JEREMY ELKIN

Exclusive Interview

Elkin Raw Tapes Fall 2010 

 

WORDS: Leland Ware

Jeremy Elkin is a filmmaker from Montreal who is currently based in New York. He’s made several cult-classic underground videos including Lo-Def [2008], Elephant Direct [2010], Poisonous Products [2011], and The Brodies [2014]. But his skate videos aren’t the only critically acclaimed films that Elkin has produced. During his three-year stint at Vanity Fair, Jeremy was involved in some high-profile projects; he is the person responsible for the Caitlyn Jenner documentary that was part of one of the biggest events in pop culture in 2015. Jeremy is currently releasing his raw tapes in a 20-part series through Theories of Atlantis. In honor of the first episode, we interviewed him about his skate video catalog, staying connected with the underground, and his progression as a filmmaker.  

 

How did you get into skating?

Through my brother—he was into skating in the late ‘80s. He made sure that I could roll before I could walk. As soon as I could stand, I was on a board. 

 

What was the scene like in Montreal when you were growing up?

All of the Dime guys were a little younger. They were all super good. It’s terrific that they’re front and center now—putting Montreal on the map. But before them, there was Eric Lebeau who made two videos. One was called All Night Long, the other was Lazy Paparazzi. He made the old Underworld Skateshop videos in the ‘90s as well. That was the Montreal scene to me. His crew were who you looked up to. If you went downtown and they were skating, you would sit down and watch. I was also super young—maybe twelve or thirteen—when I was first exposed to them. You used to go to a spot and hear about tricks that were done. It wasn’t very connected.

I grew up in the West End of downtown. The East End is where all of the recognizable spots are, and that’s where we would meet up to go skate as time went on. There was also the English/French thing. As I grew up, it blended. But those first few years weren’t like that. It was good to grow up around them, but I wasn’t a part of their crew or anything.

 

Let's talk a little bit about your videos Lo-Def, Elephant Direct, Poisonous Products, and The Brodies. You've got a nice catalog. What was your vision going into making skate videos?

Growing up, I always liked short-form tour videos. éS was doing them. Emerica did some. I wasn’t a huge fan of the skating in those, but I loved the length, format, and the way that the soundtrack was laid out. I liked the design aesthetics and results. I always wondered why they didn’t do that with a full-length, so when I made Lo-Def, I was like, I should try that. Now it’s pretty common. I made that video the year that Vimeo came out. YouTube was probably a year old. VHS was still being sold in skateshops, it was different than now.

 

The Brodies [2014] 

 

You’ve always had your hand in the underground. People like Aaron Herrington, I don’t want to say you discovered him, but you connected him with Josh Stewart. Talk a little bit about your eye for skating and how you connect with skaters. 

People that make videos or shoot photos, at least the ones I looked up to, all had a concise idea of what they wanted to capture. Filming is time-consuming. Why would you spend your time filming people that you don’t see potential in? It’s not that clear at the start of the process. Except for Elephant Direct, which was basically my favorite skaters/friends from Canada. That was super fun to make. Poisonous Products was a promo. Lo-Def was for Seb [Labbe] basically. Seb had crazy footage, and we sort of built a project around that. Kevin Lowry’s part was filmed in a month or two. It was really organic; none of it was premeditated. The New York ones just sort of happened. I reconnected with a few of the skaters when I moved here. I used to come down to New York all the time, so I had people that I used to film and skate with here.

 

How did you connect with Josh Stewart?

I connected with him around the time Static III came out. When I first moved, I lived two blocks from Theories without realizing it. I sent him a text telling him I moved to New York. He asked me where I was. When I told him he said, “That’s literally my street.” We became more friendly thereafter. He kept his cards close to his chest, which I always admired, but he told me he was working on another video. Once I started giving him the best footage I was capturing, I realized I was left with quite a few lines. I thought I would just do a promo, and after the next Static was released, I would create my final video. Which didn’t quite happen. The Brodies came out before Static. Such is life.

Poisonous Products [2011] 

 

Let’s talk about your commercial work. You’ve done some really high-profile videos. How did you transition from skateboarding into mainstream videography?

It’s challenging to live in the city without a job. You do one freelance project, then you do the next. I was always trying to be as particular as I could with non-skate content because I was used to working with skate footage for so long. It was basically a string of jobs that led to Vanity Fair, I suppose. That was a life-changing experience—I got to work with wonderful people who are perfectionists and the best at what they do.

 

The Caitlyn Jenner documentary was one of the biggest things to happen in pop culture in 2015. You did that. How did that impact your career?

That was an eight-month project. It’s definitely nice to be recognized for your work. We did covers every month, that one just happened to be planned much further in advance. There was a lot of confidentiality involved. I didn’t want do a traditional cover video—which is typically a 30-second spot. With any of these projects, you have to really want to do it or it winds up being something you’re not all that proud of. A lot of what I did there, and a lot of what I do now, comes from working with some of the legendary photographers, designers, and thinkers at the magazine, witnessing their process first hand. It really had an impact on me. Their attention to detail was terrific. When it comes to motion capture with a subject, you have to nail it right away, though—unlike skating, where it might take five times back to the same spot for a three-second clip. With a celebrity, once they walk in the room, you have to get a shot you’re happy with immediately. That’s still the biggest challenge. But luckily I had RB [Umali], Zander [Taketomo], and other friends who work in the fashion world, but originated in skating. It was inspiring to work with people who successfully made the transition early on. You’re only as good as the average of the people around you.

 

Showreel 2017

 

Now you’re releasing your raw tapes on Theories. Run us through what we’ll be seeing.

It’s a directory of unedited footage that I shot in New York from 2010 to 2014. The format is divided by season—I thought it would be more interesting seeing how the styles, trends, spots, and skaters change. Things come in waves: video deadlines, friendships, etc. You’ll notice that out-of-towners only came in the summer—except the Polar guys and Kevin Lowry. Fair weather friends.

 

Nowadays, I know you have your production company [Elkin Editions] and are doing commercial work. But you’re a skater at heart. How do you balance your passion with paying the bills?

I’m much more into design these days. I’m probably more passionate about what I’m doing now than I was back then in many ways. I don’t crave skating anymore. Half of it is the way that the skating industry is these days. The attention to detail in these daily internet video projects is different than it was—the craft isn’t the same. Maybe it’s the way that technology has changed, or the generational change that happened? I’m not really inspired by the current landscape of skateboarding, but I still skate flat a fair bit with friends. I think the only people that are doing it right are [Bill] Strobeck with his videos, Josh [Stewart], and the Palace guys. It was enjoyable to do for the first chapter of my life, though. Great times.

 

Since we’re about to watch these raw tapes on Theories, and there’s tons more that pre-date those from the Canada days, who are some of the most impressive people that you’ve filmed with during your tenure in skateboarding. 

Brandon Westgate. Ryan Decenzo comes to mind. Probably Aaron Herrington. Dave Abair and Dela are awesome.

 

Elephant Direct [2010]