CCS Customs X First Thursdays Interviews: Jay Howell
November 05, 2021 - CCS launches the Customs X First Thursdays program with one of our favorite artists: Jay Howell.
So Ty, how did you get involved with Brain Farm? Did you come to them or did they approach you about making a skateboard film? I’d always been a fan of Brain Farm and everything they’d done and I needed to rent a phantom camera so I hit them up to rent it from them. I started talking to Curt who owns Brain Farm and we started talking about doing a skateboard film that would be bigger and better than anything that had been done before, and I was just starting to make Pretty Sweet so said let me finish this project I’m working on now and then we can dive in to it. Fast forward to 2012 and within a week of the Pretty Sweet premiere I was already working on We Are Blood.
How did Mountain Dew get involved with the film? They came on a bit later. I needed someone in skateboarding to be the main voice of the film and my first pick was P-Rod. That was a no-brainer and getting Paul involved was perfect and he has a great relationship with Mountain Dew. We had all these big things we wanted to do, but we needed someone to fund all of it and with Mountain Dew starting their film division at Green Label films, they ended up being the perfect partner to come on and launch Green Label Films with this project.
When you first started shooting did you have any of the story mapped out or were you just going out skating and getting clips and the story came after? When I first started I didn’t really have an idea what the film was gonna be, and I was just trying to wrap my head around some of this equipment. As I was meeting with people in skateboarding to talk about the project, one thing that kept coming up in those conversations was the universal bond we all share as skateboarders and that’s pretty much how We Are Blood was born. After talking to everyone it was clear that people wanted to see a film about that and it kind of just happened organically.
It seemed like you guys were delicately treading that line where the movie could appeal to a core skate audience, but also be the kind of thing you could play for your mom and dad and they would enjoy it and take a lot away from it as well. Was this a goal of yours in making this thing? Yeah, I think ultimately when I set out to make this film that was the number one goal. It was to make a film that skateboarders could watch and be proud of, but also make a film that someone who doesn’t skate could sit and relate to and understand some of the things that appeal to us as skateboarders. That, coupled with amazing visuals makes this a great film for skateboarders and non-skateboarders alike. You know if there’s a kid watching the film and his parents can watch it with him and they can bond over something like that, I think that’s something that’s pretty cool. I’m 41 years old and I have a 9-year-old son and he could not care less about skateboarding, but he’s super in to video games and that’s something we can bond over. To be able to create something in skateboarding that people can bond over is pretty special.
Some of the skaters that were in the film were pretty unknown when you started shooting and since have become a little more recognizable in the skate industry. I think people were surprised to see that they were going to be in your movie as well as surprised by the level of skating they produced. How did you end up with the crew that you did? What’s crazy is that all the guys in the movie just really happened organically. I would hit up a lot of people I know in skateboarding and a lot of those guys have done video parts and have been filming for the last 20-plus years, so to a lot of those guys I don’t think this film seemed too lucrative for them, because they have kind of been there and done that. I hit up some of these other guys because it’s always refreshing working with people who are new to this and want to be a part of something new and it shows in the film. I think even in the last Girl and Chocolate video, there was no conspiracy to just film with the younger guys, but the younger guys are just hungry. The older guys have been through it and with this film I had a crop of young, eager guys, who wanna skate and wanna rip and they will skate 'til 4 in the morning and they like lighting up spots and they like sitting in the R.V. for a month straight. Those were the guys who ended up being the main guys in the film, dudes like Moose, Chase Webb, Cookie (Chris Colburn), Jordan Maxham, Brandon White, Clive Dixon, Clint Walker, Tiago Lemos, all those guys were so psyched to be a part of the film and I think it shows through in the final product.
As you were making the film, you would always post on Instagram all the crazy equipment you were shooting with as far as drones, and crazy car mounted cameras and things like that. Were those all provided to you by the brands or were you buying all that gear? We’ve been fortunate enough that a lot of these companies have been partners of the film and they want us to use this equipment and show the rest of the world what’s possible with it. Companies like Shooter, Freely Systems, Radiant Images rental house, Intuitive Arial with their helicopters, Digital Sputnik with their lights, Maxx Digital with their hard drives, and then at the very end Dolby came in and let us do an Atmos mix, which no one has ever done in action sports, let alone skateboarding. It was just crazy to have the relationship with all these people and have them support the film and let us show the world what’s possible with their equipment.
That Dolby sound was insane. I know a lot of skateboarders in the audience were tripped out when the Dolby logo came on and it felt like you were at some hollywood movie. I still trip out everytime I see it. It was insane that we were able to do a full Dolby Atmos mix. We did the final mix at Warner Brothers on the same sound stage that they did the final mix of The Dark Knight and tons of other movies. It was crazy.
How many cameras and drones did you guys destroy while making the movie? Not that many really. We actually didn’t destroy any cameras. We broke some pieces here and there, but nothing unfixable. The biggest thing was, I flew a drone with a Red Camera on it in to a tree, because I’m not the best heli-pilot and pretty much smashed the drone, but the Red Camera was so rugged we were able to throw a new lens on it and had it shooting 10 minutes later after it fell out of the sky. It was funny because I posted a photo of it when it crashed and a bunch of remote helicopter guys were saying things like “leave it to the pros” or “let the pros fly”, and I could have hid it and tried to pretend I didn’t crash it, but I’m proud of the mistakes I made and I’m proud of what I learn from those mistakes and I’m gonna keep trying and keep progressing.
When I saw John Holland was involved with the film it took me right back to being 14 and watching Modus Operandi and other old Transworld videos. Do you think that era of your film making had an influence on the way you made We Are Blood? I think all of it has come full circle. When I first met John 20 years ago we didn’t really know what we were doing, and I passed on the little bit of camera knowledge that I had to him when both of us were in our infancy of learning how to make these films. Working with John over the years has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and for him to come on this film at the end and help me edit, was the most insane, full circle experience of my life. Being able to have such a good friend be a part of this and see what he and everyone brought to the film was incredible. I always say it’s our film, it’s not my film, but to answer the question I think yes what we did on this film felt just like when we were editing together 20 years ago doing it.
Do you ever think you will make another video with a VX1000? Yeah, I mean never say never. I don’t think that there’s any sort of rules with cameras. I’ve never been like, I’m only gonna use this or use that, but I just know I used that camera for like 10-15 years and with each one of these films I want to use something different so I don’t get bored doing the same thing.
Out of all the places you traveled to during the shooting of the film, where was your favorite? I dunno, I mean the best part about making these films is getting to travel anywhere with your friends and experiencing new people and culture, but going to Dubai was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The guys out in Dubai have a production company called Dubai films and they have a subsidiary called X Dubai and those guys stepped up to the plate and helped fund the entire Dubai section. They also let us use their equipment and got us permits to skate all these amazing locations that we would have never got to skate otherwise. When they invited us out I had no idea how much those guys were gonna bring to the table. It was just non stop every day, between the guys skating the Burj Al Arab helipad, and Paul walking out of the worlds tallest building, the Burj Khalifa and zooming out to being in Dubai it was just one of the best experiences.
What do you think is the best thing you took away from working on this project and what do you hope that the people who watch it will take away from it? Skateboarding doesn’t have any boundaries, and the name We Are Blood means that even though we all come from different races, cultures and walks of life, we’re all the same because of this piece of wood with four wheels on it. We are the same blood and we’re all doing the same thing on this planet and in the end no one is really from any foreign lands, because we’re all on this earth together.