How we made Vans’ skate film Propeller

How we made Vans’ skate film Propeller
First full-length skate video — Director Greg Hunt and Tony Trujillo talk about intimate moments, pushing against the crowd and taking a snapshot of modern skateboarding.

Before it rolled on to the scene, no-one quite realised how long overdue its appearance was. Vans’ first full-length skate video has been a long time coming, that’s for sure. But after five years in the works, it more than makes up for its un-rushed journey into existence.

We caught Propeller at its London premiere and sat down at House of Vans with Tony Trujillo and director Greg Hunt, who explained how this behemoth of modern skateboarding took shape.

“At one point we were just like what are we doing with this footage?” explains Tony. “Eventually we just had to put a deadline on it. Here’s the goal, let’s fucking do it. This is the team, these are the guys, we’re going to keep you on the road, film, and make it a real thing.”

What emerged is a product of almost pure skateboarding. It’s un-stylised and raw, with just a handful of well-chosen shots taken in the quieter moments that go a along way to building a picture of who these guys are – without relying on cheesy skits.

Greg documented the process throughout by shooting stills and an exhibition of his photographs (above) followed the film on its barnstorming world tour. Here he explains how everything came together.

What were you goals starting out on Propeller?
I think from the beginning, just because how these guys are, I wanted it to be really straightforward. I didn’t want to make anything glossy or flashy. I didn’t want acting in it, I didn’t want there to be corny skits. Because these guys like Anthony [Van Engelen], Trujillo, Rowley, they’re just pretty no bullshit, they’re straight skaters. From the beginning I knew this should be just a straight up skate video: really good, really simple.

As far as the aesthetic, I got really inspired by old rock documentaries, like Stones in Exile and the Bowie doc. Five Years which I really love and watched a lot. I really loved a lot of the candid moments in those films. Like Keith Richards on the couch. He probably doesn’t even know they’re filming and he’s not even doing anything, he’s just sitting there, but in this crazy big house they rented. There’s something about those candid moments that are very real. I really love that. I just wanted to show the way the guys really are.

So how did you go about adding a layer or storytelling to the film?
I love non-activity. With my photos too, I just love people with their guard totally down. I hate those scenes where it’s like, ‘Let me film you setting up your board,’ or, ‘stand in front of this wall,’ and they look really uncomfortable. I would way rather see someone in their element, completely as they are.

I think as a skater, I want to see what these guys really do. Of course, you know they skate, sit at skate spots and high-five people when they land tricks. But I want to see, what do these guys do outside of skateboarding? What’s their home like? Even if it’s just the littlest glimpse, I think that adds so much to it.

The cool thing about spending this much time on a video is you do end up with a lot of amazing little teeny things that happen. Maybe you’re shooting with a really long lens one day of someone way down the street and you catch something. In Anthony’s part, there’s a scene where these guys are doing construction and they crack the pipe under the street and it exploded. I can’t put his reaction into words, but there’s just something about that moment.

Was there anything you did as a director to encourage these ‘improvised’ moments?
I’m not a very socially outward person. With my photography as well, I’m more comfortable being invisible and just documenting things as they are. I like that type of filmmaking and photography as well. I just like real, genuine moments. I like photography when it feels un-staged, where the camera’s almost invisible.

I think with filming too, I’ve never been the type of person to be like, ‘Hey can you both stand there, I want you to do this, then turn around and jump on your board.’ I’d rather just be hiding from far away and get a really special little shot. I think it’s partly because I’m not really very socially confident, even with people I know really well. I just like things as they are, it’s a lot more interesting to me. That’s why the skate videos I’ve done have never been full of skits or anything, I’d just rather film everything around me then put that together and make something.

Were there any moments that particularly stood out for you?
I tried to spend a day or two at home with each of the guys towards the end of shooting. I would mostly just shoot 16mm and tell everyone to do what they normally do, so we’d hang out and shoot. Spending time with Chris Pfanner and his family in Germany, driving around in his car, there was just something about it. As a photographer I knew this was going to be really cool, just what was happening and photographically there were some really cool moments. I think it translates when you see his part. There’s a very strong sense of him.

Looking back through your career, what would you say your biggest creative lessons are?
I always try to look at what everyone else is doing and try to do something different. I know that sounds so simple, but look at how everyone else is editing, filming, skateboarding, or anything. Just try to think about whether there’s a way you could go about it differently. I think coming from skateboarding, skaters are so critical. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is copy someone. I think that’s good about skateboarding, it makes people a little more critical about what they create.

I like the phrase on the poster, ‘a sweeping snapshot of modern skateboarding.’ How did you go about trying to capture what skateboarding is today?
I didn’t come up with that phrase but I think, if anything, this really represents the Vans team now. That’s what I really want. There’s Cab and Hosoi and all those guys in there, but I would never want them to dress up like it’s 1970 and do some skit. Where we are now is really important and I think it is a good snapshot of modern skateboarding.

I think skating has taken a long time but its finally come to a point where skaters appreciate the history. For so long, it was only looking forward and now there’s guys like Elijah Berle. I don’t think he even watches modern videos, he watches 80s videos. That’s what he’s inspired by. I think it’s a really good time to come out with a video that has Tony Alva, Steve Caballero skating and Ray Barbee skating. I feel the crowds really respond to that. Ray Barbee gets a bigger cheer than anyone when he comes on the screen. People trip out. They love Ray Barbee!

So I think it’s a good snapshot of modern skateboarding because we’re at a time now where it’s very progressive but there’s a lot of respect and acknowledgment as to where skateboarding’s come from. I tried my best with this video to balance that, but I do think that reflects where skating’s at now.

Head over to Vans to find out more about Propeller. You can download the film now on iTunes.

Latest on Huck

In photos: Three decades of Glastonbury Festival’s people and subcultures
Photography

In photos: Three decades of Glastonbury Festival’s people and subcultures

A new photobook explores the unique cultural experience and communal spirit found at the UK’s largest festival.

Written by: Isaac Muk

Surreal scenes from the streets of Tokyo
Photography

Surreal scenes from the streets of Tokyo

A new book by photographer Feng Li uses images of strange encounters to explore the historical centre of street photography.

Written by: Isaac Muk

Re-enchanted England: Exploring Paganism and Folklore
Culture

Re-enchanted England: Exploring Paganism and Folklore

A new book dives into the ancient traditions and rituals that many are turning to in an age of uncertainty, crisis and climate breakdown.

Written by: Thomas Andrei

Inside London’s Museum of Sex
Culture

Inside London’s Museum of Sex

For two days only a derelict house in south east London will become a hub of artwork exploring eroticism, sexuality, gender, and the body.

Written by: Brit Dawson

Why is Neil Diamond’s mega-hit ‘Sweet Caroline’ so intoxicating for sports fans?
Outdoors

Why is Neil Diamond’s mega-hit ‘Sweet Caroline’ so intoxicating for sports fans?

During this summer’s edition of the Euros, one certainty is the ubiquity of Diamond’s 1969 hit. But how and why did it gain such a storied place in England fans’ hearts? Jimmy McIntosh investigates.

Written by: Jimmy McIntosh

Can things only get better, again?
Election 2024

Can things only get better, again?

With the re-emergence of D:Ream’s euphoric 1993 hit and a ’97 style Labour landslide looking likely, Hannah Ewens dives deep into the creation of Cool Britannia, and asks experts whether it could be repeated again.

Written by: Hannah Ewens

Sign up to our newsletter

Issue 80: The Ziwe issue

Buy it now