Behind the Lens with Blake Myers
In a time where HD clips can appear identical or devoid of a distinguishable style, Blake Myers applies his journalistic point of view mixed with his commercial techniques to reels and reels of film. His honest, simplistic story telling and well-composed pieces are what keep us waiting to see what he’ll produce next. Medium’s resident film-nerd Rob Mentov caught up with Blake for a solid two hours to talk about his beginnings, his passion for film and where he’s heading next.
Robert Mentov: Let’s start with you telling me where you’re from, where you’ve been and where you are now.
Blake Myers: I’m from a small beach town in New Zealand where I grew up surfing and filming my friends. After I graduated high school I moved to Australia where I started making surf films with Ky Neville. I got to travel the world with him for 4 years, but I wanted to keep the progression going so I switched to making documentary work.
I decided to move to California and I got a job working for What Youth magazine. I was living there for two years when my French girlfriend’s visa expired while she was visiting me. This was right when Trump got elected.
RM: That explains the French connection. Your work has an interesting mix of surf clips, the What Youth work and then shorts of Leo Valls and the Magenta guys in Paris.
BM: I always skated while growing up, but when I moved to Paris I was more involved in it. I met Leo Valls and those guys a while back when I was in France for a WhatYouth project. Leo and I had always talked about doing a 16mm project and when he got a new sponsor it finally worked out.
RM: How did you initially get into filmmaking?
BM: The first stuff I did was actually Lego stop motion when I was 10. When I was 13 I got a handy cam and I would film my friends surfing. They were getting sponsored so I would make clips of them and that’s how Ky Neville saw my stuff. Things went from there, it’s a pretty typical story.
RM: Yeah, especially in the narrative and documentary film genres. You're either a film buff who went to film school and learned the technical side, or you started filming skateboarding and worked up from there.
BM: I’m at that point where I want to be on a set. Documentary work compared to the commercial world are really different. I’m wanting to go more in the commercial route this year while still working on fun passion projects like the stuff with Leo.
RM: When you’re shooting films, there’s a preconceived notion that you need big budgets to shoot something technically proper versus just getting into it and figuring it out as you go. How has coming from the underground skate/surf world informed your processes, style and work ethic?
BM: It’s definitely more of a raw approach and an understanding you don't need tons of gear. You can just go out with the camera and make it happen. I would do it that way at What Youth and there were times people would ask, ‘Where’s all your gear? Where’s your crew?’ But they would trust me. Although, working with a crew definitely helps out a lot but then you can lose that creativity you get when you just go out for a weekend, keep it mellow and make it happen.
I had to pitch and sell DC on the Leo project but in the end they gave us the freedom to do what we wanted. They didn’t even want their logo on it, which is quite different from DC’s usual approach.
RM: How did the creative process with the Leo piece differ from a piece you shot for What Youth?
BM: The What Youth work was always me following a subject around with a mic and a general idea of what they’re going to talk about. I've done so much of that now I’d rather just do 60 or 90 second spots with cool edits. In the end those little stories about skaters start to sound and look the same.
RM: What skate film makers are you interested in?
BM: I really like that Spike Jones piece with the Gonz for Coconut Records. That one was really cool. I've always like his and Pontus’ films. Jacob Harris does some interesting stuff too. I'm not actually a big fan of VX footage but he blends it well with 16mm film and cuts it really interestingly.
RM: What camera are you shooting your 16mm on?
BM: I have a K3(Krasnogorsk-3).
RM: Film is such a specific and amazing looking medium but when you're spending $100 for 3 minutes of footage, is it worth it?
BM: I just put it in the budget. I think film is worth it. It looks beautiful, and you kind of edit it in your head and have an idea of how it’s going to look.
RM: It’s funny because skating and global trends go hand in hand. It seems like people our age are moving into film and the analog process.
BM: Definitely. My favourite filmmakers are Canadian - Evan Presusky, Chase Irving - and most of them are shooting on film. I think people are figuring out that the K3 and 16mm film isn’t too expensive. It’s actually cheaper than buying a RED camera.
RM: You could probably buy a RED with the money you spent over 5 years of filming 16mm film though.
BM: Yeah, but I just budget it. I did a project recently with Magenta and Adidas for their collab. The guys from Adidas had flown in the night before and I was showing them the David Stenstrom project on my phone. They were like, “It looks so cool. Can we get this job to look like that?” I was like, “Yeah, but I’m gonna need 500 euros for film.”(laughs) And they went straight to the ATM.
RM: Film sets a barrier to entry level film making. On digital, you can capture everything. With film, you need to plan it out like, ‘We want to shoot a 5 minute short so we need 20-30 minutes worth of film.’
BM: It gives you boundaries to work within and it's like Christmas when you get the film back.
RM: Have you made any mistakes when learning the film process?
BM: At the beginning, a lot. Especially with the K3. There's some specific steps you have to take when loading the film or it jumps and distorts the image. That happened a few times. I always worry about airport x-rays too. If I’m working overseas I’ll FedEx the film to avoid airport scanners. They use the best machines and it’s a lot lighter on the film.
My camera has a light leak so I have to gaff tape the whole thing any time I use it. When we filmed that Adidas clip, they saw my setup and were asking “What the hell, is this even going to come out? We gave you money for this thing, is it going to work?”
RM: Previously, skate film making was just Super8 and VX footage. Between you and a handful of other guys, now there's this transition to working with 16mm as well.
BM: Yeah, now it's hard because people pigeonhole me as “the 16mm guy”, and I don’t want to be labeled. I often think “Oh shit, I don't want my Vimeo channel to look to ‘skate.’”(laughs) I want to get some other work up there and show people what else I can do.
RM: That balance can be difficult to find. People who don't come from the skate world say “I want to shoot skating!” where I think the world you and I exist in is one they want to be apart of.
BM: Totally. I meet people and they say, “Wow, you’re always in the water or out in the streets. That’s so cool.” When you take a step back and look, it is, but I don’t want to be 35 years old making an indy skate film. I want to be shooting a music video, working with a director or getting a certain look for a short film or commercial. No disrespect to the ones that do it but it’s not the road I want to go down.
RM: When you're a skate or surf filmmaker, you’re directing, editing and shooting everything. But you just mentioned wanting to work with a director on a look. How has the transition been deciding whether you want to be a director, an editor, a DOP, etc?
BM: Last year I was trying to pinpoint that like, “I can do it all, but what do I actually want?” I can do a treatment, but then you have to pitch and pitch and pitch, and then you lose, so that kind of sucks. I can edit, but being on a computer all day is a pretty grim life. I decided to focus full time on cinematography because I love filming.
RM: Then you can get even more specific. Are you a cinematographer, camera operator, do you shoot your own stuff or have someone shoot for you?
BM: I started asking myself if I should AC(assistant camera) and learn some more but that sounds kind of shit.(laughs) I did this job for Lacoste where I said I knew how to use the Ronan. I went to pick it up at a camera rental house on the outskirts of Paris and I had no idea how to work this thing. I don’t speak French and I’m asking the guy how to set it up and the dude is just not talking to me. I figured it out eventually but I definitely don’t want to be setting up gear for everyone else and pulling their focus.
RM: There's definitely a bit of faking it ‘til you make it.
BM: Totally. It’s a crazy, weird, scary job. I was mic’ing up the musician MIA for this Corona commercial just thinking like, ‘Holy shit, I am in so over my head on this.’ In the end everything came out sweet but it was scary because I was definitely faking it.
RM: Film production is a heavy process. It uses so many resources and everyone has a specific job in contrast to coming from the skate world where one guy does everything.
BM: In the skate world, you just get stuff done. You have that mentality of, “I'll do whatever I have to to make this work.” You can tape a lens on the camera or do things you wouldn’t learn in film school, and it works. We have a different approach coming from such a “free spirited world”, without sounding too cheesy.
RM: So what's the next move for you? Where do you see yourself heading?
BM: I want to keep progressing, get time on set, meet more directors, producers and build my portfolio in a different direction. As much as it sucks to say, I don't want to shoot anymore 16mm skate stuff. I feel like I did it last year, I liked the way it came out and after that, it started to look and feel the same. Overall, I see myself taking the style I learned from doing skate work and applying it to more commercial work while retaining its artistic qualities.