INTERVIEW & TEXT BY: STUAR GOMEZ
It's always rad to see a video from the Pacific Northwest. You can actually tell that there are seasons—leaves spread all over the ground, cloudy skies, mittens—and subconsciously you're semi-aware that everyone involved had to work twice as hard to get a clip in the less ideal climate. But the tradeoff is an amazing, verdant backdrop for equally amazing skating. Straight outta Portland's lush greenery comes Chris Varcadipane's full length, Dusted.
The story of how Dusted came to be is a variation on the classic right-place-right-time scenario. Chris started out with an idea to do a small, fun project but over time it started to snowball into a full-fledged full-length with an overflowing cast of heavy hitters. It all started when Chris met Birdhouse’s Mike Davis, who in turn introduced him to Matt Price; Price’s seal of approval begat Gravette and Kowalski. Picture a long line of dominoes tumbling down all over Burnside and most of the Pacific Northwest—when everything started falling into place the momentum was hard to stop.
Chris Varcadipane and Gabe Luna reviewing footage.
In Chris’s interview, he talks about his learning curve and how he used his skills to make this three-year project a reality. It wasn’t always easy, but it’s a great reminder of how sometimes it really only takes one person to believe in you, and a little self-awareness, to make something great happen.
Dusted is an independent skateboarding film out of Portland by Chris Varcadipane, Featuring: Mike Davis, Andrew Gray, Damon Carpenter, Tameron Eaglehorse, Carlos Hernandez, David Gravette, Eric Denier, Gabe Luna, Ben Raybourn, Chandler Dixson, Nick Peterson, and many more!
Watch Kevin Kowalski & Nick Peterson tear through the Pacific North West.
When did you start filming Dusted and how did you wrangle so many dudes for it?
I started [filming for Dusted] about two years ago when I moved to Oregon. At the time I had just started filming and wanted to do something fun. Only one of the guys ended up having a part out of the guys I started filming with, but through meeting people it got a little larger. I met Mike Davis down the line, and he introduced me to Ben Raybourn. Ben really made it come together—we hit it off when we filmed at Burnside one day. Then he introduced me to Matt Price, and Matt liked what I was doing and he got CCS behind it, which made it a bit more legit. He introduced me to Gravette and Kowalski. Just through filming those dudes—they weren't even supposed to have parts—I was just helping them with whatever they needed for the companies they rode for, but they ended up telling me to use whatever I wanted for the video. It was really rad that they were down to let me use their tricks instead of saving them for a project they would probably get paid for.
All the other homie parts are basically friends I've met over the past two years in Oregon, and a bunch of those guys filmed most of their parts in three to four months. Really quick. I had a lot of free time, so every single day I'd hit up the dudes to see if they were trying to skate, maybe go spend the weekend out at Kevin's house. Stayin' moving, filming nonstop pretty much for the past three years.
What was your original vision for the video?
Really, I'd never done a video before but I had this camera. And all my friends weren't really dudes who were trying to do a video, so I was just like, "Screw it, let’s just do something fun!” So that was my original vision. Through some of the guys that I was filming, who kind of take it more seriously, I started taking it more seriously, I guess. It was still really fun, but I started to look at the way I filmed things or kind of put it together a little more serious. I didn't really have a vision at the start, more like, people wanted to have video parts, so I was like, let's just throw four or five together.
Towards the end it turned out that everyone got along, but I kind of introduced everyone because nobody really hung out together. With Ben and stuff it was cool to be able to put something fun together for them that they didn't have to stress out over or kill themselves for, and it's also cool because there's a few guys in the video who have parts that I think are pretty heavy. But, being that they're not down in California or something, people may not see that footage unless seeing that Ben Raybourn or David Gravette is in this video, maybe they'll watch the whole thing. It was cool to help those guys get their names out there.
Yeah, so you're kind of dangling Raybourn as bait to get the more unknown rippers some shine.
Yeah, he was really good about that. Since he linked me up with Matt Price, Matt kind of ended up looking at some of the guys who don't have anyone backing them, hooking them up with wear tests and whatever. You know, maybe something Pros might not want to do, but some kid from Oregon would love to do.
So, the video itself was kind of like an experiment, to get a few parts together. But how long had you been filming before that? How much experience did you have at that point?
Honestly, not much. I lived in Iowa before I moved to Portland, and I had a camera for maybe the last year I lived there. It's just a little Canon T3i, which I filmed pretty much the whole video on. But being in Iowa, there's not really any filming standards; it's just all “homie cam” kind of craziness! When I moved here, people kind of know what looks good, so I started filming more seriously at that point and after not too long people started saying, “Let's hold onto everything and make a video.” So, maybe three years?
How much of a shock was it for you to be suddenly filming Pros who may be accustomed to a more rigid filming routine?
It was pretty crazy. As far as Kowalski and Gravette, I didn't know them until this year, and Ben I met around Christmas. So it's pretty crazy to think a year back I was just sitting around at the skatepark and filming, and I feel like no one really cared to film with me for the most part. So it's kind of a dream come true in a way, being able to film guys like that, hang out, and kinda get inside their heads. I learned a lot really fast.
What’s an example of something you learned... something that stands out as an important lesson?
One thing was being able to work around a photographer or [getting] B-roll. B-roll is a huge thing. When I was first filming that wasn't something I even considered, you know, it was more just film each trick, and then you hold onto the make. Maybe a few funny bails, that's it. Now I've learned that, maybe you get a couple roll up shots, or just all the behind the scenes stuff that I didn't think about until guys like Ben would say, "Hey, let's film this other angle for the roll up.”
I'd say the behind the scenes stuff was a big thing I learned. Certain angles even, maybe they (Ben, Kevin) would tell me where to film from a little bit at the start, because they're used to working with people who have obviously been around for a while, so I learned how to film certain things. Also, in Iowa there's no transition, really. Someone like Ben, he's skating huge walls, and not even street for the most part. So, learning to film transition was a huge thing. Needing to roll around and follow, I've been pretty hyped on watching Chris Gregson footage and seeing how much more interesting it is when you actually get in there and try to follow around.
Yeah it's really impressive. That seems like something that would have a difficult learning curve, no pun intended.
Yeah, there's certain clips, too, where I'll just be running behind him because there's like no chance I can even keep up you know ? [laughs] I'm running around, and the clips that end up not being shaky I'm able to use, and the others I'm like, “Damn, I really gotta learn how to do this.” I've actually been out at Orcas Island with Kevin, doing his In Transition, so it's been kind of crazy trying to keep up with him, too. Doing crazy follow lines...
Yeah he's ollieing up onto tree branches in the backyard. [laughs]
Yeah, filming him is a little different because he likes to skate outside the park—even though he's in the park! He’s fun to film.
So were there any solo training sessions, like, Karate Kid style, riding around the pool with your camera training for follow filming?
Yeah, I live really close to Tigard Skatepark, with the dinosaur [on the deck]—kind of a memorable feature— and I would go there early in the mornings and try to pump around as fast as I can with my camera in my hand. I'd leave it recording so I could see how smooth I was doing it. Ben and I would go to Nike [warehouse park] at night and I would just try to film him fisheye so I could get used to it. I can't just long lens everything.
That's really smart. Did you see a lot of improvement with that training?
Yeah, I think it's gotten a lot better. And since then I've upgraded my camera to the HVX200 with the extreme fisheye, so it's easier keeping people in frame and there's more room for error. I feel like I've really improved. You might have to ask them, but they still film with me so I feel like I must not be blowing it completely!
Damon "Snax" Carpenter keeping the session goofy as usual.
How did it feel having so many dudes backing you and wanting to keep working with you?
It kind of let me know I can actually do something with [filming], and Matt Price letting me be under him was the coolest thing that's ever happened to me I think. Usually, out of nervousness or knowing that he has a good eye I'll ask him what he thinks is a good angle, or what he thinks it should end up as in the final edit. But usually he just tells me that I have it and lets me figure it out for myself, which makes me learn a lot more. If I have questions he'll help me out, but it's also cool that he's just like, "You got this… Go do it and have some confidence in yourself."
So, he gives you some room to grow instead of just deflating you right away.
Yeah, and now he has me doing a lot of editing for CCS, so it's been cool to edit some stuff that maybe kids might like, or just broadening my horizons as far as the stuff that I'm working on nowadays instead of just filming and throwing together a little park montage. It's been a trip.
That's such a neat success story, when something goes from being a hobby to realizing you have a lot of potential to make it into something bigger.
Yeah, and when I first moved here I was kind of struggling, not really knowing what my life plan was. I was like, "I'm gonna go to film school," thinking that was a good idea, and I lasted like three weeks. I called my mom to meet up for lunch, and was like, "I'm not going back, that's not for me. I learn hands on, and I don't wanna film the stuff we have to do.” It didn't fit with what I wanted to do, and bailing on that was kind of a big deal because it left me with some debt, and I kind of didn't know what the hell I was doing. But then meeting guys like Mike and Ben, it reassured me that I didn't make the wrong decision, and it kind of worked out.
What was your take on it, though? Did you feel like you were giving up, or did you just realize right away that you needed to focus on the skating?
Well, I didn't really know if I had what it takes to film professional skateboarding, but I wanted to make money filming at least. I just don't wanna work a job that I hate. I went in with an open mind, and after two weeks we didn't even mess with the cameras, it was just a bunch of paperwork. High school wasn't for me, so it was maybe the schooling aspect. I'm better when I'm just in the field, learning, so around that third week I figured this just isn't for me. And, if I had waited another two weeks I would owe another three grand. So, I knew in my head like, I'm not with this.
My parents were still really supportive, I still live with them out here in Portland and I don't even have to pay rent, so I can go on some of these trips where there might not be money involved but it's good experience for me or maybe I’m meeting certain people. Without my parents I'd be pretty screwed, having to work nonstop.
Trevor Ward Smith grind waterfront PDX on Go Skateboarding Day, 2015.
It seems like a pretty smart decision because with the style of skating you've been filming you gotta get your hands dirty. And I'm not sure if anyone is gonna be able to teach you that.
Yeah, I even tried to turn in a project [for school] where they wanted us to turn in past work we had. I showed them one of my skate edits, and they were trying to point out all these little things like, angles and the rule of thirds… but if you're filming with a fisheye, following, that's not even really in the game plan. So, I think having that corrected, I was thinking, Nah, this isn't really going to help me.
So you saved yourself some time and money just being self-aware, realizing it wasn't gonna work for you.
Exactly. Not to say it's not for everyone, but it wasn't for me.
Let’s talk about how you managed to get so much talent in one video. Just watching the six-minute tranny montage, I think I lost track of how many people are in it.
I don't know. One thing I've been told is that I'm good at meeting people… so I feel like I'll meet someone, and by the next day I'm best friends with them. With me moving to a new area, every person I met it was like, "Hey, lets film together!" I just wanted to film everyone I could, and then you meet one person and they have a whole other group of friends that they skate with. Plus, Portland—or the Northwest in general—has a lot of really gnarly people that nobody really knows about unless you live up here... so if I had to put a section together with all the homies it would be, like, ten minutes long… and that's just too much.
It was actually really hard to cut down, because I know everyone wants to have clips in there. But I tried to show as much variety and different people and skaters nobody has heard of or seen footage from to sort of help them out. But it kind of happened naturally, as far as meeting everyone.
That's great that you have the networking part down.
Yeah, although one thing I'm really bad with… I'm horrible with emails. I've had to learn that, but face-to-face I'm all right at meeting people.
Chris Varcadipane & Tameron Eaglehorse
Was there anything about Dusted that you are especially proud of?
Overall, I was just happy that I didn't lose my mind at the end, because I was really stressed out, since it was my only real film, ever. Having guys like Ben in it, I really didn't wanna blow it… but when it all came together I was just really proud of the whole thing. My buddy Dustin had the last part in the video, and I think I was most proud of his part, since I think we worked the hardest on his part. He's pretty insane, so I'm hoping he gets some love. But overall: the whole thing, the fact that it even happened. I don't think I'll have another point in my life where I have that many people down, especially in this day and age with the internet, being down to save footage and put it towards something like that. Unless it's a company video or something.
Another crazy thing was, with Ben, I'd say, "Do wanna send this clip to Birdhouse?" And he would just say to hold onto it, which gave me some more confidence that I wasn't blowing it. It was cool to see everyone, towards the end, kind of trust me with it… and if I sent them an edit to see what they wanted, they would just tell me to do what I felt was right. That was pretty rad. I appreciated that a lot.
What do you have planned for the future?
As far as the future: I leave tomorrow to go finish up Kowalski’s “In Transition.” Other than that, I really have no clue. I'd love to help out some companies. Pretty much anything that comes along, I'm down for it.