Our latest Auteurs interview is with Palace Skateboards filmer Jack Brooks, enjoy this window into his world behind the lens…
Interview by Ben Powell. Jack Brooks at Southbank Photo: Alex Pires
Without the need for any hyperbole, it’s evident that hardly any modern skateboard brand has enjoyed the depth of influence, or of global penetration that London’s own Palace skateboards has.
In the ten years since Lev Tanju first released their inaugural promo video announcing the formation of Palace, the wayward crew have gone on to tread a path that has taken them in a direction, and with a level of success, that far outstrips all of the nominally UK-based brands that preceded them.
Equally undeniable is the fact that a very distinctive and unflinching approach to creating video content has played a massive part in Palace’s meteoric rise. From the outset, Palace’s stuff just looked well, different…
It came from somewhere previously unmined by skateboard culture and the series of PWBC Global Skateboard News that predated the brand-proper, established an aesthetic and more importantly, an attitude, that remains at the core of what they put out today.
The canny combination of up-to-date and seriously banging skateboarding, alongside an embrace of camera technology and editing techniques that harkened back to an earlier golden era of the late-90’s, gave Palace a look that became instantly recognisable. They might not have been the only people experimenting with that approach, but their output was seasoned with an added twist of open mockery of the skateboarding conventions that the brand was established in direct opposition to, and a shameless championing of their specific view of what made skateboarding cool in this era where energy drink hats and pseudo-emotional HD edits are viewed as acceptable.
With much of the genesis of Palace the brand having been discussed many times previously, we thought that it made sense to grab hold of Jack Brooks, currently the head filmer over at Palace, to find out a little bit more regarding the logistics of collecting the raw footage that goes on to feed the Palace machine. Whilst by his own admission, Brooks is not the person sitting in front of the ancient Macbook making the finished edits, (that’s all still done by Lev Tanju), he is still the guy dragging unwieldy cameras around the world collecting the vast majority of the footage and as such, he is as central to the Palace world as is the OG version of iMovie that everything they produce is still edited on.
So, without further ado – sink your teeth into this latest piece and, most likely, seethe with envy that you’re not doing what Brooks is…
Rory Milanes Fence ollie captured by Brooks. Photo: Mike O’Meally
Yes Brooks – hope all is well. So, you’ve just recently got back from a trip to Turkey (not ‘cold turkey’ as I mistakenly read) – what was the script there? Was it a Palace trip?
Turkey was actually a trip for Jetlagbrothers Chewy Cannon and Gunes Ozdogan’s skate travel company. On the trip were Chewy, Gunes, Silas Baxter-Neal, Tommy May, Brian De La Torre, Lucien Clarke and Zander Takemoto taking photos.
Where did you go? I can think of a couple of trips in recent memory that have hit up Istanbul, but beyond that the country seems fairly untested skate-trip wise – how was it?
There was a plan to split the trip between Istanbul and Antalya but there was a massive storm in Antalya so we ended up changing flights and staying in Istanbul, which worked out perfectly because Istanbul has a lot of diverse spots but a lot of the locals just skate this one amazing plaza spot.
The plaza spot was right by our hotel so naturally we started everyday there. It’s funny though because when the locals were taking us to other spots we’d see 2-3 more on the way they’d never noticed… I don’t think the locals leave the plaza much!
Filming is your full-time gig now right? Do you have an official job at Palace?
Yeah I’ve been full time filming for Palace for just over 4 years I think? Not sure I’ve ever been assigned a title really. I guess it would be ‘head filmer’ as we have Austin Bristow and Adam Todhunter filming for Palace now too. I should really ask Lev for a funnier answer to that question I guess.
So what does an average day of work consist of? A lot of the team are close by in London and always out doing stuff so I’m guessing your time is spread out working on various things at the same time, right?
It can vary depending on what’s going on but since Palasonic it’s pretty much been constant trips all over the world. I’ve travelled more in that time than I have in my entire life! At the moment it will usually be a trip somewhere for 2 weeks, then I’ll come back and upload a mountain of tapes for a week, then it’s onto the next place. All that means that I’m always busy with something Palace-related, be it filming, uploading or making timelines. I have maybe 5 projects on the go right now; the next one out should be the Palace Japan edit from our trips there last year but there’s a bunch more stuff ready for after that.
What was the last piece you worked on that came out? Was it that short Detroit piece? Or the Normcore edit for Free?
I had a couple things I’d filmed in the Bronze video “It’s Time” but yeah, the last two things that came out were the little Insta edit to introduce Kyle and Heitor to Palace and the Normcore edit. I’m sitting on quite a bit of footage from all over right now but I’m cool with that, I like the fact Palace takes their time with videos rather than rushing them out constantly.
Let’s take a step back – what’s your own background in skate filming Brooks?
I was born in Brighton and moved around a little as a kid but started skating at around 15/16 when I lived in Margate. I’d always had a skateboard but was introduced to a proper scene there. Everyone would just be at this one spot by the seafront. Before the days of knowing what everyone’s doing at all times with social media, you could go there any day of the week and there’d always be someone skating, hanging out or filming. It was maybe 3-4 years into living there that I tore my ACL and when I’d recovered enough so I was able to come out skating but not actually skate myself, I’d end up filming everyone else and have been since.
What videos influenced you early on and what was it about them that got you hyped on the idea of picking up a camera and capturing what was going on around you?
I was a real nerd with that shit. I had a hard drive with any skate video I could get my hands on. I loved anything skate video related and would try collect them like Pokémon but I think the videos, which stuck with me where the early Zoo York videos, Photosynthesis, Mosaic, The Chocolate tour, The Static videos and Shorty’s Guilty. I particularly liked ‘They Don’t Give A Fuck About Us’ for the feeling throughout that video of a crew of dudes going filming and cracking jokes because that’s what I could relate to.
Which filmers/editors were personal inspirations for you and why?
I never really used to pay much attention to who filmed videos until I saw Dan Wolfe’s video ‘Closure’, that catalogues his early career filming skating, that kind of gave me a good insight into the fact filming skating could be a career.
After that I’d say early R.B. Umali stuff, Josh Stewart and Joe Castrucci. I’d always just look at the way stuff was filmed in videos and try emulate that – that was how those people influenced what I did myself I guess.
How did you come to fall into your current role at Palace? You became a fixture during the filming for Palasonic, right? Or were you already contributing footage earlier than that?
I’d lost a long time Job in a shitty call centre whilst living in Brighton for a spell and was at some kind of emotional rock bottom. I called a long time friend of mine Biko who lived at the infamous skate house in London, the Clapton Castle, who told me to just come and be with my boys and get a change of scenery.
A week later I’d moved in and was sharing a mini-ramp as a bedroom in a living room with Harry Lintell.
A bunch of different travelling skateboarders would always be living there too, along with Morph who was one of the permanent residents. At that time he was going through some stuff and not filming as much as he had been, so he let me help out for a bit with filming responsibilities.
Then at the same time I got a full time job at Slam City Skates but was spending all my nights and weekends filming to the point where I’d started to be late/tired/looking a mess quite often. I even remember filming with Lucien at night with a full blown cold just to get this trick then having to pull myself out of bed and into work in a shop the next day. I was eventually let go from Slam for chronic lateness but with no hard feelings. On that day straight after I called Brady asked him if I could be filming for Palace full time, he said yeah and I have been doing it ever since.
How was it coming into a job at a brand that has such a firmly established aesthetic and look like Palace has, as opposed to doing your own projects? Did it make things easier or harder do you think?
I’d not been filming properly for a while but everyone was making these fancy fully flared-esqe HD edits at the time, which was a bit foreign to me as I’d primarily used a VX1/MK1 set-up because I preferred that more raw look.
When I realised that Morph had shoe-goo’d the MK1 to a VHS camera it was way more comfortable for me in terms of what I was used to. Not that I have anything against HD in general, it’s just a case of preference really.
Is there like a Palace guidebook of how to film, or did you just follow Lev/Morph’s lead on that one?
Stuart Hammond wrote a rough guide on the front of a camera manual once.
It said: “Operating instructions: switch on, don’t leave batteries in the yard, don’t film bait shit, point at Stuart, fade to black hammers, power off, boom, cotch + bun.” Pretty specific instructions to be honest (laughing)…
So you’re running the massive VHS cameras – how many different set ups do you use? Do you have a rack of them in your house?
For Palace the VHS has now been retired from service although I still have a bunch – we are filming just with Betacam’s now.
I do have a VX1 and HD cam for other non-Palace stuff as well.
Those beta things are massive and probably twice as heavy as a HD cam with the big fisheye but it’s worth it for how the footage comes out. My flat is full of massive cameras and stacks of tapes hidden in any available space – I’m surprised my girlfriend puts up with it! The big cases make for good tables though.
What happens when a fisheye that is glued onto a camera gets smashed like on the Normcore trip? Is the whole thing fucked then? Or is it fixable?
On that occasion the whole front glass fell to the concrete and shattered into tiny pieces so there’s not much you can do with that! I’ve smashed and ruined more cameras and fisheyes than I’d like to admit.
What’s the biggest nightmare using those cameras from a filmer/person responsible for collecting/capturing all the footage point of view?
We just last year started using the Beta Cams. Lev had found one and asked me to make it work for filming skating, which was pretty daunting to be honest but fun too. I had to figure it all out from scratch basically there’s not a lot of information about these out there. The biggest issues are that the tapes are only 30 minutes each so you have to take a lot on trips and the cameras themselves are really big and heavy. A VX is a lot more nimble – when you’re filming something fisheye you can almost hug the floor at times and whip it anywhere, but with the beta cams you can knock into things if you’re not careful just because of the size of them. It takes time to be spatially aware when you’re rolling about with them because those cameras have got a big ass. Uploading the footage is the same as uploading any other tape format: it’s just tedious and time consuming.
I’m guessing that the dominance of Instagram means that you’ll often go out without a video camera as such and just shoot on your phone too, right?
I always have the main camera with me when I go out, but filming with a phone usually serves as a good warm up where someone would try something harder. I’m usually just getting to a spot when instantly one of them will hand me or someone else a phone, but like I said, it’s a good way to get someone hyped.
That reminds me – have to ask this one – you filmed Blondey’s near death experience with the taxi that went viral – did you see all the people claiming that it was fake online? Break that scenario down for us – was it as sketchy as it looked?
Yeah, that made me laugh when I saw people claiming that we’d faked it. I can guarantee that there were no Hollywood movie effects involved in that one – it was 100% real.
Blondey had just got back from New York and wanted to film a small VX part and we’d gone to film this tree wallie, which Blondey wanted to do in a line.
It hadn’t dawned on me at the time that he was doing the line right into one of the busiest roads in Central London. I didn’t really register it was actually happening so when he actually got hit either, so I just filmed it like regular skate trick. I don’t say anything when he gets hit either which, looking back on it, probably makes me look like a psycho. It was only after it had happened and we’d run round the corner in fear of some kind of repercussions from the cab driver that it really dawned on me that he had just cart wheeled off a taxi bonnet. Kid has some kind of superhuman ability. He went to A&E afterwards to get checked out and nothing was wrong fortunately!
Equally – have to ask this too – Penny is really close with Lev/Palace crew and was around for a fair bit of time whilst Mwadlands was open. Give us a good Tom anecdote please – everyone loves to hear about The Wizard.
I’d never met Penny before he turned up to Mwadland’s in Timberlands with no board, even though he was coming to skate the park. He just proceeded to borrow people’s boards and float around the place like you’d expect. Eventually when he started doing 360 early grabs over the driveway he borrowed Chewy’s actual skate shoes though and swapped out the Timbo’s. Probably the chillest person I’ve ever met.
“I’d never met Penny before he turned up to Mwadland’s in Timberlands with no board, even though he was coming to skate the park. He just proceeded to borrow people’s boards and float around the place like you’d expect”
Did you film much inside the park?
Yeah before it was open to the public I spent a week or two in there filming an edit for Thrasher with Austin. It was cool because it was before the health and safety guy had been so everyone was just smoking and drinking anywhere whilst skating, which made the vibe really relaxed and made for some good skating. People would just randomly turn up whilst we were filming – like Javier Sarmiento and Zered Basset just rocking up and killing it. Looking back, I’m surprised the whole place didn’t go up in flames before it opened to be honest…
So going back to your role at Palace – which particular clips/videos have you been responsible for filming the majority of?
A large portion of Palasonic, V Nice, The Merchandise, Mwadland’s Raw and most recently, the Betacam Betamaxium Palace and Normcore.
There’s been a bunch of contributing filmers over that time too: like once in New York whilst a bunch of us were there for a month I completely screwed the ligaments in my right knee up about half way through the trip whilst skating Brooklyn Banks and couldn’t film. Luckily Ryan Garshell (of GX1000) was in New York and had a couple of days so took over for me. I’m still really grateful for that, he didn’t even want to be paid – he just said; “I know you’d do the same for me.” Legend! I shouldn’t have really even been walking, let alone filming for a couple of weeks, but I managed to finish the trip with my knee intact and a bunch of clips. I feel like all of the videos are always a group effort.
Which have been the most fun/satisfying to work on? That Normandy trip looked like a good laugh and it must’ve been a trip filming with Chico Brenes, right?
Palasonic was the most satisfying to finish just because filming in London day in day out can start to get really difficult when you get every other team coming through releasing edits constantly and most London spots have a long “ABD” list. When you compare that to trips like the Normandy one, where there’s a unexplainable feeling as you’re somewhere new and at spots you’ve never seen with no ABD constraints – that makes skaters try some out of the box kinda shit. Having Chico with us on that trip was too good I mean you couldn’t ask for a better guest!
They’re all different really but like I say, Palasonic was probably the most satisfying because it was such a mission dealing with London.
Is Chico as cool and as consistent as he seems?
Yeah he’s very chill and very humble. Always down to crack jokes and never once stressed out about anything apart from the one time someone mixed his good coffee with the shitty stuff but he got over that almost instantly. And yeah, his flatground consistency is straight ridiculous. Flatground for days.
Palasonic really shut people up, and proved that Palace’s approach could work in a traditional ‘full-length video’ format. How long was the filming process for that one?
I heard from someone the whole video had taken 7 years but that wasn’t 7 years of non-stop filming really. I think maybe the last 3 years of that is when stuff started to pick up and people were regularly out filming thinking about parts.
I continued on from a stack of footage from Lev, Morph and for a short spell Daniel Kreitem, and just went out with filming with everyone pretty much everyday. I’d make these weekly updates and email them out to the team which meant that when someone stacked one week, it motivated everyone else to get stuff the week after.
For a while it was just me on it, but towards the end of filming Adam, Austin and Michael J Fox were there to help see it to conclusion.
I think this would be an appropriate time to mention Mike O’Meally who was shooting with us a lot whilst we were filming Palasonic. I can’t really explain how, but he brings something out in people, which makes for really good photos and fun high-energy skate sessions which I think helped us finish the video.
I spent a lot of cold nights side by side with Mike trying to get the last tricks to finish the video.
Give us some good behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the filming process of Palasonic please – such a collection of characters on Palace – I can only imagine what kind of antics went on during the filming…
One night Lucien went to Victoria benches in a full orange (flammable) furry tracksuit, a high vis jacket with an electric saw and tried to remove the skatestoppers from the benches. Sparks were flying everywhere and he could have caught fire anytime but he eventually figured that it was going to take too long. Eventually on a different night the skate-stoppers were just smashed off with hammers. I think there was a 3rd time in between those where Rory and Lucien had to escape in an Uber.
Brady and Chewy were raised in an atmosphere of ‘taking filming seriously’ through their involvement with Blueprint – how does their approach to getting footage differ from other people say like Jamal or SP who don’t have that upbringing of militant filming?
I don’t think Chewy was ever down with the “taking filming seriously” approach. He gets to a spot, he shreds and you have to chase after him at the right time.
It’s complete spontaneity and barely ever thought out ahead of time with him. Brady on the other hand, has a more thought out approach and the work ethic of a Spartan. It’s actually rare he will walk away from a spot in defeat and he skates all the spots we go to, it’s incredible. Jamal and SP are pretty laid back when filming but Blondey has a similar approach to Brady. Everyone pretty much always goes in till they have nothing left, we get kicked out, or it starts raining.
All of Palace’s skate video output is famously still edited on an ancient MacBook using OG iMovie – that’s correct, right?
Who owns that piece of technology?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen it but Lev has it.
How much involvement do you have personally with the editing? Are you doing that too, or is Lev still the main person putting the footage that you’ve captured together?
Lev is always the one who makes the edits. After a trip I’ll send him a timeline laid out in parts and all the raw footage and then he works his voodoo on it.
I can’t think of many, if any, other people I’d be comfortable with using all my footage like that. There’s nothing worse than giving someone footage for a video and they use a completely non-fitting piece of music. I once filmed a Heroin edit of Casper when he’d just got on and Fos used some weird punk song called, “I hate babies”. Music is such an important part of videos and it’s something Lev definitely knows how to do right.
Aside from that skate side of Palace’s output – do you get involved in the more high-end stuff too? Like the adidas collab videos, or the recent Ralph Lauren stuff?
Nah, not with the high-end stuff like Ralph Lauren etc.
My role is mostly the skating, although I did get asked to come with a camera to a random car park in the middle of nowhere with no idea what I’d be doing there recently. I get there and see a guy on fire sitting on a motorbike. Some skate footage I’d filmed did go in a Palace advert on a jumbo screen above Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, which was pretty insane. I still don’t think I’ve registered quite how insane that is.
What’s the weirdest situation you’ve found yourself in because of being deep with Palace? I’m guessing celeb shit and all that is a regular occurrence now, right?
I dunno about celeb shit, it’s not like we going to nightclubs with David Beckham or anything, but I did end up going and filming a gig for Freddie Gibbs, which wasn’t for Palace but Torey Goodall’s good friend was the tour manager and he threw the job my way. Just before getting there they asked me if I could bring super soakers with me too. I ended up going to a Pound Shop and getting him a dart gun instead.
You must wake up everyday and be like ‘fuck me – I have the dream job!’ Are there any downsides to working for Palace Brooks?
Yeah, there’s no Palace dental plan and I drink a lot of Coca-Cola.
What are you working on currently? Are there specific projects in the pipeline or is it just a never-ending grind to collect footage that will end up going somewhere? I mean, the Internet is never, ever satisfied is it? You can never have too much footage…
The two things I can talk about are the Japan edit from the Palace trips last year, which should be out very soon and the JLB Istanbul edit which will drop later this year. There are other skate projects in the pipeline for this year too.
It’s nice with Palace to be able to go on multiple trips to the same place and work on something for a while, rather than just making an edit from whatever you get on one trip. I like the fact there’s always something on, but does leave you feeling a bit lost when you finally get free time and that’s usually always when it’s raining.
Where have been the best destinations that you’ve got to travel to through doing this? Detroit must’ve been mental surely?
You know Detroit has a bad rep but it’s definitely not as bad as you’ve seen in 8 mile. There’s a real hipster-esqe/DIY vibe and I didn’t really feel sketched out anywhere we went, although there are a lot of abandoned buildings and houses. There was a trip to Miami where we went to one spot which had pretty much every house boarded up on the street and within 5 minutes of skating the police turned up and kicked us out because they’d had two murders there that week. The sketchiest incident though was probably when nearly the whole team at the time had to gone to check a spot whilst we were in L.A. off the back of Venice Beach at somewhere called Brooks Ave.
It was dark and we all got out the van to look at a ledge when a Jeep with 4 sketchy dudes in it slowly pulled up with the sound of bottles clinking together on the floor so they’d for sure been drinking.
The jeep stops and the guy driving says in a Hispanic accent, “eh homie where you from?” to which Brady replies “London” in a completely English accent.
They looked confused but went to get out of the Jeep and started going for their waistbands as if they were going for guns.
“They looked confused but went to get out of the Jeep and started going for their waistbands as if they were going for guns”
We were told clearly that, “you all wanna leave, this is our area”.
We just calmly got back into the van with Karim at the back of us and I could hear one of them looking at him saying, “take his chain man”, which they didn’t luckily. We all got into the van and drove away a bit shook to say the least until someone said, “Where’s Lucien?” and then someone else asked “Where’s Jamal?”
It turned out that during that altercation, Lucien and Jamal had just looked at each other, said nothing and walked off. We picked them up a couple of minutes later round the corner but obviously never went back to that spot.
You’ve spent extended periods out in the USA too right? Any particular favourite cities?
Philly was a favourite of mine for the nostalgia from all the old videos filmed there. The scene is real tight and everyone has a strong filming ethic and all the spots are really rugged but amazing, although at the same time Philly is ghetto as shit. Chewy and I went to skate with Jamal on a small trip last year and the Airbnb we were booked into wasn’t even built – literally a building site with no beds and no locks on the doors. Also another time Jamal and I went to skate the Muni spot, the one with all the chess pieces and where “run, skate, chill” has pretty much turned into just run and skate. Anyway, we get to Muni and a fight broke out between some homeless drug addicts and someone got stabbed.
We just left and went back to Jamal’s smoked weed and watched Menace II Society. None of that stuff paints the best picture of Philly but cheese steaks make it worth it, trust me. Shout outs to Jamal, Penny, Jahmir, Tracey and all the Philly homies. It’s a real strong scene out there.
Did you get to go to Japan too?
Yeah went to Japan twice last year. One trip was a straight skate trip in Tokyo and Osaka, then the other we did skate a bit but was more of a celebration for the shop opening there. Skating’s hard in Tokyo with the kick out factor but still possible. Japan’s amazing, but if you smoke weed out there it sends any paranoia you have into overdrive. Apologies to anyone in Japan that Chewy and I naused up for weed by the way.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen Lucas do on a skateboard that didn’t get documented?
I don’t know because I didn’t see it. We were filming at Mwadland’s and Lucas did a massive nollie bs heel over the hip and I was filming it but as he rolled away I caught Torey’s face in my viewfinder and stuck with it. Then off camera Lucas does something mental and all I could see is Torey’s reaction to it. I still don’t know now what trick he did.
Is your inner skate geek still innocent enough to freak out sometimes when you’re filming somebody do something shocking?
Oh yeah, for sure – one that sticks out isn’t a particular trick but rather everything I’ve got to see Heitor and Kyle do since they’ve got on. Their skating has this flow and style that’s refreshing and they keep surprising me with the crazy shit they’re capable of. I feel like 2019 is going to be a very good year for the whole squad.
To anybody out there reading this who has aspirations to do something similar to what you’re doing, what advice do you have to give? What’s your secret?
Film everything and never let the person you’re filming see you look over it! Even if you’re exhausted remember that there’s nothing more unmotivating to a skater than them thinking that the filmer isn’t into what they’re trying.
Every skater films differently and you have to cater your approach to that.
Have fun too, it doesn’t have to be serious at all; in fact the silliest sessions are usually really productive. Lastly have some quality control and don’t use every single trick you get in the edit. It’s the Gino effect… Less is more.
Here’s a more general one that I’ve kind of asked everyone doing these – in 2019 where there’s an infinite amount of skate footy getting posted on every platform daily – what is the purpose of the skate filmer and of the more traditional ‘skate video’ in your opinion?
The Instagram posts are moments taken out of context, just a snippet of something happening, whereas I feel like the more traditional skate video is a story with a narrative laid out with a Beginning, Middle and an End.
You need a skate filmer in almost the author role who’s there the whole time with a group of skaters documenting what they do to have that story told in full.
Last one – who has the highest weed consumption to video output ratio on the team and what’s their secret do you think?
Erm…Chewy, purely because he smokes more than everyone else