October 2, 2011

The Full Interview With Steve Berra – Part 3 of 4

This interview originally appeared in part in issue 18 of Pop Magazine.

It’s taken a little white to get here but it is well worth the wait! Steele Saunders has become a semi-qualified audio tech and has cleaned up all four parts of the interview with Berra to make for much easier listening. In this section Berra talks about making films, the reasons for starting the Berrics and the logistics of the park. You can read the section below or head over here to listen to it. Steele’s interviews are all available through his podcast as well which you can subscribe to here. Enjoy! Part four will be up shortly.

Photos: Mike Blabac.

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… Continued from Part 2.

How’d you become skateboarding’s Mark Zuckerberg?
[Laughs] After Sundance I had such a bad time there, and I realized I didn’t want to live in the film world in the way a lot of people live in it. I had an opportunity that no one in the film world had, which was this whole other career where millions of kids knew me. There was this void in skate media. There’s a guy – I started Berrics for a lot of reasons… Let me back up. I had such a bad time in Sundance, and I thought that it mattered what you – you put your heart and soul into a film and making it in the Sundance Film Festival as one of 16 movies in competition. It didn’t matter as much as what you’re led to believe.
    It’s not Sundance. They care about movies, but it’s a lot of the other aspects of just going to a big film festival. Sundance cares about movies, but the experience there is when you have all this other riff raff of people wanting to get free stuff. It kind of sucks, and I’ve never been that guy. I don’t really go to parties. I don’t shmooze with people. I don’t feel comfortable doing that.

I actually spoke to you at a party in Melbourne and you were at the end of your life [laughter].
I probably was. When was this?

Like an Airwalk tour.
When I was with Tony?

Yeah, and it was like “I’m not pleased to be here.”
No, [laughs], that’s funny. That’s really funny.

I was like “Ah, there’s a vert ramp here and free alcohol.” [Laughs]
That’s funny, man. I’ve never been the dude. I like to work. I want to work, skate, or do something. Parties to me are too uncomfortable and my mind is always somewhere else. And I don’t drink, so it’s not fun for me. I’ve never drunk. I never started.
    I was figuring out what I was going to do. I knew I had to film for the Alien Workshop video. I got offered a million bucks to do another movie, and at the time I was totally broke because I spent a year and a half working on this movie.

This is to write a movie?
To write and direct a movie, and I was like “I need the money so bad,” and that’s a lot of money but I said no because I had to film the Workshop video and I wasn’t comfortable with not doing that.

Did that film end up getting made?
No, because it was a script that I wrote, they offered a million bucks for my script and for me to direct it. I couldn’t do it. It’s funny because I know some of the things that people say about me, and they couldn’t be so wrong, so much more wrong. If I was all about making money I certainly wouldn’t be doing this. [laughs] Look at our offices.
    But, I just looked at skating and I was like okay here I’m gone for a year and a half, and skating had not changed, but technology had changed. The DVD was dead. It’s even more dead now than it was three years ago.
    There’s got to be a different way. I was always a guy that was like yeah you got a website, that’s cool. Cool with your website, I’m going to go with this magazine right here, and there’s a great thing in the No Country for Old Men, like that movie – I always had a hard time, what does that mean “no country for old men?” And then he talks about in that scene near the end where he’s like “You can bitch and complain about how kids don’t open the door for you anymore, walk an old lady across the street, but that’s all you’re going to be doing is bitching and complaining. This is no country for old men.” I was like okay now I get that.
    I didn’t want to be the guy that was like “You and your fucking iPod, I got my Walkman, I’m cool with that.”

It’s quite a leap [Laughs] from that line to skateboard website.
The magazines just move too slow, and you had a guy that for two years works on a video part, holds his footage, and holds his photos or three years in some cases, or four years in the Flip video. You’re going where is this guy? He’s my favourite skater, I’m in eighth grade.
    By the time you see your favourite skater again, you’re a junior in high school. You’ve gone through puberty, probably lost your virginity, have a driver’s license. Massive amounts of change you go through, and then you start to think here I see So-and-So now, I’m a junior in high school, I loved him when I was in eighth grade. That seems a long time ago.
    When you’re 25, and three years go by, it’s a lot quicker than when you’re 13 or 14. All I wanted to do is I knew we have this hook because there were a lot of kids that always would ask Eric and I about our building. “Someday I’ll come to your skate park,” everywhere, all over the world.
    That was minimal exposure of it. I realized we were on to something, like a Studio 54, and I was sitting there one day as I was skating and I think it was Andrew Reynolds that I’d seen do a heel flip, backside, tailside on the ledge. It was so perfect and awesome. I never left Nebraska mentally to a degree, like I’m still a fan of anyone who skates incredible, ends up just skating.
    So if a kid from Nebraska could see how being on this side of the baker’s window, if he could see what goes on here and how we make the bread, and what temperature we cook the bread at, they would be psyched. I just started coming up with ideas of what we could do.
    We could do something for the companies, we could do something for the pro, we could do something for the am. They come in here, they don’t spend a lot of time, two or three days they could get their Battle Commanders done, the Recruit done; a Younited Nations could be done in about two days. Film it, put it together and it’s a promotion for them in between these huge projects. They’re not going to burn out their footage in the streets. They can do it here and it’s fine. It’s not like they’re going to do their hardest stuff.
    Then Guy Mariano went and filmed some crazy fucking part, and then the bars kept getting lifted more and more each month, each Battle Commander, each Recruit, and then we had all this footage and that’s when I came up with Bangin!
    It was like why don’t we do a guy that has anywhere from between five to ten tricks, and just raw, Bangin! Let’s have Reda do the thing at the end, come up with a logo, Bangin!

This is just for the kids. Does he record all those at once?
Yes, absolutely, we recorded those on my balcony. This is when the site was done out of my house. We recorded those on my balcony. He did about 100 of them. “Bangin! Bangin! Bangin! That was bangin,” over and over and over. Chase has a library and he just picks one.

I imagine if you’re 14 that would be a skate park debate.
Absolutely, “Does he do it every time?” No, they’re about three years old now. [Laughs]

Okay, it’s an Unsolved Mysteries revealing for people.
There’s a lot of stuff that I just came up with, keeping in mind how can this help a pro? How can this help an upcoming am? How can this help the company? And make it very clear that’s what it was for. A guy can come in, maybe he can’t film a Battle Commander, maybe he doesn’t have the time. He comes in, films a couple tricks, and give him a Bangin!

As you said with the Mariano part, it seemed at the start it was a pretty casual, let’s do some tricks in the park, and now it seems like people are staying there all night, and quite a serious and major thing for their career.
Yeah, for sure, which is crazy. The skaters out there in the world have so much reverence for it, and that’s why it’s become so important.

How weird is that, that in 2011 skateboarding’s Embarcadero is in a warehouse – don’t you think that if you’d said that in the nineties, it seems like some bizarre, Big Brother dark world concept? No way.
I know, it’s kind of crazy. You know why I think it’s also caught on like that is because a lot of the skaters out there don’t live in these big metropolitan cities. All they have is their skate park they can go to. It’s not like when we were younger, where you could have free rein of the planet. You could kind of skate anywhere. There weren’t security guards like there are now. The police weren’t some paramilitary force trying to bust you every chance they could get. It was still there but not like it is now.
    Skate stoppers everywhere, so the only thing they really identify with is their skate park, and this is “our” skate park. They’re interested in what goes on there because also a lot of kids I don’t think will ever go to Hollywood High. They may never go to The Berrics either, but they don’t even have something that looks like Hollywood High around the house.
    I think people relate to it because we have a humanistic approach to how we deliver the content.

How does the actual park work?
Who skates?

If you’re a pro, when can you go? How does the logistics of that work?
It used to be just come by, see who’s skating. Now that it’s become so big, Chase tries to schedule things out with people. You saw our war room, where we try to schedule things out six months at a time, and we’re a bit behind right now, but we know Battle of The Berrics is coming now. We know when these things are starting to happen. Like Torey Pudwill’s Battle Commander is going to go up in March, or April. This Recruit is going to be in April, and this Recruit is going to be in May, and this Battle Commander…
    Once we figure out the scheduling we plan out who is really going to have time at the park. The Text Yo Selves and all that stuff kind of happens naturally, but people come by and say “Hey, I want to do a Bangin!, I want to work on a Bangin! real quick,” so they just try to schedule it out with Chase. I don’t really have any part of it. There isn’t anyone that I say no you can’t work on that or anything like that. I mainly try to come up with all the ideas, and have those guys sort it out.
    It’s not like a political thing. The magazines can get political and we’re not like that. We don’t say bad things about skaters. We don’t have comments on the site because I don’t want someone who is a friend of mine come in, film some stuff, and do some stuff, and then kids like it but there are a couple of those kids who will comment, “That was awesome!” or “This guy’s a fucking asshole!” Then have my friend read that and have his feelings hurt by that. It’s not cool.

Is there a designated time where it’s just free skate?
No, not really, I mean we tried to implement from 1-3 everybody who is friends of Eric’s basically, and people that ride for The Berrics, like Mo and Biebel and Guy Mariano and stuff like that could skate, because Guy and Bieble and Mark Johnson and Dillon went and got a warehouse because they couldn’t ever skate at the park.

It seems like if you’re just watching the site that people – Chico Brenes comes by for a skate.
He lives a couple blocks away. Chico lives four blocks that way so a lot of people do come by, or they’ll call Chase and ask if anyone has something scheduled, “No? Okay, we’re going to come by and skate.” So it’s a combination of both.
    If Mike had something scheduled and he was going to film his trick for Battle Commander, it’s like lights out, no one is skating at the park. It’s a combination of both.

Do kids hang out at the front?
Yeah, all the time.

How’s that work? [Laughs]
I go over there usually when they’re not there. I rarely see them but Chase is always dealing with them. They want free boards or want to take a photo of some of the guys there. It’s pretty cool. It’s fine, and Rob’s place is on the same street, just down about 400 yards, so they stop by Fantasy Factory and then they come to us, or they go to us and then go to Fantasy Factory. We’re a bit more accessible, because it’s just a door. Rob has a big gate and everything.

In your opinion or from what you’ve heard, is there a general level of pressure at the park, to skate well?
For sure, that’s why we tried to redo the park. We’ve redone the park three times. We’re about to redo the park again. Actually we’re going to move into a new building and have a park three times the size, and build more stuff for the guys so they can do a lot more stuff.
    When you go and skate and try to film for your Battle Commander, after P Rod skated, or Shane O’Neill, you’re like “Oh fuck, what am I going to do?” But a lot of guys find a way to get creative and they know a lot of eyeballs are watching, and there’s a lot of other stuff you can do on the site that really shows not only how good you are at skating, but just that you’re a cool guy and you have a personality. A lot of young skaters connect to that.

How much now are brands saying you’ve got to go down to the park and get a –
Get a Bangin! – I think a lot of them are. I think a lot of brands see the value in their riders doing a Bangin! or Recruit/Battle Commander, which is great because that’s what it’s there for, not for me to have a Bangin! every week.

In the 2000’s like 411 was the outlet. And now it will be The Berrics, it’s a similar thing. Have you ever looked at the viewership, how different it is to how many kids would see a profile in 411 compared to a battle commander? Have you ever looked at it?
    I’ve never looked at it but I know The Berrics has a much larger audience, simply because DVDs were still very limited, and I’ve heard the 411 comparison, not that you’re comparing it, but the 411 comparison a bit. I can see it but for the most part I don’t see it because it’s so different. The way we deliver our content is different. 411 you get a DVD and you’re there for an hour watching it. On the site you can check in, couple days a week, or couple times per day and get a new segment, a short spurt of three or four minutes. It’s not just skating, it’s a bunch of other stuff. No offense to 411, but I think the quality of our storytelling is a lot better than they ever had.

Just a bit more on the logistics on how the park works, you’ve never really a part from on the site, any tricks anywhere else. Maybe a few tricks in the Lakai video, some manual tricks and stuff, and in your DVS part. Is that a rule?
Yeah, no one can film at The Berrics. If you do and it shows up on YouTube, you’re not coming back. You also have to protect what you’re doing so if Berrics’ footage ends up all over the place, then The Berrics isn’t The Berrics.

You’ve got so many different skaters in there from different companies, different walks of life. Is it a mellow vibe?
It’s mellow. For the most part everyone that’s skated there from the beginning were all buddies and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do The Berrics also was because Eric and I were talking and I was like “Look, I don’t think people know that you could see Ellington skating the rail and Greco, and then see Biebel and see P Rod. A lot of the kids don’t realize a lot of the pros are friends.

A kid sees it as a pro wrestling faction, there’s that team and –
Yeah, so I wanted to show there’s a lot of camaraderie between guys, even if they have different styles, skate differently, or different viewpoints. The common denominator is they all riding a skateboard, whether or not it’s the same way is irrelevant.

Another obvious thing the site’s done is blown skateboarders up.
For sure.

I think the Cory Kennedy one, the ‘send in the video’.
Shane O’Neill…

That’s pretty amazing power. How does that feel?
I knew it could always be done and it was a matter of doing it. It’s a matter of creating the perspective that you want to create in the minds of all the people that are watching it. I truly feel anyone that’s really gifted, you can do that with. It’s very easy to do it with Shane and Cory. But it’s great to see people who I think deserve to be on another level, or in the thoughts of all the kids’ minds. It’s awesome to be able to do that for somebody.
    Eric and I wish that we had that when we were younger, and if we having spent 19-20 years – and to a degree we did. Tony Hawk really backed the shit out of me, and so I just wanted to be able to do that for other guys.

The mag we’re doing it for is based in Melbourne where Shane’s from. How have you seen personally – I see him skate at spots and think when he grows a bit and gets some pop he’s going to be good. I didn’t think anyone could be that good. I didn’t think anyone could ever be that good.
Me neither.

Have you seen that since he’s been over here?
I didn’t see him – I was aware of him a little bit when he would go and stay with P Rod and skate his park, as this little guy “Nugget,” but I hated that nickname so much that I honestly wouldn’t pay him any attention. I am not a fan of the nicknames, as we discussed.
    And that’s why you’ve never seen on The Berrics, you never see “Nugget.” We don’t call him Nugget, and if he has been called Nugget on The Berrics, it’s been a mistake that hasn’t been run by me, but it’s always Shane O’Neill. For him, I know he’s not going to want to be Nugget his whole life.
    When he started coming on the radar a bit more, I’d see him skate at the park, started seeing footage of him, started talking to Brad at Skate Mental, and started talking to him, then saw his footage and I was like “Wow! This dude is insane.” And that’s when is started trying to come up with a campaign for his video part, which was all the really relevant, amazing pros watching his part, that we secretly recorded. They didn’t know; just to show you think these guys are good? Look at what they’re watching, and look at their reaction.
    I truly think him, Mike Mo, Cory Kennedy and Felipe Gustavo are the best skateboarders alive right now. That’s not discounting Koston because he’s always at the top. But besides Koston, those four guys – I’ve never seen anything like it.

Having the video download was a bit of an experiment that had never been done, as far as I know.

How do you think that went?
I was looking at it as it’s part of the story of The Berrics. There were definitely glitches. There were glitches in Daewon’s part. For the most part, it was really successful. Shane got paid more than any skater has ever been paid for a video part, so that’s great. I’m proud of that. I think it went great. Besides having a couple technical glitches, that’s fine, but to me that’s okay because who’s running this thing? Me and Eric, we’re not iTunes. I think skaters are willing to be on our side because we’re kind of doing it for them. It’s like we’re not Apple, we’re just some skaters trying to build something here.
    So everybody that participated in that and Daewon’s part, participated in sort of groundbreaking history. You’re going to see it. Transworld’s going to do it. Thrasher I’m sure will do it. You’ll see it but we sort of blazed that path saying it can be done.

It has to be done that way.
There’s no other way. To me, it’s funny because I get a lot of flak for it, paying for Shane O’Neill’s part, paying for Daewon’s part. It’s a fucking dollar for one, or three bucks for Shane’s. We made it a dollar for Daewon’s because half his part was filmed inside a warehouse. We wanted him to feel comfortable.
    But street footage is way too hard to come by to just give away for free. I truly believe if they can pay for a ringer on their phone they can pay for someone’s street part they put two years into.
    A Battle Commander’s different. It’s in a controlled environment. The skateboarding part of it is hard, but all the other elements of going and filming for a skateboard part have been taken out of it, so that’s why it takes exponentially less time.

In Australia I would pay – the new video comes out, and it’s a premiere, and it comes out, and just physically getting the DVD to Australia is a month. To have that thing where I can just click –
You can release a video all over the world on the same day.

And also importing and stuff, you’re getting out of a lot of the costs that have nothing to do with skateboarding, like shipping, duty and the printing…
The DVD, the box, everything. Some people really like that and that’s why you offer them a limited edition one that they can buy too and have a physical copy.

Obviously you’re eyeballs deep in the skateboard industry more than you ever have been.

How is the skateboarding industry? Obviously there was a talk of a big downturn a few years ago. How is it now?
I think we’re still going through it. I think a lot of companies are really having a tough time. The economy’s really tough in America especially. I’m not sure how it is over in Australia. I know Brazil’s strong, but for the most part the world is in a pretty tough spot.
    I think also – yeah, there’s some companies that are scrambling. I don’t know if all of them will make it. I hope they do and part of the reason why I wanted to really – there’s a lot of reasons why we started this, and they were all to create a healthier industry. One of them was to get people interested in pro boards again, get people interested in videos, whether it be an actual hard copy or actual video download; to get people interested in independent skate shops.
    It’s also been posed that I’m really against mall stores, which I’m not. I live in America. That’s their right to open a business. It’s a capitalist country. They can be in business and I’m not even against them. They bought a lot of my shoes over the years. It’s why I’ve been able to do this, but at the same time there has to be someone that looks out and is at least interested in small, mom and pop businesses. It can’t just be a one-party system.


The fourth and final part will be available very soon. Stay tuned…

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by POP Magazine