As I get older and fatter and lazier, I find myself watching skateboarding much more than actually riding a skateboard. I've finally reached the point in my life where I can sit on the couch with a beer and a video on a beautiful day and not feel like an asshole for staying off my board. During my recent couch sessions I've been watching Ty Evans' videos over and over, and can safely say they are some of the best and most original skate films ever made.
Ty is the cinematographer for Girl, Chocolate, and Lakai. Along with Spike Jonze, he is the guy responsible for gems like Yeah Right! and Fully Flared. Before getting involved with Girl, Ty made those legendary Transworld videos in the late 90s. The ones like Interface and The Reason, where the level of skating was just as good, if not better, than team videos from that time.
A long time pioneer of fancy new shit, Ty was the first guy to film skateboarding in high-def and, recently, 3-D, for a short called Biebel's World. Tonight at the Downtown Independent theater in LA, Ty is premiering Unbeleafable, his second foray into 3-D skateboarding, made in collaboration with the Levi's Film Workshop. If you are anywhere near Los Angeles, we'd highly recommend checking it out.
Photo by Atiba Jefferson
VICE: How did you get involved in skate cinematography?
Ty: Well, I always skated, but I wasn’t that good. I watched a lot of skate videos because I never had cable. We just had a normal riveter and tenant, and I think we only had a couple channels, and even those were pretty static-y, so after I found skating and skate videos I really gravitated towards those two things.
And then you decided you wanted to start making your own skate videos?
Yeah, I always liked watching videos, so I just figured out how to make them myself. First I got a little 8mm video camera, then a super 8 film camera, and eventually I bought a 16mm Bolex, before getting a hi-8 3-chip camera. From there I just kept getting all the new cameras as technology progressed and kind of figured it out as I went along.
You said in an interview once that you felt Fully Flared was missing something, and that it was really “skate heavy.” Do you miss the olden days when skate videos had more of a narrative, or an accompanying story to them?
Yeah, I like that stuff, but I think it’s really hard to balance the two. You spend all of this time and energy with these skaters trying to get a trick, and at the same time other things, the narrative that you’re talking about, takes a lot of time and energy too. So the question is how do you balance the two? How do you focus on the narrative without taking away from the other aspect, the actual skateboarding side? I don’t know, I think a lot of the really old videos had a lot more personality in them compared to the videos today, where you just see a catalog trip of these skaters and then that’s their video part, I like hearing the skaters talk and seeing them interact with people.
You were really involved in a lot of the Transworld videos form the 90s. The level of skating in videos like Feedback, Cinematographer, and The Reason, to name a few, was on par with board or shoe team videos of that time. Was Transworld paying those guys a lot of money for their footage?
Money? No, I mean the budgets for those videos was my pay, Jon Holland’s pay, buying out the video footage, and maybe a rental van and a plane ticket, if we flew somewhere, but that was it. Those budgets were minimal and those videos were made in six months. So to answer your question, no, it wasn’t because of money. I think it was a combination of things. A new fisheye—what everyone called the Death Lens—had just come out from Century. It was an ultra-wide fisheye that gave you a really proper image on the VX1000 camera. At the same time I had just started using generators and lights, and I think the fact that you could just go and skate wherever any time after dark opened up a whole new world to a lot of people. I think that’s why those videos really flourished, those guys realized, "Whoa, we can just come back here at two in the morning and light it up and we'll be able to try this for hours." So I think that fisheye and the lights and generators helped make those videos happen.
Yeah, generators were huge for skateboarding. Do you remember the first time you used one?
Totally, back in San Diego we used to set this little shopping cart rack down a bank. There were outlets there, so I went and bought some flood lights from Home Depot and plugged them in at the spot. We filmed some stuff that night and everyone was amazed at how much better the footage looked. There were definitely dudes using lights before me, but I think they were still plugging them in. Then Heath Kirchart and I were filming for a Transworld video in, I think, ’97 and we kept getting kicked out, and Heath was like “Fuck it, I’m going to buy a generator and lights and we’ll just come back here at night.” So we went back that night and that was the very first night that someone used a generator and lights. There was a trick he did in Interface that night at the Crown Valley rail.
Is there more pressure on skaters and filmers to make jaw-dropping videos now than there was 15 years ago?
Well I think it’s human nature to want to do one thing and then progress. And that’s what’s scary—everyone’s videos are so good and it's like how do you top the next one? Then you put out the next one and you’re like “That was gnarly, there’s no way were going to beat that!” and then you slowly start working away on it and you realize it might be as good as the last one, and when you’re done you’re like, “Fuck it, this is the best one yet.” I think that goes for video makers as well as skaters and their tricks.
Photo by Aaron Meza
Speaking of progression, Girl was the first company in skateboarding to use high-def cameras.
Yeah, that all came about because Panasonic wanted us to do some promo work for them, but they didn’t know what they wanted. So they contacted us right when the HDX200 came out, and I was like “Yeah, we’ll do something as long as we can get those cameras.” I knew that was going to be the future. So they gave us a budget and all the equipment and we made a commercial for them. As soon as I saw it I knew that was where everything was going to go.
Is there anything you miss about the simpler days, before all the fine fangled high-def stuff?
Well, I think digital is finally starting to rival film. There’s always going to be purists who love 35 and what it looks like—it has its own look just like digital has its own look. I think it’s really great to embrace both of them. I love film, I love digital, whatever tool’s there are to use, I love using them.
I heard you rigged up a camera to a remote control car one time and—
[_laughs_] Oh yeah, you remember that? That’s funny.
How did that work?
That story is so funny, dude. I built this remote control monster truck—this was around 2000—and basically I built it and flattened the whole thing, then I took a VX1000 with a fisheye and mounted it on the truck with twist ties—it was super sketchy. The truck didn’t have brakes, so you could only go forward or reverse and turn it. It was one of those super fast ones that can go like 30 miles an hour. So I brought it into Girl and I was like, “You guys gotta check this thing out!” I put it out front and all the employees came out to watch. I was going full speed, and when I went to slow it down I tapped reverse and the front wheels locked up and it flipped and landed perfectly on the fisheye and slid like 15 feet [_laughs_]. Then everyone kind of snickered and walked back inside. My camera was all scratched up. That was the last time I used it.
You never got to actually film anything with it?
No, I was like “Fuck this thing! This thing sucks!”
Have you experimented with any other weird filming techniques?
Yeah, we’ve done some funny stuff. Like I’ll take big poles, tape the camera onto the pole, and try to film with it. I always love trying new stuff. I remember one time in Minneapolis I sat in a van with the door open while my photographer buddy drove. I filmed Eric [Koston] doing a line—it looked pretty cool. I like trying new things, but you can’t really do it when someone is trying a really crazy trick. You don’t want to fuck that up, you know?
I realize this sounds lame, but in skateboarding “cool” tricks come and go, like folded frontside flips or pressure flips. Are there any filming techniques that you used maybe 10 or 15 years ago but don’t ever want to use again?
Yeah, I hate fisheyes but all the skaters love it. That’s my biggest pet peeve. It’s funny, when I started making the film that I’m working on now, everyone was like “There’s no fish eye!” And I was like “Fuck, they’re right. It does feel a little bit boring.” I’m just so sick of seeing it all the time. I have some other ideas that I’m trying to use instead of the fisheye that might accomplish the same thing. It’ll be cool to see how it turns out.
Like what? Or is it top-secret?
[_laughs_] You’ll see once it comes out. I mean it’s nothing that special, but to me it is.
All the companies under the Crailtap umbrella have a light feel to them, like no one around there takes themselves too seriously. Is that a conscious effort or is that just the natural vibe that those guys have?
Everyone just has so much fun. They’re the biggest little kids you’ve ever met. Whether they’re shooting bottle rockets at people or doing whatever else, it’s just a fun, great place to work. I love working there, I wouldn’t change a thing.
What’s going on with the 3-D stuff you’re working on now? Had you ever shot in 3-D before this?
Last year when I was filming for Lakai’s Skate & Create one of the camera assistants, my buddy Ian, was telling me how he was doing a lot of 3-D work in the company he works for, HD Camera Rentals, and I was super intrigued by it. He was like, “Hey, we should get together and do some skate stuff.” Long story short, a couple weeks after Skate & Create, which was almost a year ago now, he said, “I got my hands on a couple of 3-D rigs, let’s go shoot some skating.” I knew nothing about 3-D at all—he had to show me the ropes. Rohan, his buddy and assistant, was super great. He was pulling conversions, which is kind of like how people pull focus, but conversions are like the intraocular distance between two lenses. It was really cool. We took the cameras and filmed a bunch of stuff at Guy [Mariano], Mark [Johnson], and [Brandon] Biebel’s skate park. The next day he got two RED cameras on a beam-splitter rig and we put that on a dolly because the cameras are so big. It was amazing. Then their buddy, Scott, brought over a passive 3-D monitor and I got to edit it in 3-D. We called the film Biebel’s World, and it was the first full-color, 3-D skateboarding short done by skateboarders for skateboarders. Only a handful of people have seen it because I’ve only had access to 3-D TV here and there. I think they have it streaming at the Levi’s Film Workshop, though, so kids can come by and check it out.
What can you tell me about Unbeleafable? I heard it was going to be sort of like The Forest short from Rick Howard’s Mouse part.
Well, my buddy Scott shot this photo of a kid doing a backside tailslide on a ledge. There were a bunch of leaves on the ground, and he got leaf blowers to blow them into the air. It’s an insane photo. When I was writing the treatment, I was trying to think of what I could do to give it a dynamic for 3-D—I needed depth and shit you can look at. That photo always stuck in my head, and I thought it would be rad to do something like that with video. I ended up calling Scott and asking if I could get his blessings to do it, and he was like “yeah, no problem.” So I ended up writing a treatment about skaters skating these obstacles while leaves are blown in the air.
You could say it’s an extension of The Forest, but I wasn’t even thinking that. The Forest was shot outdoors and really felt like you were out in this forest, whereas this is going to be shot indoors on a stage, so I think it’s going to feel kind of fake, almost like a fantasy world. Our stage isn’t that big so I don’t think we can go too crazy with huge obstacles, I think it’s going to be more minimal, like a little ledge or a flat bar or a manual pad. Then we’re going to cover all the obstacles with plants and leaves and trees. So say we have a wedge to wedge, it will look like these guys are just doing tricks off of piles of leaves. It should be fun.
Are you planning on doing more stuff with 3-D in the future? Maybe a full-length skate video?
Yeah I would love to do a full-length 3-D video. It’s funny, so many people are so anti 3-D but I love how it looks on a 3-D TV. I think it’s awesome for skateboard videos. It lets you actually look under the skaters’ boards and see the tricks that much better.