Colin Read – Spirit Quest Interview

Colin Read. Ph. Sam Ashley

Colin Read, London, 2016. Ph. Sam Ashley

What’s great about skateboarding is that it attracts people from all walks of life. And sometimes these people that are attracted to skateboarding pick up a video camera and try to capture that passion. One such person is Colin Read, or you may know him by the name Mandible Claw. The aforementioned use of the word passion is especially relevant for Colin, for he is perhaps the most passionate person I’ve ever met to pick up a Sony VX1000. The amount of planning, special filming tricks, editing techniques, broken cameras and sheer talent in his new video Spirit Quest is like no other skate video I’ve ever seen. Lucky for us Colin was more than happy to explain how it all went down. In the middle of his Spirit Quest worldwide premiere tour we met up with Colin in London to have what was supposed to be a short 20-minute conversation… Almost an hour later we finally pressed stop on the Dictaphone. So I don’t wanna say ‘thank God Colin got hurt in high school and bought a video camera,’ but that did happen, and without that perhaps the skateboard world would have never been able to witness Colin’s talents behind the lens. I guess sometimes injuries aren’t all that bad eh?
–Will Harmon

Interview by Will Harmon and Arthur Derrien

Will: How have you been able to fund all the trips for this video? Do you have a full-time job in New York?
Colin Read: Yeah I have a full-time job; just doing motion graphics and video editing in an office. Just that and a credit card basically has funded it all.

Will: Is your work cool with you taking a month off to premiere the video?
Yeah. Well it was either this or I’d have to quit and they didn’t want me to quit so…

Arthur: And so no brands put in any money to help you out with making the video?
No. It was all completely independent.

Will: How many VXs and lenses did you go through filming this one?
I’m not entirely sure because I kind of stopped keeping track. But I think I went through eight cameras and three lenses over a span of a bit more than three years.

Will: So the lens doesn’t get smacked nearly as much as you think it would?
Well actually the lens gets smacked almost constantly, but they are just super-resilient. What happened several times is it would be a lens hit, and the lens would be ok, maybe just a little nick, but the camera would break. The MK1 is like the best lens ever made, but the camera is over twenty years old.

Arthur: Where would you get them? They’re getting harder and harder to find these days…
I’d try not to get ones from skaters, as those are the ones that are going to suck. I usually try and get them from word of mouth, or find anyone selling one for when it’s really dire… One I got from a camera store that was going out of business and they found it under their stairs. It had been under their stairs for 20 years or whatever. I’ve bought ones and then instantly something was wrong with it and it doesn’t work.

Will: Are you good at taking them apart and piecing them together?
I have super-basic knowledge of it, but not as good as a lot of other filmers. When I was in SF, filming Chris (Jones) actually, he was trying a line where he was hitting a few flat gaps then trying to switch back 5-0 across a long Philly step and fell and just kicked off the microphone. So this was in SF, I was on a trip, so it sucked as I was on a trip without a working mike. But then Zach Chamberlain helped me piece it back together at a skate spot that night…

Arthur: At the skate spot!
Yeah at night with some just some iPhone lights on it to see. Zach had a little screwdriver and he managed to piece it back together because the cable was still intact. Somehow we ended up with a bunch of extra parts so we just duct taped it together and it worked.

Will: Insane. There are a lot of innovative shots in this video. For instance the underwater stuff… How did you pull that off? I’m sure you didn’t use a GoPro…
Yeah it was all VX.

Arthur: How does that work?
Well I used duct tape again. I put the camera in a bag.

nikon f100, ektar 100. shot 10/5/2015.

VX as salmon. Ph. Allen Ying

Will: But the footage looks so clear?
Well because there’s nothing on the lens. The lens is just glass. We basically cut a hole in a vacuum bag and…

Will: Oh you duct taped around the lens!
Yeah we duct taped on the lens…

Will: So the actual lens touches the water. That is incredible.
Arthur: That is fucked up.
Will: That must have been so scary the first time…

Oh it was terrifying. I used just the worst VX I had. So if it broke it wouldn’t matter at all. But it didn’t break! And we did it multiple times and it still works. The lens is still duct taped to the camera.

Arthur: That is insane.
Will: Also one of our favourite shots was the split camera stuff with two VXs… Had you thought about this a long time?
Well for a long time I wanted to explore the possibilities of different ways lines could go. And so really in the split screen stuff it’s actually two different things happening: some of them are two VXs filming and the other one is what I’d call the alternate dimension skating. So the two VX skating was a bit more straight forward… It was just two skaters and I’d begin with the VXs side by side so It’s almost an identical cut so then you could begin the split frame and break them off and in the end I’d bring them back together. But for the alternate dimension skating it was a lot trickier: both while filming it and in post, because it was a lot of orchestration. Basically a skater would have to do one line or something and then would basically recreate the line, but at one point split off into another direction or do a different trick and then possibly meet back up at the end. So that was a lot of me trying to get the skater to understand exactly what they needed to do and luckily my friends all trusted me, because it was completely insane sounding a lot of the time. Because it was like imaginary skating you know what I mean?

Arthur: Yeah.
I’m sure they really couldn’t picture what the hell was going on and a lot of people were just ‘alright well ok sure’ and at the end it would be ‘ohhhh! Ok!’ once I’d actually made it and I’d basically piece it together in the editing room.

Will: Yeah that was one of the questions I was going to ask: How hard was it to pull off and what did the skaters think about this as you were filming them?
Arthur: They must have thought you were trippin’.

Yeah sort of, but everyone was more than game to fuck around. And some of them just ended up not working – the effect just wasn’t that good and some of them were too bizarre and people could just not comprehend what was happening. There was one I did with Connor Kammerer and in the middle of a line he does a tre flip and in one dimension he lands only on his left leg, like one footed, and in the other dimension he lands only on his right leg and so in the brought together dimension he land like a tripod with three legs. So he’s standing on one leg but he has another leg in either direction sticking up like a tripod and then he does a powerslide to bring it all back – to bring his legs back in to his body. So I really liked that one, but the people I showed it to just couldn’t even comprehend… They just couldn’t understand it. It was just too bizarre to use in a part. And I think the video in general takes several viewings to comprehend everything.

Arthur: Yeah I remember being very confused at certain things in the end.
Yeah it’s very dense and there are a lot of hidden things and really bizarre things that are hard to understand. So it’s meant for repeated viewings for sure.

nikon f100, ektar 100. shot 10/5/2015.

Many VX’s were harmed in the making of this video. Ph. Allen Ying

Will: Was there a lot of push and pull with the skater’s vision versus your vision of how stuff would be filmed?
Some. But for the most part everyone just trusted me and was down. In general it was a really fun process and everything because all the weird stuff and the multiple camera, split screen and new weird filming techniques… It just kept it fun. I mean you go street skating every day, searching for spots every day and it can get a bit monotonous and especially in your hometown or whatever, so these things kept it fun and as well searching for all the animal spots. Even though most of what we’d be doing was normal street skating, but we had another thing we were looking for and were going for that kept the sessions fresh. We had another goal on top of just filming whatever we can on the street. I think everyone knew it was kind of going to be a special video so everyone really wanted to have a strong part and I think everybody did.

Will: Yeah I was blown away… The guys really came through. Ok the camera kickflip or is it a heelflip? First try?
Oh it’s a kickflip for sure. That clip that you see wasn’t first try, but I never dropped it. The camera never got hit somehow. But it was a kickflip and I had to figure out what was easier and I think because I’m right-handed a kickflip was easier. I had been wanting to do that and I did a test of it years ago, before this video even. At first I just wanted to do a kickflip, but then I figured if it were a real trick like a kickflip nose manual it would be even more insane. So basically I just had to wait and decide on a person who had the best kickflips and wouldn’t fuck up. It ended up being our friend James Sayres; he’s just a kickflip god and doesn’t fuck up on them ever.

Will: Another cool shot was the 90-degree up and down transitions shots… They’re hard to explain.
That’s another multiple dimension thing.

Will: Yeah I thought that would be really hard to figure out. Did you ever have to storyboard these things, like draw it out, or was this all in your head?
Well there were a couple of them. One was with Daniel Kim and he’s really good and loves doing the old school handplant wallrides. So I just told him the idea I had for it and he was down. Originally the sequence was going to keep going on longer, but it ended up just being too much. But Daniel’s we basically just tried to find a spot where the ground looked like the wall. And for the ones in Connor Kammerer’s part, that one was way harder. Daniel’s was a lot looser and we used rough animation to blend the frames, but with Connor’s all of the match cut stuff of his body when he goes up on the wall, they were all really close, so it was just a lot of him and I filming the tricks and looking at it and realising how we needed to do it.

Will: Would you film the other half of the cut in the same day?
Yeah the same day. Well actually there were a couple ones from different days because it took awhile to find the matching spots. For the fakie flip cut, that was hard because we filmed the wallride to fakie first, so we had a still shot of his body positioning and so we had to film a line where he did a fakie flip and he would land in the same body position. So he had to do a fakie flip and land leaning way farther back and crouch down with his arms like Usain Bolt. It took a lot of trial and error, but it worked.

nikon f5, delta 3200, processed normal.

Taylor’s board toss to Eby’s jungle gym swing. Ph. Allen Ying

In Connor’s part, the sounds for his song are all skate sounds. Did Connor do that? Can you explain that one?
So Connor’s first song is a like a dub song, reggae style, and it’s built entirely out skate sounds. All the beat is just looping and repeating skate sounds and this was the brainchild of Connor himself. It was a really difficult process actually of us working back and forth of finding spots that would have a good percussive element. And then he would take them (the skate sounds) and record them analog on a four-track player. So he would loop the sounds through that and he would also run them along an analog reverb with a reverb petal. So he did it with somebody that worked on his song on with him in Tengu, Tavo Carbone and also Ty Flowers.

Will: Ah ok.
So basically they worked that part out and got the beats together and then Connor sent me a kind of rough-cut of the part. And then I had to go and restructure it and build it so the part made sense, while still having the song make sense.

Will: Oh okay so Connor had the footage from his part already?
He had the individual clips, I gave them to him, and he would dismantle them and turn some of the sounds into loops on the four-track and then using that he sort of made a template of the part, which then I can of restructured. And then I’d send it back to him, and then back to me, and so on. It was actually a year’s long process.

Will: It sounds really extensive actually.
Yeah making that one song took over a year.

Will: And then you guys would film a new trick and it would throw the whole thing off?
Yeah basically. Connor is a musical genius. He and Ty Flowers made his second song too – the dreamy night waltz song for the dimensional part. Oh and Quim (Cardona) played the melodica for the first part of Connor’s first song.

Will: I know you appreciate high standards of filming. Who else out there are you hyped on?
Right now I mean Zach Chamberlain of course. He’s a VX psychopath. He’s definitely the best hill filmer for sure. Everything is really fun what he does; it doesn’t feel too premeditated. I wish Yoan Taillandier would come out with something new; he’s amazing.

Will: I think he’s working on something he’s just taking his time with it to make it right.
I can understand that. Spirit Quest was a long process. Take as much time as you need. I don’t think footage really expires other than for obvious reasons. I mean Static IV had some 2005 clips in there. Whatever Yoan puts out it’s going to be great; he’s such an amazing guy…

Arthur: And he’s sick at skating…
So sick at skating! He’s got that nineties gangster style…

Will: Yeah last year when we were at that Vladimir Film Festival Nikola (Racan) filmed all these tricks of him and he was like ‘it’s so good to be here without my camera and just skate…’
He’s just such a pleasant dude… Actually I’ve got a pretty funny story about him! So one thing that’s great to do if you’re in Japan is go to the onsens, the traditional bathhouses. They’re super cheap, like 4-5 bucks and you just go in naked and you can relax in there for however long you want… Anyway so one time he went to an onsen with all the French guys (Magenta crew) and some of the Japanese homies. Everyone goes in and it’s just loads of small naked old Japanese men: little dicks. When Yoan goes in he’s of course a super tall half black dude with a massive dick and when all the old Japanese dudes see him they go ‘whoaaa ANACONDA!!!!!’ From then on for the rest of the trip everyone would call him ‘anaconda’ and he’d just be mortified, haha.

Will: Haha Jokes. How did you decide the structure of the video?
Everything I’ve worked on before has pretty much been ‘film on the fly and work it all out in editing’ like Tengu and everything else I’ve worked on before. But this video ended up taking a lot of choreographing and planning. Because a lot of the transitions were structured as such that it had to be planned for it to work. Like you had to know beforehand who was going to be in this transition.

Will: Also how did the selection of the skater’s involved come about?
It’s just my friends mostly. People whom l skate with in New York.

nikon f5, delta 3200, processed normal. shot 10/5/2015.

“Four legs good, two legs bad!” Ph. Allen Ying

Arthur: What about the people not living in NYC?
Hiroki (Muraoka) was really the impetus for filming the video in the first place. I met him right when Tengu ended and I always liked his skating. And then I met him and I thought he was the most amazing, incredible cool person ever. And his skating in person is completely magical and amazing and I just really wanted to film a part with him and give him a venue to really shine outside of Japan. I ended up going to Japan three times just to film with him for this part.

And as far as the other people that lived other places Chris (Jones)… I met Chris here (in London) several years ago when I was on a Magenta tour and I just hung out with him for a day basically. And then I also met him as soon as Tengu ended… He was supposed to be at the (Tengu) premiere, I mean he went to New York for the premiere, but he was with his buddies in the bar for too long and he ended up missing the video. So he ended up just hitting me up and he stayed at my place for a while and we filmed a bunch. It was really on Chris… He was just really hyped and motivated and so he came to New York a few times. Plus he came with me to SF a couple times. Basically any tour he’d go on or any trip he’d go on with a company instead of flying home from there he’d make another leg to New York or meet me in SF or something, which was great. And then he took a long trip to Japan with me, which was really amazing.

Will: Any good Chris (Jones) stories from trips? Arthur said there’s one about meeting a chick at a skate spot…
Oh I don’t know if I can… Can I?

Arthur: You definitely can!
He’s single now, fuck it right! So it was actually the day he filmed his ender, his last trick.

Will: The firecracker things?
Yeah, which is so fucking insane. He did the half cab flip firecracker on his first trip to NYC, which is so much more insane than what anyone had ever done at that spot. It just so happened that the next time he was in New York and we were in the area and we wondered if the fountain he skated was still dry at that time. It was still the winter so we went to check it out and he ended up just shutting it down. He destroyed it. Everything he did there is impossible. So he filmed three tricks there that day, including his ender, so in his words he said it was the best day of his life. And while he was there, there was this girl who was kind of just laying down in the grass and was smoking a cigarette and reading a book or something… Just like this little art school girl. And she actually changed her top in the grass there and I was like ‘what!’ So she was sitting right where Chris starting to roll up so he just started chatting to her. So every go he’d be chatting to her. We have a bunch of bonus footage of that too. So they’re just chatting and eventually she’s up sitting in the fountain with him as he’s doing the roll ups and stuff. So I guess he just got her number before he left. And this whole trip we had made plans to go to Philly with Quim Cardona, and Chris is a huge Quim fan and he’s like: ‘oh my god I’m so excited. I’ve always wanted to skate Philly and to go with Quim! It’s gonna be so sick!’ So we had made plans to leave early the next day at 8am. We were gonna go meet Quim in New Jersey and drive down. So that evening he ends up going to a party and ended up meeting up with that art school girl, the girl in the boots… So I didn’t see him that night. We ended up splitting off and he went and did his thing or whatever and I go home and I go to bed early because I gotta wake up early to get ready to got to Philly. I’m going with Taylor (Nawrocki), Daniel Kim and supposedly Chris. Ok so early in the morning, like four in the morning or something I get a text from Chris saying: ‘Hey man, I’m really sorry to do this, but I have to flake out on the trip to Philly. Long story short – I’m in love.’ (Everyone laughs) ‘There’s nothing else that would stop me from skating with Quim Cardona in Philly than something serious’

Will: So this text is from 4:30 in the morning?
Yeah, I woke up and saw it. So in general you don’t fall in love at four in the morning.

Arthur: Yeah nothing good happens at four in the morning.
Yeah nothing really good happens at that point. So in the morning when we are going I give him the safety text like ‘ hey man, I got your text, but if you still wanna come you can met us at the train station,’ but I didn’t get any reply. So I thought ok he’s sealed his fate, good for him. So we go and we’re in the car about 45 minutes out of the city and we get a text from Chris: ‘Hey man, have you guys left yet?’
‘Nah man, we’re gone; we left. We sent you a couple of texts.’

And then he’s like ‘ah shit, fuck. I really wish I could have made it.’

And then I’m like: ‘well so… You still in love?’

‘Well, she’s cool,’ Chris says. (Everyone laughs)

Arthur: So she wasn’t ‘the one’ eh?
No. It ended up being an amazing day in Philly too; we got hammers in the snow. It was amazing.

Will: What a story! Ok how did you coordinate the illustrations in Spirit Quest with Cosme Fernandez? And actually, first of all, how did you meet him?
Before I ever met Cosme, the first exposure I had with him was maybe ten years ago with a Crailtap contest. They had people make re-edits of footage from Fully Flared or something and he did rotoscoping where he did line animation of all the skating. I thought it was really cool. And I’ve always thought this guy was so sick and when I was starting this project, maybe a year into it, and I do animation and motion graphics as a full-time job, so I could do the line animation myself – and a lot of the ones in the video I actually did do myself, but he’s better than I could ever be. He does the super-artistic line animation transitions and the character animations and stuff.

Will: So how did you actually meet him after seeing his work ten years back?
Basically I just met him from being on the Slap message boards. He was always on there and I just emailed him and pitched him my idea that was something a little different than what he usually does, which is straight skating stuff. So I pitched the idea of skaters morphing into animals and that kind of stuff and he was super-hyped on the idea and was game for pretty much an unlimited amount of work, which he did, for free. And I’m trying repay him in any way I can because he really did an amazing job. Some good examples of what he did were the line animation of the chameleon mural transitioning into the real chameleon and Taylor turning into a gorilla.

Will: How did he actually do it? Did you send him frames or actual clips?
A bit of both. A lot of what I would do is edit a specific section he’d need to work on and just demarcate which frames it would have to come between. He would just take it from there and send it back and then sometimes I’d send it back again if I thought something needed to work better. And every single time I’d basically put more of a demand on him he would just be like ‘ok yeah, cool.’ Cosme was just a really awesome person to work with. And most things like this you animate at 15 frames per second, but at times in the video it was too jerky so he animated it at 30 frames per second so it was a lot of extra work. But that just made all the difference and it made it look super smooth. Hopefully after this video he’ll have a better platform to show his work. He was just really amazing and he came here (to London) for the premiere so that was really special.

Will: Was that the first time you met him in person?
Yeah! Before I had only talked to him through emails about this whole process. He’s such a pleasant human being.

Will: He must have been extra psyched to see his animations on the screen for the first time here at the premiere here in London with you!
Yeah that’s the thing, I had basically held the video ransom from him. Because he was like: ‘Ok it’s done. Should you send it over?’ And I was like ‘nope! See you at one of the premieres.’ It’s way more special that way. It’s the same with viewing your own part in a video: it’s way more special if you get to see it for the first time in the whole context of a premiere with everybody else. So other than two exceptions in this video, everybody was seeing their part for the first time. So I think it made a special night for hopefully everyone.

Arthur: I can’t believe he did all that work for free without having met you in person… The dedication!
He was super-dedicated! He’s super-down for independent skateboarding and skateboarding in general.

Will: Ok all the animal shots… How many hours of nature documentaries did you sit through? And also, how did you line it up with the animal movements? Did you watch the nature docs and think ‘ah this guy skates like this animal’ or did you see an animal and it reminded you of a specific skater?
Both those ways. Sometimes I found a nature clip first and I thought ‘ah that really looks like someone doing this’ and then I would on purpose try and film a trick the exact same way the nature footage was shot so I could match them. And then other times I would film a trick and watch it back later and ‘oh damn, that really looks like a fucking llama’ or something and then I’d go and watch hours of llama footage until I found the right matching one. And then sometimes it would just come together magically, but that was pretty rare. Basically it was the result of me watching hundreds and hundreds of hours of nature documentaries.

Will: So Colin what do you have planned next?
I just wanna be a person. I’ve been saying I’m retired and that’s been going well for me so far. I really would love to keep working in skateboarding, but for now I can’t.

nikon f80, portra 800

Making up for the lack of a drone with a 20-year old camera and kite string. Ph. Allen Ying

Arthur: What was the last trick you filmed for the video?
When I exploded on that varial flip and turned into a whale on that street gap in SF. I could only really skate a handful of times through the entire three years of filming the video and really I think I just kept setting myself back from making it but I was sort of obsessed with finishing the video. I could have cut it short at any point because it’s a long fucking video…

Will: But it’s one, like you said, that you kind of have to watch more than once to catch some of the things…
Yeah and I mean the video is cut down as close as it could be. I have literally hours of extra footage still, but I just had to finish it because I was obsessed with all these ideas that I just had to get out of my head. So I had to finish it because it was going to kill me if not, but I did and I’m happy. So now my dream is to just skate. So hopefully I’ll get over these health issues so I can just be a skater again. I can skate and I want to – I never meant to be a filmer, I just stumbled into it somehow by getting hurt. My filming career is kind of bookended by injury: I started it because I couldn’t skate for a year because I was hurt. So when I was in high school I had a shitty camera, but after that when I was hurt I just bought a new camera so I could be out with my friends…

Will: The camaraderie is one of the best things about skating…
Yeah! I was talking yesterday with Jake Harris about filming, in particular him being filmed and how uncomfortable he is with it. Because usually when he goes out to film for a project of him doing tricks, his boys aren’t filmers because is the filmer in his crew so he has to go out with someone he’s not really close friends with, so it ends up being awkward and not that fun. That’s the point, what percentage of a skate day is spent filming a trick? 5-10 per cent? The rest is just clowning around, hanging out with your friends and just fucking around. So that’s the most important thing, the relationship. So I bought another camera to film and I sorted ended up here, and now I’m sort of forced to end by another injury. I really lost my mind in the making of this.

Will: Yeah I bet. But you seem alright here, I dunno…
This is my third week of vacation now so I’m slowly recharging.

Arthur: So probably no more skate videos for a little bit?
Um yeah. Well I do say that and I’ve already made another new thing that’s going to be coming out soon, but I can’t do the skate filming anymore. I can’t do the fisheye skate filming anymore. There’s other ways to film and I have a ton of other conceptual things and that I’d love to film. I would have loved to retire my VX years ago, but I put myself into this…

Will: Well you wanted to put forth these things in your head so…
Exactly, and the VX was really the only medium by which a lot of these ideas could have worked. A lot of the split screen stuff, if it had been HD, I don’t think it really would have worked because it’s just too crisp and you would have been able to tell the mistakes and the ways things didn’t perfectly line up more without the fisheye and the VX quality. And also a lot of ideas… I mean you’ve seen VX footage a thousand times, but have you seen it underwater? Or in outer space?

Will: Or in a pipe?
Or we dropped the camera from the top of a building in Soho, New York on a string. That was for Connor Kammerer’s intro; it was terrifying.

Will: I bet! Thanks Colin.

Spirit Quest is available now on DVD at all finer skate shops. For a Spirit Quest digital download head here