An Interview with Dan Knapmiller by Ryan Loewy
Introduction by Kenji Yee
When I first started filming with Dan Knapmiller and Mike Lufholm for The Crow Video I was skeptical. I couldn’t tell whether the video was real or not. But for a lot of reasons I decided to keep on filming with these jokers. For one, who was I kidding trying to take myself seriously as an amateur inline skater trying to make a comeback in his mid thirties? But rather quickly, the project gained momentum and revealed itself to be as serious as it is silly. Perhaps, there’s a kernel of Crow truth in this point. Dan argues that rollerblading offers a surprisingly generative space for thinking about these kinds of dualities (serious/silly, order/chaos, Apollo/Dionysus, etc…). In my humble opinion, the combination of Dan’s philosophical and architectural perspective, Mike Lufholm’s inexhaustible creative energy, and Minnesota’s best on the blades could make a scratch in the blade geist next year.
Curious to know when the “crow” terminology came into play. I saw you guys throwing that around over the past year or so. Mind explaining that a bit?
It’s the kind of thing that eludes description and probably should be left without explanation— but funk it I will give it a caw. The Crow Team is a joke from 15 years ago that never died. We were driving around looking for spots when someone brought up how they saw an announcement from a clothing company — let’s call it…“Pigeon Brand”— and said company was making some questionable changes to its team hierarchy. Brett Hammond responded with something like “well if he’s Pigeon flow, and he’s now Pigeon pro – then I’m Pigeon crow.” The joke became that the “Crow Team” operates on some twisted merit system— it’s a bizarro world where those who normally would be “pro” are hardly considered for Crow flow while silly and sarcastic skating might get you a spot on Crow pro. An example of the Crow ethos is the Crow status of Chris Farmer and Jeph Howard—they are both Crow flow pending and will forever be pending. Over the years the backwards attitude led me to make “crowmos,” i.e. promos, that could be characterized by bad puns, deliberately poor and obscure production, and all things related to crows and skating.
That’s it— the origins of Crow are that silly—crow rhymes with pro. In the past few years my good friend Mike Lufholm has increasingly taken a liking to crow life. He and I have been doing some pretty backwards, pretty crow, shit— for example we found ourselves at the Juggalo March on Washington watching from the Lincoln memorial. We also staged a crowtest at the X-Games in Minneapolis that simply stated “Tony Hawk Touched.” Just as it did that night, when we silently crowtested, Tony Hawk Touched stands on its own and loses its edge the more it is explained (much like Crow)— however, The Crowtest is definitely featured in The Crow Video.
Tony Hawk Touched
You get the idea, Crow has evolved from its origins when we were teenagers in a car into something greater— the spirit is the same so it remains funny to us. There may be something to the resurgence of crow attitudes during a time when many things seem so deplorably backwards but that discussion is a rabbit-hole for another forum. I thought of some more recent crow things… Mike proposing that we take a trip to a flat earther convention somewhere in the Bible Belt is pretty crow. Even an image I made that says “I Voted For Hillary Minton” with her head atop Vinny’s body doing a top mistrial exemplifies the kind of silly shit that has come to define Crow.
Juggalo March on Washington – Photos by Lufholm
So bottom line is that Crow celebrates the backwards— it’s essentially just a kind of silliness and when you have your photographer and filmer at every session sharing a sort of branded humor it becomes infectious. When we make skate videos those involved tend to orbit the group a little closer and begin to identify more tightly as a crew — the expansion of “The Crow Team” was a natural result of the current project.
Now when it came to applying the Crow name to the current project— we had been working on a video for the better part of a year and needed a title. I was trying to avoid something heady and obnoxious when Mike threw out “The Crow Video.” While it may also be obnoxious in its own way, the project doesn’t risk taking itself too seriously when it’s titled The Crow Video. The Crow Video is a real and serious project but will have just enough of a crow disposition to deserve its name. I’m thinking that incorporating Crow will ensure some levity and serve as a counterpoint to some of the more intellectual ideas that I plan to bury within the video.
There you go, I took a pass at explaining Crow– that may have been more long-winded than you wanted but I don’t think I can do it much more succinctly. I’m not sure what it is up here in Minnesota but we have a history of satirizing deserving inline skating companies— I think it’s appropriate that I give a shout out to Adopt from the early aughts, which shares some similarities with Crow. I see them as an unaffiliated sardonic step sister of Crow in a way.
Image courtesy of Brett Dasovic
When did the idea of piecing together a video come into play? How long did you spend filming?
The ongoing fact that we have a rich skate scene in Minnesota meant that I’d been aimlessly accumulating footage for a few years when the circumstances in my life and within the local scene aligned. There had been an increased amount of shredding going on here in the Twin Cities. I’d been spending a lot of time out skating with Chris Farmer and Mike Lufholm, Chemi Simiyu had just moved to Saint Paul and after making a 20’18” long piece in the snow last winter we just carried that momentum into the following Spring. I’d been considering making another video for a while and had recently graduated from the school of architecture here so I was feeling unfettered when I had a sort of moment of clarity while thinking about what it is we do. We are dancing and moshing on the most fundamental symbols of order and society— the misuse of a space, its architecture, is a fundamental part of street skating. This relationship is an obvious thing but it seems like one of those obvious things that is worth attempting to describe. Looking at the subject in this way felt like fertile ground and I began to spin thoughts around things like the different ways to present an image of the predictable orderly use of a space (think suits walking down stairs) next to our atypical disorderly, more whimsical, use of that same space (think Kenji turning the stairs inside-out). The thinking was that maybe some sort of gestalt image may reveal itself between the two modes of order and disorder, function and dysfunction, The Garden and The Citadel—I was curious to see if given the right attention I might come away with an image that reads as something other than the sum of its parts.
Kenji Yee as Dionysus in The Citadel
When you continue that thought another layer down and point the same lens at the skating domain itself you see a similar order/disorder duality within a subculture that has its own rules and conventions to be broken and manipulated. Warping, while adhering to, the rules and precedent is a fundamental part of street skating. The best skating appeals to both intellect and emotion— combines difficulty with creativity — is an athletic feat while also ‘getting weird with it.’ It’s a badass form of play with a complicated order to it.
The thoughts I just described gave me something novel to bring into a skating project and that was enough for me to decide to make another video. I could make an attempt here to concisely describe the face of the video that will be approached like a sort of semiotic city symphony but I think that discussion would be best had elsewhere or perhaps not at all. Of course, the fortunate circumstance of being surrounded by some of the most talented skaters in the world was the enabling influence on my decision to commit to this. While the whole order/disorder (e.g. Hammond as Apollo, Kenji as Dionysus, Farmer mediating the relationship between) metaphor is something I entertain in my notepads— I’m not going to be beating anyone over the head with some cerebral architecture shit. The Crow video will read more like a typical skate video than as Koyaanisqatsi. The richer stuff should fly under the radar or at least function as eye candy for the disinterested. After all, Crow is at its heart a silly and satirical attitude— The Crow Video needs to be similarly lighthearted.
To answer your second question—
We began filming seriously for The Crow Video about 10 months ago and we will wrap up at the end of the year in 8 more months.
Kenji Yee – Stub Soul – Wayzata, MN – Photo by Lufholm
You guys have the most brutal fucking winters, yet still go out and battle the climate to get the clips. Any advice on how you battle the weather?
It’s going to sound trite but every season in Minnesota is beautiful— we witness the earth moving around the sun here and don’t deny ourselves that experience. Not everyone enjoys lacing up in the snow but I personally have always enjoyed getting out in the winter. It’s true that both skating and filming can be a battle, especially when you prefer to film long and have to choose between gloves and zoom.
Filming in February on The North Shore – Photo by Lufholm
It’s not always ideal but that’s all part of skating what the street gives you. Someone just sent me a photo of a cracked frame that went unnoticed— things like that happen and of course some spots become iced-in while others require a little extra prep with shovels and salt if we’ve got it. A month ago Hammond was putting a miniature snowblower in his trunk to do the grunt work— so there’s a tip. Knowing the forecast is also helpful. Think ahead about when particular spots will be clear. Also improvise and work with the weather— be prepared to take advantage of rare conditions (e.g. snow bank + board = launch ramp if you’re willing to get Grob with it). Knowing general shit like it’s typically warmest around 3 PM is helpful. Knowing the most accessible areas of the body where heat escapes helps a filmer avoid frostbitten fingers. However, a real tip is that you don’t want to spoil yourself too much and warm up too often. Your body is pretty good at adjusting and regulating but the second you let your skin know that there are warmer places to be it loses its grit— the moisture that warming up your hands creates can make things worse in the long run. Ryan Googins used to blast the A/C between spots in the winter so the difference between inside and outside wasn’t so extreme— that one works more in theory. Depending on how you skate you will need to consider your gear— Chris shreds gloves because he skates burly stuff— if you aren’t actively skating you’ll need more layers than someone who is skating hard. Winter can be great but we are at the mercy of the weather here. Things slide differently when its cold for example, temperature affects the behavior of wax. When and how we can get out to skate depends on what the day gives us—some of the weather events are too much and we just have to work around those. So yes, the weather can certainly complicate things but it looks fantastic on film — and honestly, on the right day the fluff can make a spot more appealing. Generally winter in Minnesota is more pleasant than it’s reputation would lead you to believe — it isn’t for everyone but we live through the seasons by choice. Winter is good for the soulplate.
Chris Farmer – Topsoul – Golden Valley, MN – Photo by Lufholm
Let’s talk about the line up a bit. I know Jeph lives out on the West Coast now, how did you go about filming his part?
Jeph is a machine, he could film a quality part in a weekend if he had to. Fortunately for the video, we will have time to be more thorough. He already has plenty of classic Jeph clips in the bag from his recent visits home. Last time he came back was for he and his wife to introduce their new baby Frank— we went out skating and I was immediately reminded of why Jeph’s Crow status is Crow flow pending—he’s frikkin bomb. After that weekend I threw his new footage into a timeline with some footage I had waiting (cut it up to a “hip hop” version of the chicken dance) and realized that he could fill out a section right there. Jeph needed to be a full part of the video— after all, Jeph is a Minnesotan. Notably, he was affiliated with Adopt and Stomp—his crowdentials are sound. Yes, Jeph lives on the West Coast but his piece will be finished up back home— the plan is for his entire part to be filmed in Minnesota.
Jeph Howard – Makio transfer Mistrial – Minneapolis, MN
Brett Dasovic – Soul gap into the bump – West Saint Paul, MN – Photo by Lufholm
Aside from a few particular exceptions the entire video will be shot in the Twin Cities. We’ve taken some trips but the trips we’ve taken, and plan to take, aren’t necessary to fill out anyone’s section. By the time we wrap up we will have spent a dedicated 18 months filming plus all of the footage I had been gathering already. I have been editing in (and writing to you from) a parking booth downtown Saint Paul which is a job I picked up for this project. I spend a few early days a week here which gets me awake and paid while working on the video through the morning so that I am available to start filming in the afternoon. The point being (other than revealing the romantic nature of the production process) that we are squeezing every hour out of the time we have left to work on this thing. There already is a lot of content and we still have 8 months to film. I’ll try to keep everything tight and stuff a lot into the “bonus” content but The Crow Video will be long. Farmer has so much good footage that halfway through he had two full sections. I cut up a prelim to feel out what we had for Kenji and I had to work at getting it under fifteen minutes.
Dasovic already had some of his all-time coolest footage right at the beginning of the project. Chemi will have what could be considered at least two sections too. It’s kind of nice to have at least two distinct parts to present someone with— for example, Chris section #1, #2, #3, etc. get to be treated in different ways. Not only does that give me something to chew on with the whole Apollonian/Dionysian duality thing but it allows the relationships between sections and overall flow of the video to be more dynamic.
Chemi Simiyu – A/O Unity budget Royale 450 out – Saint Paul, MN – Photo by Lufholm
“The universe is the only true city.” -Dio Chrysostom
The cities are always changing, we are fortunate to live in an area that is tough to wear out filming. While the MSP area gives us more than enough to work with there will be a few exceptions to the exclusively Minnesota aesthetic.
Michael Garlinghouse – Soyale – Saint Paul, MN – Photo by Lufholm
Garlinghouse is a filmmaker who’s often traveling so he has brought some stuff from elsewhere into his part. Also, Hammond likes vacations so Lufholm, Farmer and I joined him on one and just returned from Southern California earlier this month.
Chris Farmer – Makio – La Mesa, CA – Photo by Lufholm
Crow in San Diego near The Hawk’s nest (left to right: Knapmiller, Hammond, Farmer, Lufholm) – Photo by Lufholm
There will be some outstate outliers like that. There are a few exceptions but when you look at the list of the seven crowfiles it’s clear that this is a Minnesota video—which is appropriate because it will be a major character.
Crow on the North Shore (left to right: Simiyu, Farmer, Knapmiller) – Photo by Lufholm
Chris Farmer – Negative Makio to Soul – Plymouth, MN – Photo by Lufholm
Chemi Simiyu – Bump to Cloudy Night – Minneapolis, MN – Photo by Lufholm
How do you plan on releasing the video? VOD?
It will be released on disc and digital download. Mike Lufholm is planning to put together an accompanying book of his photography that will be available individually and as a package with the video. Mike is producing The Crow Video with me and has been pointing his own cameras at the same subjects this entire time. The book will be a nice compliment to the rest of the project and I bet the people who stuck with the interview to this point will enjoy the extra content. I can’t discuss the release without mentioning that Tony Hawk Touched shirts (THT-shirts) will also be sold individually and as a package with the video. We’re taking shirt orders as of now so go to the crowtest page of TonyHawkTouched.com for your THT-shirts.
Updates about the release will also be on the website including information regarding the February 2020 premiere(s) and related events. Right now there is a lot of content to be navigated and new content will continually be added.
Also, the crowtog Mike Lufholm will keep everyone updated on Instagram @thecrowvideo
The Crow Video producers Mike Lufholm and Dan Knapmiller
Any intentions on continuing this series of videos? Or was this just a one time sort of deal?
There will always be Crow projects in the works but the amount of energy being put into this magnum crowpus is unsustainable— this one feels like something to be grateful for. Honestly, I doubt that this project will entirely exhaust my interest in the subject that I hope to subtly thread through it— so I’ll probably explore that in some way after this but we won’t immediately be jumping into making the same type of video. Crow is not easily serialized but I will say that The Crow Video could also be thought of as “Crow: The Video” — we’re considering venues to stage “Crow: The Musical” and we’ve been in talks about launching a line of luxury water under the label “Eau De Crow.” You’ll hear more from the Crow Team.
Brett Hammond – Zero X – Burnsville, MN – Photo by Lufholm
Favorite part of filming this? Worst part of filming this?
Making a proper video is time consuming for everyone involved but the tedium of logging footage and combing the city is a pastime of mine and I’m excited to be at the confluence of circumstances that has allowed for this video to happen.
One of Minnesota’s most gifted native corvids has spent a stretch back home recently — the video and vibes have benefited from Chris Farmer being around and keeping it crow. Mike Lufholm’s presence and energy definitely made it easier to commit to something at this scale and keep everything moving— having both of us going at this thing has given the project two complementary feet to stand on.
My favorite part is probably the ongoing Crowtest. The X-Games decided to come here, the birthplace of inline skating, and I am proud of the Crow response.
X-ploitation to build a brand before complicity in the fruitbootification of an image
The meaning behind the act is as rich and layered as you’d like it to be (much like The Crow Video). On the surface, us pointing out the fact that Tony Hawk touched is comedically petty but there’s also more there—The Crowtest will forever be funny to me.
Tony Hawk Touched
Another good thing is what making a video provides everyone involved— an opportunity to dedicate some energy to something we are all passionate about. We don’t need a project to get out and shred but it does give everyone something to coalesce around and it’s like magic what happens to a scene when you give it a center of gravity.