Lens Crafters: Melodrama, Torment, and Filming with Jon Stark
Jon Stark has been a busy man this past season and by the titles of his two new projects, Melodrama and Torment, you might think he is over it. But his latest endeavors spell the exact opposite. Spending the winter chasing Bode Merrill and the crew of riders handpicked for Melodrama, Stark not only filmed and edited the feature, but shot photographs throughout the season as well. Which brings us to his second undertaking, Torment, a magazine that Stark is starting with a good friend to pay it forward to up-and-coming snowboard photographers. Briefly coming out of the editing bay just long enough to talk with us down in Southern California, we caught up with Jon to see if he can hear himself think.
M: So Jon, what did you do this season?
Jon: I filmed with Bode Merrill, Mike Liddle, Johnny Brady, Garrett Warnick, Erik Leon, and Jesse Paul for a movie called Melodrama.
M: Melodrama, what was some if the drama that happened then?
J: Well, we started the year off going to Italy. Bode chose to do X Games Real Snow to help fund the project, which was an incredible, selfless act by him. And we started the year going off to Italy. He was jetlagged, didn't snowboard half the time… finally rode… got hurt. We got maybe one or two tricks for his part, and for the movie. We flew all the way back home kind of with our tail between our legs.
M: Not the best start.
J: Not the best start. Then, our next trip with the rest of the crew for the movie, we drove to Calgary, it was negative thirty and the eco-diesel truck froze the first day we were there. Couldn't drive it. We didn't have a vehicle… three days later it defrosts, and then Jesse Paul breaks his leg. Yeah.
M: It was frozen for three days?
J: It was frozen, yeah. Had to defrost inside a dealership for three days. We finally get it back, we hit a couple spots, and then Jesse broke his leg in a pretty – like he had already gotten the trick and he felt like he could do it better. Sat for second, got back into the mix, and then ended up doing the old ping pong to the other side, which you see a lot in snowboarding. So, then that happened, and yeah. We immediately went to Montreal after that, and I'm comfortable being there, I know a lot of spots…. But we got there and there was eighteen inches of snow on the ground and it immediately rained an inch and a half, and it was the gnarliest rain – it's the gnarliest ice I've ever seen, ever. Ever. Then we pretty much spent the rest of our season in Japan, where you're running from police at all times.
J: So, it's just like, all that tied in a bow and you get melodrama. The video is travel based and I have never made a video that wasn't part-part-part-part-part. So, this was kind of my way of looking at what surf videos are. It's more exciting to see a group of people riding together. There's nothing wrong with an individual to have their three and a half minutes on the screen, I appreciate that more than anyone if anything, but I really like watching people ride together, and I think that's really exciting to watch.
M: Let's focus on some of the positives. What were some of your highlights from the season?
J: I'd say just the traveling. I've gotten to travel here and there, but I've been a real domestic filmer for the most part. I've made the most of towns in the United States and through Canada, and I've started getting to the backcountry stuff, but that's been kind of still domestic. But this season I got to go to Amsterdam, Italy, Montreal, Calgary, and then I went to Japan, which I had never done… for six and a half weeks! Half the movie is Japan.
M: Whoa, that's sick.
J: Mhm. Yeah. It was a pretty humbling experience. You are figuring out for weeks at a time the best times to hit things, and you really have to use your brain to get away with stuff because it's almost impossible.
M: Was the whole crew out in Japan for the entirety?
J: Almost. Bode came and went for small periods of time. But I think almost the entire rest of the crew was there for at least a month to six weeks.
M: That's hard to get, that many incredible riders in a single place for that long. Working wise, you've shot with all of or just the majority of those guys before?
J: I think I had filmed with everybody but Erik Leon before, but Erik and I have lived with each other before. Just never filmed with each other.
J: He was pretty much the only new – I used to live in Minneapolis, and I'd known Mike, he was in some of my original park edits way back in the day, but Erik was really the only one I hadn't filmed with before, because the rest of the dudes – Johnny Brady was in Rendered with me, Bode and Worm were in Pepper last year, yeah, and Mike I had known from Minnesota and then Jesse, I'd been roommates with him, I filmed with him, I filmed multiple parts with him.
M: So, this is kind of a family movie as well?
J: Yeah, I mean it was a small crew. This is the smallest crew I've ever filmed a project with.
M: Any other filmers?
J: Yeah, Joe Carter. Joe Carter helped me, and then Ian Boll helped me a lot, too.
M: We saw a few of his photos. Pretty insane.
M: So Louif is in it too?
J: Yeah. There's a bunch of random friends in it – Riley Nickerson, Louif Paradis, Pat Moore, Chris Grenier, Spencer Schubert… yeah.
Half/Off- Directed by Jon Stark
M: For us nerds, what was your kit mostly?
J: The kit. So, this year I've been shooting on the Panasonic AC160, but I picked up a Bolex 16mm and shot almost – probably all the B roll and all the cut angles are shot on 16mm.
M: How did you come up filming? Obviously, you have a long list of videos.
J: Yeah, I mean I guess in cliff notes version, I got out of school and saw all my friends suffer getting jobs and it made me understand that maybe chasing something that seemed a little improbable at the time might be a little realistic. And I just took out a loan, got a camera, knew Jonas Michilot, started filming randomly, had enough footage, made a movie, got juiced. Made a second movie, started paying for them myself, and it kind of just snowballed into a career I guess? This is my seventh or eighth snowboard movie – Working for the City, Working for the City 2, Defenders of Awesome 2, Rendered Useless, Half Off, DAE, Pepper…
M: Where did you go to school?
J: CU Boulder.
M: For film?
J: No, it was business. I have a business administration degree.
M: And I want to talk about – you said you did the whole – you were shooting and photographing at the same time, right?
J: Yeah. You heard that?
M: We talked about it at QP Campout.
J: Oh, yeah. Yeah, so I was doing a lot of remote triggering stuff, and if someone was down after I got the digital, and then maybe I got them to do it 16, then I would ask them to do a photo. Ian and I, Ian Boll and I curated our own sixty-page magazine called Torment that's coming out in two weeks.
J: Yeah, I have never been so challenged. I've gotten really used to the challenges that video gives me, of overcoming things through the editing process or trying to bring the best out of people during the filming process… but laying something out in InDesign and understanding proper layout and what looks good and photo editing was all a completely alien world to me, and Ian kind of held my hand through it and we somehow produced this thing. I'm about to have 220 pounds of paper showing up to my house next week.
The whole idea behind Torment is, there's just such an excess of photos that don't get used, and there's so few young photographers right now. It is cool to get new blood and new views and new life into something. We're going to be selling the magazine, and one-hundred percent of the proceeds after printing are going to bringing young photographers out on trips next year.
A Jon Stark classic- Lords of the Chicken 8
M: Do you think there's a shortage of either up and coming filmers or photographers, or both?
J: One hundred percent. Yeah. And this is an incredibly passionate thing I've been getting behind, because for every Seamus Foster, who's 25 or 26, there is not that many dudes out there that are making their own snowboard movies. I made three or four videos before I ever even received a check from snowboarding. And there's just so few kids out there that are grabbing their cameras, grabbing their friends, and making edits. I mean there are some –The Bruners and Dustbox and those kinds of dudes – but I felt like when I got into it, there were so many more of us. And that's just the filmer side, on the photography side, there's even less of them.
M: Why is it important to give back to up-and-coming filmers and photographers?
J: Well, I think everyone needs a start, and with shrinking resources nowadays, unless they are really spending their own money and their own dime and making giant sacrifices and dumping their debt onto credit cards like I did for Rendered Useless… I mean Rendered Useless was four years ago and I just, two, three months ago, I just paid off the credit card.
This is my way of taking a little bit of responsibility, now I can try to get these guys on trips and there is no excuse. Like bringing Ian Boll – he was on trips shooting amazing photos, as you know, but also helped shoot 16mm. I mean, he's priceless to me. And he's such a close friend and so easygoing and has filmed so many video parts in that past that he can talk to the guys.
I don't expect others to do it. If we can create something that's visually exciting for people to pick up and look at, and then at the same time it's benefitting the bigger picture, which is getting these kids – Ian – and others on trips, then it's like all you could ever ask for. It's really just giving life to these photos that otherwise would be lifeless on Instagram. In my editor's note I literally say something like you don't have any chance against the algorithm, but it's just nice to look up from your phone for a second and pick up a magazine and be like, "Damn! Look at this photo of Lou!
M: So, you're obviously a filmer, that's what your upbringing was in. Have you been shooting photos throughout as well?
J: I think I got my first camera my freshman year of college when I started noticing I liked documenting moments. It had nothing to do with skateboarding or snowboarding or anything. I was just documenting the life I was living at the time because I moved out West, all these exciting things were happening.
M: Okay, and then, so cut to – you've been shooting and documenting off and on for your past eight movies, but never like this. You were the primary photographer as well? With Ian?
J: Yeah, I mean we just didn't have very many photographers coming out with us. I think E-Stone came out with us once, Ben Gavelda came out with us a little… I'm not going to go out there and say I'm this crazy photographer, but I love doing it. And the better I get at composing a photo, the exponentially better I get at filming a clip.
M: Camera setup?
J: 7D. 70-200, 18-15 fisheye, and a 50mm… all Cannon lenses.
M: And you were shooting everything remote?
J: Almost everything. If they weren't down to do it twice, it was remote or I was even getting Mike Liddle to just pull the trigger, or Johnny Brady to just pull the trigger.
M: Do you give them photo credit if they pull the trigger?
J: Yeah, they got photo credit. Sometimes I would set it up and screw up and Mike would – he's never shot photos in his life – Mike would make the adjustment. It was incredible.
When Mike Liddle is not hitting the shutter…
M: Alright, challenges of shooting remote triggers and filming at the same time. That's a lot to balance.
J: Yeah. I'd say be very comfortable in one.
M: And the other one is a happy accident experiment?
J: Yeah. I mean, photos always came second, because my job is to make a video. But if no one's there shooting the photo, it's a tragedy for all these amazing things occurring without any photo documentation and that was kind of the whole driving point… how can we continue to just have all these photos go nowhere, or no photos at all? And these kids or pros or whatever are sacrificing their bodies. We should document every second of these people's lives. I mean even if it's the lifestyle stuff or what's happening around you. It's amazing when you have a camera inn your hands and how much the worlds opens up all of the sudden and then it just comes right back, and my filming is just that much better. I mean, if you see me all season, I have a 7D around on one hip and I have the Bolex in my hand on the other and that was pretty much my entire season.
M: Alright. There's not many people that can talk about the debate between photo and video so how do you feel about it? If you log an insane clip or shoot a banger photo, what are you more stoked on?
J: Fucked up photo.
J: Oh yeah. For sure.
M: As a life-long filmer?
J: Yeah. I mean, I think I remember seeing Ian's angle of the ender of the movie, and I was way more hyped on that photo than my video clip. I filmed it the way I wanted it, and we had 16mm cuts, and digital and everything, but when I saw Ian's photo, and I was like oh my…
J: I value when you can use your own imagination. A video clip tends to tell the entire story, A-Z. Shit, maybe A-Y, and then there's a little something about the clip that doesn't translate… you didn't film it to make it look big enough, or some cliché thing that filmers say.
M: The same can be said with photos.
J: Yeah, but with photos, you trigger an imagination in someone, and that's the greatest thing. Like with my editing and a song, I can bring you into a world you may have not understood before and I can bring you in and show it to you and create this imaginary thing and show how much fun you're having with it all, but with one single photo – I mean to use an example from a photo, Cole's boardslide on the curved rail… when that came out it's like, I cannot wait to see that video clip, but look at this thing. But something like that, I mean…
I have all these theories about snowboarding, especially street photography. Street snowboarding is progressing in such a way that a singular photo, it's hard to just have one single photo tell the entire story of the spot. But when you do get that one boardslide or that one something and it just all lines up, there's nothing better than that.
There was no expectation on me for the photos, so being able to do whatever I want, it was just free reign. I'm shooting all this random stuff and a couple photos came out, but it was just like, trial and error, trial and error, it's like a photo doesn't have to look a certain way, that's the beauty of it.