An Interview about ‘Vase’ with Jacob Harris

With great anticipation and excitement towards an upcoming Isle Skateboards section in TransWorld’s ‘The Cinematographer Project, World View’, a series of interviews conducted in the lead up to ‘Vase’ will be uploaded throughout this week! Here’s the first, originally published in November 2015.

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portrait – Finn Andres

With full length skateboard videos becoming a rarer commodity, those that do surface are celebrated dearly. Combine that with a group of skateboarders, most of whom a part of the Blueprint legacy, and you can start to understand the excitement and anticipation surrounding Isle Skateboards’ first video production ‘Vase’.

The man behind the video is Jacob Harris. Whilst Jake currently spends most of his time behind the lens or in the editing studio, he is also an incredibly talented skater himself (being sponsored by Slam and flowed by HUF should be proof enough of this). With the countdown for ‘Vase’ ticking away I sat down for a discussion with Jake about his creative process, the upcoming Isle video, ‘Eleventh Hour’ and more.

You just got back from  Japan, was that a last minute trip to film for Vase?

That actually wasn’t a filming trip, that was quite strange… Essentially, there was a G-Shock competition in Japan. They wanted three people from the UK to go over and skate for like ten minutes and they would pay for our flights so me, Chris Jones and Casper (Brooker) went over. We didn’t skate that much, it’s really hard to skate Tokyo during the day. I didn’t even take the camera because the deadline for the video was the day I left.

As a place it’s pretty mad, especially if you haven’t been to places that have too much cultural difference to Europe. For me it was pretty crazy, I had been up for the three days before I flew because of the deadline for the video. I was supposed to get the master sent off to the duplicators and I hadn’t slept at all. I didn’t really sleep on the plane either and felt a bit insane to be honest.

How much time have you had to actually skate, without a camera in tow, whilst filming Vase

Without a camera… very, very rarely. At the peak of filming for the video, I would probably be out four or five days a week. Most of the team are based in London and I wouldn’t be able to go out without a camera. There would always be somebody who would be about and always have something in mind to try.

Did you have a cut off date for footage or just kept adding to the video until it seemed right? Is it harder to add more the further in you are?

For me it kind of gets easier but you basically have to invent false deadlines so we had September 1st and before that, like a month before. Casper still had a few things he wanted to do in the week following the unofficial deadline, or what was meant to be the official deadline. We spent the whole week out trying to get stuff. He came through in the end but without that his part would have been a lot shorter. As far as editing goes, once you’ve already got a structure in place it’s quite easy to rearrange things, so that is never really a problem.

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Backside smith for Slam City Skates, photo – Henry Kingsford

You’re involved with some videography work outside of skateboarding, how have you juggled that around filming for this video?

It has been alright. If I had work that pays I would drop the Isle video to take care of that because the deadline is completely around me, so I could afford to be pretty flexible. I’ve done quite a bit in a few different areas. When you’re making something like this it doesn’t pay very well so you have to take work whenever you can, whenever there would be some sort of camera work via somebody I knew I’d always take it.

There are career prospects in a few areas for anyone who has built up a decent portfolio just within skateboarding. Which possibly due to skateboarding being more commercially appealing now. What is your opinion on the impression big budget films such as We Are Blood [2015] give the public about skateboarding?

I haven’t actually watched We Are Blood but I’m pretty sure I already have strong opinions about it. I’ve heard that the project is meant to give some sort of accessibility to skateboarding for the general public, right? I suppose there is definitely room for that. I’ve just seen a few scenes which looked completely over the top, but if that’s the audience they’re going for then the position I view skateboarding from is no position from which to criticise that sort of thing. It has its place and audience. I’m not interested in it, but I’m not going to outright say, “That’s shit”. It’s just not really for me.

Aside from the riders and predominantly filming in London, have you found any similarities between your last video, Eleventh Hour [2013], and Vase?

I guess those are the similarities really. Same camera, same approach. Nothing’s changed massively in terms of how the people skate, how I’ve been filming or anything like that.

I assumed the name Eleventh Hour was down to not having a name for the project until the last moment, has it all come rushing up at the last minute again?

That was part of the reason, definitely. When you’re doing a project like this, of about two years, you feel you have have a really strong idea of the direction it’s going in but find when you actually go to edit that your ideas and aesthetic has been fairly vague when it comes down to making a concrete thing. Your ideas are not that grounded, not that fixed, and it suddenly takes a lot of work to realise the things you wanted to do and you don’t actually end up doing it the way you wanted to in the beginning. We shot maybe forty minutes of 16mm film all the while thinking, “Yeah we know exactly what we’ve got here, this is going to be easy.” But when it came to editing the film in the way I wanted it to be, it was worlds away from the original intent. Come to two weeks left and you’re like, “I just need to sort this out and make it work”, rather than exactly realise the aesthetic I was trying to pursue.

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How long after finishing Eleventh Hour did you start working on Vase?

I swore that after Eleventh Hour I would never get involved in a project that long again so the idea was to make a promo. (Paul) Shier and Nick (Jensen) really wanted to make some sort of video and with the ideas that were being thrown around, I was like, “You can’t do that, let’s just make a promo and it will set you guys up with a format you can carry on with afterwards.” Then people like (Tom)

Knox, Jones and Nick got footage so quickly that it was just approaching a full length video. By the time you have put in a certain amount of effort you might as well go the full way because nobody makes full length videos and it’s really difficult to make full length videos nowadays. It’s like, “Fuck it, we’re at three quarters, may as well go all the way.”

Tom was in Square One [2009], your first video, and will also be in Vase. How has it been growing as a filmer over the years and capturing Tom’s progression at the same time?

To begin with Tom was just a kid that fucking loved skating. He was really good at it and didn’t have many ideas about it at all, like about how he wanted to skate or be portrayed or anything like that. He was quite innocent. At the same time I was into filming and sort of wanted to make him skate a certain way and that fed into his skating a lot. Eventually, around Eleventh Hour, I had been the ‘puppet master’ for a while then he fully grew into his own and by this video he would be directing me, telling me how he wants to be filmed. We have a really good dynamic, for some people it can be stressful but it’s never been stressful with Tom because I’ve been doing it with him for like ten years. He has got an amazing control over his mind.

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Knox & Jake, photo – Jaime Owens courtesy of Transworld Skateboarding

Can you explain the reason the video is called Vase

There are quite a lot of ways you could word it and, when asked this question we tend to just give this dictionary definition of ‘vase’ that it is ‘a vessel that beautifies its contents’.

How involved were the team with the music or editing in general? Nick skating to Kate Bush (Running Up That Hill) in Eleventh Hour was a great combination, was that your choice or his?

Actually, that idea came from Mark Jackson. I tried to edit it once and it didn’t really work and I didn’t see the potential to be honest. Nick was really into it so I tried and tried and it eventually worked pretty well but it was quite a hard one to make work. As far as the team go they’re not that involved, I’ll ask them as the project goes on if they have any ideas because it’s so hard finding music. One of the reasons I was not going to do another video again was because it stresses me out too much finding music. I have certain people that I’ll run choices by and in this video there are two songs that were suggested by team riders but not for themselves. I’ll show Nick what I’m doing, he’s the person that I run the edits by and he’s more interested in how the film footage is working as opposed to the skating. We worked on all the film together so we’d go to his studio and shoot or we would go out into the street and come up with the ideas together. We both had a similar vision of how it’s going to work so it wasn’t like he would have to come round while I was editing and point me in that direction.

I have read that when you were filming Nick’s Eleventh Hour part he would do lines over and over to make sure he definitely got the clip in case of any technical difficulties. Has he been that meticulous whilst filming for Vase?

Ah mate, always. I fucking hate Nick, (laughs). It’s a nightmare; he does things fairly easily then bugs out and gets really paranoid that it was terrible. Then five hours later you’ve got it ten times with decisions to make about which to use, it’s just ridiculous.

I know Lost & Found [2005] is a big influence of yours. It must be quite humbling to go from watching Shier when you were younger to now filming the video for his company.

The first Blueprint trip I went on was with Shier and (Mark) Baines, six or seven years ago now. At the time I felt… I guess humbling is the word and that was quite exciting. You get to know the guys and it isn’t a big deal anymore but I still think about it sometimes. Watching a certain video when you’re a kid, being really hyped on it, and I guess making the equivalent a few years later. Not in terms of whether it will be influential or the quality, but just the timeline of the same dudes and same style of video; I do enjoy that fact every so often.

For some people it can take years to actually enjoy their section in a video. Is it a similar scenario for you – that you have to be away from it for so long before you can appreciate your effort?

Oh absolutely. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to objectively enjoy the video because all you see when you watch these things are the weaknesses. I’m sure it’s the same with people for anything that they’ve ever made. An idea can take hold of you and you get too into it and you can’t see what’s wrong with it either. The deadline for the video was the day I went to Japan. I went to Japan, felt fucked and had a link that I was showing Nick. I watched it the day before I got back from Japan and had to change so much. I got back and cut two songs out, re-cut two songs and all this sort of stuff. Distance is definitely a very important thing with any sort of objectivity.

Would you say it’s natural with anything creative that you become numb to it after so long?

You aim for a certain height and then by the time the deadline lands you’re think, “I just want this to work, I want this to be ok… I want this to be passable.” It’s that way with anything creative, I always find it quite interesting when you are editing something like this, you will get bits where you think, “Oh this will get people really stoked. Maybe this is a bit weak…” But what you find is when people watch it, or give you some feedback, they will always like the bits you didn’t expect and the bits you were really stoked on people won’t even notice. You learn you don’t know your audience whatsoever.

I imagine you frequently reached the point where it felt you would have benefitted in stepping away from the video for a while.

Yeah totally, that feeling is really familiar at the moment. You know that if you could go away from it for two days and not think about it you could come back and you’d have a completely fresh approach. You could become a bit more playful but you’ve backed yourself into a corner with a ten second bit of somebody’s part and just can’t make it work. If you came back to it you could try something completely different and it would be way better but you’ve convinced yourself you can’t and it has to be a certain way.

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As an advocate of the VX1000, what are your thoughts on the use of the VX as something of a novelty item within skateboarding?

To be honest I find it kind of annoying. The reason I like it and always have so much is because it has been the standard for videos that I really like, so it’s almost like not having a medium and just how I enjoy it looking rather than taking this hyper-stylized use of it. Because it’s a small and quite fun camera to use it just creates an atmosphere that you shouldn’t point to too much. I think it should be a tool rather than this thing that’s put on a pedestal… and I realize the poster image for the video is a fucking VX and we put it on a pedestal too, (laughs). You can use so many different formats in so many different ways. I’m a bit sick of this thing. It’s so limiting and annoys the hell out of me.

What is your opinion on the state of full length videos at the moment? Physical releases are getting sparser and even something as significant as Propeller [2015] didn’t have a full physical release.

I do think that for a full length video there should be something physical although I’m absolutely fucking sick of DVDs right now. I’m having a really hard time getting the DVD to work properly but that aside… Sadly, I’ve definitely experienced this quite a lot when making this video and I hope they don’t die out, but they’re a bit irrelevant now to be honest. The way that new and what you might call ‘progressive’ videos are edited is often in a style that wouldn’t carry for a full length.

If you watch that new Gilbert Crockett part [Salt Life], or anything like that, where the music is all chopped up and pointing to the fact that it’s a lot of different formats together – that is what people want to see at the moment and you can’t do that for a forty minute video. The stamina just won’t carry. When you’re doing this sort of video like the one I’m making in much more of a, I’m not going to say archaic, but a much older style you do feel like you’re hanging about in the past a little bit, which is a funny feeling.

I guess the only video with a physical release in that sort of sporadic style would be cherry [2014].

Totally, that is definitely something to pick up on because you see these things coming out when you’re making something and you’re like, “Fuck!” Because they have sort of changed the rules a little bit but if I was to edit in that direction then I would just be copying. Obviously I liked the way that cherry did it because the editing itself was just different, Bill Strobeck did a lot of things to compensate for the fact it was a long montage to stop it from being boring. I love the stuff that Anti-Hero do which are essentially long montages and again they compensate for it by having this really loose style and a lot of fucking around throughout.

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For the intro to Eleventh Hour, creating something very memorable and different was a priority. Have you gone for anything like that again with Vase?

We have yeah, me and Nick put a lot of effort into the intro actually. Maybe too much effort… Like I said, we shot so much film and had an idea and then you find the idea to be quite vague. I knew what I wanted to do from the beginning then we shot all this film and basically it was just really fucking difficult. When it was first put in a timeline it was quite a disparate jumble of images. To make that all run together, I don’t know if we managed it but I think I’m stoked on it. I don’t know, I’ve seen it too much.

As the first video is usually the defining one for a company and their image, what are you hoping that skateboarders will take away from the Isle video, both about the company and skateboarding as a whole?

That is a question I’ve been asking myself quite a bit actually and it’s something me and Nick have talked about in relation to Isle, graphically and otherwise. Sort of, “Who is the audience for this?” And to be honest, I don’t really know! I’m not going to say too much about the style because it’s quite hard to describe anyway. Hopefully it’s for people that like skateboarding, appreciate interesting visuals and some effort that has been put into transporting you to somewhere else for a bit when you watch a skate video. I don’t really know what I’d want people to take from it. Certainly not any kind of moral or specific thought or message, and not really any kind of lifestyle like Palace do or maybe even like Blueprint did at one point… Just an atmosphere, I hope it resonates with people and they’re into the company.


More on Isle Skateboards & ‘Vase’:

tom-knox-isle-skateboards-vase-interview-speedway-magazine

casper-brooker-isle-skateboards-vase-interview-speedway-magazine nick-jensen-isle-skateboards-vase-interview-speedway-magazine

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