2020 is another year chock full of indie videos coming out. These are usually the most interesting. No hang ups on music rights, no offensive watermarks, no meddling corporations wanting more logo or product shots, just the filmmakers’ expression of filming and skating with their crew of friends. It’s very refreshing—the hugs and high fives, the skaters aren’t stressing over renewing their shoe contract. We pay close attention to these and it’s why we’ve give out awards to Indie Videos in our annual Year In Review. It’s October now, we’ve got a list of indies we’ve dug this year, but there are three that really stand out. Wesley Banford’s Heart of the Sky’s Sunshine, Cameron McIntosh’s Tether, and Michael Nicholas’ Untitled.
Wesley’s fourteen-minute opus dropped in August. An end of summer treat featuring an all-star cast of skaters-next-door filmed up and down the California coast—and everyone fell in love with Izzie. It’s like summer, you never want it to end. The outpouring of Instagram posts were massive and it quickly surpassed 30k views on our Youtube.
Cameron’s edits have been perennial favs in our office and on our site, so we were hyped to connect with him again and host Tether in June. Cam’s local crew of San Diego rippers were joined by Mike Anderson and his Ventura cohorts in this new edit. They’re always unearthing rare spots in these well-worn SoCal cities, the music flows from trap to reggae beats, and the filming is always on point.
Untitled snapped us to attention like the smell of frying bacon in the morning. Here’s a young crew in LA, skating to their friends’ music, and they even laid out a carefully curated website and photo gallery commemorating the release. There’s something really special when you can feel that authentic friendship vibe. All the pieces are here. Joseph Campos sets it off and it doesn’t let up for 22 minutes. Comments on Instagram from some of the biggest names in LA lets you know that people took notice and we’ll be seeing a lot more from Michael.
What sparked the idea to make this video?
MICHAEL NICHOLAS: Joseph Campos, Kyle Teh, Ryan Rodriguez, Seven Strong, and Patrick O’mara. My best friends.
WESLEY BANFORD: I constantly like to be making skate videos, so it’s just one project after the other. One finishes, and another one starts. I’ve been in this cycle for about 6-7 years. I had this whole master plan a year ago when I got my HPX. I was going to make this short video, then I’ll make another short video, and then film a full length for two years. I do this with every camera. I like to make short videos first to get all my camera settings dialed in, and then get to know the camera in terms of how close I can get with the fisheye. Finally, I’ll feel out how the long-lens looks and feels before I head into making a longer project. So really this video was just a process of learning how to film with the HPX to get myself prepared for the big project. Nothing too special, just me filming some of my friends and putting something out when I have enough footage for something watchable.
CAMERON MCINTOSH: It wasn’t really an idea. We just kept filming after finishing They Say.
How important is music in your videos, and what’s your process for finding the right song?
MN: Music is HUGE. With skateboarding specifically, it can be quite annoying hearing the same artists and bands used over and over. So for this specific project I had a couple friends in and out of skateboarding make the music. I’m content with the outcome.
WB: Music is such an important thing to me. I’ll make playlists with potential songs and listen to them over and over again until I’m sick of them. If somehow, I can still listen to a song a year later after previously considering it a possibility, I’ll use it. It’s sort of a test to see if I only like the song because it’s new to me, or if it’s a trend in my own head. Nothing is worse than watching your own skate video later down the line and being like, “Now why the fuck did I use that song?” Although, for this video the music choices were extremely special. Ian, one of my closest friends, helped me select a lot of the tracks and was honest about if I should use them or not. Ian (Train Breaks Down), actually made that heavy song towards the middle (06:09:00). He’s extremely talented and I truly thought his song was perfect for the video. Not often do you get to use a friend’s music and rarely is it something you really enjoy. The intro song is so important in every skate film to set the tone, so I went through like 20 different songs trying to set the video up perfectly. Ian suggested that Memo Boy track and I was all for it. I’m always down for a Project Pat song and to my knowledge no one used that song before, so I was like, “I gotta.” Cities Aviv’s song is something you would never expect to hear in a skate video, so I chose it because I really enjoyed that song and it was something fresh. Something about it helped me transition from Ian’s song to Coco and Clair Clair’s track to end it all. Their song was the most important of all. Something about their cute but psycho persona has always been my favorite since I found them in 2016. I always correlated them to WET, the summer feel and all that it encompasses. TLG is the most Coco and Clair song that really hits and, in my opinion, summarizes their sound the most. I considered using other songs from them but once I found out it was going to be on Transworld, I had to use this specific song as a way to introduce them to the skate world. I always thought having Coco’s little rant during the credits would be perfect. Also, the first clip of Logan wallie-ing the rail to the beat is the most summer thing ever. The colors coupled with the song is exactly how I wanted to wrap up the video. I wanted to make something a little untraditional and every song choice was a step towards that goal. I thought having smaller artists would be cool since it was going to be released on such a big platform to try to get some of my favorite musicians into the skate scene.
CM: It’s really important. I always try to find a song that matches the mood of the skater or time in which we skated.
What was your approach to putting it out online/premiering it?
MN: This being our first project ever, we wanted to do something special. None of the current skate sites seemed to have what we were looking for, so we made one. I did not want it drowned out the next day on some major website. This was too special of a project and very close to our hearts. It needed something specifically catered to it. Ensemble Room.
WB: With the ongoing pandemic, a premiere was never an option. I wanted to do a virtual premiere but not too many people were interested, so I held off and had you guys post about it! I had announced a date earlier in the month and then it went live that day. It was cool because it was during summer on a Friday, so I wasn’t too worried about people not getting to watch it.
CM: When I finish a video, I send it to my friends at Transworld to see if we can do something together. Due to everything that has been going on I thought it was best to just chill on a premiere.
“I did not want it drowned out the next day on some major website.”—Michael Nicholas
Was getting it seen by as many people as possible a goal for you?
WB: When I was coming towards the end of filming, I didn’t even think about it being on such a big platform, and it was awesome having it seen by as many people as it did. It hit about 30k views the first week, it was incredible. So much love. Who doesn’t want their work to be seen by as many people possible? This was a wonderful opportunity that Kyle Geldert, one of my good filmer homies, set me up with. Of course, I am grateful for Transworld. I’m actually still so hyped that you guys helped me out with sharing your audience. I honestly laughed when I saw the great reception it got because I was telling my friends that I really thought it was just going to be a chill little homie vid you know?
CM: Getting the vid seen by as many people is always a goal, but what’s most important to me is putting out the vid I originally envisioned in my head.
What filmers influence you?
MN: I mostly pull my influences by creatives outside of skating. But here’re a few in skating: Spike, Logan Lara, Greg Hunt, Benny Maglinao, Julian Klincewicz, Thomas Campbell, and Burberry Erry.
WB: My influences come heavily from Daniel Dent, Diego Meek, Pontus Alv, Seamus Foster and Briggs Ogloff. Not only are they my favorite, but a lot of their stuff rubs off on me. Daniel Dent is one of the most mechanically talented filmers to ever touch a VX. He gets close, all of the angles are perfect, and his latest video, with the apple is just so easy to watch over and over again. A lot of his filming mechanics that he excels at are some of the aspects I try to incorporate into my filming. In my eyes, Dent is the perfect filmer. Diego Meek is possibly the most creative mind in skateboarding that paved the way for so many other filmers. I remember watching his stuff every day in high school and his work still holds me today. His stylistic choices always inspire me to go with the more untraditional choices when making skate videos. All his titles and animation work are crazy and creative, he’ll always be ahead of his time and I don’t think anyone will ever truly catch up. Pontus Alv. His films always are a classic to me. They’re always conceptually there and he captures personality of the skaters within the video perfectly, which is the number one priority in skate films in my opinion. I remember finding an interview where he talks about how he edits skate videos, something like never hammering the viewer with more than 30 seconds of skating without a break. This has stuck with me ever since I watched I like it here inside my mind don’t wake me this time. Seamus Foster, in my opinion, is the greatest HPX editor and filmer. He has a sense of cinematic editing and cinematography in his videos and I still get chills watching his stuff. Seamus has the best HPX colors out all the videos I’ve ever watched for sure. Also, I love the crew he films because a lot of them are just his homies and I love watching some new faces in skating. I watch Everything Ships from the Warehouse almost every day and it does not get boring. Last but not least, Briggs Ogloff. He doesn’t put out much skate videos anymore, but this guy has been my favorite filmmaker in general for around 7 years now ever since his 2013 film, BROTHERS. To this day, that is my favorite HD DSLR full length. Fortunately, he became a good friend of mine and is one of the greatest human beings. His work is beautiful and I’m glad he mentors me, he truly is my greatest influence. I take inspiration from all of them and combine it into something of my own and I consider myself a product of all their work. I’ll probably never perfect my craft as much as these dudes, but I know what I like, and I will always strive to have my work be just as perfect as theirs.
CM: Ben Chadourne, Otto Ray, Chase Cruz, and Ryan Alvarado.
Have there been any videos from the big brands that you’ve liked recently?
MN: I don’t really watch a lot of skating, but I think the last videos I watched that I actually enjoyed start to finish was 917 One and Two, or Converse Purple. Oh and We Blew It At Some Point by Polar!
WB: I always love the Frog videos. The Lotties videos are really cool too! Seeing Nick Michel and Andrew Reynolds in the same video is so sick. Not many big brand videos have come out recently, but the Polar full videos are some of my favorites. That Nike Trust Fall video was pretty ill as well. The new Noah video JOLIE ROUGE is going to be so sick. I’m excited to see that lineup in a video together, that thang finna bang.
CM: Former Cheap Perfume.
Do you have a full-time job? How did you finance and make time for your independent project?
MN: Yeah I work at Milk Studios in LA. I was there full-time prior to Covid, and then when Covid happened production in LA was on pause so I had like five months off, that’s when we finished the video.
WB: I go to school full time and work part time at a movie theater in Long Beach. I worked every weekend, but I would tell them I had school all day Thursdays, so that was my dedicated filming day. With Covid, I haven’t been to work since March, and every time they want to reopen it gets postponed—luckily. That left a lot of time to film. So, like many of us, I road unemployment out, and I’ve been just focusing on school and filmmaking. Regarding financing my project, I got my camera last year and used my winnings from playing, I guess you could say “professional video games.” It was a weird time, but yes, I used my winnings to get that xtreme big guy fish and HPX. Strange, I know, but it was totally worth it and sort of gave me a break from skating for a bit.
CM: I was a kayak tour guide, but Covid messed that up. Now I’m getting unemployment and picking up random jobs here and there.
How did you come up with the title for your video?
MN: Couldn’t come up with a name, ha.
WB: When I was filming Logan do that 5-0 kickflip out, it was a bright summer day, clear skies, and a plane made a cloud heart in the sky. It’s in the video, and I was like, “Heart in the sky, hmmm how can I clean it up?” So, I just decided the video is the heart of summer. Heart of the Sky’s Sunshine, to me is like stating that, this is summer. Also, my dog passed away over summer, right before the video released, and I considered him to be the heart of the sky now in doggy heaven. That’s why the video closes with “jj forever.”
CM: I came up with the title Tether a little over a year ago. I felt/feel like the world and us are tethered to a lot of bullshit. As the year passed I felt that the title was pretty appropriate.
What are some tactics you have employed to motivate your guys to skate?
MN: Nothing really man, we just have fun. Skating shouldn’t be taken that seriously. The vibes just gotta be right.
WB: I don’t really use any tactics. I kind of just hit people up that seem like a lot fun to kick it with all day, and that’s how I go about it. Some people in the video I would hit up and be like, “Hey let’s go get something soon!” Because I typically try to get as many of my friends in the videos I make even if they aren’t the craziest skaters. Actually, the only tactic was getting Jake Hofmann to land that trick on JKwon. I needed change for the meter, so I bought an apple juice from Starbucks across the street. I told him he can have the apple juice if he lands it. If I can remember correctly, like three tries later he landed it all buttery. That’s where that clip of him saying “treetop” came from.
CM: The best tactic is to be positive, have fun, and find the right spot for the right skater.
What’s your preferred filming/camera set up and why?
MN: I mean I got my HPX like two years ago, but I’m kind of over it. I want to use something different. I use a Bolex 16mm movie camera too. No “preferred” method though.
WB: Damn this one is sort of hard for me. The DSLR 4:3 setup with an Audio Technica stereo mic and canon 8-15mm fisheye might be my favorite for filming lines, but the long lens was such a pain to get it to look good since the zoom was all done manually. I made a film a couple years ago titled Not a Word to Anyone, if anyone wanted to see the setup I’m talking about. So as of now, my HPX170 and xtreme is my preferred setup in terms of efficiency, but that 4:3 8-15mm is the closest HD will ever get to VX. I sort of miss that setup. You throw on that 29.97 frames per second and you got yourself a look close to VX in terms of the fisheye filming. I loved getting close and now having the xtreme, there is a certain point you can’t pass before it’s all scuffed looking. Regarding the HPX, close filming is kind of situational now. Sometimes it’s cool, sometimes you are chopping so much head because it’s wide horizontally and not vertically. I guess nothing will ever beat the VX, but I really think we are evolving slowly past VX. We’ve moved from 360p to 720p in like 20 years, so VX will be around for a bit still for sure. It is interesting seeing the HPX/HVX become the new standard after so many years of VX domination.
CM: The Panasonic HPX170, because it’s the HD VX1000. But recently I’ve been messing with some little diddies for a HD 4:3 project.
Have any big brands or pro skaters reached out to hire you for work?
MN: Eh kinda, helping my friends Kyle and Patrick film for a 917 project, just helping Logan out because it makes sense.
WB: Not at all honestly. I film people that ride for brands, but I have never been contacted by a brand or pro skater for work. I stick to friends and if they happen to be on a company then sure, I’ll film some stuff for them. Either I’m not good enough, or I don’t have the right connections to film for a company, but I definitely am ready if I was to be granted the opportunity.
CM: I have talked to some people, but Covid has been messing that up. So I’ll keep quiet about that for now.
What’s the next project you’re going to work on?
MN: 917 vid and more edits/merch with my best friends for our website. Mostly working on commercial stuff outside of skating though.
WB: I’m working on another short video right now that’s not yet titled. It’ll just be a small video since I’m in my last semester of college and really don’t have much time to film anything bigger. Once I graduate this December, I’ll be finishing this project then start filming and planning the sequel to my biggest project from my 2016 film, WET. I’m super excited for that! I’ll have my HPX settings locked, have enough practice with the camera, and I’ll be ready to fully focus on the project and make it aesthetically pleasing with my cinema camera for all the non-skating stuff within the film. Kind of soon when I think about it, but WET is returning and better than ever.
CM: I’m finishing up a montage and working on a World View for Transworld.
What advice would you give to the independent filmmakers out there?
MN: Have fun. Have the right intentions. Don’t force anything. If shit happens, it happens. If it don’t then get a regular job. You don’t need to work in skating. If you love it you’ll do it anyways right? Just make stuff that’s true to you and your group of friends. Don’t cap.
WB: Whenever I make anything, I try to keep in mind elements of balance, simplicity, and timelessness. As an indie filmmaker I’m assuming you won’t have a superstar team of people to film, but if you can keep it simple and display people’s personalities truthfully, it’ll become relatable and that’s why we enjoy films. Something that will make a skater of any skillset, gender, or ethnicity be hyped to go out and skate. Truly make honest work. There’s good aesthetic and there’s bad aesthetic. Just be as weird as you want, do your thing. Believe in it. As long as you’re doing it for yourself and no one else. Your work will come off as true and honest. Take influence from things you like and pioneer it into something new. Use music you like. Make sure what you create is what you want to watch yourself. If it’s true to you, you’ll gain your correct audience and won’t have to worry about holding a persona as a crutch through your own work. Good films are simultaneously progressive and timeless. Not everything I make, or you make, will be timeless and classic, but as long as you strive for that, you should end up in a good place.
CM: Have fun with your friends and make a video. That’s it.
Who’d be your bucket list skater to film?
MN: I’m already filming them, my friends : )
WB: Easy, Chris Milic!.. or Jordan Sanchez. I wouldn’t even know who to choose if I could only film one. They’ve got to be the most creative and talented skaters to ever walk the earth. So easy to watch.
CM: Jereme Rogers.
Favorite clip from your video and why?
MN: Patrick’s baby footage of his mom filming him in his front yard, skating his fence as a kicker ramp. We lost her last year and dedicated this project to her. She was an amazing human being. We love you Kathy.
WB: Probably the clip of Logan Bonner doing the wallie on the rock to front nose grind. The trick is awesome, but I just love the colors of the park and how the kickflip is on the beat of the song. I’m big on popping colors and I always look at clips for the skin tones, grass, colored ground, and essentially anything that pops for the eye. I do that with every clip, but I think that specific clip’s colors are perfectly balanced. Also, he’s wearing a My Chemical Romance shirt. Kinda beast.
CM: Lawrence Quero’s switch frontside 360 wallride line at Ventura High School. Why? Because Lawrence is the best!