The Follow Up: Jim Greco
Photos: Joey Sinko, Dennis McGrath, Tobin Yelland
Jim Greco has been a lot of things in his 20-plus year skate career and with his second short film, Year 13, just premiering on the Thrasher site, “auteur” can be tentatively added to the ol’ vitae. Two-thousand sixteen’s The Way Out was part '90s throwback vertité, part intimate portrait of one-day-at-a-time suffering (with a Jeremy Klein banger stuffed in there for good measure) and provided a pensive view of an iconic skater we were more accustomed to seeing flying by in two-to-three-minute hails of hammers. We followed up with Jim after seeing his new epic film, so without further ado, here’s Greco…
Tell me about this movie. Is it a video part or is it a movie?
It’s a movie. It’s a short movie. It takes place over a year’s time. It’s the kinda thing that is more visual rather than having a solid narrative. Limited dialogue. Visual narrative. It’s shot on 16, Super 16, digital HD footage that’s shot out onto 35 then digitized back in, iPhone shots that are transferred to 35 as well and some transferred VHS footage. It has kind of a unique aesthetic compared to what’s out there.
Your last film, The Way Out, had many moments that reminded me of Scorsese films.
What are some touchstones this time around as far as what you wanted this to look and feel like?
You know, I’m influenced a lot more by movies but I’m also influenced by a lot of skate videos from back in the day and I think you’ll see a lot of that influence in there—you know, old Rubbish Heap and other World Industries movies from the early ‘90s. Just older movies in general.
In The Way Out, there was a lot of focus on you and your process with what seemed like an emphasis on isolation and preparation—a lot of you getting dressed and undressed.
Well, the thing on the gear from the last one it was trying to illustrate how my day is. It’s a Groundhog’s Day. There’s a lot of different putting on of clothes in a certain time period but that was to convey that this was over an extended period and my life is like a kind of Groundhog’s Day. That’s what that was about. It was a year’s worth of putting on clothes put into one small period of time. That’s what I do: I wake up every morning, I make my coffee, I go skating—there isn’t much of a deviation around this that’s worth talking about. My life is skateboarding. And waking up and staying sober and skating.
I see that you also got Tobin Yelland to come out with you. How did that happen?
Tobin is amazing. Tobin and me had shot years ago shooting an ad when I rode for Emerica shoes. He reached out to me to go shoot some photos one day and I had started this project and we began talking about working together. I had wanted to shoot some film and he was able to shoot all the film. He’s the director of the 16 mm cinematography in the movie. He’s awesome to work with. He’s super fun to go skating with.
What did he bring creatively to the project?
I’ll have an idea for the shot and he might get it even better than I envisioned it. He’ll add his own touch to it. Also working with Joey Sinko, one of my friends. He did all the digital cinematography. I’m really grateful to work with both of them.
Was this one at all easier after making one already?
Yes and no. Yes, in regards to certain technical things we were more conscience about right off the bat such as using similar frame rates throughout on the digital stuff, with the exception of the slow-mos. No, when it came to pretty much everything else.
Talk about the process, how long did you start conceptualizing before you went into action?
I’m always skating and I’m always conceptualizing so I felt like it ran concurrent with this film. I go out skating nearly everyday, so stuff gets shot here and there. I knew I wanted to show all aspects of skateboarding in the most human way possible coming from a personal view. Which, for me, consists of all emotions, failures, successes, living everyday and staying clean.
What kind of film are you mostly shooting?
S16mm Kodak vision3 250d and also some 500, depending on if I am in lower light or not.
Is it difficult to find?
No, you can purchase it from Kodak, easily. Also, Jason Lee contributed a bunch of film. Thank you, Jason!
How much more stressful is filming on film than digital? Do you give yourself a cutoff for tries or what's the process there?
It is very stressful. You are lighting money on fire continually. But no, no cutoffs really.
Shit adds up. It must be super expensive.
Yes, it’s very expensive but totally worth it. The color speaks for it self.
Do you get the film back and then edit it down before transfering or transfer it all digitally and then edit?
For the 16mm stuff, I will have it processed and transferred onto a hard drive. For the digital HD stuff, I will shoot that out onto 35mm film and have it digitized and reimported back onto a hard drive so I have a digital HD file of the 35 mm film. I will then take my entire complete timeline consisting of 16mm and 35mm film—it is a very big ProRes file—and do a final color correction of every frame, so all the colors match beautifully and we can set a mood for the different scenes. Like, for example, in the LA mall; we cooled off the colors really nicely and it looked great. This is very expensive for me, but it is the way it must be done for me to get what I want. People will say left and right that you can achieve all this digitally, but I don't agree. I feel the difference is in the color.
That back 360 lip must have been tough to stop trying. You had that!
Yes, I tried it until I couldn’t anymore. I had to accept the outcome. To be honest, I’m just as happy with the fall as I would have been with the make. It conveys the truth about what goes on out in the streets: you don't always win. So either way would work for me. But I think I will go back and try it again eventually.
Was Sargent involved from the start? How did that come about having him Pastras and J-Lee?
Danny was coming into town and he hit me up a few weeks before and I was really happy to go out and skate with him, when he got into town he called me up I met him and we skated and shot the tricks that were in the film. It was a really fun session! I love Danny. Huge inspiration on my skating and a great person. Jason and Chris's involvement was a similar scenario: we are friends, Jason was coming into town and we had a couple of days hanging out, then we decided to go cruise around and that's when we filmed a couple tricks of them.
For guys of my generation, one of the highlights of the last film was getting to see Jeremy Klein back on the streets and you guys going back to some of the spots from the H-Street and World videos.
Of course. These are people I have looked up to in skating my entire life. You know, to have them even come out and go skating with me is a huge honor, let along being able to capture anything on film with them is awesome. You know, Jeremy Klein is my favorite skateboarder and always has been. And he is my best friend so it’s awesome to hang out with him and skate with him three or four times a week.
Let’s talk about Klein. He’s a little bit of a prickly character. How do you guys get along?
We get along really well.
You don’t get on each other’s nerves? ‘Cause you guys both have really strong personalities. You don’t bug each other?
Nah, we have a lot of fun. Me and him have been friends for 20 years. He helped me come out to California and helped me get my start in things and in skating—the sponsored side of skating—and really made an effort in promoting me early on and we became really good friends right off the bat. He hasn’t changed at all. Same person that I met back then.
What inspired the music selection?
In this film, I did not want to cheap shot people by slapping it to the hits, or too much pop music and power cutting the crap out of it. I wanted it to have a lot of breathing room, but yet maintain a pace that made you feel like skating. I felt Battiato brought it to life in many places as well Mina in the beginning.
Dude, the pork shop scene, so classic! What inspired that and how did it go down?
Ha! Thank you! Nothing much other than it is something I often eat there at Pho 87. It sounds so ridiculous ordering it. I eat it in the morning as well. I wanted dialogue but I wanted it simple. The short food dialogue, I felt tied it all together nicely at the end of the day.
Can you share one of the cooler responses to the movie that meant the most to you?
I like the responses I get from kids that say the film is inspiring them to stay clean and find their skateboard and art or whatever they love again instead of getting loaded every night. It's awesome to have some sort of good effect by power of example through the art.
There’s a cliché that when pro skaters get older they start wall riding and pole jamming to get by, but the kind of skating in your movies, this is what you’re really into, right?
I love all kinds of skating. I’m just enjoying myself and doing everything I want to do. The beauty of skateboarding is that you don’t really have to explain these sort of things, you just do them. That’s a whole other reason I was attracted to skateboarding: there’s really no explanation for skateboarding. You go out and you do it anywhere you want to do it. You break the law doing it. You do it and it’s the greatest feeling ever.
What would your dream scenario be for the next one?
Working with Gonz on a project. I know exactly what I would want to do. I told him; he said it would be cool. It is inspired by a skate spot I grew up seeing that made me want to start skating.
Possible we might see Upson or some of the Connecticut homies? Maybe go find Paulie or the old man?
I would love to get Upson out, but you know it's hard to get footage of him. The best stuff goes down when the camera is off. I've seen crazy shit from that guy throughout my whole life skating with him. He taught me a lot about skating, just through watching him kill it. Love him. As for the old man, we both know he needs his own movie. Old man is the best. Love that guy for life too.
When you think of the keys to staying sober, what has helped you the most and do you have any tips or advice to someone out there that is struggling with it?
What has helped me the most was my father. He was able to talk to me about what this was all about throughout my drinking and using. My father is really smart. He watched me progress in using, telling me what the outcome would be and I told him, "No way. I'll never do this; I’ll never do that," and eventually ended up on the hardest drugs, doing them in the way I swore I wouldn't. Then when I was all messed up he constantly told me about meetings and he shared with me that the only way to to stop was to stop using everything, because one thing will always lead you back to another thing, then you're on a run again. Of course I did not believe him again and after several failed experiments with trying to drink only or do this or that only. I finally developed more of a willingness to stay clean as opposed to wanting to get high. I abandoned any thought that I could manage any sort of drug or alcohol in my life. I came to terms with the fact that, for me, when I took these things, I could not predict nor control when I would stop taking these things. Once I believed that truly in my heart it made the rest come much easier. In the beginning I utilized AA to get myself grounded in the steps to my recovery. Nowadays I stay in touch with addicts and alcoholics on a daily basis on the phone or just in everyday life, sharing my experience when asked for advice or help or I share if I need help. I still check in once and awhile to AA meetings.
What's next for you?
Next I'm working on filming some stuff for my best friend Jeremy Klein's movie thats coming out. It’s going to be really fun. We have lots of cool stuff planned that we want to do. I'm really excited for that. I'm also working on some stuff with Supra that's going to be really awesome.
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