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Unstrapped: Jake Kuzyk on Skateboarding, Filming and The Making of Civic Affair

Image: Kuzyk in the Whistler backcountry. Photo: Justin L’Heureux/K2 Snowboarding.

While most pro snowboarders take the short off-season to relax, maybe take a surf trip to a tropical island or some such vacation, 24 year-old K2 pro Jake Kuzyk is busy filming and editing skateboard videos. He treats it the same as he has since he started, filming his friends in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and goes about the process similarly to the way he works on his snowboard video parts. Like any passion, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just what he’s done for fun over the years, but it’s recently become something beyond a casual hobby.

This year Jake filmed and edited an independent skate video called Civic Affair, featuring fellow Canadian pro snowboarder, Jed Anderson, along with an impressive crew of local Vancouver skaters. It premiered this month on Transworld Skateboarding’s website, and has been highly anticipated among the annual wave of for-free-online indie skate flicks.

After his first appearance in Videograss’ Bon Voyage, in which he only had about 40 seconds of footage, Jake quickly earned a reputation for having absolute-proper style on rails. He continues to produce full parts that send waves through the snowboard community. Jake isn’t one to do a sloppy trick, and especially isn’t one to put a sub-par shot in a video part. He tries (and lands, one after another) the same trick over and over to make sure that only the best shots end up in his part. He cares about the way tricks are done, what they are and how they’re shown on film to a level of sophistication more akin to skateboarding’s technically-critical culture.

In this installment of the Unstrapped interview series, Jake discusses producing video parts from both sides of the camera, editing aesthetics and some subtle differences in skate and snow culture.

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How long have you been filming skating?

I bought a camera when I was 13. I made two snowboard videos before I made a skate video. I made a short promo and was always filming the “wreck” crew videos. That was our crew in Winnipeg. I never edited them until two years ago. We make a video every summer. They’re pretty short because it’s just footage from the summer.

What inspired you to make a video?

Two summers ago I filmed all the time, but I didn’t make a video. I submitted footage to a bunch of local Vancouver videos, and then at the end of the summer I looked at all the street footage that I gave away and saw that I could have made my own video out of it. It’s funny because it seems like, “Oh man, how can you possibly do snowboarding and that at the same time?” But snowboarding tends to give you a lot of free time in the summer. I look at Instagrams from other pro snowboarders who are posting pictures of themselves in Mexico or whatever, chilling on the beach. I literally spend every hour of my free time away from snowboarding filming skateboarding. I’m always busy. You know, it’s as busy as I want to make it, but it’s just what I choose to do with my time.

You’ve spent almost an equal amount of time on both sides of the lens at this point. What’s it like being a filmer?

It’s cool. At times it gives me a little understanding of where people’s heads are at. When you’re trying something for a long time and you’re scared, I know what that’s like, so I’m trying my best to cater to the skater to get the most out of it. Sometimes people feel like skating, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I feel like filming, sometimes I don’t. You have to try to read each situation to get the most out of it.

Do you find it similar to filming your snowboard parts?

It’s not as serious filming skating. Snowboarding I’ve done for quite a while. I know how I operate and what it takes for me to get a video part done. It’s still mellow, but it’s a little more serious. Skating is just me and the homies going around and filming whatever we want. You see something and you do it, get the clip. Use it or not, whatever. But filming snowboarding parts is more intense. In the winter I can watch the days count down until I won’t be able to film. Winter’s only so long, and then it ends. With a skate project, we don’t really know when we’ll put it out. We can just film. It takes some of the edge off.

Do you find any major differences in the dynamics or the approach?

The way we seem to be skating, we don’t drive as much to spots. We just go downtown to an area where we know there are things to skate. We just cruise around. We kind of have an idea, but we just come across things. That’s usually when we can skate the most rare and fun things that won’t always be around. They might just be there for the day or whatever. It’s a little more spontaneous.

Snowboarding is such a production and there’s so much work that goes into it. You have to go through stages where you’re not riding for a few hours because there’s so much equipment to arrange. There’s more organization, which has helped me. I feel pretty organized and I understand when to work hard on things because skateboarding is so whatever you want it to be in any moment. You could not film for three days, but then film for one day and get three clips. So there isn’t a sense of urgency.

Do you find yourself enjoying one more than the other?

Not really. The major reason I film skating is that I enjoy editing. I like the creative aspect of it. And it’s the same in snowboarding. It’s fun to put a part together and come up with tricks that I think are going to look good together, and try to get them done as well as I can, but still only use the best clips. I like having a goal, something to work towards, and that’s what they both give me. It’s something that I can always keep in the back of my head, trying to come up with new things that are going to make the end product better.

On the editing side, do you have a style or aesthetic that you aim for?

Yeah, I think so. With anyone and anything they do, they’re gonna end up having an aesthetic. If you do it enough you’ll end up having an aesthetic, and it’s not even because you’re trying to get it, but because of the way your brain works. There’s things I like to see, but there’s also just what I film. I have my camera instinct. I film the way I do because that’s how I envision it, but someone else could see it totally differently.

I shot a lot of Super 8 and with my digicam point and shoot. I like not just having the (Sony) VX 1000. It makes it easier when I’m editing. The way my brain works, it’s easier to put all the pieces together when you have options. I film a few different formats and then jumble them around to see what looks best.

It’s easy to guess where you sit in the VX vs. HD debate, then.

I shoot VX because I like it a lot. I don’t hate HD. I think there’s some people who shoot very well in HD. The only unfortunate thing about HD is that they haven’t made a camera that’s as practical as the VX. The VX can handle long lens and fisheye for skateboarding action very well, where with an HD camera you might get one, or something that captures this better than that. They’re all different. There’s the (Panasonic) HVX with the big Century lens, and that thing’s pretty sick, but it’s massive and heavy and expensive. I just think the VX is simple. It’s like a camera made to film skateboarding.

In another interview you mentioned that you liked keeping your own video parts short and sweet. Did that translate into the video parts that you edit?

For sure. I just think it’s always better to only use tricks that benefit the part. If something isn’t making the part better then there’s no point of having it in there. A lot of people just film clips and get attached to them for certain reasons, like, “Oh I worked really hard on that.” You can’t look at something as each individual thing that you worked on throughout the year. You just have to look at it as an overall impression at the end and at what’s going to make it strongest. But that’s just how I think. I’ve seen other parts that are longer and really cool. As long as there’s never a dull moment, then sure, go for it.

Do you think that skating and snowboarding see the value in choice and selection in a video part differently?

I think in skateboarding in general there’s a lot more particular people, or just more creative people, I should say. Not to say there aren’t a ton of creative people in snowboarding. There’s just more skateboarders and it’s easier to get your stuff out there. It’s not as expensive. I don’t know if snowboarding is involved to the same level of just people being a little more conscious about what they’re doing, not just doing it to do it because that’s what they saw this other guy do. I think with a lot of things people say like, “Wow I just saw that guy do that, it’s super gnarly, so now I have to do it.” You can see it every year. It’s a trend. Oh look, [X Games] Real Street just came out and now everyone is bouncing off a wall or whatever just ‘cause they saw homeboy do it. And it’s gnarly, it’s great, but it would be nice if there were more people doing their own thing and trying to do something different.

It’s tough. I don’t want to sound like one of those idiots who’s like, “Skateboarding’s so tight and snowboarding’s so whack.” That’s not what I think at all. But the people that get drawn to snowboarding in general like things to be a certain way.

A lot of snowboarders are probably hyped to see Jed [Anderson]’s part. What’s it like filming with him?

It’s the same thing for him as it is for me. He’s not out there being like, “Oh here comes summer, time to bang out a video part.” He’s just a born skateboarder. He just likes filming, skateboarding, snowboarding—he likes seeing edits come together, music, art, and all things together. He likes doing all of those things naturally at once. So filming a skateboard part is just a part of a lot of things that he has going on. He came to Vancouver a couple times. We went on a few trips and filmed a few things and that’s what it is. It’s easy to film him. We’ve been friends for a long time. We do a lot of things the same way, so it’s natural.

Check out Jed’s full part and enjoy Civic Affair below.

Stay tuned for more from Jake and the Vancouver crew over the next year. They have already begun filming their next video.

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