When you're a skateboard director you wear many hats: driver of the stars, babysitter, confidant, motivational coach, fedora… Jason Hernandez wears all of these. And he wasn't always just behind the camera either—he once rolled amongst the wild creatures he now chooses to capture. One might say the Los Angeles native has seen it all. And while not only does he make pretty little motion pictures of skateboarding for all of us to enjoy, he's also helping the rest of the world do so with his family-run camera tools and accessories company, Eazy Handle.
But how good is a director, really, without his best subject? And what's it like when that subject has three kids and a business to run? Vice caught up with Jason Hernandez between filming missions with Eric Koston for the upcoming Nike SB Chronicles 3 project to find out.
VICE: Okay a little bit of background on where you come from and how you got into doing what you're doing today.
Hernandez: I grew up in Rosemead, ten miles east of Los Angeles—grew up here my whole life. Wanted to be a pro skater I guess and was trying and got hurt, and then a buddy of mine had a camera. I took his camera and started filming one of my best friends, Daniel Shimizu. I worked at World Industries for a little bit and that didn't go so well, and then somehow from there I went to Transworld [Skateboarding Magazine] and from Transworld I went to Adio [Shoes]. After Adio went out of business, I think knowing Daniel and Stefan [Janoski] and Omar [Salazar] kinda like got me an in at Nike and that's just been it ever since.
What kind of camera was it back then—your buddy's camera?
He had a VX1000 and I just stole it basically. I just took it from him 'cause he was really good friends with Daniel as well. I mean, he let me borrow it of course, I didn't really steal it but I literally just hung onto it for a long time… I actually never gave it back.
Epicly Later'd with Eric Koston - part three
Nice, so you still have it?
No, i'm not very nostalgic about that camera at all. I see why it's good and everything but I was really eager to move on and learn something else and try something else. I miss how easy it is. It basically has a look built right into it that every skateboarder loves. So I miss the fact that it's so readily available and light and easy. But I don't miss the quality of it by any means.
You mentioned a time in your life when you might have pursued professional skateboarding. Could you talk about that a bit?
Pursuing professional skating—to be honest I am glad I didn't, and that what happened happened. There is no way I would have been good enough to keep up with what it's like nowadays. I am glad to be in the position I am in, well most the time.
With your work, how much of it for you is being out there and filming versus behind the editing desk, sound design, music selection, and stuff like that?
I don't know, I think I'm just now realizing it, but i'm super hands-on. I wanna be there. I want to shoot everything. I wanna be in the streets as much as possible even though a lot of times the streets is what makes me crazy. I like watching a finished project—being, like, OK, I shot about 95 percent of that film. I think that's definitely huge in the way I edit. I've learned to start thinking of every day like a scene—every day I shoot. Maybe it's just one trick and it's in that folder and its fine. But typically I like to have 10-15 files in that folder that associate that scene with that trick, so when I go back and edit I have that cool sign in the background that was glowing because it was a sunset. And whether or not I end up using it in the edit or it's really just trick after trick after trick in the part—I don't know, if i didn't have that stuff and I needed to use it at any point I'd be kicking myself, you know?
So it's more shooting versus directing?
Yeah, skating is so on the fly… that's the great and horrible part about it, is that sometimes you don't even know where you're going. Or you do know where you're going and you only have ten minutes there. Or you don't know how long you have and you're always rushing. I like it because its fun and exciting, but I don't like it because if I have a shot list in my head when I go somewhere, I can't always get it because were getting kicked out or the guy doesn't wanna skate by this obstacle or throw down his board one more time or ride away—or whatever, you know what I mean. So it's a good thing and a bad thing. I think on a typical skate day, I'm horrible at directing, but if it came into a commercial or an actual shoot, I would enjoy both directing and being behind the camera. But I definitely love being behind the camera the most.
Where is your favourite place to shoot? Or if there isn't one significant location—what inspires you and when do you enjoy shooting most of all?
I like shooting in places that have busy backdrops. I kinda like a lot of things going on: If you're just sitting there, then get out of the shot—but please, bus, train, car, please get in the background right when the action starts. I like architecture, lines, bricks, beams, glass. Location-wise, I like Chile, Japan, China, Europe.
What are some of the changes you've noticed in the world of skateboard videos?
I think the way I look at any video, a full length, a web video, or a 15 second Instagram clip, has completely made me numb. It takes a lot for me to remember what I watch. I mean, think about it, you can wake up, watch a clip on Insta, someone could send you a skate clip real quick in a text, then you take a crap and watch a tour edit, then go skating and someone asks, "Have you seen this guy's part?" Boom—you're watching some random guy's part, all before 12 PM. There is no stop to it, companies, sites, [they] want more, more, more…
Have you noticed mainstream media incorporating more elements you can relate back to the pioneered style of skateboard videos?
Maybe a little in the editing—ramped slow-motion perhaps—but nothing I can think of right now.
I think we do it our way, there are a lot of "no nos" that we do as skate videographers. I mean we zoom when we shoot long lens, we use fisheyes all the time, we shoot in any light condition, etc… I think of filming skateboarding like making a documentary film. As a filmer, we rarely get to tell the skater, "Let's skate this at dusk, or 7 AM, when the light is amazing. Also, please make the trick in 30 minutes so light is still even and nice." We have to take whatever we can get—the spot's half lit, or we have two tries, or there is only one angle, and it's shooting directly into the light. You get to the location, you set up, and deal with whatever is thrown at you.
Whereabouts do you live now in California?
I live in Glendale actually, maybe a couple miles from Eric [Koston].
What was your first introduction to Koston and when did you get to know him personally?
That's an interesting question. I'm pretty sure it was the day he needed to shoot his first ad [for Nike SB]. So I took him to a spot in Sunland, California—him and Atiba. I think that was the first time I ever met [Eric], and I was a little scared. Like, I'm about to film this guy I've been looking up to for a long time. I think I was super nervous, I'm pretty sure he actually got the trick that day—it was pretty rad.
Cool, so obviously you kinda followed his skating for years before that. What was your impression of him then, and did that change at all once you got to know him better, once you started working on some videos with him and stuff?
Oh my god, yeah. I've seen Chomp [on This], I've seen him in videos—I know that he's like, you know… I call him the ham. He's a big ham on a skateboard. I think he's even more of a ham than I thought he would be. He's just super easy to get along with. He's very rarely serious, but at the same time, he's probably the most serious person I know [laughs]. Kind of an oxymoron ya know?
That kind of describes his skating too like with that Chomp part people got to see a different side of his skating because he's known for having perfect style but also he's one guy who can get away with tick-tacking out of tricks and stuff like that too.
I think he needs that too, actually. I don't know it's almost like his warmup. His warmup is like just what we all would love to be able to do. That's how he figures the spot out. It happens a lot where we'll be at a spot where he needs more time than the average person—that's what I've noticed lately about him. He's always talking to himself; to me, to anyone who will listen. He's always talking the trick out. He kinda has to go through all the steps to get there. By the time everyone's ready to go he's kinda like, "Oh, okay, i'm gonna try this now. I'm gonna do this."
So he's got a little bit of the madness that people talk about with skating?
Oh yeah, madness one hundred percent. I don't even know if you would notice it per say… But since I've been out with him a lot lately it's definitely there. It's constantly talking, constantly asking questions. "If I do this/ if I look this way…" you know, he's always just talking.
Is it a struggle then to find skaters that can kinda see the bigger vision of what you're working on?
Yes, one hundred percent.
Hows Eric with that?
Oh, he's good, He's super good with that actually. I mean, he's probably around cameras more than I am to tell you the truth. it's kind of weird to think about it but he's [been] in front of a camera probably half of his life, it's pretty crazy. Sometimes I feel like if a person isn't down I get the same feeling. If i'm asking someone to do something and I notice they don't want to i'm just literally kind of like, "Okay, fuck it. We don't need to do it anyways it's gonna be stupid." But if the person's into it—Eric most of the time is super into it. He'll ask me the idea and he's like, "OK, what's it for, why do we need to do this?" And then he's down to do it. It motivates me more and gets me more excited. Most people, i'll give them an idea and they're down, but they won't even ask why. But with Eric, he's super hands on, he wants to know why.
He's a little more methodical…
One hundred percent, just like the skating. Like I was talking about how he's always thinking—oh my god, with him driving, he's like a map! He's seriously like a map of Los Angeles—anywhere in the world, actually. He's super good. Wherever he's at, he knows where he is, he can tell you how to get anywhere. We're in Texas, he's like, "Oh yeah, there's a Whole Foods around the corner from here I remember going there and there's a skate spot behind that", and he's right, there is! [laughs]
So right now you're working on Volume 3 of the SB Chronicles, is Koston gonna have a part in that?
Yes he will have a part. When I got hired [at Nike] and he was part of the team, I was like okay, "I'd really like to have a Koston part." So yeah, he will have a full part. It's not gonna be like a Yeah Right! type of part or something, I dunno. It's definitely gonna show Koston in a different light. I think it will be more of him like literally skating if that makes sense.
Totally… actually, not really when I think of some of his past parts though. That's really interesting…
Yeah, you know you have [a film like] Menikmati, where your mind's blown at every second. When I look at the footage now, to me it looks really rad. It looks like Eric skating. That's the only way I can put it. It's good, like he has some really good stuff! The really good things are really going to be highlighted and his skating is gonna take you through his part. It's gonna be a little journey through the streets.
Check back in the coming weeks for interviews with more of Eric Koston's collaborators.