words and photos: Desiree Melancon
Build a nuclear bomb. Bring it to Old Faithful.
Blow up the biggest hot spot on Earth…. Giant super volcano.
Cover the world in ash. Lower the temperature on Earth.
Four-year winter. Film all year round.
– Jon Stark, the mouth breather.
Panting as he word-vomited this out last night. He believed he was onto something and I kinda did, too.
For those of you who don't know, this is a classic Stark quote. He's a mad man. Borderline insane. Most the time, he's rambling rhyming schemes about puppy dogs while building puppy forts and teasing puppies with peanut butter yum-yums. The other times he's chanting, "Gabby Maiden." Everything and anything is, and will always be, "Gabby Maiden." All while driving himself to insanity, binge-editing in the living room.
As of now, Stark and I live together. He moved in for the summer to create HALF/OFF, one of three Videograss projects this year. We sat down in our driveway to have a conversation about his winter, feelings, and inspirations a few hours before the premiere.
Jon Stark: Tonight we will be showing the unfinished version that Jeremy Thornberg, Jake Durham, Riley Erikson, Sam Fenton and myself filmed. Riley Nickerson, Layne Treeter, Jordan Smalls, Jordan Morse, Brady Lem, Jesse Gouveia, Colin Wilson, Cole Navin, and Mammouth Durette are the main guys in it.
Desiree Melancon: I mean, it's almost a rag to riches ordeal. The crazy guy who showed up in California in 2010 as the Ashbury intern–the guy who our entire friend crew was put off by because he couldn't stop aggressively fanning out on every pro snowboarder who came over to my house–managed to find a path and climb his way up the fabricated filmer rungs to premiere his own Videograss project, which is playing in four hours.
It's amazing. It was not even five years ago that I came to camp for the first time and they showed Bon Voyage. I remember sitting there and it was so important for me to be there. It was so insane for me to watch my favorite snowboarders. I watched them watch themselves, then watched them watch their friends snowboard. And to make my own, it's better. Crazy. Justin is pretty amazing for letting me do this. I'm proud. Yeah. Things don't always work out the way you plan, and I am incredibly happy to be in this situation. Snowboarding's progressing so fast and it's so sick to be there and document it the best way possible. To show it and to do it by trying to give it the most justice you can, with integrity and character. It's crazy.
How did getting involved with Videograss even happen?
I didn't have a job at the beginning of the winter. Then in the same week Cole Navin asked me to do Real Snow and Meyer asked me to possibly work out the idea of a third Videograss film. I was happy to try and entertain that idea. We only got started half way through the year. The first trip was in February. I wrapped up Navin's Real Snow on January 31st. Then went right into HALF/OFF.
It's insane to begin to plan a movie in December, pretty late don't you think? What were the Stark differences?
Focusing on one person for two months, and then focusing on six individuals for two months–it provides so many different scenarios and your focus has to be so much more general and spread out. Instead of just building one singular minute and a half video part, you had to accommodate for an entire video. I definitely struggled going from one project to the next right off the bat because it was a different vibe. I definitely struggled. Cole was really meticulous with the spots he would hit and we didn't really waste much time on the process. That was just one individual. Then when we switched over, it was just non-stop shoveling, non-stop filming, non-stop waking people up and getting them out of the house, and non-stop eating, pretty much. For two-and-a-half months. Non-stop eating.
Were any of the riders grandfathered in because they were in Rendered Useless?
I love involving people I already have a history with. It's so much less of a surprise. You know what you are getting yourself into. You know how to treat them: give them their space or push them in the direction they need, in order to do what they want that makes them happy, film a video part. I don't even know what the question was. What was the question?
Oh man. (laughing) Well, was there anyone new you got to work with?
Riley [Nickerson] and I had never really filmed before and he is an emotional beast. A turmoil tornado from Texas. I had to learn to read Riley before I could get comfortable with him. Filming someone is always so personal that getting to know them is almost mandatory.
Describe your filming approach, maybe? I know you're a bit of a poker. You have a power to influence a rider in all aspects of getting a clip. I'm saying that from experience working with you, even.
I just know what I enjoy out of a snowboard video and the process tends to be one where you can take many routes. I take one where finding the ideal thing to snowboard on then doing it it with style and ease is the way to go about it. With suggestion came some of the finest things I've filmed. Sometimes people don't see it in themselves, see what they are fully capable of and when you have someone pushing externally, it really allows the person to see it–and it's almost happened every single year.
Layne arrives at the house.
Exactly. I think you have a unique ability to push riders in a certain way. We all function differently though. Well, give me the run down of HALF/OFF this year.
We started in Boston–
Syracuse. (Jerm Thornburg chimes in. He's been sitting next to us the entire time.)
What? Well, technically I was still doing real snow. Okay, I guess Jerm started in Syracuse. I mean, "we" started. Then we went to Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and then Chicoutimi. As time went on, we were finding better spots, then finding better things. It started slow but by the end of it, we were at a place in our minds and physically where we were getting things done amazingly. I mean. It was really slow going. You have to ask me what the difference between filming VG and Rendered Useless were.
(laughing) Okay, what were the differences between filming VG and Rendered Useless?
Both movies were bringing a bunch of people who didn't necessarily know each other together to make something great, but with this, it was so expedited. So expedited that, in the product it's one-third the length of the movie, and there was such an abstractly different group of humans. The contrast between the two–they are almost incomparable.
(still laughing) It makes sense that they aren't comparable. One year can sometimes be a whole lifetime. Maybe give me a story from the year. One about Layne?
Oh! The day we tried to do the under bar. It sucked. Personally the lowest day we had. We went to go hit the spot that Jonas does the line in These Days. It's two flat bars on either side of a walkway. He does a lipslide, lands, does a backtail, lands, and then giggles and is wearing a scarf. We went to it and saw that the under bar on the under portion of the spot had been cut out, and we were kind of having a hard time. It felt as if time was running out for us in the season, so we were trying to just press hard. I remember this day, and this thing, it did not want to slide properly. It was iron-garbage-metal and we weren't even feeling it that much. Layne totally slid a tailslide on the under bar and caught his edge, slammed his head into the handrail that was above it. Then the cops showed up and they didn't even speak English. It was a shitty moment. Then, we went to restaurant called, Poutineville.
[to Layne] Yo, Layne! Remember when we went and ate our sadness away? Yeah, we went to Poutineville and ate giant poutines.
That was the worst day I had filming all year.
What was the best day you had filming?
Oh my god, rainbow season. Rainbow season was the best day. You will see it in the movie. Layne disappeared one day when we were hitting a spot in Quebec City, then came back two and a half hours later with a coffee in his hand and a bunch of pictures on his phone. He had found this thing. It was hard to believe seeing it at first, because it seemed so impossible, because so much had to go into it to make it possible. Layne and I drove to it one morning–six and a half hours later it happened. I don't think we could have put any more effort into it. All the pieces, just enough snow and everything was just right, and it happened. And it was the best. It was rainbow season.
Jesus. How was it editing in Oregon?
I wanted to be in Oregon for my sixth summer in a row. I love working here. The coffee, the food, the people, the coast, and the mountain. Great place to have a dog. I just quietly edited and created this twenty-five-minute film. The vibe in Portland is one I like to work in. Aeropress my coffee, CBGB's, dog walk, feed Miki, turn on the computer, listen to some music, get in the mood. Then depending on how I feel, I will edit anywhere from four to ten hours a day. Every day, almost.
Yeah, I watched most of the process. What are some of the creative habits you have?
Going to the coast and walking Miki. Walking her is my little secret. I take the song I'm editing away from the computer and think about it in a completely different context. I've been doing this for the last few years. I use walking her aggressively to figure things out without having to actually be in front of the computer.
Any video inspirations you had that helped to direct HALF/OFF?
Right off the bat, the GX1000 and Polar videos I probably/definitely watched maybe too many times. Psychic Migrations was a giant inspiration; it's such a good one. I watched Encore a lot. It's hard not to watch Louif's part over and over again.
Anything you want to say about the film?
The name of the film is HALF/OFF and after speaking to Meyer, we are going to offer the film at half the price that other Videograss movies have been listed at in the past. The name is open for interpretation. Everyone in the movie can draw from the name in a different way.
Do you think it will bum out the riders being like, "Fuck, we just went straight to 50% off, we aren't even worth full price?"
I mean kinda, but that's just how we felt. There are two other Videograss projects going on. We didn't want it to be a pity party, but at a time it felt like we were just slopping something together that didn't matter too much. In a sense, you know, to all of us–you know when you're just out there filming and you have no idea what you're actually doing? Like when you're living in the moment, in between breakfast and dinner, in a sense.
If I were Stark and Meyer I would offer the video for double the price of old Videograss films. Every rider absolutely killed it. It goes back to the original Videograss mission statement: No skipped parts.
Our conversation ended here. I continued on to interview Jerm a bit, and then Lane.
Jerm was the first to see the completed film. He was thoroughly impressed and surprised. Going so far as to say that Stark's "unpredictable," which I find exciting since they filmed together for most the year.
Lane said a few things, but nothing he said really matters, because after seeing his video part, all of his humble words are irrelevant. He had one clip until February 23, 2016. He filmed his video part in nine weeks, with no expectations. Mind-blowing.
I personally loved it. In a time where everyone is expecting things to be different, and wanting people to take the bait, Stark delivered a beautifully done, traditional part-part-part snowboarding video. Three things that really set it apart from the average movie were the length, the cameos, and the music. It's twenty-five minuets long. Maybe the new golden ratio? The movie's cameos were littered with all of our pro snowboarders' favorite snowboarders. A heavy list consisting of Jake Moore, Matt Boudreaux, Emile Veilleux, Dillon Ojo, Blake Paul, Gus Warbington, Bar Dadon, Ben Biladeau, Christian Buliung, Spencer Schubert and Louif Paradis. Then, Stark did some audio manipulation that snowboarding films haven't really picked up on (aside from Video Mixtape that Colton Morgan made a couple years back). I asked Stark about editing the audio and this is what he had to say.
"The idea that you can make it an easier watch on the viewer. How can you make it visually and audibly, a better experience? It's by making it fluid. I've been trying to think about ways–if you have to make a part-part-part movie and if there is an expectation for it. The least you can do is make it so it's smooth and easy for the viewer, where it's almost like one giant stroke, instead if twenty little ones.”
Stark and I went back and forth in agreement.
Pride yourself on the soundtrack. A bad soundtrack can ruin a movie. A bad song can ruin a part. A great song can change your career.
Thanks, guys for a great movie.