Split Personality: Mike Manzoori On Being A Skate Filmer In BMX
"I didn’t have to film random bike guys; I just cut to the chase and filmed some of the best in the world"
Words and photos by Rob Dolecki, with additional interview questions by Joe Rich and John Povah
The name Mike Manzoori is already familiar in the world of skateboarding. With his name credited in multiple epic videos over the last few decades, Mike has become one of the best in the game behind the lens of a video camera. In the BMX realm, Mike has been steadily making a mark since taking the lead role in filming and editing etnies last full-length video ‘Grounded’. He also leaped headfirst into collecting footage for the brand’s upcoming ‘Chapters’ video and will be heading up the editing duties.
After peeping some of the compiled footage for ‘Chapters’ on recent trips it’s a safe bet to say this video is going to be next level when it comes to filming quality (and of course the riding). So if you’re not familiar with Mike’s name, now is the time to get educated. Read on to learn more about one of the most talented dudes that’s making BMX look pretty amazing...
Want to introduce yourself?
I’m Mike and I do video production for Etnies, and I'm currently working on Etnies 'Chapters' with Will Stroud.
When did you get into filming?
I started filming my friends around '93 or '94. It was around the time my friends first had access to camcorders; we would just hand the camera back and forth. The job of a filmer in skateboarding didn’t really exist. I rode for etnies and Adrenaline; there were always good people to film. As the position of a filmer became created, in the late 90s I started getting some pretty heavy injuries from skating, and I couldn’t really be in front of the camera much, so by default I was the guy to film the homies, and they happened to be good and professional! So that was my foot in the door to do work for skate brands.
What are some skate video projects you worked on over the years?
Back in the day I did a video for Sheep Shoes, which was an offshoot brand of etnies; I rode for the team and also made the video. The first eS video, "Menikmati" with French Fred. "This Is Skateboarding", the Emerica video; I worked on that with John Miner. "Stay Gold"; heaps and heaps of etnies videos over the years. Bike riders tend to know more about skateboarding videos than I do. I feel embarrassed, because I’m only scratching the surface of BMX. It seems like bike riders are really focused on both, being skate fans as much as bike fans. It doesn’t work the other way around very often.
When did you start filming bike riders?
An etnies tour in the UK. Joe Rich came over with Mike Escamilla and a bunch of guys. (Editors note: This trip was covered in DIG issue 8, 1999.Mike even wrote a short article that we ran in DIG issue 9). That was my first taste of it, and I've been loving it ever since.
What are some of the differences between filming skateboarding and BMX?
There are a lot of similarities, and a lot of differences. Skateboarders bail a lot more. The commitment level is a little bit up compared to skateboarding. The only time skateboarders tend to commit is when they are trying bigger rails or gaps. I’ve been really fortunate in that I didn’t have to film random bike guys; I just cut to the chase and filmed some of the best in the world. To me the bike riders tend to be really consistent. In essence it’s all the same stuff, jumping down and having fun.
How has it been working on Etnies 'Chapters' compared to past projects?
When we talked about doing 'Chapters' I got really excited. I worked a lot on 'Grounded' with Stew Johnson and that was a really fun project. The idea of starting a new one? and the team is really motivated, it’s on. The first two videos, 'Forward' and 'Grounded', seemed to have a pretty good impact. The pressure’s on even more, almost; we got a little bit of a reputation to live up to in that respect. I think the guys on the team also feel that. Any time you’re working on a project where everyone’s got the same level of motivation and spark is great. Skate videos are the same, but I feel like whenever I’m working with skaters, they have several projects going at once. With this video, I know everyone is filming for other projects here and there, but when we get together, they’re just focused on this with me or Will (Stroud). This is a big deal for them, so they’re coming through.
How would you compare 'Grounded' to 'Chapters'?
The riding style, it keeps blowing my mind. Everything just gets bigger, everything’s just that much better. I don’t think there’s quite as many riders, so it seems more focused. I don’t think it will be quite as epic in size, but hopefully we’ll make up for it in quality. The landscape of videos has changed. 'Grounded' was a DV project. The level of video production has been raised since 'Grounded'. We’ve been flooded with amazing toys that are now affordable, so you can get higher level production quality without spending a fortune. I remember back then, not many BMX filmers would skate and film. You get a little lower to the ground and a slightly different look, which I think the bike riders appreciated. These days with the equipment, a web edit could be a mini-movie that’s pretty epic. I feel a lot more pressure on me to do good. It’s not just capturing the tricks, but telling a whole story. It’s a lot more fun.
"We’re in the same world and just trying to get our kicks whichever way we can, whether it’s two wheels or four, transitions or streets - it’s all the same shit really."
What’s your approach to filming skating and riding?
Whether I’m filming bikes or skateboarding, the last few years I’ve been trying to shake the fisheye. Every video, skate or bike, has a lot of fisheye shots. It has it’s place, but it’s nice to leave that lens until you really need it and see what else you can do. It’s a little more challenging, but it makes you think and try to be more creative. Because the production quality has improved overall, the audience is ready for more than just riding. It’s nice to have that space to add different things create that vibe or atmosphere. Riders get so good these days, they have so much awesome stuff on tap, I think the challenge for riders and me is to deliver something that is has more worth to it. It’s a milestone for bike riding, Etnies, and the riders careers. I don’t ever go on websites and look at videos, unless I know the guy. There’s just so much of it, if I block all that out, do what I see and think is rad, I feel like hopefully it’s going to stand alone and be a little bit different. I don’t know how kids keep up with how much good media there is these days. It’s overwhelming.
Who’s some of your favorite riders to watch?
I grew up riding a lot of transitions when I was younger, so I really appreciate bowl riding and ramp riding. Watching everyone kill the T-1 ramp in February; I was in heaven. Seeing Joe (Rich) fly around that thing and make it shake - that thing was built better than most people’s houses. Ruben making it look so effortless on his bike, Clint made the ramp look like trails, Chase - he’s next level. When it comes to street riding, I’ve been on the road with Nathan lately, where I’ve been both terrified for him, and blown away with all his amazing things. Pretty much everyone I get to film on Etnies are my favorites because these are the guys I know.
Are there any elements of skate filming and bike filming that don’t work for each other?
Bikes go way faster; I used to film with a lot more following on a skateboard but for the most part it’s really hard to keep up with these guys. That’s adds a new challenge, which is good. It’s nice to try and think of new ways to capture what the hell is going on. Generally the speed and height. With skateboarding I know what’s going to happen.
With all the projects you have going on, how often do you get completely stoked with what you’re doing?
Currently I’m filming a full-length skate video at the same time as a BMX full-length, and I can’t believe I agreed to that; I’m kind of an idiot. I’m trying really hard to not let one suffer. I tend to come back from one BMX trip, home two days, then go on a skate trip; the ultimate back and forth. Because it’s not the same five dudes constantly I think every trip you just get fired up. You get out of your element and explore. It’s a new sense of adventure and new spots. If the guys aren’t into it, there’s no way I can be motivated. When they come with that much motivation, that fires me up, and that’s all it takes, really. You can’t get bored off that. It’s not a 9-5 job, and you really love what you’re doing. When you’re in that situation, it’s not a drag to get up early and stay out late, go the distance; you gotta get it while you can. It’s been a 20-year dream that I’ve got to film skating and BMX’ing. The more you put into it the more you get back. If you’re not stoked, go home and do something else.
Have you ever gotten the opportunity to take skaters to a spot that you found because of bikes, and if so, were they psyched?
(Laughter) I can’t think of any, but I feel like it might have worked at some point. Normally it works the other way around. The type of stuff bikes can ride is so much more open. Skaters have to worry about every little crack and surface detail. Just the fact that skating is really noisy and annoying for people; bikes can be at a spot for a half hour before anyone notices. Guys on bikes just don’t waste time.
"...“Oh, they tear up the ledges.” You tear up the ledges too. It’s not your ledge; you didn’t build this city. It’s all fair game."
How do skaters react to you filming bikes?
The Etnies team? they’ve been doing it long enough for them to get their head around that I don’t just film them, and have other commitments. I could tell they are a little sore sometimes when I’m not available. Everyone wants to get theirs, so if you have to give it up for someone else, it sucks, especially if it’s someone that’s not even skating. It’s definitely interesting rolling up to a skate spot or a skatepark or something, and I’m with a bunch of bike riders, and we all pile out of the van. I almost relish it, because you get the weird looks, comments under their breath. It’s like trying food you’ve never had before. It’s something different to these guys. Once they had a taste of it, and they can appreciate it. I’ve done it a couple times when BMXers and skaters are on the same trip. Afterwards I can see the skate team have a newfound respect. It’s one of things you have to see it in front of your eyes and experience it, and it’s not just something else separate from you. We’re in the same world and just trying to get our kicks whichever way we can, whether it’s two wheels or four, transitions or streets; it’s all the same shit, really.
What happens when you roll up to a skatepark that doesn’t allow bikes?
It’s happened a couple of times where I’ll go talk to the skaters and see if we can win them over. If you come with such high-caliber riders, it’s a lot easier for people to let you come into their world and they give you more space. If you were with some random kids getting in the way and not being mutually respectful, that would be a different story. It’s just a case of earning each others’ respect. Unfortunately it’s a bit one-way. Where I’m from in England it wasn’t like that. Not much to ride, not much good weather, you had to share the space and time and that spilled out into the streets. I never understood the whole thing, “Oh, they tear up the ledges.” You tear up the ledges too. It’s not your ledge; you didn’t build this city. It’s all fair game.
How do you see the current vibe with putting out a full-length video these days?
These days for a brand to basic a full-length video, is a bigger commitment than ever. The landscape of putting out video projects has changed. Everything is available at the palm of your hand. The last ten years the whole idea of putting out a full-length video was questionable. What are you going to do to make that video so substantial that people care enough to buy it, or would consider it on an elevated level. That’s quite a challenge. You have to make something that’s very special. How do you even put out a video these days. There was a minute where you could make a couple of bucks off a VHS of DVD. Now there are so many options to watch it. I think the people who skate or ride really appreciate a full-length still. I’m pleasantly surprised that kids seem to be still receptive to it. If something is delivered in the right context, I think that is still appreciated. I don’t know why people thought they were over it, it’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. I remember going to video premieres and being so psyched. I wonder if kids still get the same buzz. I feel like I grew up in a golden era. I hope kids are getting that same buzz. It’s a sense of responsibility on our part to try and deliver something special that wants to make them a part of something.
"Currently I’m filming a full-length skate video at the same time as a BMX full-length, and I can’t believe I agreed to that; I’m kind of an idiot."- Mike Manzoori
Behind-The-Scenes On The Holy Loch
"Let's Just Make It About Space"