Lesson from a First-Time Filmmaker: Satellite Films Blog Entry

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Dec 14, 2020

“Life sucks when you’re on a skateboarding tour.” - Kuang

I was in Hong Kong, directing a skateboarding film in Asia, led by legendary skater Kien Lieu… and it was a pretty crappy experience.

I was the odd man out. There were three other skaters on the tour, and I was the one with the camera, the one who didn’t skate. After weeks of traveling together, we were getting on each other’s nerves. Why the hell was I putting a camera in their faces?

Frustrated almost to tears in this stinky Mong Kok apartment, I asked myself … why was I even doing this project? Why did I fly across the sea, weathering icy stares and the sweltering Hong Kong humidity?

It was because of my search for new creative challenges. My first real job out of film school was editing action sports segments for BlueTorch TV, a magazine style show funded with dot-com money. I had spent a whole year in an edit bay; I was getting burnt out. Plus, I was envious of the producers who got to travel the world, spending time with these legendary action sports heroes. I was jealous. I wanted a project that was mine.

I took some of that editing money, parlayed my relationships from the show to connect with Kien, or “The Donger”, as he was known in the skate community, and bought tickets to join his skate team on their Hong Kong-Taiwan tour. It was a risky decision. I had bought a 16 millimeter camera (a hot commodity in 2004) and roundtrip China Air tickets. I was good enough at shooting; I was going to do this. Looking back, it was kind of foolish to jeopardize my great job for something so ephemeral. But you know what? It was one of the most exciting, bold decisions I had ever made. I decided to be a filmmaker.

And it led to cold stares, humid weather and mosquito bites.

That would teach me to tempt fate.

Yes, it was absolute chaos, all of the sniping, all of the tense moments. But one day, midway through the tour, our Hong Kong fixer brought us to a secret skate-park across the ferry … and it was magical. The kids screamed when they saw The Donger. Their energy brought our skate team’s abilities to a different level. All of the gloomy sour moods were gone. They were rock stars on skateboards, pulling all sorts of tricks. This little park make me feel like a Hong Kong insider, and most importantly — I was getting incredible skate footage. 

You see, for creating action sports content, getting the tricks is what matters. Walking around the city, goofing around, telling jokes, that was all fine and good footage, but what really mattered was the tricks. That was the gold… and I was getting that. Because of the energy of the kids in park, my protagonists were up-leveling their own skating. It was incredible to see. All of the “why the hell was I doing this?” in my mind — all of that disappeared. This, for me, was my moment of clarity. I was creating films.

Now let’s take a look at the content. You can order the final documentary, EASTSIDE, on Amazon. It’s a lot of fun, and definitely a snapshot of my filmmaking at that point.

Here’s a link to the trailer

It’s definitely an older piece. It’s in Standard Definition, for god’s sake!  But there’s a spirit to it. The trailer has energy, a point of view. “Three skateboarders, making the journey from East to West”. 

I utilized different editing techniques, featured here in the trailer. There’s a blur/shadow effect on the skateboarding that makes the viewer feel woozy, disoriented… in a good way. The pacing of the music creates huge peaks and valleys. These audio rises get the blood pumping. And when you combine that music with the acrobatic skateboarding tricks…. there’s a real drive. The sounds are heavy, the visuals are heavy — it makes you feel.

What I realize now, looking back, is that this aesthetic was only made possible by the skills I had developed during my edit job -- that very same job that almost drove me stir-crazy. All those hours in the editing bay taught me how to tell stories and work with footage. You can theorize forever, but until you actually do the work, you don’t know. Growing as an editor made me a better filmmaker.

My takeaway? Appreciate where you are in your career. The editing job that I was trying to escape from was the catalyst for me making my documentary. You can learn something from the experience, even if you don’t like it at that moment.

These are lessons I’ve taken into my current life and work  Live in the moment. Be present. Learn. You will be better for it.


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