We caught up with film director Matt Irving for our last issue of Bitchslap to have him tell us about his vision to create the first adidas Skateboarding full length. A little blast from the not-too-distant-past, here’s the interview.
Interview: Nick Bridge
Photography: Sem Rubio
Ten years ago, graphic designer Matt Irving joined his buddy Brett Critchlow at Juice Design in San Fransisco to service the growing needs of an expanding adidas Skateboarding program. And grow it has: from having Gonz as the only real team rider ten years ago, to adding Dennis Buse-nitz early and now presenting a full squad of 23 pro dudes whose roots reach into all corners of the globe, adidas has undoubtedly gone all in on skateboarding. Last night in London I sat with Matt in a jammed bunker club to watch the London premiere of Away Days – adidas’s first full length film; a project 3 years in the making, showcasing the entire crew in over an hour of hammers and fancy footwork.
The Matt Irving I meet in the hotel lobby and walk to the venue with is a well spoken, quietly confident, attentive and open cat. He’s like a friend you’ve only just met. He tells me about his day of putting out fires after someone leaked the film online. He talks of lacking sleep. But he’s positive, he’s a listener and he’s stoked to be here.
Despite a background in graphic design first under the moniker Delphi Collective, then at Juice Design, Matt’s role as director doesn’t come unearned: he’s directed a multitude of films including Diagonal—adi’s European team video—back in 2009 which he says was great practice to test the waters and get into a groove. “But to me they all felt like sketches”. In order to convince the man upstairs to take it to the next level, he paired with long time collaborator, adidas global brand manager Jascha Muller and they set out to pitch the as-yet-unnamed Away Days full length. After kicking all sorts of ideas around, the name Away Days came from photographer and US team manger Skin Phillips.
“We were really lucky with Away Days. When Jascha Muller and I started to pitch the idea of doing a full length it was something we’d all talked about for years and we finally got it pushed through by explaining that we’d done the web-feature thing for quite some time and it was getting a little stagnant – we needed to shift things and try something different.
The ultimate testament to a program is a full length. In this day and age everything is 15 second Instagram videos and the occasional web clip. We were able to focus on web clips from around 2006 and when we started working with them they were sort of new, and then in the early 2010s everyone was doing web clips, or like full parts, but solo full parts and that was one thing to act as a reaction to that. Let’s try to go back and revisit this full length thing. And for the name, for us to take the away days culture and spin it into a skateboarding thing was kind of cool because that’s what we do, we do all our work when we’re away.”
For many brands the full length is still the holy grail of visual output; it’s their chance to showcase the most important driving force of brand credibility—the team—as well as present the look and feel of the brand through a holistic artistic creation. And like the album, the full length will never die. “A brand is only as good as its last movie”, I was once told. And that makes perfect sense; it puts brands and riders back on the map in a concrete way, amongst an otherwise super fluid landscape. The likes of Propellor, Holy Stokes, The Nike SB Chronicles and Polar’s I Like It Here Inside My Mind Don’t Wake Me This Time are true testament to companies’ reliance on the full length as a legit platform to stay true to skateboarding, loyal to promoting their riders, and to sing their gospel to a global core audience. How they are released and distributed has become a fine art of market-ing with raw files, teasers, BTS footage, global premiere tours and extensive media pushes (you’re reading this here, right?) that resemble tightly orchestrated product releases – and essentially that’s what it is.
“I grew up on full length videos, I reference full length videos specifically most of the time and there are certain parts you reference like Dylan’s Gravis part which was so damn epic, how could you not reference it? But to be able to preserve that format in my mind is so important. For sure it’s our generation but I think it can be pushed down. The biggest thing with skateboarding is that you learn from the guy behind the shop counter who is over 20 or 30. If you come in and ask for the Wet Willy, he’s gonna give you shit for it and you’re going to walk out with a Silverstar board or whatever modern version – you get the idea. As an older generation of skateboarders, to be able to rally the package together and deliver a full length to the world carries a degree of responsibility to the kids. It’s like no, this is what should really matter, you know, when Propellor drops their video, that should really matter. Not to discredit any of the web clips, but just to preserve that because it’s something that’s really special to skateboarding. It doesn’t really exist anywhere else, you don’t get full length basketball or tennis videos. We need to not hide behind all these five or ten minute web clips, grow a set of nuts and deliver a 45 to 60 minute skateboard video.”
Even in the last decade a lot has changed in skateboard video productions. Back in the day, you’d have your filmers and your editor. Throw some music at it and violá! Technology rolls faster than us and this constant development makes the previously impossible possible. What’s changed and how can we harness these changes?
“A lot has changed. Now we’re dealing with 4K and 5K cameras so we have the ability to punch in and crop differently. In the old days your filmer friend was doing all the framing, and not doing any paint outs or retouching or colouring. In our case there are shots where we painted out light stands just because they’re distracting and there are a few shots in the video like that, but it’s not something you generally talk about. Fact is, the act of skateboarding looks better when there’s less clutter. So you shoot a clean plate of the spot on a tripod, guy does the trick, filmer gets out of there ‘cos he’s crowding the shot and you paint that out. So there’s a lot of fine tuning, but in my opinion it doesn’t belittle the act of skateboarding. It’s about creating a final end product that you’re proud of and you like how it looks and this way it looks better to us.”
The elevated ability to technically fulfil a vision, even push that vision further and bring some-thing new opens the rabbithole for an infinitely more complicated production process, and the need for someone to steer that vision: the director. But what does a director actually do on a day to day basis?
“A lot of the filming we do is still circumstantial. We pick locations and plan out groups of skaters and specific filmers and photographers and work with a network of local people to hit up spots. But not a lot of people are going into those trips knowing exactly where they want to be and which tricks they want to do, in some videos they go with their hit list and get it.”
Matt explains, and continues:
“One of the big things I wanted to do were these montages which pick up where we left off from all the city campaign edits that we’ve done over the last ten years. There’s always been a little bit of a city-centric focus on a lot of the content we’ve done, and people seemed to really enjoy them. I really wanted to revisit that without being so specific, so we have five or six montages from different cities that we spent a lot of time in filming and that’s the place I really felt I got to apply myself more as a director. People’s skate parts are approached more from a true skate editor’s mentality and I would chime in on that, but we have three main filmers and editors that were each heading up certain parts so I would direct those as well. But from a director’s stand point it was more the intros and montages where I felt like I got to get really involved and enjoy the end product.”
Three years together with 23 riders from liter-ally everywhere, three filmers, multiple team managers and two photographers is a pretty big family—especially if you call this work. Just putting a lowly magazine together with a couple of dudes can get the sweat beads rolling, so the pressure of having to deliver such an immense product that can literally make or break people’s view of a ‘corporate-in-skateboarding’ must be quite the weight on Matt’s shoulders. But he seems chill about it explaining that a combination of his prior experience, sticking to budgets and timelines helped make the whole thing a positive experience despite last minute edit marathons and a feeling of “shellshock” after the first premiere in L.A. But, as Silas Baxter-Neal comments, with a lot of creative projects, it’s a weird and often hollow feeling once it’s complete. There’s an emptiness.
“I was initially over it in LA. I was too close to the screen, I hadn’t slept of well over 48 hours, nor had any of the filmers or editors or anyone who was deeply involved in putting the project together, and I think for a lot of us we were at the stage of exhaustion that we were almost sick of it. But in the same breath it was obviously overwhelming to see it projected on such a massive screen, and to see so many people and hear the reactions, and also just the team; everyone was just shellshocked, nobody was saying anything.”
Matt sounds relieved, but then reflects on his amazing time with the whole crew:
“On a personal level what I got from making this video was a stronger bond with the team. I mean, we’re all really really close, but just having more reasons to be in touch, to talk about music and pick out tricks or even just giving someone a bit of a coach, helping them through tough times with an injury or some battle they’ve got going on or just personal problems. We’re all close. I text with every-body and talk with everybody and that feels good. It’s not just about results. It’s about get-ting those results and staying in a happy place and continuing to work with people. I don’t like seeing videos where people get pushed to their breaking point and then they never want to work together again. I want to keep working with these guys and they want to keep working with me. That’s the whole goal.”