Jon Lee’s video work is some of the best to come out in the past few years in the UK, EU and rollerblading in general. However, his work is typically British. When it a hermetically closed, it’s like the secret world of an imaginative girl sent away to a boarding school, and when it’s in your face, it’s like The Streets lyrics. This time, Be-Mag’s Ryan Loewy spoke to Jon about his latest video SOBER and his creative process, making it a discussion of two visual artists.
INTRO: Josip Jagić
WORDS & COLLAGES: Ryan Loewy.
So I guess the first question I want to ask is how you found yourself doing video, when you began doing it, and if there was any influences you may have had in that regard when you began?
[My] Inspiration [for the] video was all thanks to Hoax 2. My friends brother bought it, and its vibes thoroughly displayed all the fun and enjoyment these lads were having whilst touring America. I was rolling with my mates that had the talent on the wheels, and the antics off. Filming, and making, homemade blade videos was the one for me. Influences? Evan Stone & Craig Caryl were the first. Then it more became more about the videos than who made them. All the Medium videos were, and still remain, complete eye candy for me.
So when did you begin skating? I hate asking that question because it seems everyone asks that, but obviously it is of course somewhat pertinent.
Must have been about 1994… started rolling before i’d watched my first video, again due to my friends brother owning some Roces somethings. Not sure what they ere, Athens?
Oh wow, so you have really been in the scene for a while now. I only started in like, 2000-2001 or so, first video was Brain Fear Gone. Tipping off of that, would you say you have a fondness of the style that was enacted during that time? I am talking about the 94-2000 days, more specifically around 97-98 though, with videos like Volume being one that comes to mind.
Oh mate, that’s a crazy question to ask. Bearing in mind I’m only relating the question to the production, not skating, in a video…. The progression within the style of videos, the filming, concepts, visualization, editing, etc., was rapidly on the up. Each time a video was released, a new standard was set (as such). I definitely have a fondness of how raw a lot of videos were. Hmm… but then again, I don’t think time has a place within any of this. I’d say I’m fond of anything that has character, great filming, and great music. I think those are the three main ingredients to making a classic. There are some videos from around that era that sucked. Time really is of no relevance when it comes to the production of a blade flick, so I believe. Under the influence was fucking incredible.
I think the word character, that’s something really that sticks out more for me than anything…I mean presentation too. I think that’s one thing that comes to mind when I think of your video work, especially with seeing the rough for SOBER, was the presentation of it.
To be honest, talking about skate videos in terms of how and what I think about them is weird (on blast). What I may like, may not be the same for someone else. But that’s what I like about blade flicks/edits. It’s all to put out there. Blading edits have become extremely diverse, and it’s such an open forum to critique. It’s art, well, I think? Presentation is key too… you’ve got to present your work in the manor that you want it perceived.
That really is the beauty of it, I see that in the same regard with photography, you know, there’s going to be images I see that I think are amazing versus those that I’m not totally hyped on because maybe I cannot relate. This is very true, so with that, I wanted to know, was SOBER something that you had initially set out to do with that mentality in mind, or was this idea birthed over the time of the filming?
Nope. Sober was a very last minute thought up concoction. It initially started me filming James Bower & Umberto Toselli for their individual quids in pieces for Dirtbox. We were slow on the progress, too much partying mainly, shit weather too. Then I think I was talking with Sam (Currie) about it all and i think we were talking about Neil… a few chats later and we thought fuck it, let’s do a short bit with all of them together…. then the ideas have slowly rolled in.
It’s funny how things sort of snowball into something greater than what they were originally intended to be.
I want SOBER to be seen as what it is. A bunch of mates on blades that have pretty much consistently been drunk, having the time of their lives, exploring, discovering, and creating.
But at the same time, bring a sense of realness to the fact that drinking is a massive issue worldwide, and I’m not talking about within skating. There have been massive factors in my life where drink has made detrimental changes, not only in my life, but others too.
So I hope people who watch this can be aware of how fun boozing can be, but also know that there are limits, and that people find that out for themselves one way or another.
Well I honestly haven’t heard people, aside from maybe on social media, discuss the topic at all, at least not in the realms of a video or an actual article Billy O’Neill recently touched on that topic though. He said something to the extent of how rollerbladers need to be better role models for each other.
Billy O’Neill seems like an interesting chap. I read a few of his posts. He also touched down on mental health. Boozing, drugs, mental health, etc. are all taboo subjects. No one wants to talk about them openly. Tom Hyser spoke about being at events and seeing everyone drinking and partying, setting bad examples. It’s all interesting, and I still don’t know where I stand in regards to that all. If you like to have a drink and a smoke at an event, why not? Are you on contract getting paid bucks to represent professionally for a company? Then maybe you should think twice. If not, fuck it. Get buck if you want. The only thing you possibly owe to blading, is putting them on your feet. So why not crack a few beers and have a laugh.
Yeah I do not think I have ever heard anyone talk about mental health either. And I feel like that is a big issue that should be discussed.
So was there any instance in particular that inspired you to change your living habits? Or was it just a lot of different instances that made you feel that you needed to change things for yourself?
A lot of different instances have made me want to change. Personal issues outside of skating. A very fucked up divorce (I don’t want to go into that), an injury on my hand that shall be fucked for life, depression, anxiety, shit job, then not having a job, money issues, obviously the booze, drugs, eating shit, not taking care of myself… today is my first day of sobriety. It’s October the 1st and I’m doing ‘stoptober’ trying to raise some money for the Macmillan Cancer trust. My life is getting better, just got a new job. Things are amicable with my ex-wife, my daughter is killing it at school, and I’ve finally finished making SOBER.
Shit man I had no idea you were married! Or had a kid! Damn bud that takes a lot of work. But back to the mental health issue…
Yeah man, no one wants to touch ground on that openly. I hope someone that reads this gets something started on the subject. I opened up about my problems with mental health on Facebook and I received an alarming amount of messages of friends, and others that I don’t know, talking to me in confidence about their issues, and how they hate not having someone to talk to in spite of being judged, or whatever. If anyone is reading this and wants to chat, hit me up on Facebook, or gram.
I think people assume because of blading’s macho-ness that it often exudes; I can see why people are afraid to discuss things of that nature.
Oh yeah, the alpha male thing. Dickheads.
So tell me a bit more about SOBER, who’s got what in it, is there any moment in particular that sticks out to you while you were creating this? Sometimes I’ll be doing something or creating, and I’ll have like, an “AHA!” moment, did you find yourself in that situation?
SOBER has a small Elliot Stevens part, then full’s from Neil Ingall, James Bower, and Umberto Toselli. I believe this is Umberto’s first full part in a flick. I can’t state how honoured it has been going out, living life with this absolute champion of a human. Any moments? the whole thing. Literally it has been one fucking crazy ride. Neil’s part is just incredible for me. It’s been filmed within about 5 sessions, as we only started when Sam and i came up with the concept for SOBER.
Jesus Christ 5 sessions?
There are also two mates’ sections. So you got all the lads in there. And I took in contributions from whoever wanted to have a chance to display themselves.
I saw that, that was really rad having all the homies from across the globe submit. Was that tricky at all with the file formats?
Very tricky. I don’t film or edit for a living; it’s a hobby. I have very shit computers. I run on Premiere 2.0 haha. My computers can’t handle editing in HD, so i had to send all the HD footage to Sam. He then bounced that shit onto VHS and sent it back to me. It looks amazing, and fits perfectly in the video now quality wise. We used a VHS cam in the video.
Wow that’s quite a process to go through.
So Sam captured all the HD to VHS?
Like in general, it’s been tough doing the video. When I lost my mind at the beginning of the year (cheers depression), is sold all my camera gear to help compensate for lack of income. Luckily I sold my MK1 to Bower, and he had a VX2100. So when I got better, he let me use that for the period up until now. So really, without Bower there would be no flick. Bower made this what it is, and there aren’t words out there to describe the love I have for that legend. Those lads know how to make a skate video.
So you watch a decent amount of skateboarding yeah?
Yeah I normally check shit out, mainly VX edits. Some of them are filmed so good, and I don’t know how that’s possible when you’re on a board. the hill bombing stuff in the GX videos are insane. I also check out anything by Baker, Death wish as its full of personality and character
How do you feel about that whole scenario? I mean, one cannot deny the influence skateboarding has, and I feel like that’s another taboo topic
I mean everyone gets inspired by something.
Hmm… I don’t necessarily see boarding as a personal influence, i tend to watch them cause rollerblading edits are pretty boring, lack of any kind of feel of being. I don’t watch all of the edits, but a lot. Saying that, there has been a massive influx of sick [blading] edits coming out recently. I used to skate with BMX guys back in the day, and I use to watch a shit ton of their videos.
So you just see them more as entertaining?
Yes, entertaining. And the VX camera work is just wizard shit.I hope a bit of character and personality shine through in SOBER haha
So do you like, do you ever see any kind of way that they film that might rub off on you? I only ask because that’ll happen to me, I’ll see someone do something and want to try it, but only if I feel it works right for me in the way I am aesthetically with the work I make
I used to, but within the past months I’ve switched up the way I film. I’m looking at the spot and how to make the spot, the trick, and the person I’m filming look as good as it can from a sensible point of view. Before I was trying to get all up close all the time, and that can fuck shit up. Like you can see the whole spot properly, so you can see certain aspects that MAKE the trick. You just see the skates and the skater. You know? As Cavin said though once, you can’t stop learning to film.
Dude I completely get that. Love hearing this introspect from you because just like one can progress with their skating and the way they approach something, obviously the same regard can be held for how you film. Would you agree that it was just a matter of shooting over and over?
Hmmm… yeah, that and analyzing where you are and what you’re doing.
Like I get a lot of feedback from my homies on my stuff and like, that always helped me move forward. I feel like that’s super important, it keeps you grounded.
Yeah feedback is always good. Like filming with Elliot is great, because he’ll tell me how he wants something filmed, then I’ll tell him if something could be improved or done differently. It’s a two-way communication process, which always ends in gold material produced.
Oh dude for sure, it’s a collaboration, or at least it should be in my opinion. The way I see it, I’m there to capture them performing. It’s about the blader, not the filmer. It’s a passion to capture my mates as best as I can and make those moments live forever.
So I want to ask you a few top fives to round this jam out, I’m going to review this whole chat, transcribe it and send it to you for review, but I want to get your top 5s for the following: top 5 videos, top 5 recent edits I’ve seen, top 5 best scenarios while filming SOBER, top 5 worst scenarios while filming SOBER, top 5 skaters of all time
TOP 5 RECENT EDITS:
1. Anything by Sizemore
2. Gentry (with Don B and B. Weis)
3. Tulip (by Sirusf)
4. Anything by Julian Garcia
5. Haitian Flicks
TOP 5 BEST SCENERIOS FILMING SOBER:
1. Getting to film Umberto, and all the antics that came with. I was blessed to have that opportunity.
2. Getting to film Oli Short back on his blades street footage.
3. Getting wasted and exploring parts of London no one has skated before and finding insanely good spots.
4. Being with Neil in general. And see him skate like I’ve never seen skate before. Just watch his part
5. Having the craziest time of my life before completion of the flick, and going SOBER
TOP 5 WORST SCENERIOS FILMING SOBER:
TOP 5 BLADERS.
1. Nick Pratarelli
2. Bryan Jaggers
3. Latimer (obviously)
5. Dustin Werbeski
That’s just off the top of my head, in reality, none of that can be judged down to top 5…