An Interview about ‘Vase’ with Jacob Harris

The Green Zine

November 2015

Photography by various artists

Tom Know & Jacob Harris. photo: Blair Alley
Tom Knox and Jacob Harris, LA, 2015. photo: Blair Alley

With full length skateboard videos becoming a rarer commodity, those that do surface are celebrated dearly. Combine that with an all-star cast, most of whom a key part of the never-forgotten Blueprint legacy, and you can start to understand the excitement and anticipation surrounding Isle Skateboards’ first video production ‘Vase’. The man behind the video is Jacob Harris. Whilst Jake currently spends most of his time behind the lens or in the editing studio, he is also an incredibly talented skater himself (being sponsored by Slam City Skates and flowed HUF footwear should be proof enough of this). With the countdown for ‘Vase’ ticking away, I sat down for a discussion with Jake about his creative process, the upcoming video, ‘Eleventh Hour’ and more.

I think it should be a tool rather than this thing that’s put on a pedestal – and I realize the poster image for the video is a fucking VX and we put it on a pedestal too.

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

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

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

How much time have you had to skate while filming Vase

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

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

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

You do some videography work outside of skateboarding, how has it been juggling that around filming this video?

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

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

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

‘Eleventh Hour’, Jacob Harris, 2013

Backtracking, your last video was Eleventh Hour and you’re filming with quite a few of the guys that were in it. Aside from the riders and filming in London a lot, what have the similarities been to filming for Eleventh Hourwith Vase?

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

The name Eleventh Hour was basically because you didn’t have a name until then, has it all come rushing up at the last minute again?

That was part of the reason, definitely. What you find when you’re doing a project like this, of about two years, you really have a strong idea of the direction but find when you actually go to edit that your ideas and aesthetic has been fairly vague when it comes down to making a concrete thing. Your ideas are not that grounded, not that fixed and it suddenly takes a lot of work to realize the things you wanted to do and you don’t actually end up doing it the way you wanted to in the beginning.

We shot maybe forty minutes of 16mm film all the while thinking, “Yeah we know exactly what we’ve got here, this is going to be easy,” but when it came to editing the film in the way I wanted it to be it was worlds away from the original intent. Come to two weeks left and you’re like “I just need to sort this out and make it work” rather than exactly realize the aesthetic I was trying to pursue.

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

I swore that after Eleventh Hour would never get involved in a project that long again so the idea was to make a promo. [Paul] Shier and Nick [Jensen] really wanted to make some sort of video and with the ideas that were being thrown around I was like, “You can’t do that, let’s just make a promo and it will set you guys up with a format you can carry on with afterwards.” Then people like Knox, Jones and Nick got footage so quickly that it was just approaching a full length video. By the time you’ve put in a certain amount of effort you might as well go the full way because nobody makes full length videos and it’s really difficult to make full length videos nowadays. It’s like, “Fuck it, we’re at three quarters. May as well go all the way”.

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

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

For some people it can be stressful but it’s never been stressful with Tom because I’ve been doing it with him for like ten years. He’s got an amazing control over his mind.

Can you explain the reason the video is called Vase? My interpretation from the poster was that a camera holds the imagery of skateboarding like a vase holds flowers.

I mean that’s a pretty good summary of it really. There are quite a lot of ways you could word it and we tend to, when asked this question, just give this dictionary definition of ‘vase’ that it’s ‘a vessel that beautifies its contents’ and from that you can pretty much draw the ideas from that.

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

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

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

Ah mate, always. I fucking hate Nick, [laughs].

It’s a nightmare; he does things fairly easily then bugs out and gets really paranoid that it was terrible. Then five hours later you’ve got it ten times with decisions to make about which to use. It’s just ridiculous.

Jacob Harris, backside smith. photo: Henry Kingsford for Slam City Skates
Backside smith with commentary by Nick Jensen for Slam City Skates. photo: Henry Kingsford

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve backed yourself into a corner with a ten second bit of somebody’s part where you just can’t make it work. If you came back to it you could try something completely different and it would be way better but you’ve convinced yourself you can’t and it has to be a certain way.

There must have been a lot of points where you would have benefitted from stepping away from the video for a while.

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

As you’ve got a preference for VX, what are your thoughts the use of the VX as something of a novelty item within skateboarding? For example, how often do you see something heavily alluding to the fact it’s filmed on a VX. Would you agree it takes away from the integrity of filming in that format?

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

What’s your opinion on the state of full-length videos at the moment? Physical releases are getting sparser, even Propeller [2015] didn’t have a full physical release… 

I do think that for a full-length video there should be something physical although I’m absolutely fucking sick of DVDs right now. I’m having a really hard time getting the DVD to work properly but that aside… Sadly, I’ve definitely experienced this quite a lot when making this video and I hope they don’t die out, but they’re a bit irrelevant now to be honest. The way that new and what you might call ‘progressive’ videos are edited is often in a style that wouldn’t carry for a full length. If you watch that new Gilbert Crockett part [Salt Life], or anything like that, where the music is all chopped up and pointing to the fact that it’s a lot of different formats together – that is what people want to see at the moment and you can’t do that for a forty minute video. The stamina just won’t carry. When you’re doing this sort of video like the one I’m making in much more of a – I’m not going to say archaic – but a much older style you do feel like you’re hanging about in the past a little bit, which is a funny feeling.

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

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

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

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

When it was first put in a timeline it was quite a disparate jumble of images. To make that all run together, I don’t know if we managed it but I think I’m stoked on it. I don’t know, I’ve seen it too much.

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

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