chrome ball interview #118: dan wolfe

A lot of walls... a lot of fuckin' shit.

So piecing a timeline together here, you came up skating in West Chester, PA, until one day, you dropped out of college to make skate videos? Is that really how it happened?

I started skating in middle school, back in West Chester. In high school, I went and lived with my dad in Maryland for a year, which is when I first got exposed to the whole DC scene. That was cool but I ended up going back to West Chester shortly thereafter to finish high school there. Around that time is when I started working at a skateshop in town called Fairman’s, which just so happened to have Bam, Mike Maldonado and Jimmy Chung on their shop team. After graduating high school, I started attending the University of Maryland, which is back down near DC. I did that for a year, studying architecture, when I came to the realization that it just wasn’t for me. I liked skating too much to do anything else.

I ended up writing a letter to my grandfather about wanting to be a filmer, asking him for a loan of $1,500 dollars for a video camera. That side of my family is pretty conservative, so I was expecting to get shot down. I figured my grandfather would want me to get an education instead of going off to do something silly like film skate videos. But, much to my surprise, he wrote me a check for the money! So I went out and bought my first video camera, a Canon A1 Digital.

Shortly after that, I had a sit-down with my mom about my plans of not going back to college.

“Well, you’re not living at home then.” (laughs)

My mom was so mad. Luckily, I knew a girl who had a room for rent in downtown West Chester, right by the skateshop. So I ended up living there and filming Bam, Maldonado and Jimmy Chung whenever I wasn’t working.

Were you always interested in photography or was this more of a way to continue being around skating?

It was a little bit of both. I’d taken a couple photography classes in high school and really liked photography. My dad had an old Pentax camera that I’d always mess around with, too. I even made a little skate ‘zine at one point. But once skate videos started coming into their own in the early 90’s, like the H-Street videos and Video Days, I was hooked.

I was always really into skating, and skated all the time, but I knew that I didn’t have enough talent to actually get sponsored. So yeah, when I started thinking of other ways to still be around it, that’s how video came into the picture.

Talk a little about those first few projects… the first Fairman’s Video and Eastern Exposure 1.

Well, they’re almost the same video. They both came out around the same time, and Eastern Exposure 1 is actually a lot like the Fairman’s Video, just a little wider scope. I haven’t watched them in a long time but they definitely share a lot of the same footage.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually seen Eastern Exposure 1. I found Fairman’s 1 but I still can’t find EE1 anywhere, even online.

That’s probably a good thing… it’s awful. (laughs)

(laughs) I was wondering if that was by choice.

A little bit, because that video really is bad. Crappy filming and jam-on noseslides on curbs. It was just an awkward time all-around. I still have a copy of it, of course… I just don’t think anyone else needs one. (laughs)

I mean, I’ve always been a video nerd, but at that time, I was more of a suburban video nerd. It wasn’t until after I was exposed to city skating that I started to see things a little differently. I feel like as soon as you experience big city skating, it’s a totally different ballgame. People used to make fun of us suburban kids down at Love because we skated slow, and there’s truth to that. I feel like once I started going to Philly regularly, I got used to seeing that type of fast, raw city skating. So going back and watching Eastern Exposure 1 after witnessing all that, I couldn’t stand it. (laughs)

Was “Eastern Exposure” your title? Were you on some coastal pride shit from the beginning?

Yeah, I came up with the title but it wasn’t about coastal pride. I never really cared about that stuff, not as much as Matt and Ricky did anyway. I just wanted to expose people’s skating on the east coast. I was never like, “Fuck the West Coast!” I was just doing my thing.

Did anybody actually call your phone number on the spine? Any prank calls?

Nobody ever pranked called me, which I’m kinda surprised about. Todd Jordan actually called me once when he was really young, just a kid with that mix of awkward and super excited on the phone… “Hey, are you making a video? Yeah? Cool!”

But that was it. I put my number on the video so that if people wanted to order more copies, they could. When I had the video duplicated, the minimum order was a thousand copies, which was a lot for me at the time. I’d only pre-sold a few hundred so I figured I’d better put my number on there or I’d never get rid of these things!

So when did you start going to Philly to film? Was Love already a thing?

Oh, they’d already had the first Philly Metrospective in 411 by the time I’d started going there, so it was definitely already a thing… but still mostly bro-cam. It wasn’t until I’d been filming for a few years that I started going there, probably around 1994 or so. I moved there in ’95 and it was on after that. I’d met Ricky and Matt on those early visits and they were actively looking for someone to document what they were doing. I just happened to be that guy.

“We want people to be able to see what’s going on in Philly. You gotta start coming here more. Get out of the suburbs!”

But how were you greeted as a suburbanite with a camera by the Love massive?

I feel like Ricky and Matt were so eager to make things happen, they gave me the pass with everybody else. So no, I never got robbed or anything.

I did get teased a bit. When I first started filming around Love, I rolled around on this Gonz 60/40 longboard for some reason. I thought it would be more stable, which was stupid because I couldn’t turn as quick as Ricky and those dudes. If someone was doing a line and they turned quick… I’d totally lose them.

You can see it in some of that early footage. Like in the Sub Zero Video, there’s one line where Ricky goes around the corner and I almost lost it on that big stupid board. (laughs)

I was still wearing a Hensley chain wallet when I first went to Philly, too. They definitely teased me about that. So yeah, I got teased, but I think they all knew that I was just down for skating.

I’ve always been fascinated by Love Park politics. How explicit were those party lines? And did you play that game at all?

I never got involved, even though I was definitely with the Daggers more. That’s what Stevie used to call Ricky and Matt’s crew, “The Daggers”… which is still amazing to me. Stevie’s crew was DGK… they talked some shit about each other but I think there was still a mutual respect.

I didn’t care. I just wanted to film good skating. But as a videographer, I went out with the Daggers more because they’d actually leave Love. As I filmer, I prefer more variety in spots. If you’re just sitting at Love all day, all the footage is going to get repetitive.

Was it intentional to separate those crews in Eastern Exposure 2 with DGK skating to hip-hop and the Daggers skating to jazz?

(laughs) No, it just kinda worked out that way. The guys in those crews all had similarities in how they skated so it only made sense to group them together like that. But the songs were all picked by the guys. I think the Daggers were hyped on Gonz skating to jazz in the Blind Video.

Actually, when I first edited that video, the entire Philly section was edited to Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town.” I remember after the video premiere at Sub Zero, literally everyone came up to me afterwards like, “Dan, you gotta change that song. That song sucks.” (laughs)

What about Ricky beating up that crackhead? That had to be hard to film.  

Yeah, that always felt weird because it did kinda demonize Ricky to an extent, but in that situation, he was totally in the right. Here’s this sketchy dude being a prick and scaring the younger kids, Ricky had warned him several times to get out of Love, but the guy wouldn’t leave so Ricky flipped it on him. That’s why that went down.

I will say that towards the end, though, it was pretty obvious that the dude was defeated and Ricky’s still kicking him in the head… but the whole thing started for noble reasons. Ricky was the guardian of Love, he couldn’t just let that happen.

How’d you first meet Ricky? Was he still riding Z-Rollers?

No, not anymore.

The first time I met him was actually at a contest over in Jersey that Sub Zero was putting on. Ricky clearly stood out because he always skated so fast. Most of the other guys were just poking around the course, meanwhile Ricky’s flying around. I’ve always been a sucker for fast skaters, so I was loving it.

This was right before the Spitfire Video came out because that line where he nollies the barrel and treflips the palette was from that day. But yeah, I watched Ricky kill the contest and then when I start going out to Philly, he was always around. Ricky really wanted to film, I’m trying to be a filmer. Let’s make it happen.

Matt, Ricky and Serge were just so motivated. Obviously, Freddie was around, but he was a little more laid back, I think mainly because he already had a bunch of good sponsors. It was Matt, Ricky and Serge who were the key motivators. They were the hungry ones. They just loved Freddy, too. They wanted to let Fred shine as well since he’s so talented.

What was Matt Reason like? Ripping skater but I always heard he was kinda weird…

I always got along with Matt really well. Matt, Kevin Taylor, and this guy Evan were all from Pittsburgh and I loved the way they talked. They had this super deadpan sense of humor in how they made fun of people that was so good.

“Ahhh…. I don’t know about this guy. Ahhhh.”

I remember they’d always use the word “decent”.

“That’s so decent. The way Julien skates is so decent.” (laughs)

He just had this cool, weird personality that I loved. And, of course, Matt and Ricky with their little rules about skating, that just came from them being 100% dedicated. I mean, if you saw either of Matt or Ricky’s apartments back then, it was seriously just a mattress, skate magazines, weed, and a little bit of food in the fridge. That was it. They thought about skateboarding non-stop and skated every day. I was at that point in my life as well, so we got along well together.

Didn’t you film Reason’s 411 Profile?

Yeah, we worked on that together. That was maybe a couple weeks of filming, if that. It happened really fast. We got the okay to do it and he was ready to go… motivated. And it all came pretty easily for him.

Get into those rules a little more… I know switch mongo was always out.

(laughs) Yeah, no piss pedaling. No switch mongo pushing at all. Because their thought was that it wasn’t truly switch skating if you’re not pushing switch, too. That was a big one.

Another one was that you can’t just turn around in a line, you had to do some kind of 180 trick in order to get you back around. No turning around on the ground.

What about young Freddy?  And what are your thoughts on the man he’s grown up to become?

You know, I haven’t really known Freddy since I left Philadelphia. Of course, I’ve heard about his antics over the years and know he gets involved in some pretty hairy stuff… but that’s what makes him Fred. Happy go-lucky as well as an incredible skateboarder. But for me, it’s funny because who he’s become isn’t who I know. He’s just so different than the little kid I knew.

It’s the same thing with Bam. When I think about Bam or Fred, it’s more about the teenage versions I filmed with, not who they are now.

Would you have guessed they’d grow up to become these larger-than-life characters?

I mean, Fred is a talented skater. He was so good that it was obvious he’d go far, but I had no idea that the rest of his Fredness would develop the way it did.

Bam was a little different because you could see the possibilities with his antics. And he was always a camera ham. He sparkled that way. People would see him at Cheapskates with his dad and always want to know who that crazy kid was.

How’d that Sub Zero Real Life project come about?

That was all through Ricky and Matt hooking me up with Sub Zero. I was already living in Philly by then and the first FTC video had just come out, so they were hyped on that. Now they wanted their own shop video.

The whole thing just made sense. Because for the Daggers, Sub Zero was their scene. They’d literally meet there every day before skating the 15 blocks or so to Love. We’d all skate Love for a while and then head out to wherever else they wanted to hit. It was a cool routine because those 15 blocks to Love were the perfect distance to get everyone warmed up. So by the time we got to Love, we were ready to go and could film something right off the bat.

But I’m pretty sure the Daggers took that video way more seriously than the FTC kids did…

Yeah, because they just didn’t have many other outlets for footage. Most of the Philly guys didn’t have multiple sponsors back then.  So yeah, they definitely took it way more seriously than those FTC guys did.

What I remember most about that video is the editing… because I was essentially just the interface. The whole thing was edited in Matt, Freddy and Jerry Fisher’s apartment on Spring Garden over a few days. That’s where I set up the VCRs. Ricky would come over, they’d all get super stoned and tell me what to do. I wasn’t a stoner so I’d just be sitting there, listening to them talk about clips in-between telling me where to put everything. It was pretty amazing experience and I actually learned a lot from that.

One funny thing about the Sub Zero video is the friends section… most of the sponsors named in that section weren’t even true! The guys were just trying to promote the different brands being sold at the shop. Like, AJ Mazzu wasn’t really on Prime, but it said so on his clip! Funny thing is that I actually went down to Tampa Pro that year and somehow found myself in a hotel room with Caine Gayle watching an early copy of the video.

“What!?! That dude’s not on Prime! Who the fuck is that!?!”

“I don’t know. They told me to do it!” (laughs)

Could you feel things bubbling up at the time? Did you know going into Underachievers that it was about to set things off the way it did? 

There was definitely a lot of momentum. I think the East Coast skate scene has been strong since the 80’s, it was just harder to get coverage. The West Coast always had more photographers and videographers to capture everything, and most of the companies and magazines were also based out there.

I feel like once more people started filming around the East Coast and getting into 411, the ball was in motion. Dave Schubert, RB Umali and some other filmers were also were getting people coverage.

Personally, it was those early projects that got my game up to where Eastern Exposure 3 needed to be. I got enough experience to where I could utilize everything I’d learned as well as all the people I’d met to really do something. So yeah, I guess EE3 is when I hit my stride.

Basically, Eastern Exposure 3 was me pretending to have my own skate company. These are the people I want to film and this is how I want to do it…  like my own Plan B. Just being a nerd, I guess.

So are you just going up and down the East Coast filming and staying on people’s couches?

Well, it was actually pretty simple. I had an apartment in Philly so anything that happened in Philly was easy to capture.

I filmed most of Reese’s part in 3 weekends. I’d take the train to D.C. and stay with him and his Mom out in the suburbs, right off the Metro line. Go down on a Friday, film all weekend and come back on Monday. Jahmal’s part went down the same way. I’d take the train to Boston and stay with him and his Mom. I remember he had bunk beds in his room. 

The filming time frame was about a year and a half or so… and everybody was working on things the entire time. A few of the guys, like Jahmal, would send me clips from other filmers in order to keep everything moving along.

As far as the New York stuff went, I remember driving there once or twice with the Philly guys but that was it. We wouldn’t even stay overnight, just for the day. R.B. filmed most of that part actually.

Tampa was random. I don’t really remember how I ended up staying with Paul Zitzer, Brian Howard and John Montessi… maybe it was a Giant/411 connection? But yeah, Maldonado, Bam and I drove down in my car and stayed with one of those guys to film. My car actually blew up on the way back and my stepdad had to come down to North Carolina and pick us up.

Were there any rivalries between different cities back then?

Not between cities. Like, whenever Jahmal came to Philly, everybody loved him. And whenever we’d go to New York, we’d skate with Huf and Ryan Hickey. Everybody got along in that regard.

Most of the rivalries would be within a city. Never any face-to-face issues, just people talking shit… but whatever. I always tried to stay out of that stuff as it wasn’t gonna help me any. But it’s funny how similar it always was, no matter where you were. Always guys making fun of other guys’ style… like this guy doesn’t pop his tricks high enough, this guy skates too slow or don’t grind his ledge tricks long enough. He’s too dirty, he’s too clean… blah, blah, blah.

Didn’t you film Pepe’s mirror backside flips at Pulaski in the red Nikes?

Yeah, that was me. That one came pretty quickly, too. I think he only tried it a few times. Pepe was always fun to skate with because everything seemed so easy for him. He never battled anything. It was just like, “Hey, film this” and it was on.

Who’s idea was it to mic up Ricky for that Philly Metrospective? And how long did that clip take?

That clip definitely took a long time. I’d say 4 hours or so. But yeah, that was my idea. Steve Douglas wanted me to film an interview with those guys for the 411 Metrospective and they weren’t into it. They wanted the whole part to be only skating, so that mic’d clip was our compromise.

There was a Radio Shack right near Love so I went in there one day and bought the mic. Simple as that. That mic didn’t have a very good range so there’s a lot of static in there but it worked.

I actually think people like the outtakes more than the clip itself. No one ever talks about the make in 411, just the outtakes. But going through the footage the first time, I just knew that that stuff had to come out somehow. It was just too good.

Why “Underachievers”?

It’s two-fold, actually. One reason being because of Ricky and all his opinions about East Coast skaters getting looked over. But it was also my own personal thing with my mom and what she wanted from me as her son… because I didn’t go to college and all that. It’s not like I ever felt that I was fucking up, I was just putting my energy into something different that she couldn’t understand. If she knew how much heart and hard work I was putting into this thing, she wouldn’t be so mad at me, but I guess in the 90’s, how could a parent really see any future in skateboarding? I guess that’s why I felt like an underachiever.

What was Ricky’s process like with making that part?

I don’t think that he had actual trick lists on paper but he definitely had them going on in his brain. I mean, he’s motivated anyway but at that point, he’d just turned pro so he was coming into it very seriously.

I find that I typically feed off other’s motivation… because I can honestly be pretty lazy at times. I’ve been lucky to have key motivators during different eras of my life. Like when I first started filming, Bam was the one who really got me out there, simply because he wanted to constantly film. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! But to this day, nobody has ever motivated me as much as Ricky. He was just so ready to go, all the time. And because of that, I feel like I was at my best working with him.

In the 2000’s, skating started to change, and it seemed like filmers and photographers had to do a lot more. Find the spot, fix the spot along with whatever else might be needed and then maybe the skater will be happy and want to film something on the spot? I didn’t like the change. These vans with tons of gear… generators, lights, tools, bondo and everything else. I much prefer skating around a city with a small crew and a shoulder camera bag. Light and lean. The skater should be the motivated and creative ones. Finding the spot with their eye and coming up with the trick that they thought of, I’m just there to document it.

With Rick and those guys, that’s how it was. They knew exactly what they wanted. No question.

“Meet us at Sub Zero and bring your camera...”

Were you trying to go up that girl’s skirt in his opening line?

Oh yeah, totally. Not fully up her skirt but just a slight look… I thought it’d be funny. Just a spontaneous little movement.

What about that subway stuff in the end? What was that place?

That was a subway underground across the street from City Hall, underneath that Clothes Pin sculpture. We started skating down there whenever it was cold or rainy. That was a cool spot to film in because it looked so different, you know? It’s hard to get more “city” than a subway station.

Would it ever get sketchy down there?

Not in that zone. Those tunnels were pretty long and if you went far enough, you’d find some people sleeping in there, but it was never too bad.

How was Ricky during editing? I have to imagine him being pretty picky about his part.

You’d think so but he was actually pretty hands-off. He definitely wanted that Metallica song. I still remember him playing that for me at his house a couple of times.

“I want to skate to this.”

I was totally into it, because I knew what he was going for. He’d even break down his part to me as we were listening to it.

“Right here, I want to do a bunch of pole jams. And I’m thinking right here should be a line.”

So yeah, there were things like that but not much. He wasn’t super in my face about everything, he just wanted certain points to hit and let me go from there. I’d show him edits sometimes and he’d want things moved around a little but it was never too bad.

Wasn’t Tim O’Connor’s part originally supposed to be Puleo’s?

Actually it went back-and-forth between Bobby and Quim Cardona for a while, before ultimately landing with Tim. I definitely wanted one of those Jersey ams who were coming up at the time. Because I was filming all of them for a while, I just happened to click with Tim a little more. Plus, he was really making an effort to skate in Philly whereas those other two weren’t coming around as much. I think I did mention it to Bobby at one point but things just flowed more naturally with Tim and, in the end, he had the most footage.

A personal favorite of mine, and I’m a sucker for tan hat-era Quim….

The blue bars? Where he switch flips the barrier, switch 50-50s the bar and does the half-cab flip?

One of my all-time favorites.

That line was really only a couple of tries in the middle of a session. He just did it. It was Quim, Pancho and Tim skating the Blue Bars with Ryan Gee shooting photos. Quim was always very spontaneous. He wasn’t someone to keep trying something over and over again. Even if he was trying a line, he’d still switch it up every few tries, just to keep it interesting for him. He had that flow… like a lanky, yoga-style. Plus, when he gets all hyped going into the half-cab flip, that just adds to it.

And I love that you slid his rapping in at the end of all that Metallica.

(laughs) I still don’t know why I did that… it just worked. I thought it was funny and a good way to lead into the credits. Better than a bum clip, I guess. That was Tim, Quim, Mark Cardona and I at the Hoboken Path Train Station after a day of skating New York.  Quim was always rapping, though…

“Hey, get this. I’m gonna freestyle.”

People still talk about that clip to this day, but I can never tell if they’re making fun of it or if they actually like it. But that was totally Quim at that time.

What about Gall’s gap to 50-50? Wasn’t he super high for that?

That’s the story I heard, years later. I was too young to really know what someone might act like on anything other than pot so I wasn’t conscious of anything but supposedly he was on ‘shrooms. I had no idea. He did it pretty quick, though… which was amazing.

I feel like it just came up one day as we were at Love. Something as simple as him saying. “Yo Dan, I want to do this thing…”

“Really!?! Fuck, alright!”

I don’t remember anyone hitting it prior to that. But he just brought it up out of nowhere and did it. It really didn’t take him very long.

What’s the story behind Harold’s “Cheer Up, Bagel” remark? What led up to that?

So you know in the opening of the New York part when Quim runs down the rail? That was the same session. Where that rail was, the sidewalk below it was typically packed with pedestrians. The only saving grace was that because it’s New York, everyone is much more alert than most other places. But, of course, some fat old guy got all pissed off and started yelling at us.

“Watch out! You’re gonna break somebody’s neck!”

So that’s who Harold is talking to when he intervened with those words of wisdom.  

“Hey, it’s fuckin’ New York, guy! You always gotta watch where you’re walking! What’s the big deal? Cheer up, guy! Have a fuckin’ bagel! Alright, guy?”

As your own harshest critic, how did you feel upon completing this legendary project?

I mean, it’s not like I felt that I’d made some influential thing… but I knew that I’d given it my all. With all the logging I had to do and the late nights I stayed up editing, I knew that I didn’t half-ass it. And I could tell that there was something there, once people were reacting to it. The distribution deal with Giant definitely helped out with that.   

Eastern Exposure 3 was the first time during editing for me, that I was finally as critical as I always should’ve been. Like, when in doubt, cut it out. Only the best stuff got in, which hadn’t been the case for me prior.

“Well, we worked on getting this clip for so long, we have to use it.”

Even if it sucked, I’d still put it in for that reason. But Eastern Exposure 3 was strictly the cream of the crop…

(laughs)… okay, maybe the Woodward part doesn’t need to be in there. But for the most part, we were all really happy with the video. 

Was the plan always to move out West? Especially now, after you’ve done so much to establish the East Coast scene in the industry?

I just wanted to film great skating, that’s what was most important to me. I was never opposed to going out there and when the opportunity came up, I figured I’d give it a shot.

That couldn’t have made Ricky happy.

Yeah, but I think at the end of the day, most of those guys understood. They still made fun of me, though…

“Whatever…go and be a California boy.”

That all came about through Reese, as he’d already been on Element for a while. After doing some work for 411, they hooked up a distribution deal for EE3, which was huge for me. Everything went really well and we ended up selling 30,000 copies or so.

After that was all done, Johnny threw out the idea of me moving out to work for them in-house in Costa Mesa. It seemed like an amazing opportunity… even though, in retrospect, they only offered me $2,000 a month to be both filmer and team manager. But I did it happily.

So yeah, it was cool… but when Tim O’Connor left for Element, Ricky was definitely pissed about that. 

He was Illuminati at that point, too.

Yeah, that didn’t go over so well. But things change, you know?

What do you think your departure meant for the Philadelphia scene as a whole? Why not stay with Zoo or Capital/Silverstar?

I always loved Zoo York because of their history as well as Eli’s art, I just didn’t spend enough time there to really get involved. Plus, R.B. was already making in-roads there anyway.

And even before it collapsed the way it did, Capital always felt sketchy because of the owner. There were just too many warning signs. You’d always hear these stories about him, which all turned out to be true. I couldn’t trust it.

I loved Philly but you still want to grow as a person. I wanted to try other things and not limit myself. At the same time, Gee was starting to film more and the East Coast Alien stuff was starting to happen. I didn’t feel that I was abandoning these people, the door was open now.

Did you have any involvement in Welcome to Hell with Maldonado and Donny?

I filmed those dudes a little for that but that was more of Jamie’s pet. I was transitioning more into Element stuff at that time anyway.

I did film Jamie’s opening line at the Brooklyn Banks, which was cool. Honestly, it was nerve-racking, too, because there were so many obstacles to contend with. Running a bit, hopping a curb, jumping on my board, hopping off that to run up another curb… there was a lot of stuff going on in that one. But he got it pretty quick. Actually, I think he had a harder time with the flatground stuff in the middle than he did on either of the handrail tricks. It was crazy to watch. I just didn’t want to fuck it up by shaking the camera as I went up and down all those curbs.

How was it working for a brand after doing your own thing for so long?

I’m not going to lie, it was weird. That World Tour video was fun but honestly, we all had issues with Element. Things would happen where we’d all meet with the owner as a team to make decisions… and then an ad would come out later on that wasn’t at all what we agreed on. That happened several times.

Like, Third Eye View was only supposed to be a promo. We had a good amount of footage but it was all Hi-8, right around the time the transition to digital/VX1000 was taking place. We wanted to get all that footage out before switching entirely to digital. Markovich had just gotten on and Jeremy Wray was coming soon, let’s clean the slate with this stuff as a promo and then do our mega video. That was the plan we all agreed on. Third Eye View was even going to be called “Prelude” just to drive that point home even further. But out came Third Eye View, being touted as our new full-length video… most of the team and I were caught off-guard by that one.

Weird shit kept happening… like how all the Element ads became carbon-copies of Fourstar ads. That was just embarrassing, we were all embarrassed. Ripping them off unapologetically. I really didn’t want to run into Rick Howard or Mike Carroll during that period. (laughs)

But it had to be difficult walking away from that cash cow.

This was before Billabong bought them, so it wasn’t totally crazy there yet. But yes, there is a side of me that will always regret leaving when I did. Reese and I were just over living in SoCal by that point and wanted to move to SF. I was actually still working for Element after I moved up to SF. I was going out with Gabe Morford a lot, so it wasn’t long before Deluxe called me up, out of the blue.

“Hey, do you want to work for us? We’ll pay you $30 grand.”

Compared to my $24,000 at Element, that was a big raise! And for me, as a skate nerd, I always held Deluxe up higher than Element anyway, so I agreed.

Johnny tried to match the offer but I just wasn’t interested anymore. Deluxe felt like a better fit, so I left… but part of me still thinks that if I’d asked for 1% of Element to stay, I would’ve probably gotten it, and now I would be rich! Oh well… (laughs)

Whatever, I was never thinking with my wallet back then. I still try not to.

So how do you go about filming a Gonz part for Real to Reel?

The hardest part about filming Gonz is actually getting him out skating. He has his hand in so many things, he gets distracted easily. But once you get him out there, he switches on and it’s like magic. He’s actually easy to film once he’s out there because he’s happy to be doing his thing. He just has to want to do it.

I did film with him a lot but I can’t really say that I know him very well… I don’t think too many people actually know him like that, you know? But I think his approach to skating is just like his approach to life, very spontaneous. It’s all about what interests him at that moment. I’m sure there have been things that he thought about doing and set out to do them… like the Kilty McBagpipe hippie jump stuff. But I think that most things he does are just thought of on the spot.  

I remember him telling me about how he wanted to do a “Ghost Grind”.

“What’s that, Mark?”

“I want to roll up to a ledge like I’m gonna grind it. I’ll ollie like a frontside 50-50 but kick the board away so it’s actually grinding while I’m still in the air. Then I’ll land on it back on the ground.”

He wanted to ghost grind the whip! (laughs)

I feel like that’s the kinda stuff he thinks about.

What about that insane 12” wide brick gap ollie?

Yeah, that was on a Real trip with Cairo, Dennis, Mickey and Gabe. I knew some D.C. spots pretty well but I’d never seen that one. It was actually across the street or around the corner from where we were skating, Mark just happened to see it.

Next thing I know, he’s over there rolling around on this sketchy ledge. We couldn’t believe it. And the way he pushed at it, too. He didn’t just go straight at that gap, he wanted to drop in and carve around the corner!

He only tried it a few times and once he made it, that was it. I do remember one pretty bad slam but for whatever reason, he just bounces off things. Slams never seem to hurt him. 

Wasn’t that originally edited to Morrissey’s “My Lovelife”? What happened there?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. All I know is that the higher-ups told me to change it and I didn’t ask any questions. But I was always bummed on that because I do like the Morrissey edit better. It has a better feel. And having a skate video part to Morrissey would’ve been awesome for back then, especially with it being Gonz.

Was that Mark’s choice?

Totally, I remember him telling me about that song, because it was a bit of a harder song to find. It’s only on a 3-song EP but it’s really good. Especially how it starts off, it’s perfect for an edit.

I love Nate Jones’ part but I wonder if that was apparent during the filming or discovered in editing?

I feel like that one was more of a discovery during editing. Because at the time, Nate, Cairo and Dennis were all so young. Dennis is obviously non-stop, ripping off tricks. Cairo was killing it, too. But Nate was just so casual about everything. You’d go out filming with him for the day and constantly feel like, “Come on, man… do something.”

He might decide to do something and get it but the process was much slower, especially compared to those other guys. But after so many months, it adds up. So when you go in to edit and put everything together, especially with how relaxed his style was, you discover this really amazing part. It’s not aggro or anything, just relaxed with a nice feel to it.

He didn’t have the biggest bag of tricks, but everything he did was done perfectly. And with that Gil Scot Heron song... That was Gabe’s idea.

As a filmer, how hard is filming Dennis Busenitz?

It can be hard, but I like constantly moving. I feel like I’m almost getting an aerobic workout while filming him, which definitely beats sitting at the bottom of some stairs. Pushing around and going fast is fun for me, which I think always translates into making footage better.

You do get tired filming Dennis but he’s definitely one of my favorites because not only is he super good, he’s consistent as well. You feel like you’re getting shit done. And I feel like he’s only gotten better over the years. I mean, he was always good but there was a side of him early on that felt like an eager little kid. More of a technical robot. But once he grew into his style after living in SF long enough for that influence to soak in, it was undeniable.

Beware the Flare, Element World Tour, Harsh Euro Barge, Destination Unknown… in your mind, what makes a good tour video?

Showing the full experience of a tour, not just the skating. The behind-the-scenes stuff and how people interact with each other, that stuff goes a long way. And don’t show too much demo skating because that gets old fast.

“Oh, another crooked grind down a park hubba. Great.”

You want to accurately show the lifestyle and people having fun. That’s what hypes kids up the most. That window into the life of a pro skater and what it’s really like.

What’s your favorite of those trips?

Hmm, that’s a hard one, but most of the Anti Hero trips that I went on were great. Julien keeps it pretty simple. The team comes up with a plan and I can just be a fly-on-the-wall, capturing what they do. I think that’s why we worked well together, because I’m not the dude to boss anyone around. I just want to film them doing their thing.

Beware the Flare was awesome, too. That was my first time traveling with the Girl/Chocolate guys. Growing up, those guys were some of my favorite skaters, so being able to work with them felt like a privilege. Ty Evans was really motivated, too. I was just trying to earn my keep as the second filmer.

…I still remember this one time on the Girl “Harsh Barge” US tour, I completely missed getting a really good trick on video. Rick McCrank did a nollie half-cab switch crooked grind over the grate at Flushing, right in-front of me. I remember everybody suddenly flipping out and then looking over at Ty and I to see that neither of us were paying attention. Ty might’ve been follow-filming somebody else and it was on me… but yeah, I missed it.

I still remember Rick Howard shaking his head at me… like, “Wow...” (laughs)

Would you guys just film Biebel non-stop for one-liners? It seems like everything he said back then was gold.

(laughs) “Look at the clouds, fool!”

Exactly. Was that your clip?

Oh yeah, that was mine. He was actually calling me out for being nerdy, to be honest.

“Oh, look at the clouds in the background! That looks great. Hey Biebel, stand here…”

“What? This is stupid!”

And then he hit me with it.  

“Oh, look at the clouds, fool!” (laughs)

There was nothing I could do. I knew that line was gonna be a classic. I just had to take it on the chin.

How difficult was the iPath promo to pull off?

Honestly, that one wasn’t difficult to pull off at all. I had a good time making that one. I liked working with those guys.

Just asking because I can see those guys not exactly being the most productive crew. Or were they?

Well, to be honest, I didn’t film a ton for that video. A lot of that was just everyone contributing footage on their own, which probably helped a lot. We put word out that we were going to do this thing and everybody broke out to handle their thing. Mike Fox focused Jack Sabback, because they were close and Jack was ready to put out a part anyway. I honestly had a personal interest in wanting to show Matt Rodriguez in the right light because I always thought of him as one of the best skaters ever. For whatever reason, there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t get behind him because of marketing bullshit... “Oh, he’s older,” or “Oh, dreads don’t sell anymore.”

Are you kidding me? The dude is a zen master of the skateboard! Anybody that’s been skating long enough realizes how good he is. It’s a shame when people like him have to struggle or get overlooked because skateboarding is an industry.

So Matt was my focus for that project, for sure. Mike had Jack. Everybody else just kinda fell in the mix. Whatever we got is what we got. But I feel like it worked out.

Amazing. But switching speeds a bit,  Nothing But The Truth. How much creative control did you have there? Incredible skating, but holy shit…

Alright, so Nothing But The Truth was 2005 to 2007. I’d been doing some stuff at iPath before that, which had gotten a little crazy and I needed to get out of there. Reese hit me up about Nike wanting to do a video and it sounded like an amazing opportunity, doing something like that with a big brand as well as an escape from my current situation. I was down.

So my contract was actually through Nike’s agency, not as an employee of Nike itself. But I will say that the whole first year of filming was amazing. A total upward trajectory. We’re going on all these trips, everyone is ripping and having so much fun. I really felt like the video was going to be incredible at that point.  

The second year was when it started going downhill. Nike hired these Belgian guys to write a concept for the video and I immediately got a bad feeling about everything. And I was actually around while they filmed the skits, not filming myself but just checking it all out. I just knew something was off.

So those guys film the narrative and edit everything… and it’s awful. Plus, it was originally much longer! What you’re actually seeing in the final video is the shorter version! It was insane! But luckily, someone at Nike ended up kicking those guys off and brought it in-house to have another editor cut it way down... even though it was still way too long. But that was months and months of frustration, and by that point, I’d already lost faith in the project.

That project was a big learning lesson for me about having too many cooks in the kitchen. With all the agency guys along with all the Nike guys… it was a total shitshow.

I started to understand how Jim Thiebaud and Tommy Guerrero probably felt in the Powell days, with regards to things always being too much of a production. A small crew in a van with a filmer and photographer is all you need.

It’s like skateboarding has to keep relearning the same lessons.

But having those skits always the plan?

It was actually supposed to be a full-on movie with a narrative, not just skits. I still have copy of the original edit that Lionel Goldstein did that’s over 90 minutes long. It’s brutal.

But Stefan having to get barfed on for those guys… he was so bummed. It bummed me out, too. But what do you do? You’re in this weird spot where you’re traveling the world with this incredible team, which was amazing. I just had no control over what was bringing the whole thing down, which was frustrating because I knew how much better the video could be.

I don’t even know how much they spent on that thing. It had to be several million dollars. But am I proud of the end product? No. I love the skate parts, like Weiger and Lewis’ parts. But honestly, I’m embarrassed of that video.

Well, on a sunnier note, what was the inspiration behind Closure? You rarely see something so personal in skateboarding, especially from a non-pro.

Starting in Philadelphia and even more so after I moved to California, I got more and more in debt. Between the rent increases and buying things on my credit card, by 2002, I was in serious trouble, man. And I got shook.

Luckily, by that point, I’d learned how to sell a video. And I had all of this old footage that had only been released on VHS… with DVD still new at the time, I thought maybe I chould edit almost like a ‘greatest hits’ type of thing. Deluxe was down to distribute, this could be a way to knock down some of this debt.

One thing I’ll always remember from my time at Deluxe was listening to Julien talk about how much he really liked that old surf video, Endless Summer. I remember him saying how that little bit of narration in there really made it special. My girlfriend at the time would also talk to me about skate videos and how they’re basically porn… you only watch them for a specific reason. She brought up the idea of me trying to tell my story, just to make a skate video that was a little more interesting. I thought that that was a good idea but I didn’t want my narration to overpower the skating, so I decided to say only a little bit here and there. Nothing too prominent.

Honestly, there’s part of me now that wishes I never put my story in there… it’s a little embarrassing.

You’re just being self-conscious. I doubt it would’ve worked without the narration, it would’ve been too hard to follow.

Thanks, but Closure really threw me off after its release in 2003. Because here I’d built myself up through Eastern Exposure 3, Element and Real to Reel. My ego was through the roof, I thought I could do no wrong. Then after Closure came out, I was afraid that I might’ve kooked myself. Thrasher even gave me a negative “Teddy”. They printed a picture of me that said “Closed”. I lost a lot of confidence after that. Weiger even used to tease me on Nike trips, “Oh my God! It’s Dan Wolfe! The maker of Closure, a documentary about himself!” (laughs)

And then with Nothing But The Truth after Closure, talk about a one-two punch to my ego and confidence.

That’s a rough one, man. So I know you were doing some stuff for Adidas, what are you currently working on?

I haven’t really done anything since Destination Unknown. I was working for Deluxe and helping out with Adidas, which was great. Those edits actually helped me build up some confidence again. But honestly, my life changed pretty substantially in 2014. I turned 40, and then my mom passed away. So around that time is when I started wanting to just get out of everything, kind of my midlife crisis. I just felt like I needed a bit of break from things.

Now all I do is play pool. I still follow skating to an extent and keep up with what I want to keep up on… but definitely not everything. There’s just too much.  

How much unreleased footage are you sitting on? You still have all that stuff, right?  

I do. I’ve actually been tossing around the idea of doing one last cut of it. Because when I made Closure, hard drive space was still kinda pricey, but that’s no longer an issue. I could probably capture every tape in its entirety and it would not be that expensive. I probably need to get on that, too, because tapes don’t last forever. They start to crumble and fall apart. Maybe I’ll do one more edit or even some kind of Instagram thing. Who knows? We’ll see. I’ve just been too busy hitting pool balls.

Part of your legacy is marking the arrival of the modern independent video, outside of brands. What are your thoughts on this cottage industry that you helped establish?

I like seeing kids out there, doing it for themselves. That’s the real DIY spirit of skating. Because skateboarding can only be represented correctly by those who truly love it. I like that Ishod can have a Nike part alongside a Sabotage part that kids might connect with more. It’s the same thing as those old Powell videos versus Rubbish Heap and H-Street vids.

Never thought of it that way but it’s true.

Kids connect more with what they feel is closer to their own scene. Everyone wants to see good skating, no matter what. And while those big brand videos are great, there’s something about a Sabotage/Static/GX1000 video that feels closer to what actual skateboarders are doing on a daily basis. Most skaters are not on giant tour buses, they’re just out there with their friends and a camera. Sure, they’re curious about that big pro lifestyle, but it’s different than their everyday. They’re hanging out with the crew… and that’s why those videos are important. The feeling they capture is truer to skateboarding.  

Well said. So are there any words of wisdom you’d like to offer to the kids out there trying to make the next Eastern Exposure?

Don’t start buying gear with credit cards, straight up. I’m not in debt anymore but for the longest time I was in terrible debt. Save up to buy your gear, don’t put it on a credit card. Interest sucks. That’s really my biggest piece of advice.

big thanks to Dan for taking the time. 


chops said...

After a few people hit me up about it, I did go back and include a previously cut bit about the iPath 2005 promo. As Dan admittedly didn't film very much for it, mostly just holding down editing duties, it felt a bit like an outlier to me for the purpose of this interview... but I realize that the Promo does indeed have its fans so I went back and included a little bit about it.

Warm Up Zone said...

Another amazing interview that we all have been waiting for. It is impossible to overstate the influence of EE2 and Real Life to skaters growing up in the East Coast in the 90s, and the impact EE3 has on all of skateboarding. I still rank Oyola's part as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) of all time.

Dan Wolfe has always seemed like someone conflicted with the skateboard industry. I've always respected that he was comfortable expressing his opinion on what he does and doesn't like in the industry, and I'm not surprised he burned out. Pool sharking seems even less stable than being a filler, but if you have the talent...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Chops as always - incredible interview.

Anonymous said...

the best at doing it.EE3 forever the best video in skateboarding.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chops great interview again, as always, but you linked to Jack Sabback's part in that iPath promo not Matt's... Keep 'em coming!

Unknown said...

Love the info on nothin but the truth. Secretly really like some of the shitty skits. chets shit is hilarious, but i can see how it got outa hand. the skating holds it own though. great interview. I'm always looking forward to these.

Justin said...

Thanks for another great interview. It was cool to hear some more Matt Reason stories.

One good thing about Nothing But The Truth is that the skits are their own chapters on the DVD so you can skip right to the skateboarding without the silly business.

Anonymous said...

Loving these "behind the lens" interviews ... props to Dan Wolfe, fascinating to hear how EE3 came about and so much other classic east coast filming too. Keep it up!

Pierre Wikberg said...

His long lens filming of Barley’s slam in EE3 blew me away.
All of his zoom in, zoom out stuff came back strong for Cherry etc.

Thanks for a great interview!

Anonymous said...

such a legit interview. true skate nerds lust after this type of interview
thanks a milli Chops!

SXM said...

Great interview. Great filmer. As an East coast kid, those videos meant a lot. He seems like someone who was very passionate about his work/skateboarding but then maybe Art vs. Commerce reared it's ugly head somewhere along the way (as it often does). Anyways, I hope he gets to shoot a few rounds of pool w/ Hensley someday. & don't worry about the chain wallet, I'm 45 & still rock it..All the best Dan Wolfe. BLESS.

Johan said...

The best filmer and the best skater both escaped skating to nerd in on pool. Dan, are you picking up an accordion as well..? ;)
Thanks for an interview that I’ve waited long to read! If there ever was a filmer with the status of a pro skater, it ’s Wolfe! Hope he continues to bless skateboarding in some way. Instagram would be insane.

Unknown said...

Closure on vimeo


Anonymous said...


Nattie Dap said...

"piss pedallers' want to show they're skating switch, it does often look stupid. Those guys skating around all over the place obviously needed to use the other foot to push in order not to wear out their one leg. For me it was easy to use both feet because initially I naturally skated mongo- which really is awkward. Former mongo has the jump on no-complies too

Nattie Dap said...

No one ever thought what those dude's were doing actually turned out to be environmentally conscious ... I flat out didn't want to drive or even get a drivers license; basically on this Philly sk8 theory. To this day I'm proud of that. Though in retrospect I can see that at the time not driving caused problems with my social life, etc. I was a teenager in Scranton who'd bus down to Philly to hang with a friend who was enrolled at Temple. I'm still highly inspired by having witnessed the 90's Philly scene. Everlasting props to all these dudes!

Nattie Dap said...

Was Quim Cardona's footage at the flat bar in the alley between Love and Wawa somehow removed from the Sub zero videos posted on You Tube? Didn't he have a line of a switch flip over a barricade, a switch backside 50 50 on the bar, and a half cab flip?