Greg Hunt’s films are amongst the most significant skateboarding videos of the last twenty years. His work is uplifted by authentic depictions of our culture’s most endearing figures which can only be achieved through genuine companionship. Anthony Van Engelen, Heath Kirchart, Dylan Rieder and Jason Dill to name a few of those Greg has provided a near-biographic documentation of. However, Greg’s position as one of skateboarding’s finest cinematographers is predated by a short tenure as a pro for Stereo Skateboards – and his time in front of the lens is integral to his story behind it.
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Greg moved to San Francisco the day after his 18th birthday where he became embedded in the EMB crew. A first-hand witness to the pivotal scene of the Justin Herman plaza; Henry Sanchez, Javontae Turner, Mark Gonzales christening the plaza’s gap and progression ad infinitum. Initially flow for Real Skateboards, after befriending Jason Lee he gained a spot on the original Stereo team – his first exposure to filmmaking after observing Jason and Chris Pastras make A Visual Sound  which lead to Greg shooting his own Super 8 segments for Tincan Folklore .
Greg’s time in the spotlight peaked with an interview in Transworld’s March 1998 issue although shortly after finishing shooting for it he began to sway from professional skateboarding. Stereo’s team shifted, sales declined and the brand struggled to ‘redefine themselves’ but amongst these factors, Greg’s age played on his mind: “I honestly can’t remember if it was an immediate change of heart, or if it was building over time, but things were a lot different back then. There wasn’t much money and more importantly pro skateboarders were all pretty young. Nobody was over 25 and definitely nobody was over 30. I was 23 and unfortunately I felt I was already sort of old,” laughs Greg. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence in that way and controlling my life was a bit outside of my grasp. I was still a little immature too so I was frustrated.”
By the time that 1998 edition of Transworld went to print he was ready to move on. “I wasn’t as excited about skating for this team and even about being pro at this point. I was older and feeling like I didn’t have much opportunity anywhere else. I didn’t have any back-up plans for skateboarding. At the same time I was really into cinematography so I just thought: “I’m just going to quit and do this instead.”
Greg enrolled in a filmmaking course but quit after the first class, feeling it was too simple given his familiarity with camerawork. Preferring to gain hands-on experience, even if it meant being delegated to a position similar to an unpaid intern; assisting shoots for free, answering phones and making coffee for a post-production company were amongst his roles. Eventually, Greg reconnected with Transworld, attracted by the magazine’s use of 16mm footage in their productions. Inspired by the introduction to Sixth Sense , Greg cold called Ty Evans (then Transworld staff filmer) to ask if he could help film some 16mm: “Modus Operandi  was the earliest one I shot for but I wasn’t even working for them. I was just shooting because I wanted to and they were stoked to have me involved. I feel if Ty and those guys weren’t making those videos, or I wouldn’t have seen Sixth Sense, then I wouldn’t have got back into shooting skateboarding.”
“Video was still High-8 so 16mm was really the way to learn how to do more serious cinematography work where I would be challenging myself. I hit them up and started shooting 16mm, taking notes, trying different films, trying filters and all these different things as a way to shoot and learn.”
Greg’s autership is underpinned by subtle yet poignant infusions of 16mm and Super 8 – a complete contrast to the ostentatious displays of spectacle encompassing Ty Evan’s later work. Therefore, it’s strange to consider without Ty skateboarding may never have known of Greg Hunt – the cinematographer. Departing for the Crailtap camp, Ty offered Greg a position at Transworld. Barely computer literate, his first project was Anthology  which provided Greg an opportunity to learn video editing from scratch under the tutelage of Jon Holland. “Jon taught me a lot but once we started i.e.  he never had any criticism. We split it evenly. It was super open from the beginning,” explains Greg. Over the next three years they made i.e., Videoradio and Sight Unseen  before Greg took the helm as the third cinematographer DC enrolled for The DC Video.
“They spent a year, and a lot of money, trying to make this film with Jamie Mosberg. For whatever reason it wasn’t working out so DC hired Joe Castrucci. I guess he was still going to do Habitat, but he was going to move to LA and spend a year or more making The DC Video. Pretty quickly he realised it was too much to handle so Joe invited me to make The DC Video. We were going to make it together, which sounds so crazy now I think about it, but that only lasted for a month then he decided he didn’t want to [do The DC Video] and asked if I wanted to do it myself,” he chuckles. Greg has no idea what happened to the footage gathered before Castrucci and himself came on board, adding there are only a couple of clips Mosberg shot in the finished video.
Greg’s excitement to be working with DC outweighed any intimidation to be taking on the company’s debut video and his first solo project. “Skateboarding was a great vehicle for me to learn filmmaking. DC was big at the time and there was that opportunity; not only to do their video but a lot of production work on a way bigger scale. The first thing I did with DC was a commercial at the Super Ramp in downtown San Diego with Danny Way at night. I think he does a 540 and a Madonna. We shot that with a helicopter and multiple cameras on 35mm and 16mm film. It’s exactly what I wanted to do and it felt like everything really clicked. The commercial came out cool and everyone was excited about doing things on that level. On top of that I just really liked Ken Block. He was the coolest person to work for. He was open and just a great collaborator so it felt really good. It was a huge project and I was overwhelmed, especially towards the end, but I’m always happy I made that choice.”
Asking if shifting from annual releases with Transworld to a longer endeavour for DC affected his approach to making a video, Greg becomes amused at the misconceived timing around Transworld productions: “It’s funny because when I started at Transworld they actually came out every six months and I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realise. Feedback , Modus Operandi and those videos Ty was making were coming out every six months. Think about that – one every six months. You have to edit it too so you pretty much have to shoot a video in four months which is unreal. It says a lot about the level of skateboarding at the time.” Although initially relieved by DC’s proposed one year deadline, eventually pushed back to three, this timeframe didn’t allow ideas to be refined and was simply proportionate to what was necessary. “Look at all the stuff Danny did on the Mega Ramp at the very end. It wouldn’t be the same project if that weren’t in there. As long as everyone is working hard you have to give it as much time as it needs to be finished,” says Greg.
The DC Video was Greg’s first time filming a part with Anthony Van Engelen and few other combinations of filmer and skateboarder have been as complimentary over the years. Jon Miner and Andrew Reynolds, Arto Saari and French Fred Mortange and more contemporary instances from Jacob Harris and Tom Knox exhibit perfect matches on both sides of a camera. But, personally, the duo of Greg and AVE is second to none.
They met in the summer of 2000, through Scott Johnson, who Greg lived with during his early days in Los Angeles whilst working at Transworld. Out skating one day; Greg, Scott and a group of his friends piled into their cars to move onto another spot. With no seats in the other vehicles Anthony jumped in Greg’s car without hesitation which instantly struck a chord. “As weird as that sounds, I remember thinking: “This guy is cool.” A lot of people wouldn’t do that – they would just put three in the back seat. I’m sure he knew of me, and I was friends with his friends, but it made an impression on me that Anthony just thought: “I’ll get in with Greg.” Even though I don’t think we had even spoken a word to each other. Right off the bat I really liked Anthony as a person.
“When we were making i.e. – the first international trip I ever put together was to Spain and France. There’s that line [in i.e.] where Anthony does a nollie crook, a nollie 180, a switch tre flip and a switch backside nosegrind on the block at Parallel. It was that trip and he randomly wanted to come,” says Greg, enjoying the realisation that Anthony was present on his first international trip and they have accompanied each other on the majority of filming missions, native or overseas, throughout both of their careers.
Despite slipping into issues with drugs and alcohol throughout the DC era, Greg expresses AVE kept his indulgence separate to skateboarding. “Every video has been a big piece. You say we’ve been a ‘prolific duo’ or whatever but honestly that’s all him. I work hard but it’s all Anthony. Within every big project we’ve done he’s made a huge personal step forward. In The DC Video, even though he was drinking and partying a lot, that’s when everyone saw how hard he works. Every weekend he was getting something really gnarly and working for it – going back four, five or six times to get it. Other than Danny Way, Anthony was setting the bar for how hard you can work to make a video part. But it was after the video Anthony disappeared. That’s when his problems started becoming more apparent and I eventually realised. He gained a lot of a weight, I wouldn’t see him as much and he wasn’t skating well. In between the projects there is a lot of time when you don’t have the pressure to perform and stay on top of it and that’s when you fall off.”
Although somewhat reticent to watch his own films, Greg seems particularly unfavourable of The DC Video. “Honestly, getting it finished was an unbelievable last minute dash. I think I edited it for two months and I was up for days. I barely got it finished in time to get in the car and drive to the premiere and there is a lot I’m not happy with. That’s just the nature of it sometimes. Even if you’re not finished you have to let go and release it. That video probably more so than any I’ve done. There are music choices and the way things are cut together felt very rushed which also means I’m not very connected with it. Even though DC was a great gig for me, and continuing after the video I was making good money and really liked the team, I wanted to make something more personal. That’s why I started working on a video for Alien Workshop, which became Mind Field , pretty soon after. A lot of people loved The DC Video but I didn’t have as much of a connection to it just because of how rushed it was at the end.”
Greg’s progression to Alien Workshop was a natural transition due to his friendship with co-founder, Chris Carter. However, Mind Field presented Greg’s biggest personal and creative challenge. Wary of not replicating the distinct visual styles of Memory Screen , Time Code  or Photosynthesis , whilst maintaining an aesthetic consistent with the Workshop, Greg returned to 16mm and Super 8, comfortable mediums he “enjoyed even more than just shooting on DV or video.”
Envisioning an honest depiction of the eclectic individuals who made The Sovereign Sect, Greg says: “I wanted it all to feel very candid. I would always have my 16mm or Super 8 on me. Even if we were filming a trick on the VX I would have the other camera set, metered and ready to shoot because it’s those little moments that happen so fast you miss them that I wanted to capture. Those fleeting moments capture the person in such a powerful way. I didn’t want any of it to feel set up. I wanted it to feel documentary but shot more artistically so I made a point of trying to shoot everything with another camera with me. The guys in the van, these sort of in-between moments… That’s more of a personal thing I’ve tried to do with my photography too – capture very off and candid moments which show the person or situation exactly how it was. As a skateboarder that’s what I want to see. Nowadays it’s a little different, because of social media, but I don’t want to see the guy standing against a wall, staring at the camera or lacing up his shoe and stepping on his board. We’ve seen that a million times. I like seeing Van Engelen coming out of a 7/11 or Jason Dill inside his house. That side of the person you normally never get to see. I guess a little more private and that’s beyond it feeling ‘Workshop’ or anything. I really wanted to capture each person for their parts.”
Whilst Greg explains this an image of Jake Johnson comes to mind. As nature blooms, peculiar architecture flashes by and wind-up insect toys spring to life to the chime of Animal Collective’s ‘My Girls’ – Jake strolls towards the camera wearing a t-shirt from New York’s Autumn Skate Shop. Mosaic patterns fade in, fade out, Jake’s name and silhouette appear, the same strange bug-like toys bouncing around inside his head, before he gracefully nollie backside flips down a gap with the slightest flail of his lanky frame on the landing. It’s one my favourite video parts, with every trick chronologically embedded in my subconscious, but that ephemeral scene of Jake walking along in his Autumn t-shirt resonates above everything else.
Although almost ten years junior to the stoic, wallriding, bump-to-bar hopping powerhouse we know him as today, Greg agrees Jake’s part in Mind Field is pertinent to today’s skateboarding landscape – then side tracks explaining Mind Field is riddled with motifs which will pass by mostly unnoticed. “In Jake’s part one visual theme is that he points at everything and that’s because at the time he was just a kid. This funny, super tall and green kid straight out of central Pennsylvania and he was always pointing at everything. He had these massive hands and fingers and it always looked so funny to me so I would shoot Jake doing anything I could. There’s a lot in Mind Field shot by Bill Strobeck and Benny Maglinao but there are also things I feel people would never notice but say a lot about that person and one example is Jake pointing. Maybe that sounds stupid but it’s also very revealing of his character in a way,” Greg elaborates.
Alien Workshop’s definitive art direction, combining papier-mâché characters, graphics and still imagery, was fashioned by co-founder, Mike Hill and team manager, Chad Bowers throughout Mind Field. Working literally next door to Greg’s editing suite, where he slept on the floor as the deadline dawned, he laughs reminiscing over how simply Mind Field came together despite the painstaking craft behind each second of screen time someone isn’t riding a skateboard.
“It’s probably the easiest creative collaboration I’ve ever had in my life. One reason Mind Field feels the way the it does, and I can still watch and enjoy it, is because it was so natural. It wasn’t contrived, there weren’t meetings or any bullshit like that. I was doing my best to do what I was making and they were doing the best for what they were making and we just put it together and it became whatever it became. Creatively that’s a special dynamic to have, it’s rare. We didn’t shape it or overthink it we just let it be what it was going to be.
“There wasn’t a ton of back and forth, there wasn’t a ton of critiques. We would watch it and they would see where things are needed. There’s a lot of things in there, those little animations and characters they built which appear for two or three seconds – they just made and I dropped it in and it would be perfect.
“We really wanted everything to be shot as a physical element and not have titles that were completely created as graphics on a computer,” says Greg. Tangible design is fundamental to the Workshop, integral since the day Mike Hill conceived the company’s logo by scripting the word ‘Alien’ within the shadow cast by a desk lamp and cut it out with amberlith film. A process echoed twenty years later by what Greg says was one of the most complicated motifs he assisted with – the titles for each rider.
“I was more involved in that because it was everyone’s introduction and was going to be on the cover. They [Hill and Bowers] had gotten into this magnetic oil which, since then, I’ve seen a lot of people do outside of skateboarding. When you put a magnet under it, it spikes up and moves around. From there they cut steel letters they could make the title of the film and the riders’ names from. They kept fucking with it until they found something which felt special and they were really into.”
The title, Mind Field, was suggested by Mike Hill which Greg believes is a ‘testament to his creative mind’ and felt important as the man “responsible for most of what the Workshop is” chose it. Hill himself has considered the name as “a way to describe mental chaos that you’re trying to control and navigate through,” when making a skate video. An apt description for Greg’s second time filming a part with AVE which encapsulated Anthony pulling himself from the black hole of addiction. Sparing no detail to Transworld in 2009, AVE revealed it was actually Greg’s confrontation of his problems which set him on the path to sobriety. But this time around, Greg observed another aspect of self-control in his friend.
“Anthony had grown up a lot. I don’t mean to ever say he was immature but he was on another level of dedication. During The DC Video I felt his biggest shortcoming was his temper. That intro where he’s throwing his board at the sign? That would happen all the time. He would come so close to a trick and just lose it. He didn’t have the patience to persevere. Obviously the sobriety was a big part of it, and I think during Mind Field that was on and off, but for the most part he was really focused. The biggest difference from DC to Mind Field was his ability to control his anger and not smash his board into bits half way through the session. He would try it until he physically couldn’t skate or didn’t make it and if he didn’t make it he would come back. That’s one of the biggest shifts and why that part is even more intense. Whatever he did internally, I’ve never even talked to him about it, he was able to channel a lot of that anger and not let it get the best of him.”
The video showcased another collaboration between Greg and Heath Kirchart although he says Mind Field was more akin to building a part from scratch as Heath came into Sight Unseen with a section almost complete. Despite nearing the end of his career, Heath’s resolve was unparalleled. “Out of anyone I’ve ever worked with Heath is the most driven. He would know what he wanted to do a weeks ahead and prepare the entire time. His whole life would be based around what he was trying next. He had no distractions”
“Heath is just totally unlike dealing with anyone else,” reiterates Greg, but draws a connection to Danny Way as “one person who didn’t really skate with anyone else but was on such another level it intimidated the entire team” which “motivated everyone to push themselves as much as they possibly could.”
However, Greg muses “It must have been hard to look down the barrel of another video part” for Heath. “Getting into Mind Field he started having a hard time landing his stuff. Not because he wasn’t talented – he just set such a high bar for himself and he had already done so much. He was trying to find new things to do, raise the bar a little higher, and that must have been really difficult. He would spend a week or two preparing and then he wouldn’t get it and be hurt for weeks. Over time that became really frustrating for him. Not only that but he had this Emerica video [Stay Gold, 2010] afterwards so I think he was freaking out.
“Nine months before we were done filming he did that backside flip at the end and he knew he was done. We were by no means near the end of the video. That was before we had gone to Mexico and done all these US trips. A third of the video we probably filmed in that last year and Heath was already done at that point because he knew he had to move on.”
Had Greg known of Heath’s imminent retirement, he says he wouldn’t have felt pressured to present his Mind Field section as a swan song for the knight in white denim. Although learning how entwined Heath was in the editing process suggests his honourable discharge from professional skateboarding was premeditated longer than anyone expected.
“Nobody knew about his retirement right until it happened, he kept it pretty private so I had no idea. Each person in every video is different – some are very hands on and some are very hands off. Heath was probably the most hands on skater I’ve worked with. The song, the order of it, even the little Super 8 shots and how long the rideaways are – Heath was very involved in all of that. He obviously had a lot of trust in me but at the same time Heath is very much the creator of his part in Mind Field as much as I am. If he knew he was retiring maybe that’s where the pressure was but I had no idea. I was just doing my best to edit a part he was really happy with.”
Completing Mind Field marked the end of Greg’s time filming with a VX. Although he has previously argued those holding onto the camera are ‘out of their fucking minds’ he appreciates the nostalgic connection many have. “People really identify with the first videos they see and they always have a special feeling. A lot of skaters and filmmakers, who come from the generation after mine, love seeing everything on a VX and DV because that’s what they grew up seeing. It has a sentimental feel, sound and aesthetic that takes you back to when you started skating; how special skating looked, felt and how amazing it was at that point in your life. I don’t feel any connection to DV footage or a VX1000. I would never want to make another video on a VX1000 but I completely understand why a lot of skate filmmakers do want to film on those.”
Greg concurs the VX vs HD debate has become a moot point, as crews like Bronze 56K and GX1000 have popularised the camera for generations not exclusively raised on VX, agreeing a more contemporary issue is the decline in full-length skate videos. In light of Kalis in Mono , a ‘film fragment’ for Alien Workshop, and the widespread attention commanded by his short film with Dylan Rieder for gravis – it bares consideration Greg instigated the paradigm shift towards single online parts as the zeitgeist. Asked whether he feels any responsibility for the move away from, or guilt for the diminishing relevance of, full length videos, Greg responds: “No, I don’t. Honestly, I think that was just inevitable. Who would have ever imagined how Instagram would change things? People always say it’s the internet. I feel like it’s more just the way videos and news are viewed and digested. Everything is so different than anyone thought it would be at the time. It used to be purely over the internet and its funny now it kind of exists on your phone even more so than on the internet.”
Beyond shorter attention spans, Greg says underlying financial issues have dictated the waning of full-length videos. “People don’t have the money anymore. Back then skate companies had however much it would cost to work on a video for three years. Board companies would hold back footage, pay a filmer, travel all over the world and release these videos and you would sell a shitload.
“Minimum for a decent board company – In the early 2000s you would sell upwards of 100,000 videos. No matter how much money you put into these things you would make it back. Now you don’t sell 100,000 videos. You don’t sell 50,000. Maybe you sell 20,000 at the most and that’s like a purchasable download on iTunes where they take a huge cut out of it.
“So, it’s like the only way for a full length video to work purely because of economics – and I hate to say it – is as a marketing tool for a big shoe company. They can afford to finance something that isn’t going to make that money back. It’s hard for a board company. Single parts work because the riders are out there filming with their friends and if someone’s skating really well and building up a ton of footage you can plan. You’re not relying on twelve different people to have their parts done at the same time. It’s the simplicity of basing a project around one person. It was inevitable things were going to go the way they have. I don’t think full length videos are ever going die. People talk about that a lot. Skateboarding is changing but it seems in the near future skateboarders are going to continue doing something in what they see as the right way.
“Whether it’s someone like Josh Stewart or a smaller board company like Quasi – if they want to make a full length video they’re going to fucking do it. There’s something special about seeing everyone together in one project although it’s a lot more difficult. People are going to make full length videos for a long time because they’re made by skateboarders and skateboarders want to see and be in them. I don’t see it dying off but there’s going to be a lot less of it than it used to be.”
Questioned whether he was shocked at the reach of Dylan Rieder’s influence following the gravis section, Greg admits his connection to the film and Dylan made it difficult to have an objective view of his friend. “At the time he was, in his own way, a polarizing skateboarder. That middle period of his career when that film came out, a lot of people were talking shit about his shoe and saying really negative things about how he looked like a model. The video part changed a lot of that even for people who weren’t fans of Dylan. Those who maybe thought he was a good skateboarder but didn’t like how he dressed or came across as a person. Without a doubt that gravis part made everyone accept the fact that this is one of the greatest living skateboarders.”
Barely into his twenties, dylan. captured the enduring image of Rieder the world dearly remembers. From the long-haired Quiksilver kid who tackled handrails, to the teenager decked out in flannel shirts and a pair of canvas Vans Slip-Ons, to the troubled adolescent in Mind Field – Dylan emerged in Greg’s short film as a monochromatic powerhouse who perfectly embodied a ‘less is more’ approach. Though stark as Dylan’s reinvention was, Greg describes it as a gradual change: “A natural progression he really stepped into it once he got sober and felt confident about himself. That’s when he became the Dylan we all know. From how he dressed to how he skated. It really kicked into high gear during that video because I think he knew.”
“He knew he had a special talent and was finally at a point where he was open to be the person he wanted to be. Not that it was that crazy, not that he was that different or anything. It kicked in at the most logical time. You could see he was in that zone where he was really comfortable with himself and confident on a skateboard.
“I was surprised people embraced it so much. For Dylan to dress the way he wanted to fucking dress and just live his life the way he wanted to live it was very different to how a lot of skateboarders looked and carried themselves. Eventually, people realised this dude, although he’s ‘pretty’, doesn’t give a fuck. He’s just being the person he is and you have to respect that. Eventually, people came to respect he was such an original person. Skateboarding doesn’t always like people that completely break from the norm. It had been a long time since anyone had carried themselves the way Dylan did,” says Greg.
He touches on a macho attitude and closed-mindness prevalent in skateboarding which Dylan helped shake, affirming it to be one of the greatest aspects of his impact: “Because on every level skateboarding should be about being whoever the fuck you want to be. You don’t need to fall into some category to be a certain type of skateboarder. You can be whatever person and skateboarder you want to be. It takes a lot of courage to have that much talent and put yourself out there and open yourself up to a lot of criticism.
“Now you see a lot skateboarders like that but at the time it was very unusual and he got a lot of resistance at first. Especially that shoe, a lot of people talked shit on it. Whatever, he didn’t care. That was his shit. That’s what he was into. That’s what he wanted and I think eventually people realised, beyond his ability, to have someone to be that unique of an individual is very rare in skateboarding.”
Greg’s favourite memory of Dylan is simply witnessing him mature over the course of his eponymous video – calling the gravis days a ‘special time’ where the two would see each other daily as they lived two small blocks apart. Recounting the day he filmed Dylan’s iconic impossible over the bench New York, he explains Dylan had already filmed the trick with Bill Strobeck, who posted it online to Greg’s grievance. “I remember saying to Bill: “What’s up with this! Because we’re trying to work on this video,” laughs Greg. But already planning a trip to NYC together, Dylan’s nonchalant attitude to taking another pop over the waist-high bench was symptomatic of his talent. “He wasn’t stressed on it. He did it twice that day and I think we got there and left a half hour later. I think he honestly did it third try. It was pretty mind blowing but that’s how good he was. When someone is that good there’s no uncertainty. Tricks might stand out more than others but that’s just how he was skating. Everything was easy for him.”
But beyond his physical talent, Greg feels Dylan possessed an aptitude for understanding people in an honest and genuine way. “I don’t say this lightly. He truly saw people for who they are on the inside. He had this gift for not seeing people superficially. Sometimes to the degree where you would show up at his house, or meet him somewhere, and he would have all his friends with him and you would just think: “Who the fuck are all these people Dylan is hanging out with?” He had this eclectic and diverse group of friends. People who might be the type of person others would judge on how they looked or acted but Dylan didn’t care. He didn’t care what people thought when he showed up to a spot or an event with his friends. He really didn’t.”
Reflecting on the profound effect Dylan had on himself, Greg says: “I guess the thing about that, which I think back on the most fondly, is he found me that way too. I’m not the coolest dude and definitely not as cool as he was. He and I are different in a lot of ways but Dylan was someone I had, who was one of those friends who really loved you for who you are. He really respected you and you were really important to him. If you ask Van Engelen, Dill or anyone who knew Dylan they would say the same thing. He made it clear, in his own way, that you were special to him. A real friend of his. That’s something a lot of people don’t have. All my friends are special to me but I don’t have the ability to project that. Being a human is complicated. Dylan had this thing about him where he really loved his friends and his friends all knew. That’s one of the saddest things about losing Dylan. A lot of people aren’t lucky to have anyone like that in their life and when I look back – having a friend like that is what made those times so cool.”
By 2011, Greg was working for Vans and filming for what would become Propeller . His methodology with a large team wasn’t altered by working one-on-one with Dylan and “The Vans video, if anything, felt like more of the same and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It felt very familiar,” says Greg. However, Propeller resonates differently to Greg’s past work as it signifies the biggest change in his personal life. At the start of the video he lived by himself and by the end he had a family.
“It was challenging because every other project I’ve worked on, big and small, I’ve 110% invested myself in it. I’ve lived it. When you have a kid obviously that changes. There’s another level of responsibility you need to devote to something else. For the first time I was spread pretty thin. I was still travelling and working a lot but I was editing at home. My wife was super cool and she would take off for long periods and let me do what I needed to do but your head isn’t in the same place. You’re not able to stay up for twenty hours a day, for months on end, because you have other shit going on. It’s not like I went into it with a family, it happened in the middle, so I had to figure it out as I went along.”
During the early stages of Propeller, Greg directed music videos for ‘Manhattan’ by Cat Power, ‘Echoes’ by M83 and ‘Feel Free’ by Workshop alumni, Duane Pitre. Although now back with Vans, and working on an upcoming video part with Elijah Berle, Greg’s position as a family man and desire to embark on more commercial work fuelled his reasoning to part ways with Vans after Propeller. “It was getting to a point in my life where I had to take some time off and dedicate myself to other projects for a bit.”
“I had been doing freelance commercial work and really enjoyed it. That’s something I had always tried to do but working freelance and on a big skate film at the same time just doesn’t work. You need to be dedicated to it seven days a week and you can’t commit to taking a couple of weeks off because there’s too much going on. It’s really stressful. I’d been so involved in so many skate projects and knew that I needed to devote myself into doing other types of work that would give me more freedom and eventually, if I wanted to come back to skating, I could but have more work under my belt so I could balance it more.”
Photography is as equally crucial to Greg’s life as cinematography, reflected by the photobooks accompanying The DC Video, Mind Field and Propeller which provide a more intimate look into his work. “I like books, I like paper, I like looking at images that aren’t on a computer screen so any opportunity I have to create something that’s not digital – I’m into it,” Greg explains, adding he feels the books accompanying his videos imbue them with greater value.
“It’s funny because the first book I did was for The DC Video Deluxe Edition. My thought behind that, at the time, was DVDs are a cheap piece of plastic and eventually they’re going to stop working. I always hated DVD cases. There was nothing special about a plastic case with a paper sleeve. With The DC Video I wanted to make a booklet knowing it would outlast the DVD and hopefully twenty years from now, even if it would be some plastic case that holds a DVD no one uses anymore, there would be this cool book people would keep and that’s what it ended up being. DC was really generous with that. They let me make exactly the booklet I wanted to make and I was really proud of that project creatively – Danny’s footage and everything – but the book itself was a really nice and came out well.
“With Mind Field, obviously it being Alien Workshop, I shot photos wanting to make some book that came out with the video. Then with Propeller it was just because I had done it for the last two projects and a book is such a great thing for a company’s video project. If you can make it come out around the same time these two things seem like such a great balance.”
The talk of publications brings the conversation up to speed with the latest chapter in Greg’s oeuvre. For seventeen years he has been photographing Jason Dill and this visual documentation is the subject of his upcoming book, Ninety-Six Dreams, Two Thousand Memories.
“I’ve consistently shot Dill more than anyone throughout the years. Around 2004 I started to shoot Dill knowing I wanted to really document him but not knowing what it was for. I also started saving notes he would leave and post cards he would send me. Just funny things from travelling with him. Last year was slow for me so it seemed like a good time to start working on the book then I travelled with Dill, here and there, and really tried to shoot him a lot through 2017. I finished the book towards the end of last year. I spent a year designing it so there’s a lot of depth and I really took a lot of care into the visual elements. I’m pretty stoked to see how people react to it.”
“The name comes from the fact Dill and I met in the mid-90s as peers, as amateur skateboarders, then we reconnected years later as different people. I was making films and he was this iconic pro skater who very much came into his own and that’s when really I started documenting him.”
“It’s such a long span of time and he went through a lot of shit during that. We both did. We both changed a lot. It’s a straight up photobook. There’s a lot in there that isn’t direct but representative of what was happening with him and even what was happening with me. We travelled all over the world. I definitely don’t think I’ll ever make another book like this again and that’s one reason I made it because I started to look at what I had. I didn’t even realise. I just kind of forgot,” says Greg.
Despite its star, Greg doesn’t consider Ninety-Six Dreams, Two Thousand Memories as ‘a skateboarding book’, explaining: “Dill and I purposely kept this book separate from skateboarding. We didn’t want a big logo at the back of it and didn’t want to have a big launch party sponsored by a brand and beer sponsor. We wanted to try and keep it as more of a proper photo book.”
“Skateboarders will definitely enjoy it because it’s pretty candid and there’s a lot of Dill in there you don’t see anywhere else. It’s pretty personal,” says Greg. He cites the circular narrative of Dill’s career tracing the first photo in the book, taken in 2000 shortly after the release of Photosynthesis, to his current position running Fucking Awesome with a team of kids the same age as he was then. But overall Greg believes: “It’s just a book about a person over a long period of time. It’s about Dill and our friendship” which wouldn’t be possible had Greg not made “the effort to shoot him like I did and made the little side trips I did. Going to see him one day in his apartment and just shooting a couple of photos.”
Mine and Greg’s correspondence for this interview began six months ago, dropping quiet for some time as we were both wrapped up in other work. Greg was also occupied journeying around the States to finish his book. The final stop on his travels before we spoke – Germantown, Philadelphia – where he accidentally discovered his dad’s childhood home. An uncanny coincidence as Greg’s dad is why he started shooting photos in the first place.
Touching on how secretive he has been until recently, Greg mentions he has spoken to less than a handful of people for interviews about Ninety-Six Dreams, Two Thousand Memories, modestly adding: “I want people to know about it but I’m not trying to blast it out there.” As my recorder ticks over the hour and forty minute mark, I call it a day and let Greg get back to his life. Innocently, I explain a motivating factor this interview was that his videos are all close personal favourites which have shaped my life as skateboarder. He responds saying it’s been a pleasure says not to hesitate shooting the shit until this piece goes live. My parting words with Greg reinforce his discernibly humble disposition:
“I usually hate doing phone interviews. Only because when I read them it’s just rambling and I think to myself: “Who the fuck would ever want to read this?””
Interview by Farran Golding.
Opening photo by Mike O’Meally.
Thanks to Geoff Rowley for making this interview happen.
‘Ninety-Six Dreams, Two Thousand Memories’ is available from June 15th through Paradigm Publishing, The Photographer’s Gallery, The Palomino Club and the Fucking Awesome webstore.
1st December 2020: ‘Ninety-Six Dreams’ is once again available from The Palomino Club, updated and redesigned in a second edition published by Super Labo.