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Greg Hunt has consistently been a part of skateboarding’s visual language and changing its narrative since his first major part in 1994. As part of the cast of Stereo Skateboards A Visual Sound (1994) and Tincan Folklore (1996), Hunt became yet another recognizable pro birthed from the vibrant scene in San Francisco, centered in but not exclusive to Justin Herman Plaza, or Embarcadero as it’s known colloquially in skateboarding. After shifting from the focus of the camera to behind the lens, he’s gone on to build a body of work that’s both varied and unmistakably his own, splicing photography and moving images with the feel of a documentarian such as Robert Frank or William Eggleston. The difference is that as a former professional skater, Hunt is less of a fly on the wall - he’s invested in making work that’s not only authentic but carries on the young tradition of documenting skateboarding on film and video.
It’s easy to be caught up in “what ifs,” but in speaking to Hunt about his most recent project, Vans Skateboarding’s Alright, OK - a mid-length piece centered on Gilbert Crockett and Elijah Berle - it’s apparent that his early experience as a sponsored skater formed his view and perhaps his actual path almost unknowingly. Originally part of the Real Skateboards roster in the early ‘90s, he began skating for the brand but was then asked to join a new company out of the Deluxe fold with Jordan Richter and Eric Pupecki under the moniker, Family.
“It was pretty bizarre and I don't mean that in a negative way,” Hunt says about the short-lived brand. “I was 18-years-old and pretty green so it was rad that Jim (Thiebaud) and Deluxe were down to give us a company. I always forget about that (company) because it was so quick. Jason (Lee) had stayed at my apartment around that time - I met him through Chris (Pastras). We had all gone skating and I guess they were stoked on me. When Jordan bailed, Jeff Klindt (President Deluxe at the time) called me and didn't even really say what was going on. He just asked if I wanted to ride for Real or Stereo. I picked Stereo because I had just skated with those guys and I was friends with Matt Rodriguez. It’s probably one of the best things that happened to me, otherwise I might have never ended up on Stereo.”
Along with Girl Skateboards Goldfish (1994), Stereo’s first full-length A Visual Sound (1994) ushered in a new era in skateboarding that answered the prior “flip and pray” years by emphasizing style, tonality, and relatability - not necessarily trick wise but in presentation. Having been involved in high-pressure video productions, it was the Girl team filming skating that felt natural mixed with aloof skits and interludes that called back to early Powell Peralta videos. Stereo’s video presented a different part of skating’s spectrum by leveraging Blue Note jazz iconography, grainy black-and-white film, artistic framing never used in skating, along with capturing how tricks were done over getting the hardest clips imaginable. Hunt admits to me that filming for Stereo’s first full-length was strained as he wasn’t happy with his skating, partially due to splitting time between filming and attending college. There was also a rift between himself and the brand’s co-founder Jason Lee, that he chalks up to being green and headstrong.
“During A Visual Sound, I remember at one point Jason asking me if I could help film the skating and I didn't want to,” he says. “I was really offended and we got into an argument. I remember him saying ‘But we’re all filming each other!’ I was so naive, in my mind people should be filming me. I was also insecure about my skating because I was in school and I hadn’t found my footing. I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence at that time. I wasn’t pro, I wasn’t skating like Mike (Daher) or Ethan (Fowler) - I wasn’t excited about filming other skaters so I didn’t do it.”
So while he eschewed picking up the camera at Lee’s behest, he did become more involved with this next part in Tincan Folklore, a video that pivoted from the vintage jazz aesthetics of its predecessor, intentionally going for a more raw approach. However, Hunt’s part was a bit of an outlier, using a mix of still photography, drawn-out interludes, and a serene soundtrack set to two separate tracks by Chicago’s Tortoise, it felt very much in tune with A Visual Sound as much as it was visually progressive. In viewing the part prior to the interview, it seemed like an actual blueprint for much of the work he’d later create as a filmmaker, so I asked how involved he was with that actual process.
“Right after A Visual Sound, I moved in with Gabe Morford. We had a darkroom and he gave me a camera. I got really into photography as well as shooting Super 8 film because it was like motion photography if that makes sense. So for Tincan Folklore, I shot all of the Super 8 and edited that part - not like in today's sense. You'd lay out all the footage, edit then you would drop the music on top of it. Some things would just fall into place serendipitously. So I think that did influence what I went on to film later just because I wasn’t thinking of shooting all that stuff for Tincan as anything but something fun to do. I had no intention of making skate videos or cinematography at all but seeing the results sparked something.”
After retiring from the pro ranks, Hunt leaned harder into photography, continuing to shoot both skateboarding and documenting what was around him in San Francisco and on the road. Subconsciously inspired by his collective experiences in skateboarding, reaching back as far as Sick Boys, he began filming for Transworld Skateboarding and further developing the almost documentary approach he’s honed to creating skate videos. On the surface, filming skateboarding does essentially feel like documenting, but how it’s done -the choice of camera, angles, music, and B-Roll - can make a single part look dramatically different. It’s how the keystone filmmakers in skateboarding shape their brand of presentation. For Hunt, the hallmarks of his work often employ mood, light, still images, and music curation that’s mostly agnostic of what’s cool at the time, but rather what’s right for the moment. It’s the reason he can traverse between art-leaning projects such as Alien Workshop’s Mind Field (2009) or big-box productions with The DC Video (2004) or Vans’ first full-length Propeller (2015), while allowing his stamp to remain and also scale to the task.
“I think it's rooted in photography,” he says about the core of his aesthetic. “It's rooted in me getting deeply into photography first and having a lot of strong influences there and then taking that into motion. The DC Video was a project that I did because it was an opportunity to take my filmmaking to a place that I've never taken it - shooting in helicopters and having big budgets. Not taking anything away from DC at all - I had a great experience there - but after the video, I wanted to work on something that I was connected to a bit more on a personal and creative level. That’s why I moved to Alien Workshop. That documentary-style lent itself better to Workshop and I felt like I could explore a lot more. That’s also why I went to Vans after. Their aesthetic works with what I like to shoot - film and just that raw documentary style.”
Having started producing and filming skate videos in the turn of the digital age in 2000, Hunt’s work has appeared on various formats, adapting to shifts and trends. Releasing a full-length on VHS and DVD in tandem prior to high-speed internet connections, let alone video hosting on websites, is an entirely different process and experience. As skateboarding drifted from the traditional release model, filmmakers had to adapt and often take chances. Hunt’s successfully been liquid in his career, understanding each medium and distribution method, while retaining the DNA of his work, regardless of method, brand or subject.
When I ask if there’s any project he would have approached differently or tweaked, he’s firm in stating that the work is the work and that he’s not one to look back after something’s completed. After a bit of a pause, he does highlight one omission.
“I would have liked to have more time to edit Propeller,” he says, “I think I underestimated how long it would take to really finish it. I didn’t have enough time to sit with it and shape it. It made it a very straight video which is cool and a lot of people really like that about it. But I do like to experiment more. I’m still proud of that video and felt really fortunate to work on it. One thing I will say though, is that I wish I gave Andrew Allen a full part. With more time I would have found a way but unfortunately, it was one of the last things I cut. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just how it ended up. Looking back, that’s my biggest regret. I love Andrew.”
In looking back through his catalog, the Kalis in Mono project stands out as one of the first “solo” parts in the digital era of skateboarding, a format so common now that we often forget the paradox of something being labelled a “part” despite being the entire thing itself. More than just adapting to new cameras and editing tools, Hunt’s ability to create things that work in shifting landscapes is almost instinctive. After leaving Transworld Skateboarding, he was able to find at home with Alien Workshop, moving the goalposts between brand aesthetics and personal approach closer and also, innovating out of necessity. Staring with a solo part, he also familiarized himself with a new medium that would later become another milestone in his work.
"Kalis in Mono was a DVD with Regal Road" he says. “I guess it was a solo part but we didn’t think we were doing anything groundbreaking. The Kalis part was still a pre-internet release. The Dylan (Rieder) video was a DVD too which is kind of crazy to think of. The convenience of being able to release something online makes a solo part much more realistic. In 2000 or 2005 there was a lot more involved because you have to make this physical thing and then distribute it. I think the idea of a solo part makes a lot of sense now because you might have a skater who has a product being released or is just really hungry and you can put the footage out faster, rather than being slowed down by an entire team production. In a way, it makes a lot more sense and it’s a lot less work to release online. It was only a matter of time until technology was going to catch up. It’s funny, there are people that would have been much more likely to release solo parts before they really existed, like Heath Kirchart. He famously was really pissed about Mind Field being delayed a few times. He started filming his Emerica part 6 months before we were done with Mind Field. He had another project and started on it. He’s meticulous in his planning and very by the book. He might have been really comfortable working in the solo part format.”
Regardless of whether or not Hunt “invented” the solo part - let’s admit that as skaters we’re all obsessed with NBDs - being an early adopter built another muscle that allowed him to later work on Dylan Rieder’s influential and iconic Dylan Gravis Shoes part. Now ten years old, Dylan is heralded as a classic and Reider’s legacy remains paramount in skateboarding, but at the base of any video is the relationship between the skater and who’s holding the camera. A testament to the intrinsic value of that dynamic, Hunt’s quick to not only emphasize the appreciation he has for the people he’s been able to work with but how many of them, including Rieder, became his closest friends. That continues to inform his work today, including his most recent piece, Alright, OK, featuring friends Elijah Berle and Gilbert Crockett. And it’s more than just the simplicity of making things with your crew, it’s how Hunt’s work informs the relationships he fosters with younger skaters rather than staying stagnant in one circle or group.
“Working on something with Greg, for me is the magic of it,” Gilbert Crockett says. “ I don’t know what Greg is going to be making but to me I know it’s going to be special, and this is a guy that made some of my most formative skate videos. (Anthony) Pappalardo and AVE in I.E., AVE in The DC Video, and Jake (Johnson) in Mind Field were huge influences on me. So it’s like, ‘Dude I get a chance to make a video with this dude, and he’s my friend?’ I gotta do my best for him and of course, I always have faith in his craft, it’s exciting, man!”
“Gilbert (Crockett) told me that Mind Field and Jake’s (Johnson) part completely changed his view of skateboarding and how he could pursue being a pro skater. He was living in San Diego, skating for Mystery and Fallen at the time and he saw that and I think it unlocked something - skating the East Coast, the approach, the way Jake was skating. A lot of younger people really tell me that it’s their go-to video and how it influenced them. You never know. When Mind Field was released it didn’t have that immediate reception. 2009 was a different time, YouTube and forums were around so you could see some comments and not everyone was stoked. People made a lot of fun of Dylan. He was the go-to guy to make fun of because of his hair or his clothes or his “fake style.” It’s cool that that video has a resonance still.”
In the context of how Dylan Reider’s skateboarding is heralded now, it’s almost shocking to look back to those critiques but that speaks to how much skating changes in a decade. Fuck, ten years in skating is almost two separate generations when you really get in the weeds, but that’s the beauty of it. There’s little permanence in skateboarding and despite this “thing” being basically an unregulated artform, regulated by its own audience, as much as it can be toxic, it also allows new perspectives and ideas to take hold, sometimes as immediately as in the wake of a video release.
Still, there’s an underlying divisiveness in skateboarding that Hunt feels is almost “emblematic of our entire society.” And of course, it’s all been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s almost exhausting to have to mention it in every bit of media but perhaps those reminders help to solidify and contextualize how tantamount the virus is. Having started Alright, OK prior to the global lockdowns and social distancing, the video had to adapt and be pushed back in order to ensure it was completed safely. Add to the mix the normal struggles of any production including injuries, burn out or just madness and what began as Berle’s promotional part for a shoe release becomes an entire catharsis.
“Logistically COVID-19 affected the making of this video but as far as my approach to making it, I really wanted this video to feel good. That was important for me. I wanted who Gilbert is and who Elijah is to come through because they're both really good friends of mine and they're both really rad people. I also really wanted a bit of what making this video was like to come through because it actually was a really good experience. Elijah had crazy ups and downs and it would have done a real disservice to him to just make a web edit style video with all his makes. I've done a lot of video parts over the years and I think Elijah's is up there in the top few parts I've ever made as far as how hard he fought for this video part. Almost every trick in this part was a battle - some of them like against all odds - literally, I'm not trying to sound dramatic. I wanted the video to reflect that. With the B-Roll, I wanted to pick things that were funny or just had a good vibe. Sure, there’s a bit of stressing but I wanted it to be enjoyable to watch. A good deal of that is because of what this year has been like.”
Like everything in 2020, the release of Alright, OK, was another chapter in the unfamiliar. Without a proper premier or release, Hunt and Vans opted for a low-hype, slow roll, announcing the video just a few weeks before it dropped via few short trailers as well as a hardcover print book which Hunt had completed a year prior that included swatches of actual film he cut individually by hand. Alright, OK, the video’s analog component, is mostly atypical for a release but not unheard of, it’s also a familiar device for Hunt, who recently published the second edition of Ninety-Six Dreams, Two Thousand Memories, a seventeen-year visual study of Jason Dill, and has several other projects in the works. Regardless, it was an entirely new process that for Hunt, removed the human element of completing a project - standing around in the lobby getting people’s reactions, celebrating the night of, and catching up over breakfast in the hotel the day after to talk about the work.
In a sense, losing those interactions put more emphasis on the actual thing and the moments he captured throughout the process. When we think of visual choices in skate videos, we think about Baker hijinx or artsy birds floating across the screen... maybe a random fight or an off the cuff quote that becomes canon. That intentionality became an editorial principal for Hunt as he edited Alright, OK.
“It's interesting that you noted that because that's one of my favorite sort of chunks of the video - Gilbert's last trick where he says “bitch,” because it’s really funny and kind of out of character for Gilbert and Vans, then it goes to Elijah with his dog, which I think is so funny because this dog is almost saying I love you back to him. Then it goes to Elijah in the schoolyard stressing. It really shows the highs and lows put together in a way that I think is fun to watch. The picnic table thing… I knew once that happened, even as I was filming it that people would say that he was trying to be like Jason Dill which is so fucking stupid. The only reason he was there trying that trick was because of me. He was trying a fakie inward heelflip fakie manual which he almost did. The fact that he almost did it in ten tries shocked me. So I kept bugging him to do it because if he did that, I thought it would seriously shock people. I skate with him all the time and I would never expect him to do it. He went about four times and would try it for a couple hours each time. Luckily I shot that moment on 16. He was so angry that he was only thinking of destroying that table - that’s what skaters do when they have to get their aggression out. It just happened to be a picnic table. I love when he walks away and says ‘Sorry about that,’ because he’s genuinely a thoughtful dude. The fact that he’s that mad and then apologizes - that says something about who he is. To not use it because some fringe audience is gonna pick it apart would have been ridiculous. On top of that, I’m friends with Dill, I can fucking use that clip!”
So with the online premier over we’re left with another engaging piece of skateboarding documentation by Greg Hunt, one people can go back to and hopefully view as a time capsule of a very unfamiliar and confusing year. While that might be an overly dramatic framing of a skateboarding video, it’s entirely accurate because everyone puts attachments on the videos that they connect with. It’s a tradition in skateboarding to bring your influences into what you do and share them. For Hunt, it calls back to Sick Boys, specifically how it was shot on film and the feeling it captured, for others it could be watching Dylan on a blocky iPhone 4 in their bedroom while they're supposed to be doing homework, and like Mind Field, maybe Alright, OK will push another generation to see a different side of skateboarding or just inspire them to push. That’s the part of making things that’s perfectly unpredictable and for Hunt, it’s why it’s important to have as many perspectives in skating as possible.
“You need a Ty Evans, You need a Bill Strobeck. These are people that have a very strong vision for how they want a video to look and feel. I go back to French Fred making Menikmati. To be a kid and make a video that looked and felt so different, that takes courage. I don’t always have that kind of creative courage. When Bill made Cherry, that was a very different video and that takes courage to make something so strongly your own. We’re lucky to have people like this in skateboarding. You don’t have to like what they do but you also don’t have to hate it and pick it apart with such intensity. There needs to be more appreciation for people who not only make things but work hard to make things that are unique.”
With making anything personal, there’s the weight of vulnerability, even the act of typing up someone else opening up about their creativity is terrifying. That feels a lot different in a world where criticism is not only abundant but often not intended to do anything but piss someone off or stoke egos. That kind of feedback drowns out the positives because we all tend to focus on the one negative rather than a “like.” Does that chorus of critique bother Greg Hunt?
“I'd be lying if I said I didn't care (about negative feedback) because I'm a skateboarder. I don't make these videos like it's an orange juice commercial or something. It’s a skate video made for skateboarders. I do make them for the people in the video first. That’s my guiding light - it’s their video, it’s their legacy, and their hard work. But I also want skaters to be inspired to go skate.”
For more, read our recent interview with Gilbert Crockett.
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