“LET US ROAM” is an ongoing short film series that shows stories about photographers, artists, filmmakers and musicians inside of the skateboarding culture. Ray Barbee, Arto Saari, Greg Hunt and Atiba Jefferson are all featured with their own film. We sat down to talk with Christopher Murphy, Helio Collective President and Creative Director, who helped produce the film, and is an avid skateboarder and photographer as well. Helio Collective is the same company behind Searching for West. Below, Christopher explains the idea behind the film and his own creative process.
Q: Where did the inspiration for this project come from? And what are you trying to achieve with the series?
A: Two years ago I took a skateboarding trip with some friends through Montana to document skateboarding in obscure and unsuspecting locations. The goal was to show the creative approach that a skater takes to interpreting his surroundings. I wanted to use the series as a means to show how skateboarding fosters creativity.
Q: What were you most excited about going into this project and also pleasantly surprised about or not expecting once it was completed?
A: I was most excited about hearing everyone’s stories and sharing in their experiences. It was amazing and humbling to learn from the people who inspired me to shoot film and photography. I didn’t expect everyone to be so open about their lives and ideas.
Q: One of the goals is to show how skateboarding can inspire creativity, so for you personally, how have you found that it helps foster creativity for your own work at Helio Collective or personal photography/videography?
A: Skateboarding introduced me to photography and filmmaking. I started shooting video and editing my own skateboarding films at a very young age. My friends and I would go out and shoot for months, and then I would sit at home with two VCRs and a Hi8 camcorder to edit the footage into a little film. I can remember drawing all of the titles on paper and recording it with the camera to create mini title sequences. That whole process was DIY and laborious and took a lot of ambition to complete. Those formative years of shooting and editing inspired me to make moving images and eventually learn the craft of storytelling. To me, I feel like I still have a lot to learn as a storyteller and director and if skateboarding has taught me one thing, it’s to never give up.
Q: Where did the title “LET US ROAM” come from?
A: The title was actually inspired from security officers and police officers kicking us out of skate spots. The typical phrases you would hear were, “You can’t be here” or “You’re destroying property; let’s pack it up and move along.” I often felt like skateboarders were simply exploring the cities and looking for new ways to challenge themselves. To me, this act wasn’t much different than a climber looking for new routes or a skier searching for fresh back country lines to ride. The only difference is that skateboarders aren’t always free to roam city streets and skate the things they imagine themselves skating. The title “LET US ROAM” represents the desire that skateboarders have to explore their environments.
Q: How did you choose the four skateboarders — Ray Barbee, Arto Saari, Greg Hunt and Atiba Jefferson — who are featured? What made them a good fit for this project?
A: The four skateboarders were selected because of their stories, background, and achievements in the industry. They are all very different individuals and each person has a different perspective on skateboarding and creativity. This helps to keep the stories well-rounded and fresh.
Q: As we mentioned, creativity is an underlying theme of the film — what other disciplines do each of these guys bring to the project? There’s a lot of talent in the line-up!
A: It seems that creativity is unquenchable for most skateboarders. I feel that they are the types of people who cannot sit idle for a moment without trying to figure out how to do something new or different. Each one of the characters in the series has several different creative disciplines they pursue from photography to cinematography, music to painting. The amount of work these guys each produce is impressive.
Q: Were there any particular challenges shooting the film and/or some of the skateboarding stunts?
A: There weren’t too many challenges in terms of cinematography while shooting this project. We kept the shoot very lean with very little camera equipment. However, one of the camera operators, Logan Triplett, jumped on the back of Arto’s motorcycle to get a few shots.
Q: Where were the four shorts filmed? When was it shot and how long did it take to complete?
A: The four shorts were shot over the last five months, mostly in Los Angeles. We had a few shoots outside of California where we traveled to Finland, Alaska and Montana.
Q: How did you pick the format of a miniseries? When can viewers expect to see all four shorts?
A: The miniseries was the easiest way for us to deliver films over a digital medium and was a unique way to show films. I thought it would be a great way to release several films through a single concept. These stories seem infinite in the skateboarding industry and it would be cool to see it have a life beyond these four films. The films will be delivered every other week with the last film being release on May 6th.
Q: The music compliments the footage really nicely — can you comment on the music selection/composition?
A: Radical Face is one of my favorite songwriters and musicians. I feel that his personal approach to writing compliments the personal stories the artists are sharing.
Q: You’re also doing some shorter footage to tease the film series on Instagram — can you tell what you’re shooting these with and what viewers can expect to find on the Instagram account?
A: The Instagram teasers are just cut-downs from the longer edits. We have several stories shot with Ed Templeton, Ty Evans, Jacob Rosenberg, and many others, so you will probably continue to see little edits on Instagram throughout the year.
Q: The film was shot in collaboration with Leica Camera. Can you talk about the relationship between the skateboarding community and photography?
A: Skateboarding is an extremely visual way of life. I feel that it breeds creativity and challenges the imagination. Kids who subscribe to skateboarding are naturally affected by the photography, music, design, filmmaking, and art at the center of its lifestyle. Photography is just one of the many creative outlets that most skateboarders gravitate toward.
Q: More specifically, can you speak to the relationship between the skateboarding community and Leica Camera?
A: This is a difficult question to answer because I can only speak from my own experience and opinion. I’ve used Leica lenses for the last 12 years because I like the quality of the optics. As for the camera, I love Leica rangefinders because of the simplicity of the design and the quality of the build. The cameras are small and tough and easy to travel with so they can take the abuse that a skateboarder will throw at it.
Q: What first attracted you to photography?
A: Skateboarding is the first thing that attracted me to the camera. As a kid, my walls were plastered with skateboarding photography torn from the pages of Thrasher and Transworld. It was the first subject I remember wanting to capture and once I discovered that it was accessible, I didn’t want to stop.
Q: What type of photography do you do/or that you’re attracted to and for what purpose? For yourself, commercially, street, portrait, etc?
A: I primarily shoot photography for fun and love to shoot people, portraits, street photography and raw life. Shooting photos is something I’ve always loved doing and feel that its purpose is pretty basic, enjoyment. However, I will often shoot photos and study them to help me write ideas.
Q: Since you work both in film and moving images, can you comment on how the two weave into your life and work together? And when you chose one medium over the other, when do you capture the still and when do you capture the moving image?
A: My primary focus is capturing the moving image. However, if I’m directing a project then I find plenty of opportunities to shoot photos, but most of the time the photography just helps me to visualize what we will shoot with motion picture.
Q: As a skateboarder and photographer, what did this project mean for you personally?
A: Skateboarding has always been a part of my life and shaped the person I am today. Photography, music, design, and filmmaking just became other facets of the culture that I was hooked on and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized skateboarding inspired all of these other creative interests. This project gave me a chance to show a different side of skateboarding and how it fosters creativity.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
A: It’s rare to have a brand like Leica backing a project within the skateboarding industry, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful. Leica has believed in LET US ROAM since its conception and I think I can speak for everyone at Helio Collective when I say we’re all appreciative of Leica’s support throughout the project.
Thank you for your time, Chris!
– Leica Internet Team
Catch all the “LET US ROAM” action on their website, Vimeo, Facebook and Instagram.
Learn more about Helio Collective on their website, Twitter and blog.