“I nearly died this morning,” exclaimed Will Smith before we sat down for an interview about his latest Leeds edit, Weedkiller. Will had slipped in the shower and hit his head. For someone who tries to stay out of danger for five months and forces himself not to skate, slipping is somewhat of a cruel way to get hurt. For the many people making skateboarding videos in Leeds, a major question is always ‘why?’ I think skateboarders luck out having people around to film, especially when they don’t expect you to do the same for them.
Here’s an interview with a guy who bought cameras, tried to learn how to use them with his mates and ended up filming something completely different in the process of putting together a northern banger for Vans.
Introduction & Interview by: Fraser Doughty
Photography by: Reece Leung
Videography by: Will Smith
First things first, why would you do this when you’ve got a Vans video to put together at the same time?
The Vans project was going to happen and that was a guaranteed thing, so it was already set that we were going to make Mush. But I got a new camera setup after I finished Assembly. I bought a new fisheye setup which wouldn’t have matched up with Assembly so then I didn’t use it, then I bought a long lens camera so I had two new cameras. Literally everything new was full HD and I needed to get used to it because I didn’t want to fuck up clips whilst filming. If they’re doing something gnarly I didn’t want to be the person blowing clips.
So I started filming these boys to get used to the new setup really. I’d never used the Lumix either so I was learning how to use all the settings and just get everything right, because accidents do happen. When I get a new camera, that’s when I’ll do something wrong with it and I didn’t want that to happen on footage for the Vans video. It sounds kind of harsh, but everybody knew it. I was just trying to get used to it and it just started to light up really, we were just having chill days out with me trying to get used to my camera and then that escalated into me filming two videos. It was never really intentional!
How did filming for two videos work logistically?
Basically everyone that’s in the Vans video worked Monday to Friday. I mean Blinky sometimes works weekends but generally but every weekend was ‘Vans’. I just had to tell the homies that we couldn’t film at the weekend. If there was a space then yeah, Josh or Remie could come along to skate spots and stuff, but mainly we’d just film for Weedkiller during the week.
You accidentally gave yourself a seven day a week full time job haha.
Yeah, to the point when I kind of got a bit burned out. Obviously as the filmer you’re out every day, whilst someone skates one day and they don’t skate for another week. Then they go out the next week and wonder why you’re so done in haha. I needed to chill a bit.
But what was chilling to you? Was that just editing and looking at a screen instead of filming?
I’m really bad at it. I get so obsessive about everything I do. It doesn’t start out that bad, but I put clips in a timeline when we film them so every day I have to fill it. If I didn’t start editing as soon as I got home I’d forget what happened that day, even the occasional lifestyle clip would get missed. If I get to it in eight months time, I’m not going to remember all these little gems. Beyond that I just want to skate too, but whilst I was filming that lot I broke my wrist so I wasn’t really skating anyway. I guess the real ‘chilling’ is seeing my girlfriend and not skateboarding.
Is all this free-time due to the snow season? I think it’s pretty well documented that you’re also a sponsored snowboarder.
My winter season starts around September. I literally don’t touch a skateboard in September, it’s my rule. It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, but it’s not worth it for me to do something stupid like roll my ankle or whatever after that point because there’s no chance it’s gonna get better enough for me to go snowboarding. It runs from September until April, with the last event of the year in the first week of May. I’m free to film in May, June, July, August and September, so there are five months where I’m fully free and I can fully film if I’m not doing any work. That was really helpful because if they get a random day off I can just say yes, which makes it a lot easier than having to have days off coincide.
Whenever I hear about Leeds skateboarding, a whole lot of heads speak about the skaters being really on it. Is that really the case, or is it the filmers and photographers?
I think me and Reece are on it more than them haha. We’re always on the chat, “Yo what you saying boys’. We had the Vans group chat, and then we’ve got another filming group chat with bare people in. If you’re making a video it’s kind of a job innit. I think because I know what it feels like to be on the other side of it, I know that sometimes you do need someone to just give you that nudge. You don’t have to be aggressive or force it, just a little something to keep it going. It’s hard if it’s just you, if you’re trying all these things at once you’re going to burn out a little bit mentally. It starts out like, “Yeah let’s get it let’s get it,” and then you get to a certain point in the video where it gets that bit harder because you’ve done some of the easier stuff and you need to get some of the gnarly stuff. Then it’s a filmer’s and photographer’s job to just keep the wheels rolling.
Having been on both sides of filming parts and edits, have you picked up any motivational powers?
It’s so individual for each skateboarder I come across but with everyone there’s a point between nearly landing a trick, to getting nowhere near, then back again to where the skater should be close. I’ll sound like a hippy but it comes in waves man, haha. Again, it’s part of the filmers job to motivate without overkilling it by talking to them every time. They might start doing something really weird but you’re in this position to see everything in the moment. I feel as if the skater has so much to concentrate on around them they forget what they are actually supposed to be doing haha. It is easier to see their mistakes through the lens.
Vans aside and life aside, are you doing this just for your mates? Why? It seems more than a test.
It naturally spiraled into us wanting to make a good video, at some point we definitely decided we wanted to have a certain level of skating. Obviously some stuff, because it’s a homemade video – I don’t want to word things wrong here – but I’ll put some things in the homemade video that I wouldn’t put in a company video, you know what I mean? If all these people were sponsored then I’d be way more ruthless, but when I know how hard someone tried to get something or what was a big deal for them then I’ll put it in. There’s still some stuff I refused to put in, too.
For me filming something is as rewarding as being the skater, because when I have an idea of how I want it to look and I film it like that, and they do it how they want to do it, it’s like we both have the same level of high.
It’s mad; if you’re injured and you can’t skate but you still go to the spot, after 10 minutes of sitting there watching you’re over it and you’re pissed off about it. Filming is like a little cheat, you get the skate high without doing it because you’re involved in and being surrounded by skating.
Have you been passing over filming duties over any of them yet?
At the minute, Adam. He’s taken to it and is interested. But no one is using the fisheye, it’s too expensive. I’ve booted one of my own fisheyes doing a tre flip. I’m not willing to pay 850 quid for another fisheye lens. Filmers have quicker reactions when it comes to getting the fisheye out of the way, it becomes second nature.
Did you go about picking specific people for the vid?
We’re just always hanging out anyway. We are always talking to each other and at each other’s houses so we just automatically came together that way.
Have you learned how to motivate them at least?
Most of us had no idea about going out to get specific thing, a lot of the time we were just going out. That works better with certain people. Some people need to go out and be like, “I’m gonna go try this today,” and then some people, Foz for example, just need to go out and just see what happens with no plans because the anxiety of thinking about the trick before they get there gets too much.
I have noticed something about skaters though; I’m not going to lie, sometimes in my head when it comes to spots I’m thinking, ‘You guys are fucking lazy.’
Seriously? Hahaha why?
Right, well the actual skateboarding part is really difficult, it’s always been way harder for me to skate than snowboard, but to get a clip snowboarding is 10,000 times harder. All you literally need is for the spot to be dry and maybe to put some wax on a ledge for skateboarding. For example, for the Mush video I’d have a brush in my car to sweep spots which were shit and crusty because of stones but people would be trying to ride through rocks. Just brush the spot haha, make it easier for yourself. I’m all about making life easier for myself, cleaning a spot might take a little bit more work but in the end it makes your life easier. When we’re filming snowboarding we’ll just take something away, cut it completely off or cover it. I think it’s quite funny this idea in skateboarding that you skate a spot how it lies. Without Steve Berra-ing it…it’s kind of mad.
What’s the story behind the name of the video, is it deliberately 420 blaze it?
Weedkiller? I was literally gardening with a bottle of the stuff and in bright capitalized letters there it was. Obviously it’s a bit of a joke about the people in the video and it’s a hidden thing for us, but in the end I was gardening with a bottle of weedkiller and it made sense to use it as a name.
At the premiere people seemed hyped on the music choices, how did it all work with the footage?
For me the skateboarding is part of the music, that’s also what I was saying earlier on – when I’m filming I build the timeline up and at a certain point I find music that I want and I’ll put it in and I start putting clips to parts of the song where the music dictates it more than I do.
I end up with all these clips with gaps in between because of the tracks I’ve chosen. When the songs are rolling and when it feels aggressive I prefer lots of single clips. On top of that I started to cut the tracks so they’d have a natural ending without using the full use of song. There’s no breaks or people finishing, I just wanted the edit to flow. I don’t think I have the vocabulary to describe it other than to compare it to when an album is continuously going from track to track.
With all that in mind, do you keep an eye on where to fill it when going out? You’d know what would need filling at 3:45?
Pretty much. It starts off really loose and then the longer it goes on the more I feel like I have to direct it a little bit. It can become a director role – obviously not choosing the tricks or whatever, but I’ll make suggestions and tell the skater how the timeline and song would pan out if they get something specific. The ordering of the video can make or break a video; you can film a really good video, but it’s just put together in a really weird way and it sucks. It’s the same with the music. You can film the best clips you can possibly ever film, and you’ve got some shit music on it that doesn’t work. The song too, but it all comes down to tempo – I think every skateboarder has their own tempo to edit to.
Speaking of which, was there ever a point in which Josh was last and Adam came first?
Yes! That actually happened. That’s so funny you know because Josh (sorry Josh) had the last part originally and then Adam did his ender and it felt appropriate to finish the edit there. Just on a whole that day at L Ledge was pretty intense and hectic, so it felt right to put Adam at the end after going through that. Josh got moved to the start of the video which is a big deal anyway then I was stuck with, “Where the fuck do I put Remie?” It all worked out though.
WEEDKILLER by Will Smith