Crusty spots are such a trope of American East Coast scene videos that to reference them in relation to a new project is to risk descending into cliche – it is, however, something that struck me as I watched Zach Sayles latest video Veil and found myself shedding the layers of built up ‘jaded skateboard journalist’ ego and getting in touch with the excited teenage skate rat who sometimes had to turn off a video halfway through to run out the door and hunt for similar spots to the ones I’d been watching on screen. This is the joy of a good scene video; it fills you with excitement about the sheer possibilities of what can be achieved both on a skateboard and in the fields of the disciplines which surround it. It is a visual love letter to going out with your friends and rubbing your flesh against concrete at a high speed, in part because of the brief flood of endorphins you hope to feel as you roll away from that trick, but in a much larger part because it is even better to walk through your front door, covered in dust and blood, with your brain’s synapses in overtime due to the pleasures of spending a day out exploring with your crew. So yes, Zach’s video contains crusty spots, and yes, that is appealing to a skateboarder living in the north of England, and you can shove your hypothetical accusations of journalistic cliche up your arse. Watching a video where the aesthetic of a spot is given so much attention fills my wizened little heart with joy, and it should yours too – so have a read of a few words with Zach below, press play on Devon Connell’s part, then rally the troops and spend the day powersliding through broken glass and gravel until you reach a state of near-Zen enlightenment.
Hi Zach. First of all props on the video, it’s sick – got me hyped to go for a skate, which is sort of unfortunate as it’s been raining all week here, but still very much enjoyed. After Vanish, you stated in your Skate Jawn interview that you were taking a break from full lengths and focusing on shorter edits, to give yourself the time to dedicate to non-skate filming projects. What changed your mind?
Hey Jono, thank you! Sorry to hear and hope you can get out to skate soon. I wouldn’t say that I changed my mind, but that circumstances led me into making another full length. Joel had just moved to Philly in the winter of 2020. Sean was recovering from knee surgery and didn’t start filming again until early 2021. I met Devon Connell and we started skating a lot, and I later met Steve Berg through him. With all that, I wasn’t consistently filming with a steady group of people until April of 2021. Matt, Nico and I were consistently filming right after Vanish and had enough for a part within a year or so. Once we all got in that rythm of filming there was always talk of when we’d release something, but it always kept getting pushed back. I still want to pursue other creative endeavours, but this took over, and for the better – it’s given me a new perspective on skating.
What does the video’s title refer to? Do you feel like the way you film and edit has changed or developed in the interim between the two videos?
I really pushed myself to try and create something more narrative while sticking to some of the themes that I am drawn to; ominousness, beauty, romance. I wanted to create small scenes that collectively pushed towards this idea of a “dark romance.” There were a lot of major life changes that happened while making Veil, and the video has an undertone that something might not be right. I had an extremely rough friend breakup, the pandemic happened, I moved three times in three months with a roach infested apartment amongst that, there was a car accident and the passing of a close family member. Not to say there weren’t so many good things within those moments, but it felt like I was up against something. I was feeling all of the darkness with all of the lightness all at once. I felt that that idea really connected to skating. There is such a mental, physical and emotional toll on everyone involved when working on a project for this long, but ultimately it leads to something beautiful and special. It can be painful when you’re in it, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
What is it about the VX that keeps you using it, and how hard is it these days filming with a camera which most of the outside media world has deemed obsolete, sourcing different bits of discontinued hardware etc?
It’s funny you ask that, because I’m working on moving towards HD. I stuck with the VX for the reasons most VX users do – it’s lightweight, has the best audio, a great look and it’s easy to use and easy to repair. At the start of this project I wasn’t interested in HD and that’s roughly when the Xtreme went extinct, so it really seemed impossible to do. More and more independent videos were filmed with an HPX and that look really grew on me. We’ll see how the switch goes.
On the subject of VX audio, if you had to choose between the two, would you rather lose the ability to hear wheels on a cellar door, or a truck grinding through a particularly rugged ledge?
I’d go with not hearing wheels on a cellar door. There are more ledges than cellar doors out there in the world.
With the deep crust on display throughout the vid, I’m assuming some spot fixing must have been required. What’s the most effort you put in to make a spot skateable over the course of filming this one?
I’d say we are pretty tame when it comes to fixing spots. If a ledge needs to be broken in or a crack needs some bondo, we’ll fix it up. The farthest Sean and I went was with this ledge into a wooden cellar door. The original door was so rotted that your wheels would go through it, so Sean went to Home Depot, bought some wood, and spray painted it to match the spot. We got the trick and then pulled the wood back up. I hope that $60 piece of wood gets another life.
Needs must when you find those almost-skateable pieces of architecture. On the opposite end of the spectrum from fixing up local spots, I was stoked to see a couple of South London clips in the mix, from Neil Herrick and Giorgio Villone – did you film them? If so, how do you feel London and Philly compare in terms of spots? And what other locales did you end up in filming for this one?
Yeah, those clips are from a trip we took to London and Paris back in 2019. Philly is crusty, but some of the stuff we skated in London was even worse haha. It makes for a good challenge though. I really liked London and have been wanting to go ever since we left. We didn’t stray away too far from home after that trip. We mainly stuck to Philly and the surrounding area.
Did you have local guides while you were over in London and Paris, or was it more a case of turning up and seeing what you could find?
Reece Leung and Conor Charleson were our main guides while we were in London, they showed us a lot of really cool spots but it rained almost every day that we were there so we missed out on a lot. In Paris we were on our own, so we went to a lot of the staple skate spots. I think we spent three days going out to Cretiel, only for it to keep raining every time.
A couple of years ago you co-directed a sci-fi film, ‘Plasma Man’, which you described in your Skate Jawn interview as following the widow of a dead film star who chooses an actor to physically take her husband’s face – with all the talk in news outlets recently of deep fakes and AI, was it a conscious decision to connect this theme to current happenings in the world of tech? What other work are you involved in outside of skateboard filming?
100%. That script was written in 2017 and, at the time, was based on the rise of resurrecting deceased film stars through CGI. The film hasn’t been released and I don’t think it ever will be. If only it could see how bizarre things have gotten.
Right now I work a 9-5, so when I’m off all my focus goes towards filming skating.
Going back to skateboarding, who should we be looking out for in the Philadelphia scene?
Anything that is coming out of Philly, you should be looking out for. The scene has grown a lot in recent years and is probably the best it’s ever been.
Where can readers get a copy of the video, and what have you got in the works now it’s finished?
You can get a DVD at the Bigcartel site. Right now, I want to hop right back into filming for the next video.
Joel Miller in VEIL by Zach Sayles
Devon Connell in VEIL by Zach Sayles