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Editorial

Dan Magee Talks Cover Version And Full-Length Skate Videos.

Posted by Neil Chester10 min read
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dan Magee, for those unfamiliar with U.K skateboarding history, was behind Blueprint Skateboards. As well as being a revolutionary skateboard company for the U.K, Blueprint, produced skateboard videos which received worldwide acclaim - Waiting for the World, Lost & Found, Make Friends With the Colour Blue, and the independently produced First Broadcast.

When these videos were released it was the norm for companies to produce full-length videos, usually at least 30 minutes in length, to showcase their entire team. Often these video projects would take three to four years to complete. The video’s served to show the progression of the brand, not just in terms of their riders, but also graphically and aesthetically. Print adverts aside, videos were the major way for companies to communicate what they were all about.

The execution of these videos was incredibly creative, they were like mini-movies, with many having production values far beyond their budget. These videos highlighted the level of passion and dedication that both the riders and filmers would put in to create them. They ushered in skate-centric filming techniques and were painstakingly edited over months, making some of the filmers as famous as the skateboarders in front of the lens.

Blueprint’s videos, and of course Dan Magee, played a leading role in shaping the brand’s identity, akin to how the early Alien Workshop, Habitat, Girl, and even Powell Peralta videos did in driving the image of those companies. Sadly, none of these brands are at the levels of success they were at the time of the release of their iconic catalogue of videos. Not that it’s a case of simply making another video. The landscape is ever-changing, which is the beauty and the beast of skateboarding and technology has brought new and different ways of communicating. The full-length video no longer holds the importance it once did, at least not in certain industry eyes, but that doesn't mean the genre is dead.

In relation to all of the above we spoke to Dan about his thoughts on full-length skate videos, and making Cover Version - a new independent video project he and Kev Parrott have been busy with for the past two and a half years.

Ok, first off, you’ve not made a video for a while, what made you want to get back to a long project like this in the first place and why now?

For the most part, everything fell into place. I'd been working in branded content and advertising since MFWTCB (Make Friends With The Colour Blue) and for a period of that time I was sometimes doing skate stuff for Nike SB. I was hitting the sweet spot of earning adult money, which I never did when I worked on Blueprint, and still getting to film some skate stuff for certain jobs. It was rad and I was getting to shoot small campaigns and go on tour with all the Nike SB heads. But, although rad, it was a weird time for my filming in skating. Camera tech was changing and I was jumping from camera to camera to see what was gonna work the best for skateboarding, nothing really felt right at the time. Also because I'm filming skating within the parameters of a short shoot time, I was not getting to create the exact look and feel that I like to play with in edits and with the footage we’d shot. I needed a longer project so that I could get immersed in it to be able to do that.

As I started doing less skate related jobs, strangely, I found the exact HD setup that I felt really comfortable with. I was starting to spend more time with Kev Parrott and some of the skaters, Korahn had moved to London and we skated Jazz Square in Dalston for a few weeks one summer. I started to figure out exactly how that camera set-up worked for me and we made that little Duppy clip. Kev was on a different set-up, so we talked and he sold up and bought the kit I had been using. Once that was done and the settings were all sorted, we now knew that we could make a full video because it was doable with two filmers and it would be an HD skate film that wouldn't suffer because it was a mish-mash of filming styles and differing camera qualities.  So the path to making a full video was a sort of semi-circumstance, but also for me personally it became a way of getting back out there filming properly.

Cover Version filmer Kev Parrott puts Zach Riley through the mill Kev Parrot puts Zach Riley through the mill.

You chose some lesser known riders for this project, did you pick these guys or did this crew kinda fall into place?

Jak Pietryga, Manny Lopez and Harry Lintell all came from Kev, he had been filming with them for some time. The one person I really, really wanted was Korahn Gayle because we had known each other for ages but never got the chance to do something properly. Also, Korahn was becoming a whole different beast since he’d moved to London, he has always changed a lot as he grew up and he’d had lost all the extra bulk from being a personal trainer, and his experimenting with clothing-fit was settling down. He wasn't the knock-knee little kid anymore either. George Nevin had just shot that banging night part for Grey and it was like, damn that's sick, but Korahn has got the potential to do a super solid power part in him.

Munro is a guy that will be really honest with you about trying something you want him to do.

From there the crew evolved almost by chance, like it was meant to be. Korahn wanted Charlie Munro on the project and I was in two minds about it.I knew he was super skilled from his previous parts, but something didn't really make him appealing to me, but as soon as he came to London and I saw him in real life, it became so obvious that he was 100x better than what everyone was seeing, technically and style wise. He started on the project late and filmed his part in way less time than all the main players. Munro is a guy that will be really honest with you about trying something you want him to do. He's gonna get up early, drive down and try and try again until he'll let you know if he doesn't think it will work out.

Manny got Conor Charleson involved, he sold it into Kev and I by saying that Conor isn't the most natural skater ever, but no one can skate the stuff like he does in the U.K. For sure, it doesn't feel like he has complete control of his board, but his body seems like it is built to ram himself into a spot harder and higher than most. He was also the person who was on top of us to get out and get a clip. That was really appealing for me and Kev to have him in there, I think it resonates with a whole bunch of kids that could be from some shitty little town and not have a God given gift on a skateboard, but they are willing to keep trying and find their own niche. That feels like Conor.

Sam Murgatroyd is different, best style, best dude ever and hard to get footage with, but that's going to give your video personality. Same with Zach Riley, both just felt 'right' when they randomly tagged along on a session. It just felt like they were meant to be part of this crew.

Carlos Cardenosa was a Converse rider who was friends with Harry and began skating with us, even though I don't think him and Harry ever skated together, Harry basically filmed his part in the first 3-4 months then was travelling for Real and Volcom. Carlos did his part on four/five London trips to London and one to Scotland at the end of the project. The thing that I love about Carlos is that he feels like an old Chocolate skater, just the way he's so light on his board.

"I would have loved to have called it Second Broadcast, but I don't think Kev would have let me get away with it"

Graphically I see a connection with First Broadcast, is this the case? I heard rumours it was to be called Second Broadcast for a time, is there a connection?

For me, it definitely feels like the spiritual successor to First Broadcast, I would have loved to have called it Second Broadcast, but I don't think Kev would have let me get away with it. Also, when we started playing around with video identity I made all the riders names up in the First Broadcast font to get them sparked or something. Obviously First Broadcast is nearly twenty years old now, so it was only really Korahn and Jak that were like "oh shit, it's on". Harry and Manny, I don't think they even knew what it was, so I redid Manny's name in Cartoon Sans just to bitch him out.

Anyhow, from this I think people started hearing that it might be called Second Broadcast. I guess First Broadcast is respected as a classic video and because the skaters for this new project were either unknown or people had only seen their older, stinkier footage, a couple of people were like "you can not call it Second Broadcast with this group of skaters". I can't speak for Kev, but in my head I was like, well fuck it then, it was only a thought and Kev ain't gonna be down for that either. So it just became spun out to Cover Version because it has a triple meaning.

First meaning for me was, it's not called First Broadcast but I want it to feel in the same world. These are unknown guys and we are mainly filming in London. In the days of First Broadcast, there was no internet. It's not like anyone in that video was a superstar by that time. The second interpretation is, it's a London video, filmed in London. I've done it before, Kev's done it before, Hold Tight has been doing it his whole life. Jake Harris has done it, Palace did it, holy shit, what on earth can be brought to the table at this stage! It's just re-inventing the wheel. So it's just gonna be a Cover Version of every London video that's preceded it. So it's a vaguely ironic title because we actually just worked really hard to add something new to the canon of London skate films.

Third interpretation is something that Kev has touched on before, when we were making this thing, there are certain tricks and edits we love within skate culture, "oh Korahn you should try and get this line because it would look like Drake Jones in that kit, let's go to Deptford and do a 90s looking line". Let's shoot that Manny 5-0 like the Adrian Lopez one in Dying to Live. Harry should do classic power stuff like the old DLX videos and Jak's B-roll should refer back to Pappalardo in Transworld's I.E. Stuff like that, either by design or coincidence, there are little things in the vid that refer to or are a tribute to the skate culture that we love. Cover Versions. Also, it's a little in-joke for Kev and I, as it's our C.V. Probably should have called it P45!

Filmer Dan Magee films Harry Lintell Switch Crook in London for Cover Version Harry Lintell, Switch crooks. Crystal Palace, London.

So given that you shot Cover Version pretty much all in London, how important does location play in a skate video? Today a video part can have clips from all over the world, sometimes with a too heavy emphasis on Barcelona or China.

100%, especially now with the internet and social media and shoe company budget. People are out there all over the world. Our reason for shooting ONLY U.K and 95% in London was primarily budget. We did this with nothing, the whole video is 98% funded by ourselves on London Public Transport. Just our Oyster cards or we would drive to a spot now and again if our backs hurt from carrying the bags. We did one trip to Scotland at the end of the project that Spitfire and Alan Glass at Shiner kindly helped us do and that was amazing. For videos I've made in the past, the whole video would have been made up of many trips to various places. It's only WFTW (Waiting For The World) and most of First Broadcast that is all London. So really we were working within the restrictions of zero budget, but then it became part of our mission statement.

"Location wise, London is one of the world's most unique skate cities, if done right it looks amazing and every spot is hard as fuck to skate"

Location wise, London is one of the world's most unique skate cities, if done right it looks amazing and every spot is hard as fuck to skate. We all know it's rugged as is most of the U.K.   The nollie flip Lintell does at the end of his part, I cannot even begin to tell you the impossibility of doing that given how fucked up the surface and ride-away is. But aside from budget restrictions, we needed to make this video NOW, because, unfortunately, old London is leaving us. Spots are being knocked down, estates are being refurbished, London is being gentrified.   You won't be able to make a video like this in 3-5 years because aside from anywhere good getting rinsed by internet content, the landscape of London will change to look like a cheap version of financial America or Canada. Estates will be new builds with white or beige slabs and combustible cladding. It will be swamped in Pret-a-Manger’s or Leon’s. We even tried to ALWAYS eat in old greasy spoons or small businesses when we filmed because we saw these places closing as we were making the film. The meet-up spot at Kennington, gone, changed into a new Japanese restaurant. That's why we tried to shoot the B-roll in spots that might not be here much longer.

In making Cover Version, was part of the motivation to make another symbolic UK skate video that was on-par production and skating wise as a First Broadcast or a Lost and Found?

Following on from the last answer, the mission statement evolved from the cards we were dealt. We would have loved to have included some other people in the video like Kyle Wilson, Kyron Davis, Joel Banner and a few others we asked, but it didn't work out. We had our little rag-tag crew, even Harry, when we first started the video, was just on distributor flow, and I think people were still sleeping on Korahn Gayle a bit too.

We had shown the footage that we had so far to a few of the guy's sponsors early on, but no one was jumping at us to help, even though the footage was looking very promising. I guess they had their own ownable projects going on or the riders we had were not the riders they wanted to focus on. At first, it was like 'damn, is there really no budget in skating and to make videos anymore?’ No-one seemed that interested.

After a while it just felt like it was meant to be, like fuck... this is still doable, the skaters want to do it and Kev and I want to do it. Two old filmers can get this done with the skaters we have and zero budget, let's just prove it, even if it's just to ourselves. Even when Dave Mackey at New Balance came through and said, "What do you need?", we were almost like, "No, we want to do this as an independent passion project now with no budget. Just help us premiere it and on our trip to Scotland, make sure your riders have some money for food whilst we are on the road".

"There was no budget and two filmers making it between other jobs"

In the end that's exactly what happened. We tried to make a British-spot only video with lesser-known riders than the current big names in UK skating. There was no budget and two filmers making it between other jobs, so between us all and a group chat we got some decent skating in there, the video was shot on mirrorless cameras and lenses that are affordable in comparison to any other skate camera kit from eBay. So if you have mates that are shredding, anyone can make this video. It's 100% doable with the bare essentials.

Dan Magee checks footage for Cover Version

Do you have any disagreements with the current skate video landscape? Did any of this motivate you?

Instagram and quick edits have obviously killed it. Everyone is wrapped up in their own little world of acquiring likes, quick-hit, make a fast buck and get that instant appreciation rush. The skateboard world has imitated the real world with emperors-new-clothes style celebrities and influencers. We are living Black Mirror skateboarding. This was a major driving force behind making this one last independent full-length film. Inevitably, me and Kev will go back to making shorter stuff, edits, Instagram clips, etc. Making a full-length is an absolute mission but it's SO rewarding for the filmer and skater alike. Both shouldn't miss out or try and jump the queue by not doing it. Being part of a full-length video is amazing, and by my definition, a full-length is a 30min plus video with individual parts of people that have been skating and interacting with each other, so their parts feel contextual to each other. All with an intro with visual identity and a defining opener, middle and ender skate part.

Skaters shouldn't be cheating themselves out of this and filmers shouldn't be cheats. It's a coming of age and mark of respect that you've come up properly. There are UK skaters like Danny Brady, Nick Jensen or Chris Jones, you watch any of their parts or content footage and you see that they are a ‘full-length video skater. On the filmer side, it's the same. You can tell if someone just carries a camera and pushes a button, regardless of who they are filming or if they are getting paid to film. On the flip side, you can tell the filmers that have put the time in and paid their full-length dues. Jake Harris is telling a story when he films, even if it's online footage of Tom Knox. He's earnt and learnt that from making longer videos. Hold Tight Henry has a focus and a mission statement, he's not getting paid to film, he's doing it for an actual reason.

Speaking of the skate video landscape today, do you mourn full-length skate videos as a genre, or simply see it as the ever-changing skateboard landscape and evolution of digital media?

Of course, it's fucked. I don't think it's over though, I used to, but Kev and I proved to ourselves it's still 100% doable. Josh Stewart also did it with Static 4 & 5, Colin Read with Spirit Quest. It's doable with just a man, a camera and some skaters. You don't have to be selling anything or be on expenses. The landscape will evolve and I personally think it will be for the worse, I can see how the value of footage and decent skateboarding is falling. In our video specifically, we have guys who have a specific sponsor (not a shoe brand), that have not a clue how much work their two riders have put into making a video part that might be the defining part in their career. To not even support a rider on a level where it's helping them get across town to a spot is crazy, but as I say, even the riders just used this as motivation to get something done.

Looking back to the 2000s, a four-year video project was commonplace for many brands. Do you think this was awesome creative freedom or insane risk for a brand?

Those were the glory days for sure. Amazing creative freedom as you say, especially for me and how we did stuff at Blueprint because even then the owner didn't give us any budget. We did a lot of it on other people's help and budgets. I think brands can still do it today and not let it get too crazy but they have to have smaller projects going on to carry them through. But smaller projects can still have a lot of value with the right vision. The Ryan Lovell projects for Vans are a perfect example of this, shorter projects but yet still feel fully formed like a longer video. I think it's also good that Vans have only run with this format directly after making a solid full-length with Propeller.

Brands just can't get themselves in a Fully Flared situation where, even though it's an epic video, the costs and timeline escalate to a point where both are a huge chunk of a brands lifetime or even a rider's career. It’s impossible to reconcile that kind of investment, even though it makes a hell of a good video.

Do you think the whole aesthetic of skate videos is lost? When you think back to your own videos for Blueprint, just what went into their creation but also videos like Alien’s Photosynthesis or Habitat’s Mosaic, there was an art to these productions.

Nope, it's out there. There's just a lot of copycats. Love or hate Bill Strobeck, his look is a very strong aesthetic and probably the most important thing to happen in skate videos for a long time. You'd probably think I wouldn't say this but I'll tell you why so hear me out. Firstly, Strobeck didn't make a full video until he was pretty old in his career, I'm glad he did, it's pretty sick he's out there in the cold filming gnarly shit and he's 40. We filmed a lot of the footage in Cover Version in Autumn and Winter, bundled up in low temperatures. It's the most I've ever filmed in the cold and Bill kind of inspired that.

He also picked a bunch of skaters that were essentially randoms that people and brands were not seeing the full potential of, then made their own style of skating a THING. He stuck with the same crew as it evolved and I think a filmer should be part of that process as they are the ones out on the street with the skaters.

"Strobeck took the same camera everyone talked shit on and used it in its simplest form"

I remember when the Panasonic HD cameras came out and all anyone saw was the slow-mo stuff with it stuck on a dolly or a crane. Strobeck took the same camera everyone talked shit on and used it in its simplest form, not even with a fisheye of late and turned it into the camera everyone loves. He made it feel real like you were part of the session and I love that. All that zoom to face and tight filming is love or hate. I love it when he does it, or when Johnny does it because it's their thing. I hate it when people try and copy that shit. It only works within the context of Bill's edits. If you notice that when Johnny Wilson is doing his own stuff, he is shooting differently, more pulled back. He is trying to do his own thing.

I personally think that even though I can't or would not imitate that style it is important because Bill made up his own style of filming and formulated it into a full video identity. I think as long as there are a few emerging filmers with vision in amongst the Instagram generation, then some form of honour in skate videos will be preserved for future generations.

Ok in closing which five videos for you perfectly illustrate the creative genre of skate videos?

No way I can pin this down to five. Photosynthesis, Mindfield, Underachievers, Static series, G&S Footage, Vase, Mosaic, 5ive Flavors and Mouse.

Of all the classic skate video directors, who you rank as the best visionary?

Again impossible to put into one person. Here is a handful. Greg Hunt /Mike Hill combo. Jon Minor, Joe Castrucci and Josh Stewart. And then as a bonus, Bobby Puleo, because if the skater knows what they are doing they are essentially directing a lot of their own part.

Charlie Munro for Cover Version
Korahn Gayle and Dan Magee for Cover Version

All photography by Joe Buddle.

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