — I used to watch one, two and three back to back. I think that was a pretty common thing. More recently, my later teens and early 20s, I think other huge influences in how I approach filming and editing are Jeremy Elkin, Yoan Taillandier, Geoff Campbell and Colin Read.

Yeah, I can see it all.

Starting around Realm, which I think was my fifth video, that’s when I started trying to do more concepts behind the videos. And I think a lot of that does get pulled in from stuff outside skateboarding. The Matrix has been a big visual inspiration for me. Before I even made my first video, I was watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and there’s the scenes where there’s just vast nothingness in the intro. That always stuck in my brain, and I kind of always wanted to portray that with Chicago as a form, showing it as a deserted or forgotten, overlooked place.

I’ve always had this vision of this one shot of just Chicago in this vast space. I think in this video, I was finally able to achieve that. That one shot that I’ve been picturing for however many years.

Photo by Frank Verges

How central is Chicago to what you’re doing? Is it as important to the videos as the skaters?

I think it has always been a central thing and I always wanted to shine a light on the scene — one I think that doesn’t get the attention or recognition it deserves. Also, I want to just showcase the people I care about. All the people I film I’m very close with.

That makes me want to ask, is there a certain type of skater that Chicago produces?

I feel like there’s a wide array of skaters here. It’s hard to put everyone in one box. There is that huge abundance of marble plazas, so I think it is a really good breeding ground for ledge skaters, but there’s tons of other styles coming out of here, which is always exciting to see.

You mention making videos to shine a spotlight on Chicago because it might not get as much attention it probably deserves. Do you still try to strike a balance between making a skate video that showcases skaters from the city and making it for the city — balancing that with making a video for the outside world?

I think I really try to make videos for both. I also think a lot of my thought process when editing is how it will be received at premieres. I’ll often work with the pacing of the videos. I try to edit them in a way to bring about reactions among the crowd at the premiere, to create an event people really enjoy and get behind so people can come together. That’s another way of trying to work on it for the city.

On that note, when I was 19, I went to this premiere in Long Beach. This was right before I filmed the first video, and seeing the support for the filmmaker was super sick and really inspired me to focus on creating a project of my own. So a big thing I hope to do is to give that feeling to someone younger at a premiere — to inspire someone younger to do their own project.

You mentioned finally getting that desolate Chicago shot and I feel like that’s something that runs through the whole video. I forget who it was — but they’re skating a bridge spot, they’re out in the street, there’s no cars, there’s nobody around, and honestly, it’s kind of surreal. Did you realize early on that you’d be able to capture that vibe or did you realize after the fact going through footage?

I definitely noticed that throughout the whole filming process just how bare the streets were. The city does shut down after work hours, but not to the extent it did this past year. I think that really did add to the feeling and helped enforce that mood or theme I had stuck in my head for so many years.

Photo by Mike Heikkila

So what’s Chicago skateboarding all about?

There’s a ton of cutty spots on the outskirts, but Chicago skateboarding really centers around The Loop and particularly Chase — it’s where we meet up and end every session. Chicago’s always been my favorite city for skateboarding and what makes it that is the abundance of marble plazas, all within pushing distance. A handful are super low bust, where you can chill with a big crew. That can go both ways and sometimes feels like a bit of a curse, like you’re stuck in a loop skating the same spots.

I often like pushing around with a small crew because it’s easier to take the time to find new approaches to spots, or notice those kinds of things you hadn’t before. Like that bridge 50 that you were talking about that Brett [Weinstein] did? That’s a spot I passed by thousands of times and never thought to skate like that.

Was the ability to notice new lines, new options: do you think it was different this year because people were more focused?

Yeah, I’d say that. Dustin [Eggeling] came out and filmed. He did a few extended stays to film his part. Having a fresh set of eyes on stuff helped get people hyped again, or seeing something that they hadn’t before. I was in New York for the two previous years, so I came back and was looking at stuff with fresh eyes.

How has the city changed over the time you’ve made your videos?

The mindset around skating here has changed a lot. It seems like more people are lenient with skating and more people are out skating. Spots here have always been pretty hit or miss — you either get the boot quick or you get lucky. But, it feels like you get lucky a lot more often recently.

Like it’s just easier to skate in The Loop?

Yeah. Also, there’s just more crews out. When I was first working on the videos, I would barely run into skaters — pretty much just the Uprise dudes every now and then. Recently, you run into crews way more often downtown, so that’s cool. I also feel like Chicago skating has felt pretty segmented, like the crews don’t intermingle as much as in cities I’ve lived in or visited. But I feel like in the past few years, people are starting to skate together more and shift into being more welcoming.

Do you feel like you’ve been successful in shining a light? Not that I’m saying you should take credit, but there’s more people skating the city — do you feel like you could have played a part in doing that?

I hope I did! I don’t want to take credit or anything but I really hope I did, and inspired people to get out and do stuff more.

You did a drive-in premiere with this one. Was that pretty… cathartic is the word I’m thinking about. Nobody’s getting a lot of people together anymore. Was that premiere everything you’d have hoped for, with the crowd getting hyped, maybe when you wanted to make them hyped?

That was a really cool, unique experience. Because without COVID, I’d have never thought to have a drive-in premiere. It was crazy because instead of cheering, people would honk, the whole place just erupted in this crazy echoing honking. I feel like I won’t ever forget that sound.

That’s gotta be a feeling, just horns blaring, hell yeah.

It was pretty crazy, just looking out seeing the rows of the cars. It meant a lot to see the support and how the scene came together.

Follow the Deep Dish crew via @deepdishchi on Instagram

4 Comments

  1. This video dropped on that first week when the snows melted all over the city. There was some magic there. I feel like everybody is just going to go nuts this summer out here, on top of all the heavy shit that went down over the pandemic year.

    Huge thank u to mark and the deep dish crew for showing off our city.

  2. Is that Toronto plaza that always appears in Mr. Robert De Keyzer’s footage just a carbon copy of the one thesese guys skate in Chi or has it just been in Chicago this whole time?

  3. @Nerdiest of Nerd, they are actually separate plazas but were both designed by architect Mies Van der Rohe, an old German man who unwittingly hooked up a lot of skaters with sick plaza spots. The design of the two plazas is nearly identical.


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