Everything is Normal – an interview with Sirus F Gahan

Shin Sanbongi, slappy 50-50, Chigasaki.

‘I met Sirus through Jamie Platt, through filming with him in London. It was like, this guy is something very unique and special. He was just looking for that home and platform where he can fully have the support and express his brain and vision to the world. So here, take the mic, take the stage, you have my full support. Let’s show the world who Sirus is and what his mind is about.’ –Pontus Alv

A select list of skate video directors have moulded and defined skate culture by producing era-defining works. It’s a crowded, very subjective Mount Rushmore – Stacy Peralta, Mike Ternasky, Spike Jonze, Ty Evans… And from the past decade or so, you’d have to add names like William Strobeck and Pontus Alv.

Alv’s work is distinctive, not only for its bizarre symbolism (umbrella, anyone?), its reverence for earlier doyens of the form and its deliberate focus on a certain way of skating; but also that Pontus is not American. His distinctive videos created an ecosystem that morphed into a euro-centric brand, Polar, a leader amongst a fresh crop of unapologetically un-American brands (Palace, Magenta, Sour, Pass~Port…) who also happened to make great videos. Pontus and the wave he’s been a part of has opened things up a bit and made it feel like, more than ever, the centre of the universe is wherever a good session is happening.

Over a decade into Polar’s lifecycle, during which it has seen many changes and become one of the most influential skate brands in the world, Alv has recently taken a step back from some of his duties. As well as enlisting team riders Nick Boserio and Paul Grund to share Team Manager responsibilities, he handed the all-important video production reins to young London photographer and filmmaker Sirus F Gahan.

Though Sirus is a long-time collaborator and has already produced a bunch of stuff for the brand, including a nicely-fried lookbook, Everything is Normal is Polar’s first major production with him at the helm. Though not quite a full-length, the video features footage from the entire team as well as full parts from two Japanese riders – Shin Sanbongi and new addition Kiki Kakitani.
Leading up to the premiere, I caught up with Sirus to check in on how the weight of Polar’s video legacy felt on his shoulders.

Shin and Sirus, 2022.

Photography by Changsu
Interview by Max Olijnyk

Hey Sirus, how’s it going? Are you just holed up doing this video at the moment?
Yeah, pretty much… Well, yeah, I am 100 per cent. I got kind of behind, because I just had a bunch of other life things, trying to move house and stuff. But now it’s sort of creeping up.

You’re on deadline?
I have one month left. There shouldn’t be that many things to do, but it’s just a lot of small things that take a long time to do.

How long has it been in the works?
I haven’t been there for the whole time, but they’ve been filming this video over the course of seven years.

I see. So how did you become involved in the process, and when was that?
It was discussed between me and Alv before I started, because they were already working on it. That was like September 2022, which is when the last video (Sound Like You Guys Are Crushing It) came out.
He briefed me like, ‘We’ve been working on this, we’re going to spend another year on it or something and it’s going to be the next big project.’
We’ve obviously done other stuff, but it’s been the key focus for the last year and a half and has been happening for the last six-seven years.

You were already filming for Polar, right?
Yeah, I’d just contribute footage.

Kiki Kakitani, frontside smith grind, Hiroshima.

I spoke to Pontus, he was at a bar in Spain entertaining two beautiful ladies, when I called.
(Laughs) That’s not a surprise.

What he essentially said was that he had passed over the creative reins of the video to you, and he thought it was time for Polar to have fresh energy, basically, because he was tired of making videos and he liked what you were doing. Did he communicate that with you when he first brought you on?
That was kind of his pitch, yeah. He wanted to take a step back in all sectors of running Polar like the business side, the money side, the organisation, the team managing, the filming, the ads, everything.
He’s done a lot for the last 10-12 years, however long it’s been going, and kind of been doing everything. So yeah, it was the plan that I was going to take over. Whether I did actually take over or not, I don’t really know. We’ve been working together; I would say more so.
So yeah this last year and a half, some things I’ve just produced by myself, but then a lot of stuff goes through Pontus or is bounced back and forth between me and him. It’s still his company.
I think maybe in the long term the plan would be that I would take the reins a bit more further down the road. Right now it’s like a bit of a collaborative process. But he hasn’t seen any of this Japan video.

Shin Sanbongi, one-foot, Nishinoiri.

Yeah, he was telling me it’s his wet dream to turn up to the premiere and watch it on the big screen for the first time. He said, ‘That is the sex.’
(Laughs) Okay, well, that’s an insane thing to say.
Yeah, it’s a weird process because he briefed me on the project and he kind of has a grand idea for the video, of how he kind of sees it, and how he wanted it to be from the start, which is kind of a love letter to Japan – chronicling the journey and all the tours and all the trips and stuff.
But yeah, he hasn’t actually seen any of the footage in the last year and a half. So it will be interesting to see the gap between what he has in his head and what actually exists.

Paul Grund, gap to backside 50-50, Osaka.

There’s been quite a few team changes at Polar over the last couple of years. I imagine there were people involved in the process who have since moved on. How have you managed all that business?
Oh, yeah, that’s actually been hard because there are certain people… I mean everyone knows who we’re talking about.
So there are some Hjalte tricks in the video and most of Ville’s Japan footage already came out, so it’s fine, it’s not like we’re sitting on a bunch of footage. But it’s been quite difficult to navigate, with b-roll clips and sometimes there’s a double clip or whatever.

I suppose this is a presentation of the new incarnation of Polar in a way with your direction of the video. Obviously, Shin is familiar to everybody, but Kiki (Kakitani) is a new face for Polar.
Well, he’s quite a mysterious guy. He’s a bit like Emile – he just skates, that’s what he does.
On trips, we’d go skating all day and he’d film a bunch of clips, then we’d go back to the hotel at like 10pm and everyone would go to bed. I’d check Instagram and Kiki’s out skating a ledge by himself, posting it on his stories. Yeah, he just skates.
The first time we met him was when we went on the premier tour in Japan in 2022, and he disappeared for a few hours and came back with a broken truck and we were like, Kiki, what have you been doing?
He’s like, ‘Oh, I was just skating this 11-stair around the corner’
Like, what? You were skating an 11-stair by yourself?

Kiki Kakitani, wallie melon, Sapporo.

That’s a cool energy to have around.
Yeah, really cool.

You still have a month to go, but is the video going to have separate parts? Does it have titles and all that kind of stuff? Or is it sort of more of a collage?
At the moment there’s definitely two parts, that being Kiki and Shin. The rest is kind of a… Journey. It is definitely split into different bits, but yeah, maybe more of a collage is a good way to put it.
And there are names. Alv really likes having names in videos and I actually don’t really like having names in videos.

Dane Brady, wallie, Chigasaki.

So it’s polarising, pardon the pun.
Yeah, exactly. There’s always comments on the videos like ‘why don’t skate videos put the skaters’ names anymore?’ Like, ‘how am I supposed to know who anyone is?’
I think if you want to know, you can work it out. I kind of like that. I just find titles a bit jarring sometimes, unless they’re really streamlined in the video. But yeah, there actually are probably going to be titles in the video, so I don’t know why I’m shit-talking them!

It’s funny because in a way it really encapsulates the struggle with skate videos, particularly for skate video makers. Because on the one hand they’re these cultural texts that turn you on to music, open your mind and show you sort of another world – at least that’s what they were for me. But then they’re these sources of information that everyone depends on to have the correct version of everything. Do you think about that as you’re making it?
Yeah, that’s something that plays on my mind a lot, with both filming and editing. It’s like these rigid parameters of how you’re supposed to represent skateboarding. If you’re filming a trick, you should make the spot look as big, and the trick as hard, as possible. And that’s fair enough; if someone’s chucking their carcass down something, of course, yeah, they want it to look gnarly, but having those hard set barriers of how you can capture something is really limiting and something that creates a lot of anxiety for me.
I don’t really want to film like every other fucking person, but I kind of have to, as well. It’s the same with editing.

Jamie Platt, backside 50-50 gap out, Tokyo.

Do you have multiple angles set up just in case, or is that almost putting too much of a safety net on things?
Well, it depends, if you have another person there, then you do that, you can get the safe angle and I can shoot some wacky angle or whatever. And then if you have the safe angle, which makes the trick look gnarlier or the spot look bigger, the skater is ultimately going to want you to use that. So there’s a pressure there to do that.
When you’re editing a video with 11 people in it, there’s – I don’t know if there is actually pressure or whether I feel the pressure – but everyone wants to be represented well. They want to look cool on the screen, and that’s fair enough.

Shin Sanbongi, frontside 50-50 in, Ibaraki.

Pontus was saying that he didn’t intend to create a brand initially. He was making those films, then those films sort of grew into the idea of making a brand. So it was sort of founded on making these videos. And these videos have always been more, in inverted commas, ‘interesting’ than regular skate videos. But his style is very evocative and referential to not only experimental cinema and stuff, but also late ‘80s, early ‘90s skate videos. I imagine that’s not really your cultural reference point.
No, not at all. Mine is more like the early 2000s, like the DC video, Mind Field. This is the stuff I grew up on and what built my understanding of skateboarding, so it’s definitely different. That’s interesting with making this video because it’s a Polar video, but it’s not going to be an Alv video.
I know that will be a point of contention. I’m not going to try and make an Alv video. I’m not going to use H-Street songs or try to do any of his set-up scenes or anything. So it’s going to feel different, but it’s still going to be a Polar video.

Dane Brady, gap to manual, Chigasaki.

Keeping in mind this will come out around the time of the video’s release, is there anything you’d like to say, projecting yourself forward to one month from now when this is all done and you’re able to go to the premiere and breathe a sigh of relief?
I cannot wait to be complete with the video, to have finished it, and to feel happy about its form. In a month, if the video is exported and I am not super bummed about it – yeah, I will be a very happy person.
Because, to be honest, there’s a lot of pressure. Alv said the other day, this is Sirus’s debut… and it’s just, like… a lot. I’ve made films before; they all kind of suck, but, I don’t know… It just feels like a lot of focus on this project, and I hope I do everyone justice who’s in it.

Aaron Herrington, ollie, Osaka.

It’s funny for a creative work to have that amount of pressure around it. It’s like doing a difficult trick: if you think about it too much, you fall.
Yes! I always do that. It’s stupid, but when you try and do your highest ollie and then you just, like, can’t ollie. And that is what it’s like. Because I’m not made for the weird confines under which I’m making this and it’s like I’m not making this like it’s my video. Because if it was a personal video that I filmed, I would make it a lot differently.
It is a creative act, but it exists in this realm where there’s an expected form for it to take. Whereas if it was my personal video, and wasn’t being paid for by someone else, or we weren’t doing premieres around the world, I probably would make it a lot differently. So it’s difficult figuring out how much of myself to put into it and how much I should try to make it a certain way because it’s expected that it should be that way.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Because, at least from what I understand, the vibe is: we have this guy Sirus, he’s amazing, and we’re just going to let him do him. But it’s not that simple, right?
(Laughs) No, you wouldn’t want to see me do me.

Nick Boserio, frontside 50-50, Sapporo.

I interviewed Jarrad Carlin (See Free issue 43) a while back around his part you made. Was that quite close to you doing you?
Well, that was kind of the same thing because it was for adidas. It didn’t have a logo on it but it was effectively for adidas and Free.
It’s just different when you’re producing your own thing that you’re going to put out on your own channel. And I do not give a shit what anyone says. If everyone hates it, that’s actually probably a good thing. But when you’re making something like that, you kind of have to make it so people like it. And there is a format that people like, so it is a bit of a balancing act. I tried to make that one you’re referencing to be formatted slightly different. So it’s still familiar but slightly uncomfortable.

In creative writing there are little tricks you can use in a story to almost placate the audience and keep them on board. It keeps them on side, even if they’re relatively conservative or subscribe to the traditional format. It respects them, while allowing you to push them a little bit, which I think is the way it should be with videos. Skateboarding is more interesting than, say, jogging, and we should be challenged as viewers.
Just gently challenged, perhaps?

Shin Sanbongi, frontside wallride, Osaka.

Maybe a little bit more than gently.
I agree, I just think the forum in which the challenge occurs has to be the right place. I don’t necessarily want to make a super abstract, weird film for Polar that they’ve spent seven years making, you know? A different production might be more suited to that.

I think that’s part of the reason why Polar has been so successful: it has been challenging. I think if it kept on sort of just being the same, it wouldn’t be challenging anymore. It’s good for it to evolve.
Yeah, that’s so true. And that’s what I keep trying to tell myself. It’s good, but it’s a challenge. It wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t.

Shin Sanbongi, wallride transfer, Osaka.