Matt Irving: Away Days director, co-owner of Juice Design agency | Photo: Sandro
adidas Skateboarding's first full-length Away Days premiered last night in downtown LA and, as promised, there were surprises galore. Matt Irving, the director, gives us a little background in the latest In Words from issue #148.
INTERVIEW BY STUART GOMEZ / PHOTOGRAPHY SEM RUBIO
What was your role in Away Days?
Basically, I’m the Director for Away Days. I’ve been working for adidas for the past nine years as an external creative agency called Juice Design. My friend Brett Critchlow and I came together to start working for adidas pretty much nine years ago. Over those nine years I’ve been basically focusing on a lot of the video stuff for the most part. And when it came time to putting together the full-length with Away Days, it was myself and the team manager Jascha Muller—who basically put together the idea—went and convinced adidas to make the budgets work. Then we basically spearheaded the whole project: hiring the media team, figuring out all the trips, basically producing the whole thing, directing, and then working with our network of people to put it all together.
What would you say during the process was the most difficult part to tackle?
I’d say the most difficult thing for us to tackle was figuring out the right crew for the right spot. You know, there’re 23 team riders, three filmers, two photographers, multiple team managers, and then myself, involved on all of these trips. It’s all about getting that perfect balance of, like, the five guys that skate well together that have similar spots. And then all of a sudden word gets out and then other guys want to jump on. Next thing you know, you have a ten-person trip and then productivity starts going to shit, basically, when there’re too many people. That’s been the hardest one, because if one of the team managers or myself isn’t there sometimes trips go a little awry and people start focusing on the wrong things where you’re chasing after something that’s unattainable. Whereas if there’s somebody there to help sort of streamline things a little bit, or get people out of bed in the morning, you just get more out of every single day. The biggest struggle has been trying to find the right balance of just building the right crew, having the right people. It’s complicated, but it’s been working out. It’s been a busy three years, for sure!
That’s interesting, because I would assume the more people, the more productive…
Definitely not, you lose focus. With the way the adidas team is there’s a lot of really close friends and it’s complicated to plan out trips because then one person may get left behind, and then they’re bumming. It’s not like it’s this assembled group of dudes; they each have a very long history with each other and have been friends prior to being on adidas in many cases. So, you know, if you’re putting Nak on a trip then Jake wants to go for sure, and then Nak wants Jake to go. And then if Jake’s going and Nak’s going, then Tyshawn has to go, and then this guy wants to go… it turns into one big snowball. We kinda have to, like, lay it down a little bit here and there and then it’s like, “Okay, nope. That’s who is going on this trip, that’s just the way it’s gonna be.”
Did you arrive at a certain sweet spot for the amount of guys that can be on one trip or did it just vary by spot?
Every city is different. I mean, New York is great with a small crew and no car, just pushing around and getting city bikes. Between city bikes, and skateboards and trains, New York is perfect with four or five dudes. More than that and it just turns into this herd where people get lost, or someone will fall off and then you’ll just see them later that night. Whereas if you’re going someplace like Miami—we went there a whole bunch, and it was like five, six, maybe seven dudes—it is probably best to have a couple cars. Some of the other trips, like in Europe, maybe Germany, on some occasions we’d end up with two crews. We’d have two vans, we’d have eight skaters, nine skaters, two filmers, one to two photographers, and we’d go to a plaza, everybody warms up, then split up, and go your own ways. So, we had all these tricks up our sleeves. By far the hardest one of all was we did an all team shoot in Barcelona back in November and that was 23 skaters, four filmers, three photographers, three team managers… it was chaos. It was insane! [laughs]
Is that where you shot that big landscape photo of everybody?
Yeah, at Sants plaza. That’s like the famous Barcelona plaza that Raul Navarro skates, people call him like the unofficial mayor of Sants. He’s logged many a year of his life there. Oddly enough, he split his shin open on one of the benches when we were there—he was filming a trick for this one chunk in the video. I think he said it was maybe close to twenty years skating the spot and he’d never done it, then we all come to town and he just, like, fileted his shin, basically! He had to get twenty-something staples. It was brutal. It was just like his shin caught the edge of the table and you could’ve just done the same thing with a razor blade. So, he was bumming.
That was very complicated. There were a lot of people there; we had a lot of stuff to shoot. That photo at Sants was the big plan that I wanted to accomplish while we were there. It was like a team photo without being a structured, traditional team photo how everyone is staring at the camera. I mean, we also had to do that as well for what adidas wanted, but we wanted something a little bit different. That plaza really has a rich history to a lot of the guys on our team: Rodrigo spent a lot of time there, Benny spent a lot of time there; I mean, everyone probably spent a lot of time there. People probably met Raul there first, before they even rode for adidas. He’s been there forever.
Something I’ve noticed with adidas Skateboarding is that the international team seems to be kinda equal stature as the American team. That seems like it’s very unique to adidas. Do you know if there’s a specific end game there? Is there just a bigger adidas following in Europe?
Well, adidas is a German brand and they’ve always had a pretty wide spectrum of what they view as their audience. And skateboarding traditionally is a very American-centric pastime; California is the epicenter of it, and then you see New York and Florida and other scenes along the coasts that are very strong as well. It’s always been a priority for adidas to focus on Europe ‘cause that’s the backyard of the brand as a whole. They also have their headquarters in Portland, too. But we did a European team video back in 2009 called Diagonal, and that was kind of the first full-length project we ever did. We don’t view that as the first official full-length, it was just the European team and there were guest parts from Lem and Dennis and whoever else was on the global Pro team had a couple tricks, like Silas, Tim O’Connor, and Benny.
Jascha Muller is the global team manager for the skate program, and he and I work closely together and always have for a long, long time. We both have a similar outlook that we need to have a diverse team and it needs to be people represented from all countries and all walks of life. And that very much aligns with what adidas does for all of their other categories.
We interviewed Silas in the last issue and he mentioned that there are three different filmers involved in the project. Will they each have their own section?
No, they won’t have their own section. We have three filmers, and that’s also about having that global perspective over everything: Torsten Frank is based in Stuttgart, so he’s the immediate response to anyone who needs to get out filming in Europe; Chris Mulhern is based in Philadelphia, so he’s the access for anything on the East Coast; and then Justin Albert is in San Francisco, and he handles most of the stuff on the West Coast. That being said, it’s not like they’re each stuck in their zones, they’ve all been traveling all over everywhere: Asia, Europe, a little bit of South America. But then we also have a network of other filmers we’re working with. We’ve done a lot of stuff with Anthony Claraval because of Rodrigo and his relationship. Mike Poore’s been doing a ton of stuff. Kirk Dianda’s been doing a ton of stuff. And then Bill Strobeck’s been pitching in as well, doing stuff with all the Supreme kids and the New York guys. The network of filmers is pretty vast, but the three main guys are those guys, and they’re also focusing in on the editing of the action but then all of those parts come into Juice—the studio that we have here—and then we’ll be finishing the film in-house.
I was wondering what your thoughts are on all of the younger guys coming on board and working alongside the older guys who are kinda more quiet and experienced.
The new kids that are in the mix are awesome! They just bring a whole new energy when we’re traveling, and you can see it. The older guys are a little bit more reserved and confident and they do it the way they do it. And then the young guys just come in there and are a little wilder, a little louder. But it’s been an interesting dynamic to see them work together.
The raddest one is Gonz. I mean, as a whole he gets along with everybody, and you can just really see him click with the young kids. Gonz and Na-Kel have a really neat relationship, like they’re homies and they’ll go do doubles together. Nak will be hanging out with Mark just talking shop or Mark will be convincing Nak to draw on his shoes or something. It’s just different. They really interact well together.
And then also seeing the kids grow up a little bit, you know. They’ve been on the team for, like, two and a half years. Just looking at photos of Tyshawn from when he first got on to what he is now, he’s like a grown-ass man! He’s kinda coming into his own. A lot of these kids talked about cars two years ago and now they’re talking like, “Nah nah nah, I don’t wanna blow my money on that.” And that’s cool ‘cause I feel like we’ve all like helped point them down a path of like, “Don’t go on and blow it.” You’re in your teenage years or your early twenties and you don’t need to make the mistakes some of the other really talented skate kids have done in the past, where they just go and blow it on jewelry, cars, and dumb shit. Where they could be thinking longer term. And you see Dennis and Silas talking to these guys like, “Don’t be stupid. Don’t do that. Be smart. If you’re making money, put your money somewhere where you can live off it in the future.” That part’s really cool, too. Like everyone is kinda keeping an eye out on each other.
Benny Fairfax, Jake Donnelly, and Chewy Cannon
Have you noticed any of the locations that you filmed at that seemed to have a bigger impact on the young kids?
Paris is the one city that comes to mind. The kids all seemed to go to more of the European countries rather than South American or Central American countries. They have been to Japan a little bit, not too much—it’s easier to bring in new kids and have them settle into a European country so they don’t have, like, full shell shock! [laughs] Tyshawn, Miles, and Alec, they slayed Paris. We did this one trip last summer, it was a London/Paris trip and then we went on to Stuttgart right after there, and something happened on that trip… I mean, those three just slayed those cities, it was crazy! They just were non-stop, it was just hammer after hammer. I think everyone just kind of got to a point where they just sort of sat back and watched the new kids go and do their thing. Dennis got some really good stuff, too, but [they were] just the show, it was crazy. You can see it, like Miles backtailing Le Dome in the trailer. Some of those tricks all come from this one two-week window when they were just slaying.
Yeah, you guys have done a really good job of building anticipation for this video. Do you think there’s anything in the video that will especially surprise people?
Yeah, I think we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves. There are a lot of “unspeakables” at this point in time. But there’s been some footage that has crept out of the woodwork that’s gonna probably be a bit of a shocker. There are some interesting montage moments that I think are really going to be shockers; there’s some skating in there that I think is really going to impress. That’s one of the big things, too, is pacing the video. In my opinion, in skate videos the level of skating is one thing, but you also have to deliver an end product that keeps you entertained the whole way through. If you just hit play on a bunch of skate tricks there’s no sort of vibe to the whole thing and it kind of fizzles a little bit.
It’s about striking that perfect balance of showing who these guys are when they are skating, you know, all the funny stuff, like when Gonz is on trips there’s bound to be some stuff that’s worth watching. He’s so spontaneous and does funny stuff all the time, he just has a different perspective on life and people like to see that, you know. That’s kind of the hardest part is striking that perfect balance—obviously skating is the priority, but we gotta show some other things too.
Having a global outlook on skating is a key component to Away Days as well. Without disclosing too much: we’re going to have these city montages to break up the parts. There are going to be the traditional structured parts, but there’s also going to be montage moments where people are going to have to sacrifice a few tricks to work with the creative direction that we have for the montages.
The biggest thing that I want to convey is that this is a big skate video production and there’re a lot of ideas and concepts and people involved, it’s a little different from your average film where you see one guy directly attached to it. Something that’d I’d like to try to change with this film is that there can be a lot of ideas. There doesn’t have to be one solo gunslinger coming in there and putting their name and attaching it to a video. We have three full-time filmers but we’re working with a network of five editors. We have other people working on specific montage stuff, like Kirk Dianda’s working in Japan with Silas and Dennis right now working on an intro for Silas’s part. I’m flying to Paris tomorrow with Zander Taketomo to go and shoot a Paris montage. And Claraval was down shooting intro shots with Rodrigo and Miles down in Sao Paulo last week. And then Torsten just finished in Barcelona two days ago with a crew working on some montage stuff for Barcelona. And then Justin Albert is in Madrid with a whole other crew. All this stuff is going on at all times, it’s my job to manage all of those people but then to come up with the creative direction that spans the whole video. But there’s gonna be all these different ideas and concepts throughout the whole that are told from the perspective from that filmer or that editor.
The crew in NYC.
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