HEADER IMAGE BY SCOTT FURKAY (@FURKAY)
A love letter to New York, Montreal-born filmmaker Jeremy Elkin’s latest documentary “All the Streets Are Silent” paints a gritty, cultural portrait of two of the largest subcultures in the early 80s and 90s. Featuring narration by Eli Gesner (co-founder of Zoo York), and an original score by legendary hip-hop producer Large Professor (Nas, A Tribe Called Quest), ATSAS takes it’s viewers on a journey through original, remastered footage from the 90s, immersing them in the early beginnings of modern day street culture. Off the Hook had the chance to sit down and chat with Jeremy after his premiere about his new documentary as he takes us behind the scenes to tell his own story about how a young kid from downtown MTL filming skate videos moved to New York to eventually work for Vanity Fair.
Hi there Jeremy! For our readers who don’t know who you are, could you give them a brief lowdown on who you are and what it is that you do?
My name is Jeremy Elkin, I’m a documentary filmmaker originally from Montreal, currently living in New York.
JEREMY ELKIN AT THE ATSAS PREMIERE | PHOTO: JACOB CONSENSTEIN (@JACOB.CONSENSTEIN)
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. How’s it going?
Pretty good! We’ve got a new potential project that we’re working on—another documentary.
Sounds like you have a pretty busy schedule! For someone that’s been filmmaking since like ‘06/’07, does it happen pretty often for you to get double booked or to be working on multiple projects at the same time?
Oh, all the time. For ATSAS, we’ve done over at least 50-100 client projects and 3 other documentaries while working on this one. It’s always like this layered cake of projects.
ATSAS CREW FROM LEFT TO RIGHT | DANA BROWN (PRODUCER), LARGE PROFESSOR (ORIGINAL SCORE), ELI GESNER (NARRATOR), YUKI WATANABE, JEREMY ELKIN (DIRECTOR)
For someone that was born and raised here in Montreal, how is it that you ended up all the way out in New York to produce this documentary?
There’s a lot that happened between 2009 and early 2017 when I started making the film.
Basically, I moved to New York in 2009, so I’ve been here for a little while now. My mom’s side of the family is from the Bronx and my father was from MTL, but there’s always been this pull to go to New York. NY always felt like a bigger and shinier version of MTL.
When I think about why I moved here in the first place, I always think about how I always wanted to get to the source of where things are coming from and how people get connected. How it all happens. Everything that I was interested in was kind of rooted in New York and I figured that out at a pretty early age. I kept wanting to come back down to New York. Whether it was to watch a skate video on the sidewalk outside of Supreme, or go skate by the water and run into skaters that were visiting from all over the world. It was pretty obvious to me that everyone was coming to New York because it had this big “pull.” People from Montreal were coming down here, people from California were coming here, it just felt like a natural progression to move.
So you packed it all up to move down to NY.
Yeah it definitely wasn’t easy. It was obviously a struggle, there was a huge amount of work that went into being able to live here and not have to move back and retreat home. I had saved a bit of money and I moved to New York thinking it would last me a bit of time. Something like 6 months you know? It lasted me more like … 6 weeks. Money goes quickly here [laughs]
I heard once you move to New York, you’re not fully living in New York until a good year into it. The entire first year, you’re not living, you’re surviving.
Oh yeah! For me that was the first 3 years of life here. Full survival mode, we’re talking not eating three meals a day, living in a tenement building with a 6 story walk-up, no toilet in the unit, shared internet. But you did whatever you could to get cheap rent so you could keep on filming skate videos.
A lot of it is luck and a lot of it is just trying to get somewhere. At first I was just crashing on my brother Josh’s couch until I found a place in Brooklyn which turned out to be two blocks away from where Josh Stewart was living. He’s a great skate video maker with common interests.
At the time, the internet wasn’t what it is now. Instagram and DMs didn’t exist yet, so it was a lot of phone calls (long distance for me since I was still rocking my Montreal cell), until I actually realized I lived right by him. I started working for him with his skate distribution company, Theories of Atlantis, and eventually got on-board with the “Static 4” video. That took about 4 years to finish.
I would pick up gigs left and right just so that I could eat. Literally do anything to stay down here, running between different gigs and being introduced to different people. That was my life for the first few years in New York. In the middle of all that hecticness, I was still working in a café a few days a week and making my skate videos.
Eventually, I landed at Thrillist where I met the Fat Jewish. Another Josh. This was before he had a famous IG. I was sitting next to him with a bunch of other people trying to do make something happen. We were interviewing hip-hop artists, doing editorials for the website, I was doing video. It's very much “right place right time”. We made a bunch of videos over the 6 months that we were there. A few of them went viral, but most didn’t. I quit soon after I heard they wanted to kill [the video department] because it was too expensive.
Soon after that, I randomly went to a club (which is def out of character for me) and met a creative director from Tasting Table who was like, “What are you up to?” and I was just like “Oh, I just quit my job but I have a skate video premiering tomorrow. You should come.” He came to the premiere and the next morning he was like, “Come work for me!”
NO WAY. Just, randomly like that?
That’s just how it works in New York. Same as MTL. Small towns. Anyway, I worked for him for like two months while job hunting for other opportunities and that’s how I got to Vanity Fair. The day I went in for the interview, they told me they had like 500-600 applicants… but, they were only interviewing me. Needless to say, I got the job.
That’s a pretty impressive story honestly. So then, you started working on ATSAS after Vanity Fair?
I started working on the project because I was always very curious how the skate video “Mixtape” happened. I knew Eli Gesner, the founder of Zoo York, through hiring him to do a graffiti handstyle for a skate video I did in 2012.
ELI GESNER AT THE ATSAS PREMIERE | PHOTO: JACOB CONSENSTEIN (@JACOB.CONSENSTEIN)
Was that The Brodies video?
Yeah, The Brodies. Eli did his Zoo York and Phat Farm tags for that video.
Yeah. So I hired him to do that and right around that time I was moving from Brooklyn into the city on the west side. We ran into each other and figured out we lived pretty close to each other. Eventually, we started getting lunch together every few months.
Every few months?
Yeah, I’m not the type of person to want to rush things or be too aggressive with people. I personally take, like, decades to form relationships. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but with him, it was probably a good 3 to 4 years before I even asked if I could see one of his tapes. I knew he filmed some legendary hip hop acts in the 90s. I knew he had a video camera on him all the time. What I didn’t know was how exactly “Mixtape” happened so once I started asking him about that, the documentary started forming.
Eli was like: “If you catalog and digitize my archive, I’ll let you “do” something with it.” That was the initial discussion.
We ended up putting in 4 to 6 months to look into what he had in his archive. We weren’t even actually importing and digitizing anything yet we were just watching everything and figuring out if there was a story or a movie to be made from all this.
So you had to go through years of analog footage and then digitize it to then watch it?
He had hundreds of drives with low-res versions of all his tapes...but his total archive was like a few thousand tapes.
So most of the work was really trying to figure out what tape had what material on it. A lot of it wasn’t labelled properly. Eli will be the first to tell you that, he just put them in a box and that was it. So the first step was really just trying to figure out what was in this archive he had built over the years. Eventually, we figured out that there was a pretty big story that could be told through a timeline of Eli’s tapes from his time as a club promoter to Zoo York all the way to Supreme, etc.
OVER 5000+ HOURS OF ARCHIVAL MATERIALS WERE EDITED INTO THE STORY FROM YUKI WATANABE, ELI GESNER AND RB UMALI | Photo: Zander Taketomo (@zandertaketomo)
So in the end, how long did it take you to produce the whole documentary? From ideation, to sound design and writing a storyline, how long did it all take?
Normally with no funding, it normally takes like 8 to 10 years. We did it in like ... 4? Thankfully I didn’t have too many commercial projects during most of COVID so I was able to focus on doing new interviews, recutting the documentary and developing the story more. Everything sort of came together during the pandemic, that’s around the same time when Large Professor came on too.
LARGE PROFESSOR AT THE ATSAS PREMIERE | PHOTO: JACOB CONSENSTEIN (@JACOB.CONSENSTEIN)
That’s insane...and even then, within those 4 years, the film changed quite a bit didn’t it? We read up on an interview where you stated that you did something like 54 interviews but had to cut it down quite a bit.
Yeah, we cut it down to like 36 or 37 interviews. (R.I.P. Huf, he was obviously one of them)
Back then the big question was just “What if we shoot over 50 interviews but we’re just using the ones that make the most sense for this story?”
Because we were doing so many interviews. We were also gaining all that knowledge from each one of them and applying it to the story line. Every interview was super valuable to us whether they were in the documentary or not because it helped us piece together the story and figure out what the truth is.
How long were you filming skate videos in the beginning? I guess you could say that filming skate videos was kind of like your starting point.
About 10 years.
Damn, okay. And have you come back to Montreal since then to see what the skate scene is like? How would you say the skate scene has changed since then?
The biggest difference for me is the attention to history gets sort of lost. Now, everything is accepted and you can do almost whatever you want at a skate spot and there would be no beef. These days if a pro pulls up to a spot, the majority of the kids skating won’t know who they are. Back then, if you were skating and a pro pulled up. You sat down. You weren't allowed to skate until the guy left because it was embarrassing. You’re over here trying to learn how to do a simple trick and this guy is going 5x your speed. It’s two different skill levels. The craft and the respect have changed. Everyone is chill, and everyone is homies with each other because of IG. It’s very positive.
It’s just very different now. Skaters now will be filming a trick that’s been done like 10-15 years ago and they’re out here celebrating. Back then, you couldn’t disrespect another skater like that—filming the same trick at the same spot. I guess it was more like a graffiti mentality.
Things have definitely changed quite a bit. Where does Montreal stand now vs 20 years ago when you left? How is the Montreal skate scene perceived in New York or perhaps globally from your point of view?
I think the main difference for me is that Montreal is now part of the conversation [in the skate scene]. You hear people talk about Dime and Montreal in a way that you could NEVER hear them talk about before. Back then, you would mention Montreal and people would say: “Where is that?” Do you mean Montreal, Montana?” “Oh, Canada.”
Montreal has now become part of a cultural conversation more than it ever was. You can find people walking down the street in New York now, wearing Dime. It’s pretty crazy to think about.
When I was coming down here to make skate videos in the mid-2000s, no one knew anything about Montreal. They didn’t know what Peace Park was [laughs].
Because back then, there were no videos being shared. There were a few of us filming skate videos but none of us had any distribution outside of Canada. So videos like Lebeau’s All Night Long and Lazy Paparazzi stayed local. Being able to distribute videos outside the territory, helped grow the local skate scene a lot. The same thing can be said about Vancouver and Toronto. Instagram and YouTube helped propel Canadian skate characters and the scenes to new heights in ways that weren't possible before the internet. Getting any distribution deal back then was insane. Getting your videos out, globally, was a pretty big challenge.
Now...you post the right thing and every kid around the world can see it. But yeah, props to the Dime guys helping elevate Montreal. They did a great job tapping into the lighter side of skating. Their videos have a certain humor to it that appeals to people outside of the skate scene.
Lastly, for any readers who are looking to get into film making; As a creative that’s been filming skate videos since age of 13, on a little Nikon 775 to working on-set with Thrillist and Vanity Fair using top-of-the-line gear like RED Cameras and Zeiss lenses. Does your gear really matter when you’re starting out?
The gear only matters when it hinders an idea. If you have some brilliant idea to film a shot that starts at the top of a building, down into the streets to then track someone skating but you can’t do that because you have an iPhone or an old camera. Then, the gear matters. Otherwise, it doesn’t. Look at filmmakers like Spike Jonze. He uses literally any kind of camera and it doesn’t matter, it’ll still be memorable.
I think it’s more about control and learning what you can and can’t do with whatever camera you have on-hand.
...I wish I had an iPhone when I first started out. The Nikon 775 isn’t even a video camera. It’s a camera designed mainly to take pictures but you could take 13 second clips on it. So every 14 seconds, the camera would cut, save to the 64mb card and then you would have to shoot your next clip. On top of that, there was no sound so I would have to record the sound separately and then layer it. That was basically as tech-y as it got back then on no budget. Back then, that camera cost about maybe 400$ and the card cost about 200$ because most cards back then barely had 1 or 2 mb on ‘em.
Thank you so much for your time Jeremy! We’re super excited to help spread the word about your documentary. You can watch Jeremy’s latest documentary “All the Streets Are Silent” in theaters at Cinéma Moderne here in Montreal or stream it now on Hotdocs. The documentary will also be available on Apple TV, Apple iTunes Store and Vimeo, September 7th, 2021. Keep scrolling to see some photos of the ATSAS Premiere at the Village East Theater in New York!
ATSAS PREMIERE | PHOTO: JACOB CONSENSTEIN (@JACOB.CONSENSTEIN)
ATSAS PREMIERE | PHOTO: JACOB CONSENSTEIN (@JACOB.CONSENSTEIN)
ATSAS PREMIERE | PHOTO: SCOTT FURKAY (@FURKAY)
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT | KOOL KEITH, ULTRAMAGNETIC MCs, BOOGIE BLIND OF THE X-ECUTIONERS, LARGE PROFESSOR
PHOTO: SCOTT FURKAY (@FURKAY)
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: DANA BROWN, KOOL KEITH, LARGE PROFESSOR, ELI GESNER, JEREMY ELKIN, YUKI WATANABE |
PHOTO: SCOTT FURKAY (@FURKAY)
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: DANA BROWN, LARGE PROFESSOR, ELI GESNER, JEREMY ELKIN, YUKI WATANABE | PHOTO: SCOTT FURKAY (@FURKAY)