GET TO KNOW OUR FILMERS
TEXT: STUART GOMEZ
We’ve been very lucky over the years with our staff. A lot of our best guys became fixtures simply by sending an email and then proving themselves. For some reason, this reminds me of the Dunkin' Donuts slogan: “America runs on Dunkin’.” You could easily adapt that to say, “The Berrics runs on its filmers." They’re our bread and butter, and Jake Leger is one of the butteriest filmers we've ever had. Guys like Jake help to make up a team that is known as much for the quality of their work as the long hours they put in.
Jake got his foot in the door as an intern a little over three years ago, with no promises and no guarantees that he’d ever become a permanent part of The Berrics. Like many of us, Jake was just a skateboarder who was down to donate his time—if it turned into something bigger, great! But, like the rest of us, he always kept his expectations low and tried not to take the opportunity for granted. After all, there are probably a bunch of other dudes who would love to get a shot.
That proved to be quite a hardship for Jake as his internship wore on. Everyone remembers the image of “Jake the Intern” in his first year filming with us: he would roll up every morning in his little red hatchback, smiling ear-to-ear, and lugging camera gear. He’s someone who everybody just liked to be around, but we didn’t really know that he was sacrificing a lot just to be a part of our team at that time: the hellacious commute from Palm Springs and the unforgiving price of gas; the literal seven-day workweek as he put in time at his local shop, Epidemic. Jake was burning the candle at both ends, but he persevered and it paid off.
Currently filming Brandon Biebel, Tommy Fynn, and Nick Tucker’s PUSH parts, Jake recently completed the edit for Braydon Szafranski’s new part and a Field Ops featuring his hometown shop. His story is an example for skaters—really anybody—who are chasing a dream. You might not have the work experience, but there are certain qualities you can display that a resume just doesn’t communicate. Be the dude who says yes to everything; be the dude who makes it happen no matter what (even if it means extreme personal discomfort). If you can be that dependable dude, like Jake, then you’ll soon become that indispensable dude. Like Jake.
Jake and Nick Tucker reviewing footy for PUSH.
Jake, how did you get interested in filming?
I've been skateboarding since I was eight years old, and me and my friends were really into street skating. My first memory of street skating was one day saying, “Okay, do you want to go to a skatepark or do you want to go to a street spot?” Some days we'd just be at street spots all day. And then that kind of evolved into, "Cool, let's try to film some stuff, we're already out here in the streets.” You know, looking up to the pros, trying to be like them and try to film some stuff. I happened to get a video camera from my uncle on my thirteenth birthday, and from there I just never stopped fiddling with it.
Were you the designated filmer, or did you guys all share the duties?
I mean, out of my group of friends, I was the only one with a video camera, but it slowly started turning into me being the only one who would use it. [laughs] So I guess at first it was just for fun, you know... pass it around with the friends. Then eventually it was like, "Jake's the best at filming, let's let him film it,” you know what I mean? And then it just turned into going to the session and not even skate—I would just film the whole time.
What was that like for you? You wanna skate, you don't wanna just sit there with a camera, right?
I was having just as much fun with filming, though! Because at that age I never had the mindset, like, "I'm gonna go Pro, I'm gonna be a Pro skater one day.” I was just doing it because growing up in the desert there was just nothing to do at all. There was one mall and there were four skateparks in the Valley at the time. It was either go to the mall, hang out with your friends and get in trouble, or go to the skatepark. That's all there was to do really, besides staying at home playing video games. I just wanted to be outside hanging out with my friends, and we just all happened to skateboard.
When you got the camera, was that because you had said you wanted a camera? Or was that just a coincidence?
It was just a coincidence. It was my uncle's old camera that he never used. He just gave it to me.
What was the learning curve like for you?
I think the biggest thing was when I was kind of being referred to as a “filmer”—like, "yeah, he's our filmer!”—I was going out just to film with people. It wasn't just my friends, but people in the Valley who needed a filmer. That’s when [it changed to] "How can I make this look as good as I can?" rather than "How can I have as much fun with this as I can?" That's when I started wanting to get creative with it, not just for fun. At that point, it was "How can I keep progressing? How can I make this stuff look good? How can I become good at this?" Just trial and error, going out in the Coachella Valley with people skating.
A lot of stuff I learned was from this website called Skate Perception: it was this forum, basically. For a while, it was like the Myspace for skate filmers. That's how I got my first vx1000. I went onto that website and kids would sell stuff. They would sell their old clothes, and they would obviously sell cameras, batteries, accessories… all the stuff for cameras. Sure enough, that camera that my uncle gave me for my birthday, I ended up flipping that with some other product—like old clothes—and so I had enough money to buy a better camera. Then once I got the better camera, same situation: I flipped that, added some stuff, got a little more money, and then I had enough for the VX1000.
After that, I got my first job, and the first thing I got with my first paycheck was a fisheye for the VX. After that, that's when it was ON! It was like, “Okay, he's a legit filmer in the Valley.” I was getting hit up by skaters and I became the go-to Valley filmer for a while. That just led to going out of town, making videos, getting a YouTube account, getting a following, and local kids asking me when I'm going to put up the next video. It made me realize, "Cool, this is what I want to do. I wanna keep doing this until it's not fun for me anymore.”
What was the age when you got the VX and the fisheye?
Sixteen. I was just figuring everything out.
Damn, you're just in your mid teens. That's a lot of pressure.
Yeah, I was so over the "Oh, how am I gonna come up with 800 dollars, besides flipping stuff?” So, right when I turned fifteen and I could get a job I would apply anywhere I could, because I wanted to get legit money to buy proper camera equipment. I got a job at a grocery store, right when I turned sixteen, and I got that fisheye with my first paycheck. I stayed there until I was eighteen.
Jake's Travelogue of Baker's 2015 US Tour. Part 1.
What was your path after that?
The day I graduated, I moved to San Francisco. Stayed out there for two months, just solely trying to be a skate filmer; just trying to expand as much as I could, meet as many people as I could, film as much as I could. That didn't work out—overnight I just lost my place, so I had to have my grandparents wire me gas money to get back. That's how shitty the situation was.
After that, I went back to Palm Springs. Once I moved from Palm Springs, my family just split from the desert and then a week later I moved to Orange County. It was the same situation as what I was doing in San Francisco: you know, just trying to branch out, meet as many people as I could, skate as many places as I could. But I had to go back to Palm Springs. After that, I didn't have any place to go so I was sleeping on my grandparents' couch and on my buddy's floor for three months, and working full time at my local skateshop. That's when I got an internship at The Berrics.
How did your internship come about in the first place? What steps did you take?
I took all the footage I gathered up from before I moved out of the desert—when I moved to San Francisco; when I came back from San Francisco; when I went to Orange County; and then went back to Palm Springs—I compiled all that footage into a really quickly cut two-minute edit. That was my “film reel.” I passed it around at the Agenda trade show, and Steve Berra was the first person who responded. Literally, right when I got home, I opened up my computer and checked my email and Berra was the first person to hit me up. He was like, "Yeah, we see potential in you. You wanna come down and give it a shot?" "Dude, yeah!” Obviously, in a heartbeat.
So for a while, you were commuting from Palm Springs to LA. How long did you do that for?
I did that for six months, while still working at the skateshop. I wasn't full time at the shop. But luckily they knew how big of an opportunity that was for me and they knew that was my goal to get an opportunity like this. So they would work around the schedule that The Berrics had me on. I would come into The Berrics Tuesday through Thursday, sometimes until Friday, and then I’d work at the skateshop from Friday evening until Sunday or Monday. It was literally seven days, always, for a good six months! Not paid or anything, just going for it—hoping for the best.
Luckily I had that job at the skateshop that was working around my schedule at The Berrics, and it was just enough money for me to survive: to get gas to drive back and forth and have food. It was just enough.
How did you eventually cross over from intern to staff? Did they just finally have mercy on you?
It came to a point where everyone around the office would ask "Are you hired yet?" Even Chase [Gabor] would ask every other day, and I was like, "I don't know." Sure enough, I was in the park skating one night—not even working—and the manager came up and handed me a piece of paper, like, "I was supposed to give this to you two weeks ago, sorry about that," and had me sign it. It was pretty random.
It got to a point after three or four months where I'd be pulling up to the office, thinking, "Okay, hopefully today's the day,” you know? Or, like, "Shit, today might be my last day.” But when the manager walked up, I was thinking, "Shit, he's probably gonna say something about me not working right now!” I signed it right away. [laughs]
Wow! After all of those disappointments: SF, OC, all that…
Yeah, I'm in Palm Springs, my hometown, like, "What am I doing here, I don't have anywhere to stay," you know? It was weird. But I'm just glad I hung in there, ‘cause there were so many times when I was second guessing everything. I worked every single day, and I would have worked another six months for free, just knowing where I'd be right now… Fuck yeah, I'd work another six months for free!
Jake's Travelogue of Baker's 2015 US Tour. Part 2.
So when they hired you for real, what was your role? What kind of stuff did you work on?
You were pretty much a jack-of-all-trades when they hired you.
Yeah. They told me when I first started interning, "You're gonna help Chase film in the park,” and I was doing that, as well as helping him film behind-the-scenes stuff for Battle Commanders and Recruits (which were the “Recruit Screenings” and “Command Briefings”). From there I just went into more behind-the-scenes/doc-type stuff, on top of still filming in the park during the day, or any day I wasn't filming doc stuff. And that led into filming stuff in the streets. So all the stuff I was doing previously just got added on top of each other, and I ended up doing anything they needed me to do.
Did you ever say, "No, I have too much stuff on my plate”?
Do you regret that?
No, because maybe that's why I'm still here.
I notice that people who make a lot of excuses about their productivity tend to be let go. Sometimes, if you're assertive enough and you just say, "Well, actually I have this and this and this that I'm working on, I can't do it..." it’s reasonable. But you just really like to work on a lot of things, right?
Yeah, I don't wanna say no. I don't want there to ever be a reason that I'm not doing my job, you know? I just wanna work hard, show that I can hang.
Do you think that kind of translated to you getting to go on trips with Baker and stuff?
Honestly, I don't know. After a good year of being full time, I was doing so much different shit… It wasn't like, "Hey, you wanna do this?” It was more like, "Hey, CAN you do this?" It wasn't really a question sometimes, it was basically, "Yeah, you're doing this."
So they would assign things, instead of just trying to figure out who it's best suited for?
Yeah. I still don't even know how the whole Baker thing even came about. It was just one day: "You're going on the Baker tour." It kind of just came on like that. I'm sure if I hadn't done a lot of the stuff that I did, then that opportunity may not have happened. Other than the Recruit Screenings and Command Briefings, I was shooting in the park, helping with “Shoot All Skaters,” helping with “Different Perspective” edits… all the other shit that was going on the website.
The Baker stuff was a good transition for me because I feel like that's when people really appreciated my work. It wasn't just, "Oh, we need someone to handle it… just put HIM on it". I feel like, after that, it was like, "Good job,” you know? It was really rewarding because I realized I can make stuff that they like, not just stuff that's “good enough,” and that was a big motivation and it gave me a lot of confidence.
Jake's Travelogue of Baker's 2015 US Tour. Part 3.
Do you think it's kind of defined you a little bit? After that “Baker Travelogue” came out—it was a three-week trip, four parts, and ended up being almost an hour—Everybody loved it! It had a really good reception and really good traffic on the site. And now when I think of you, I think of the Baker Travelogue: this rad series that I could almost just chow down on popcorn and enjoy. It's one of those cool things that you're associated with immediately. Kinda the way that Chase is with the Battle Commanders.
I think Berra has that same perspective, too, because whenever he brings up Baker in a meeting he just looks at me, you know? [laughs] After that came out, I feel like people trusted me, like, "Oh, he can actually make cool stuff, maybe he has a future with us." That was my main goal, from day one. I wanna stay here as long as I can. I'm not here just for a job, I'm here ‘cause this is what I want to do. I wanna move some ground and make a name for myself if I can—at least try. I’m not saying, "I'm going to no matter what!" I just wanna give it my best effort.
You weren't obnoxious about it.
Maybe when people refer to me, like, "What work do you know of Jake's?" you'd probably say the Baker thing… but in my eyes, I'm just glad I got to go on that trip, I'm glad that people liked it. It wasn't like, "Fuck yeah, Baker! I did that!" you know? No ego involved at all.
I like that about you, you're not someone with a big head. It's very natural when you do stuff. What about PUSH? Were you involved since the beginning?
No. The first year was a whole separate crew, pretty much.
So you've only really been involved starting with the second season. Were you given a specific role?
Yeah, I got a text from Berra one day asking if I wanted to film a Brandon Biebel part, and he told me that he was going to be in PUSH next year. Right away I was like, "Yeah dude, for sure, without a doubt!" After that, that's when the lineup really got established, and I was told that I'd also be working on Nick Tucker's part and Tommy Fynn's part.
Jake's Travelogue of Baker's 2015 US Tour. Part 4.
So you're primarily doing the actual skate filming. Do you have a preference between doc stuff and skate filming?
I definitely prefer skate filming, but with all the stuff I've learned at The Berrics doing doc filming, I appreciate it, for sure. But it's two different things really, it's almost night and day: how you film a trick doc-style versus how you film a trick skate style. But I definitely like skate stuff a lot more, but I have an appreciation for doc stuff.
When you filmed those parts, which locations did you go to?
With Brandon's stuff, we did take a few trips up north, but a lot of it is in LA. Same with Nick: we went out to Barcelona, we got a few things out there, a few cool lines, but really it was the same with Nick and Tommy. Mainly it was all in California.
Do you have any insights about when you're filming someone and you don't really know them? Like Biebel, did you know him before?
With Biebel, I didn't know him at all! The first time we met is when he did that half-Cab heelflip nose manny nollie flip on the courthouse stage. That was insane! That's what started it off. Knowing how much of a legend he is, and he's still this fired up to do another part when he's had so many parts in the last twenty years.
Did you feel intimidated at all, filming someone of that stature?
At first, yeah, for sure. He's worked with so many heavy hitters, and now he's just working with someone from Palm Springs [laughs], but he came in with open arms. He fully trusted me and I got to know him really quick. We just vibed right off the bat. That was such a relief—not knowing what kind of dude he would be. He's a big, intimidating person.
He's fired up.
100%. But we vibed right off the bat. I think that's what's made this process so good. He can have a meltdown around me. He can just really be himself around me. I like that.
Is that hard to achieve?
I don't know, ‘cause with Tommy, I worked on a Recruit Screening with him before filming for PUSH, so when we started it was like we picked up right where we left off in the park. Then, with Nick, we had filmed a Bangin' in the park two years before PUSH even happened. It was nice knowing Nick and Tommy before filming this big of a project.
In general, is it hard to get that rapport with someone?
It's definitely not easy because everyone is different, you know? There are some people who you can just say, every single try: "Next fucking try! Let's get it!" And then others, they don't wanna hear that.
"Don't push me!" [laughs]
Some are like, "Twenty bucks next try!" And others are like, "I don't do bets, I skate for myself." You know what I mean? It's not easy in the beginning, because it's trial and error. You're gonna know when he doesn't like that, and you're gonna know when he's really feelin' it. So yeah, it's not easy.
Do you think you're aware of someone's personality enough to figure that out right away?
Not always right away, but thankfully I've worked with so many people inside the park and outside the park that I definitely see red flags a lot. I know when to keep my mouth shut, ‘cause someone will be trying something gnarly and you'll be like, "Fuck yeah! Let's do this!" and they'll just be like, "No. That was not even close. Why are you trying to stoke me up right now?". It's different for everyone. Luckily, it's been easy with Tommy, Brandon, and Nick.
PUSH Season Two "Prologue."
Was there anything during the filming of Tommy or Nick that stood out to you the way Brandon’s stage made an impression on you?
Nick got probably the gnarliest trick that's ever been done on that Courthouse spot, and that took about eight or nine trips back. But whenever he tried it, he'd go for three or four hours, and some days he couldn't even get up it. He'd be like, "My wheels are too big." And I'm thinking, "What?! Your wheels?! You've jumped up this plenty of times." Then the next time, he'd get up it. So, I trust their approach. No matter how long it takes, I always trust that they know what they're doing.
It’s clear that it takes a lot of patience to be a filmer. There are days when people come back to the office and they talk about how they didn't get anything after several hours. That's a lot of time invested.
Yeah, but it's 100% worth it. I'd go back eight or nine more times, you know?
Do you also feel a sense of accomplishment when they land it ?
For sure, ‘cause you're with them through everything. Even if it's just setting up a board, you're their shadow the whole time. It's the best feeling ever! Sometimes I'll go two weeks without a clip, and I'm out every single day with them. I'm just craving that feeling—just like them—I want a clip just as bad as they do. It's rewarding as fuck, dude!
As a filmer, do you have a philosophy? You're doing this all the time and you’ve honed your style since your teens. Did you develop any, like, "This is my philosophy on filming”?
No, because every spot is so different, you know? Some spots will be perfect for a rolling long lens shot, and then some spots won't because there are cracks everywhere. Some manual pads only look good fisheye, and some look better long lens. Each spot could be totally different, I could have a totally different routine than I had—it even depends on the trick—I'll go to a spot that I've been to four or five times, but those last four or five times I was filming someone doing a totally different trick, it can change everything. I can go to a spot and think, "Oh, I know the perfect angle for this,” but if he's trying a certain trick, you gotta film it different.
Has anyone ever gone to a spot and you were like "This is probably not the right trick for this spot,” like, with a discerning filmer’s eye ?
Yeah, there's been a few times with Biebel. I know of tricks that he still wants to do, and it’s more of like, "What spot can he do this trick on?" Not "What spot is he gonna like to skate?" So we've been to spots and he's like, "Oh this is perfect for the switch bigflip," and it's like, "No, we should save that for a better spot, because I know you have that trick at this spot, but let's wait for a spot that's more special."
So you collaborate with them a lot, bat around ideas?
Yeah. For example, Tommy Fynn: We went out to a lot of rails lately, and he doesn't want to do a lot of tricks he's done in his past parts. So we'll be at a rail and he can't think of a trick, and he'll just say "Oh, I'll just go to my go-to tricks. Let's just do a back 180 nosegrind. I've done it on bigger shit, but let's just get it to get a clip here." And I'm like, "Nah, let's wait to get it on the right spot,” rather than doing it just to do it. So yeah, I think it makes a difference for sure.
As a fan, when I see Grant Taylor do a big air on something, you wanna see him do it on something gnarly because you know he can do it on something fucking gnarly! That's more special for the person watching because you know he's pushing himself, it's not just like, "That was cool, but I know that was easy for him." It's cool when you know the skater is pushing himself. But, then again, you only have eight months to do this. It's not three years to film your best video part. It's your very best video part in eight months.
So what kinds of challenges does the shorter timeframe present for a filmer, though?
It's super challenging. I'm working on a shitload of other things besides PUSH, so it's hard to keep everyone happy, especially when they skate different spots. Like Nick, maybe he wants to skate a big ass bump to bar; Brandon wants to skate a proper ledge or manual pad; and Tommy wants to skate a fourteen-stair rail. So it's like, "I'm free on Tuesday…” How do I balance everything out with everyone? How am I gonna be able to skate with Brandon all day and push him, and have him get a clip that he's stoked on at a spot that's not been blown out, and then the same thing with Nick and Tommy in the same day?
For some weeks, I only have two or three days to go out and film for PUSH. The rest I have to spend editing or working on other projects. I have to make those three days really valuable. Time management really comes into play. That's the only way it's gonna work.
I didn't know that you're the one filming Jack Fardell’s “In Transition,” too.
Yeah: In Transition, Off The Grids, behind the scenes stuff…
I like your Off The Grids a lot. They have a great feel.
Oh, thanks! I’m also filming Bangins in the park, one-off things in the park, one-off things in the street, interviews in the streets… Last week I was in Palm Springs filming a Field Ops for Epidemic. There's a lot going on besides PUSH, but I wanna make this as good as I can—it's obviously a really big deal—but I can only put so much time into it without slacking on other stuff.
When's your deadline for PUSH?
I was told February. Tommy came in with about a minute of HVX footage, and we were told, "It's all good, just mix it in." Then talking with the editors as time passed, they're like, "Dude, this RED footage is six times the size of this HVX footage!" So basically, Tommy has six clips for his part. He's got three months left to film a three-minute part. It's pressure, dude: not just for him but for me, too. I wanna be there for him. I don't want me to be in the way of him being able to come through. I just have to make the best of it.
So that just means shuffling your schedule and being available as much as you can?
Yeah, for sure. That's the only thing I can do. Today, I came in and planned on doing some editing, went out and met with Jack, filmed with Jack, still gotta do some editing, and now I'm gonna go drive deep into the San Fernando Valley to light up a spot with Tommy. Then tomorrow, meet up with Brandon, meet up with Nick, probably meet up with Jack again, come in here and do some editing…
So how many hours a day have been pulling when all of these projects collide like this?
Twelve. And I'm trying to get on Biebel's shit right now! I'm trying to get up at six in the morning, go to the gym; I'm trying to maintain, you know what I mean? You gotta—filming with that 25-pound camera all day long! I'm trying to stay on it, stay sharp.
After all these edits you’ve done for The Berrics, do you have a proudest moment?
Yeah, when I got hired. That's probably my proudest moment. Other than that, probably getting props from Chase for the first time. Chase told me one day when I was helping him film United Nations: "Out of all the assistant filmers I've had, you're the only dude I can trust." I remember going home that night thinking, "Whoa." Chase is still, to this day, definitely top-three filmers for me. Always. I still look up to him, and I work with him every day. I look up to him just as much, if not more, than I did when I was sixteen.
Jake, on location for PUSH.