Torsten Frank Films the World's Best Skaters
We had a chat with the Adidas filmer about his day job.
Torsten Frank. Photo: Zander Taketomo
Torsten Frank isn't just one of the highest profile skate filmmakers working right now, he's also one of the luckiest. As the Adidas global skate filmer, he regularly points his camera at some of the greatest skaters of all time – Daewon Song, Mark "The Gonz" Gonzales, Dennis Busenitz and the UK's own Chewy Cannon, to name a few.
While he is, without a doubt, a lucky bastard that his day job is to do all of the above, he didn't get to where he is through luck; from the mid-90s, Torsten honed his skating and filmmaking skills on the streets of his native Stuttgart and worked his way up from there. It only took him a few years to make his name, and after he released a video for Adidas in 2009 – Diagonal – global skate publication Transworld invited him to shoot an edit for their cinematographers project, an accolade that's only ever awarded to the best filmmakers working in the world of skateboarding.
I had a chat with Torsten about filming the Adidas team, VHS skate video bootlegging and why, when you're filming with Busenitz, you never leave your camera in its bag.
VICE: Hey Torsten, where in the world are you right now?
Torsten Frank: I'm sitting at home in Stuttgart; it's snowing outside. I just opened some old Dennis Busenitz footage. There's a Rodrigo [Teixera] colour-way coming out of the first Busenitz pro shoe, so I'm digging into their older footage of them wearing the shoe for its release.
I’ve always respected Rodrigo and Dennis's skating. Rodrigo especially, ever since The Firm: Can't Stop days, where he had one of the best two song sections.
Totally, yeah. They're both still going and improving. Rodrigo's been on Adidas for six years – his first trip was to Madrid with us about five or six years ago. At the beginning he was always wearing the Dennis Busenitz pro shoe, and the football-looking shoe with the big tongue, and he was always wearing the greatest colour-ways of the shoe – purple and green – and I thought, 'Only he can suit these colours, he’s such a G.' Imagining Dennis in those kinds of fluorescent colours – or anyone else – is hard. But only Rodrigo can make those crazy colours work. Probably Chewy, too, if I think about it.
How did you become Adidas' filmer?
I grew up in Stuttgart with Lem and Jascha Muller, who was a team rider of Adidas and is now the Global Sports Marketing Director. I started going on the first Adidas trips, and the idea was born to do am Adidas Europe video, because I had a lot of footage of Lem. So it grew from there, as Adidas is close to Stuttgart. But I was filming way back in Stuttgart with German skaters, and then I became the European Adidas filmer, and then after Diagonal came out in 2009 I started travelling globally and filming with the global team.
How did you manage to make the Stuttgart scene happen internationally?
So, back in 2012, Transworld asked me to shoot a cinematographer project section, and Chewy had always asked me to film a night part in London. I went to London twice and we tried to make it happen, but it was so hard – it rained a lot, the streets were busy 'til 12, 1AM. Then we started skating and drunk people want to fight us – and even the spots... everybody can get bored of their own city, but the spots in London were kinda far, half an hour from spot to spot
I said, "Hey, Chewy, wanna come night skate in Stuttgart? There's one big shopping street where no cars can go down, five minutes from one end to the other, and you can night skate there and you'll never kicked out." Chewy was hesitant at first, but agreed to come to Stuttgart and skate. We filmed most of this footage in Stuttgart in just three nights. Subway stations, up ledges, banks, everything. We got everything in three nights! We were both hyped.
You've clearly got a good eye for a spot. Is that your process as a filmer? Do you choose spots for the skater quite often, or find yourself directing the session?
Yes, that's actually what I really love to do. And I really love to film in Stuttgart. So, for example, Chris Pfanner lives close to Stuttgart, and if he hits me up and says, "Hey Torsten, I want to get some clips for a new Volcom project," I've got a few spots in mind for him in Stuttgart. So I know the 16-stair rail, the red banks double set, then there's a big island he kick-flipped once. If Lucas Puig comes to Stuttgart, I've got ledge spots for him, plazas. For Miles Silvas, I'll take him to the hubba in town that you can skate all day, every day and – when I did, he got his switch heel back-tail down it, which was his ender in the Adidas Away Days video.
What’s it like filming with Dennis Busenitz?
Busenitz is always going for it. You get your camera ready, press record, just follow him and stuff will happen with Dennis, for sure. His warm-up, it's happening. Don't leave your camera in its bag when Dennis is around – I've learnt that. The magic is happening.
London and the rest of Europe is smashing it for skating right now, more than ever. Did you see the new Adidas Vortex edit by Adam Todhunter and Henry Edwards Wood? It's got No Comply guy Glen Fox in it – what do you think of his skating?
I first heard of Glen Fox through Chewy; he was always like, "Check this guy, Glen, he’s gonna be good, he’s gonna be good," so I was stoked when he got on Adidas.
Yeah, he skates in lines for ten minutes at a time. It's awesome to watch, but it must be hard for the filmer trying to keep up with him. On that note, how did you first get into filming?
Back in the day, when New Deal, H Street and Plan B videos were coming out and everything, there was always just one guy with a tape, but I had two VHS players, so I was the guy who used to copy the skate videos for all my friends from VHS to VHS/
You were the skate video bootlegger?
Yeah! So I was at home all day watching skate videos, and I was like, 'Fuck! I want to start filming my homies too – we've got a great scene, we skate every day and people are landing great tricks. I want to capture that.' At that time, nobody was filming, so I wanted to start that up.
There was nobody else filming in Stuttgart?
What year was that?
Wow, so in the peak of the street skating era you were the first generation of skaters in the city?
Yeah. We used to see footage once in a while, mainly in parks. When we made our first skate video we called it Stuttpark, because we said we wanted to film in the streets, but for us the city of Stuttgart was like a skate park, so it was a tongue-in-cheek joke.
That's a great way to start. What do you think about when making an edit these days?
Back in the day, you had to sync the audio for the VHS, for the DVD, because the audio might be too loud or too quiet. Holy shit, it was gnarly! Nowadays, you can edit on your phone. My motivation to make an edit is to get people hyped, and the best comment on YouTube is when people say that the video made them want to get out and skate.
Skating is all about having fun, and I have fun filming. I don’t ever want to see filming as a job, because I just have fun doing it. I filmed Daewon in London, the Meantime edit. Daewon came over to London and said, "I haven't filmed outside of LA for a long time, I'm so nervous…" He got two tricks on the first day in London, with his loose trucks on the rough ground. He couldn't believe it. I was the happiest man in the world.
You took Daewon out of his comfort zone.
Yeah, his manual trick on the red brick bank in Waterloo – that was his first trick; he was nervous when other skaters came to watch, but he got it. Daewon's done every trick, and even he gets hesitant sometimes. I found it funny. He told me he was stoked later that day he got those tricks.
Wow, that's humbling to hear. He's one of the best skaters ever.
He's one of the guys.
Do you have any other stories from filming in London?
On that same trip, Blondey, Daewon and I were at a hotel, and Blondey was like, "I want to do a wallie pole grind near Southbank," on an orange art sculpture that you could ride up on in front of the Southbank Centre art gallery. We thought it would be best for him to get the wallie at night, because we got kicked out in the day. So we go out to get the pole grind, after skating over the Waterloo Bridge at 2AM to do it – skating over the bridge full speed, me, Blondey and Daewon; it was so fun – and then we get there and Blondey tries the wallie pole grind, but then security pops out after two tries. Then Daewon walks up to the security and pretends he's a tourist and that somebody has just stolen his wallet. He managed to convince them to follow him to help him find his imaginary wallet, and it dragged the security out of the spot long enough that Blondey could get the trick.
Daewon is incredible. His routine was so convincing, and with his American accent the security totally believed him.
What were your influences growing up that still stoke you out, that you’d like others to watch and check out for themselves?
Girl Skateboards videos, like Mouse, are timeless for me. Alien Workshop – their use of Super 8 footage and 8MM footage. I've always like things that are mix of everything. I like to take this part of cinematography and other bits, too. Don’t be too technical, don’t be too clean. I like Supreme filmer's William Strobeck's work, his way of filming. I like a mix of everything – never in one direction. I want some quotes from the session in the edit, and if you watch the video [to feel like] you're part of the session. That’s what really stokes me out. I want to see the real Chewy Cannon and make my edits as real as possible.