Greg Hunt is a major influence within the skateboarding industry and has consistently given the culture fresh artistic perspective for many years. His work alters the way in which skateboarding is perceived by mass society. Mind Field, The DC Video, and Vans Propeller are just a few pieces that have completely transformed the culture into what it is today. In this interview we talk about the depths of his career path, what it was like filming with Anthony Van Engelen for the last 15 years, and the underlying details of directing a powerful skate video in today's society.
What is the difference between being a video director for skate teams and being a team manager? I hear a lot of people describe you as a motivator and someone who pushes the team to accomplish their goals on trips and such…. Sounds like the role of something a TM would do.
Greg Hunt: I’ve always made it clear upfront that I’m not a team manager and that my job is simply to be there to make a great video. At the end of the day I make it my priority that each guy on the team has the best possible footage they can, and I try to never let myself fall into favoring someone because they are ‘on the team or not on the team’. Whoever is on, I’ll do my best to make sure they’re covered, and if they don’t end up in the video for whatever reason then I never want that to be my call. I don't like being a part of that decision making process.
So what would you title your role?
I don't know, I guess at best I’m being a mentor, motivator, and friend. I just never want to be the person who decides someone’s fate. I’m here to give these guys the best parts they possibly can get and make a great video, hopefully not be a part of all the behind the scenes decision making.
Do you ever feel a heavy responsibility for the way you take on your projects through that perspective?
I do feel that way, but that’s also a bit of a generalization because the approach changes with every project. For example, with Alien Workshop’s “Mind Field”, I specifically wanted to make a video that I could put a lot more of myself into creatively. But regardless, first and foremost I do always prioritize the guys in the video. I mean it’s all them, they are why people want to see the video in the first place. Ultimately, I don’t look at them as my own personal creative statement but I do feel the responsibility to create something that sparks some sort of imagination. As a young kid, skate videos were hugely influential on me in so many ways. So I do feel a responsibility to try and make something special because then it can have a hugely positive influence on the kids who see it. Whether it opens them up to new things creatively or simply inspires them to just skate, it’s the potential for that spark that’s really important. Also, it’s crucial for me to make something that the skaters who are involved in are really proud of. I would never change someone’s video part around and I always take their input seriously, probably more so than a lot of editors do. Sometimes I might not agree with their ideas, but I will usually go with it because it's something that represents them a lot more than it represents me. Occasionally some guys are like “I don’t want to see it, surprise me”, and in those situations I’ll just do whatever I want. But usually it’s a back and forth collaborative type of thing.
I’m sure it’s not easy, especially because you are working with so many skaters and different personalities. It’s a lot you must have to deal with.
Yeah and that can make it really hard to make something cohesive. I mean I credit myself as director by default, but really, I feel like there are a dozen directors because each skater is essentially directing their own parts. Like when we’re out shooting they’re not doing what I am telling them to do, they’re doing what they want to do.
Does that ever conflict with your creative expectations for the outcome of your films?
You know honestly it almost always works out really well because, I don't know, it's skateboarding and the skaters that have such great ideas. They know what they’re doing. The creative stuff is a lot more on me, like the music, the intro, and all the little things in-between. But usually the biggest limitation on making a skate video is time. That is the toughest thing.
When approaching the editing of skate videos, there has always been this classic formula where the editor is just the one-man-band type of person who does everything, and if you think about it, it's really stupid and insane! It’s just too much work for one person, you almost never feel in the end that it's what you wanted it to be, and there’s always a million things you wish you could have done.
Did you have any key contributors that helped you out?
For sure there are definitely people that help on so many levels. Like with Vans I probably only filmed about half of the video or so, there’s other filmers, music supervisors, and production people. But it’s ultimately so hard for me to let other people edit because then the final product just ends up feeling totally different, I feel detached from it. Editing skateboarding is such a weird, specific thing so it’s just best when I do it myself. At least that’s what works for me, although that creates so much more work.
How does being behind a lens make you see skateboarding through a subjective perspective?
When filming skating I just try to tell the story of the trick the best I can. When editing I try to sit back and always view it as someone who’s seeing the video for the first time, I feel that’s super important. Skate videos are usually watched so many times over, but I feel that the first time you see a video is so important because it’s the experience that you’ll always remember. Like when you think of your favorite videos, in your head you emotionally go back to that first time seeing it. At least that’s how it’s always been for me. So I just try to keep building things in the edit and give it some feeling and have little surprises in there, just to hopefully make that first experience as exciting as it can be.
How well did you know AVE when you were filming his part for The DC Video? How do you compare filming AVE’S part for Mind Field to filming Propeller with him?
I’ve been filming with Anthony for almost 15 years. I met him in 2000 and then we started working together for DC in 2001, that’s when we began working together everyday and traveling around the world together. After DC we started working on Mind Field in 2005 and that went all the way through the end of 2008. We had a year or so off after that but started on Vans soon after. So we’ve known each other for a long time and so much has changed. Like during the DC Video we were both really young, and that was my first big solo project. Anthony was a lot different back then, he was wild, he wasn’t sober, and it was just a totally different experience working with him altogether. Then during Mind Field he started to get sober and that’s when he started to approach his skateboarding in a lot more of a methodic, serious manner. By the time we got started on Propeller in 2010 he had his method pretty much down, he was fully sober and had done the travelling and had figured out what works and what doesn't, and really established his own methods. So yeah, we have changed a lot through all those periods. It’s crazy because there have been some really good times but also some not so good ones where it was challenging to work together. It’s awesome to see where he’s at now, winning Skater Of The Year and to get all of the accolades for his video parts. I look at that as 100% his doing, like if I was not around and someone else was doing those videos, I am sure he would have accomplished very much the same. That's just the path that he has taken in this life. I’m just really appreciative to have shared some of those moments with him, and to have contributed in some way to what he has done for his career.
You guys have been present in each others lives for such a long time, I'm sure he feels the same way about you and your career path.
It’s funny because like we are definitely different people now. I mean with skateboarding, other than the technology of cameras and edit systems changing, everything I have been working with is pretty much the same– the responsibilities, the work, the method. But for him it’s a lot different, skateboarding is evolving. He’s getting older, so he has to figure out how to maintain, while at the same time skateboarding’s progressing and he needs to progress with it. The projects, at least for me, have been very similar, but has been a lot more challenging for him just because of the nature of what he does.
Your job is to document memories through the perspective of skateboarding. Does looking back on what you created ever make you nostalgic?
May I ask how old you are?
I’m 21 but I’ve been reading skateboard articles since I was 12.
I didn't realize you were that young, but that's awesome. It’s funny, I mean, dude, I have been involved with skateboarding significantly longer than you have been alive, which is crazy. I was a pro skateboarder in 1995. I have some of the richest memories of skating as a kid, then moving to San Francisco, meeting people there and getting sponsored. So yeah, there’s a lot of nostalgia that’s been built into my experience with skateboarding. When I look at an old magazine or if somebody talks about an old story or something it’s just wild how many memories there are, so many that I can’t even remember most of them anymore. That’s one of the main reasons why I shoot photos, because filming the skating is great, but for me that’s not really where the nostalgia is. The nostalgia that I feel as a skater is more in the zone of the experiences. Like one time when we were staying in Alabama in some crazy hotel and [Jason] Dill was telling stories in his underwear out in the front smoking cigarettes. That was such an awesome sliver of time and it’s great that I have photos of it, you know? Otherwise so much slips away. I love the skateboarding but the tricks kind of become a blur. It’s the experiences that you share with people, that’s the stuff that I always want to remember and hold on to.
Do you have a favorite photo or a theme that you have captured within your photos that trigger you emotionally?
My favorite photos are the ones that capture a genuine moment but also have something that photographically is a bit special about them too. For example there’s a picture I shot of Omar Salazar after he broke both of his arms, and he was in the hospital bed, holding one of his arms straight up to reduce the swelling. They had this light pointed at his arm and it all just looked very angelic. I shot everything how it was, I didn’t ask him to hold his arm up or anything. So for me that just makes it one of those special photos. It’s real. Or there’s the photo of Dill that I referenced earlier where he’s sitting in a chair, pretty much naked, and he’s looking at me in this funny way and it’s very genuine, just Dill being Dill. You can just see in the photograph the carnage of Dill’s existence. There’s cigarette ash all over him, there is shit all over the floor. Then you can see in the background his motel room and you can see that the bed is all un-made. I love it when a picture tells a story, and once you’re initially grabbed by the image you start to look deeper and there are so many little things about it that reveal themselves. So those are the photos I aspire to capture, where it’s a genuine moment and hopefully photographically a bit special.
In your opinion, what sets apart a good artist from a great artist?
I don’t know if it’s always the art itself as much as how the work affects people that makes someone great. I feel what makes a great filmmaker isn’t always someone who’s the most technical or the most prolific or the most innovative, but someone whose films just really resonate with a broad array of people. Of course, there are filmmakers who are insanely technically innovative and prolific as well, but I don’t think you have to be on that caliber to be great. I just think you need to make work that resonates. I think the same goes for photography. Some of the great photographers in my mind just have a feeling within their work that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I think it’s like that with filmmaking or photos or skateboarding or anything creative, some people just do things in a way that’s really special and pure and when they do it, it just conveys something that you don’t get anywhere else. So that’s what I would say makes someone as an artist great.
Being a filmer can almost take a role of being a publicist or an advertiser for good skateboarding. How does it feel being that link between skateboarders and that medium?
When it comes to the actual filming of skateboarding, I just want the skating to shine and do the best job I can to tell the story of what that trick was like. Whether it’s showing the distance or the height or how difficult it was, I just try and tell it honestly. I also try not to let the camera work or the editing distract the viewer from the skateboarding. That’s my approach at least when filming the actual skateboarding.
What were some skate videos that spoke out to you the most as a kid?
Sick Boys, Wheels of Fire, and little bits of the early Powell videos for sure. Later, it was Video Days, but definitely in the early years it was Sick Boys and Wheels Of Fire. I think to a degree I’m still trying to recreate the feeling that those videos gave me as a kid. They just had a certain feel to them, it was a huge influence.
Have you ever had an epiphany while editing a video? Any crazy theories on skateboarding?
In Mind Field there’s a lot of really weird shit that I snuck in there that I don’t think people would ever pick up on. Most of it I will probably never tell anybody, just my own personal little symbolisms and things like that. I think I have to do that sometimes or I’d probably lose my fucking mind. Editing is so grueling and takes so long that you have to have a little fun with it. Jake Johnson is this really funny dude who always uses his hands when he talks, and he has these huge hands. We shot Mind Field when when he was young, like 17 or 18. He was fresh on the scene and a little bit awkward, but in a really great way, and he was always pointing, he fucking points at everything so in his part I purposely used all the shots that I had of him pointing, he points at a cat, he points at the ground, he is pointing all over the place. So when I watch his part now that little thing makes me so happy even though I’ve see it a million times. As for theories on skating, I don’t know, it is hard, there’s been a lot of really good videos that have been coming out lately but I think people are getting pretty tired of the formula. There is an intro, then a name, then part, name then part, name then part. The first part’s the new guy, the last part is the big ender and then it’s over and then you have credits, and I am totally guilty of this. It’s hard when you are doing a video like a Vans video or a bigger team video, because you are not going to purposely break someone’s part up or not have traditional parts because these guys worked three years, they want parts! It’s hard because there is no real rule book. Every time I try and make a video I am just like ‘fuck I don’t know’… I am just doing the best I can to put it together and to make it good. I am not trying to sound melodramatic, but I just try really hard to make it not suck. I’m doing my best to keep it from falling apart because honestly it can so easily, like when you get into licensing the music.
Do you always have to license the music?
Yeah, I’ve always had to license music and it's so hard because often you can’t use a song that you thought you were for sure going to get so have no choice but to go back and re-edit a person’s part from scratch. So then it becomes this race against time type of thing which is just so stressful because you're rolling the dice with someone’s video part that they’ve spent years on. Like for Anthony’s part in Propeller, we almost didn’t get that Ozzy [Osbourne] song. It was a miracle that we got it actually, and us finally getting it involved multiple attempts through multiple connected people which eventually led us to Sharon Osbourne. She ultimately requested a finished edit for review, and I was told they rarely approve usage once they see it. But somehow, god only knows how, they approved it. Ave and I like to think Ozzy actually watched it and gave it the OK because that would be epic. But anyhow, long story short, it then went through the Vans channels and somehow there was a miscommunication and they had negotiated the price incorrectly. So we had to shuffle around again and miraculously we sorted it. Looking back it was so stupid that I didn’t have a backup track, but whatever, it’s the only song Anthony wanted. Hail Mary.
So what did you end up doing?
We were able to work it out, but the point is that it was during three of four weeks before the video and when it had to be done and we had no back up - but anyways the music is super important. Other than the tricks, the music licensing is for sure the most difficult part of the making of a video. To make a video with a great sound track is really challenging.
Has it always been like that?
It has been for me man, but you know in a way licensing has been getting easier because skateboarding has matured quite a bit. It used to feel like people weren’t into skateboarding, but nowadays it seems like a lot of bands that you reach out to will come back and be like “holy shit, we used to skate!” or “my kid skates!”. Thom Yorke’s kid skates, things like that make a difference. For example, if someone that’s making a wakeboarding video approached Thom Yorke like “hey, we want to use your song” he might be skeptical, but if we approached him and said “hey we are making a skate film we want to use your song” it might very well work out simply because his kid skates. I am not trying to sound pretentious or make it sound like skateboarding is better, but a lot of people have a personal connection with skateboarding nowadays. So I feel like licensing is a bit easier. That’s how we got Animal Collective in Mind Field because those guys grew up skating, and the were like “Alien Workshop? Fuck yeah!”, they were super into it.