Meeting… Chris Thiessen!

portrait: Benjamin Deberdt
not talking "rules", skateboarding always liked to have (and take pride) in its codes - its very own, original cultural institutions, first birthed by its most creative and forward-thinking enthusiasts, whose legacy is then bound to remain cherished ALONG TIME by those of us insiders who get to best appreciate the respective contributions. the yearly full-length videos issued by transworld skateboarding magazine, now nearing their thirtieth installment, have to be right up there with the most popular, critically acclaimed (and anticipated) skate films ; The man most notably behind the two latest chapters in the series ("substance" and "riddles in mathematics"), chris thiessen, was kind enough to set some time aside for us to discuss influences, editorial choices, his personal background in skate filmmaking and more. thanks, chris!
LIVE Skateboard Media: Hey Chris, thanks for doing this.
So, when did you first take up filming and making videos? Most people know you from the former installment in the TransWorld Skateboarding series of full-length video, Substance; others from your former work with the Threads Idea Vacuum. May you give a brief history of your background in filming, the videos you ever contributed to, and how you eventually became the trusted successor & engineer of the institution that is the TWS skate film legacy?
Chris Thiessen: I started filming and making videos in 2006. I had friends around that were filming and working on projects and it got me interested in trying it as well.
I did 3 independent videos in Atlanta from 2006-2009; the second of which was titled Meanwhile [editor's note: no relation with the Yoan Taillandier video of the same name], and was what led me to TransWorld.
Chris Ray & Jon Holland came through Atlanta on a TransWorld filming trip and I tagged along showing them spots, and filming second angles. I gave Chris a copy of Meanwhile. He dug it and, a month or so later, he called me and asked if I was interested in working with TransWorld and moving out west from Atlanta. I was on break at work at the post office, where I had a collections route running packages. We kept in touch and from there I headed out west 6 months later.
Shortly before I left Atlanta for California I finished my third independent video, Hellawood. 
Hellawood is still my favorite project I've done. Such good times with my friends in Atlanta for that one.
I did web projects for TransWorld the first few years I was there. This was when they were going all HD, so I started using the Panasonic for TransWorld projects. Once Chris Ray parted ways with TransWorld I was able to step up into his spot and start working on the videos with Jon Holland.
The first full-length video I helped film with Jon was Perpetual Motion. It was amazing to work with Jon. He's an awesome guy and being on trips with him and Skin Phillips was amazing. It felt like being on a TransWorld trip from the TransWorld videos I grew up watching, with those guys. We would pull the all-night missions leading up to the deadline of the video; I had always heard about the way Jon would stay up for days editing the videos during the lead-up to the premiere night. Getting to experience it first hand with him was surreal. We'd stay up all night in the TransWorld office together.
I was also getting to do trips with Dave Chami and Oliver Barton during this time and we all became close.
The second full-length I worked on was Outliers. This one I worked closely with Oliver Barton. During this time he was the director of photo and video at TransWorld so he played a significant role in the overseeing of the video so we were able to spend a lot of time together. I did some epic trips with Oliver and O'Meally during this time. Some epic adventures.
By this point I was missing the days in Atlanta filming only VX. Matt Creasy moved close to me in California around the time we were finishing Outliers. We started skating a lot and talking about doing a project together. We knew it would obviously be a VX project. This lead to us making the Threads Idea Vacuum video, Headcleaner.
For Headcleaner, Creasy and I were filming in Long Beach, Alex Rose was filming in Chattanooga and Bryan Reynolds was holding it down in Atlanta. The experience of doing that project with those guys was exciting. It was inspiring working with them and it was fun to be back and forth sharing the footage we were all getting.
Shortly after we started Headcleaner, it was time to start the next TransWorld video. I didn't want to stop filming VX so I chose to use it to film Substance. During Substance, I was lucky enough to get to be out with Dave Chami and Cameron Strand a bunch. After Substance, I knew I wanted to keep the TransWorld videos VX for as long as I was the one making them. 

"The riddle has to do with the experience the filmer and skater have. Showing up at a spot and both having to figure it out and then grooving together to make something happen."

LSM: How did you come up with the name, Riddles in Mathematics? Clicking the Instagram hashtag, the first ever posted user picture to show up is the cover of a book under the same title, whose Pelican Books edition artwork seems to be given a nod to by the imagery surrounding the DVD sleeve.
Chris Thiessen: Yes, I originally saw the title on the Pelican Book. The title always made me think of skating when I'd see it. When we were playing with ideas for a title I went through a bunch of Pelican books and came across it again and thought it was fitting.
When we started with the art direction for the video Keegan (art director at TransWorld) and I thought it would be cool to pay homage to the book for inspiring it. The riddle has to do with the experience the filmer and skater have. Showing up at a spot and both having to figure it out and then grooving together to make something happen. I love that feeling. The mathematics is just skateboarding in general. 
LSM: How did you pick up & were you excited to work with the roster? As it seems to include some of the most sought-after 'underground' names in modern skateboarding - an urban-oriented all-star type of line-up. How much freedom were you given with the making of such a project?
Are you satisfied with how you ended up portraying each skater's style and translating it over into their respective video parts? How did the transition operate from the former video Substance to this new one - did you approach certain things differently? What are you the most satisfied with?
Chris Thiessen: Jaime [Owens] had always been great with allowing me freedom to take the videos in the direction the skateboarders involved and I wanted to go.
For Riddles in Mathematics, I wanted to do a video that showcased a lot of different styles and approaches, all the while having everyone's skateboarding being able to compliment each others in a way that the video could flow. I also wanted to get a group that were all from different places so that there could be a lot of variety in spots/aesthetics.
 Aymeric Nocus
Ben Gore, nollie heelflip in Bordeaux. ph: Aymeric Nocus
The line-up fell into place naturally over the first few months. I crossed paths with some of the dudes and would film with them and it lead to them being involved. Some of the dudes I hit up to see if they were interested. Leo [Valls] and I were emailing.
The experience with all of these dudes was truly amazing. I am a big fan of all of their skateboarding, so it was wild getting to do a video with them all. It was also incredible to see them all skating together. All of them have their unique approach and seeing that applied to different cities and spots was rad.

"I felt that trying to do something personal to myself and the skateboarders honored the legacy more than trying to stick with the popular formula"

I'm happy with how it all shaped up. I just documented them all doing their thing with the time we had, which is what I always aim for. I feel that each of their parts is a true representation of their skateboarding. Epic times brothers. 
LSM: Do you expect some people to be caught off guard by certain aspects of the video and its presentation, be it among the TransWorld crowd, or even the Threads crowd and people already familiar with your existing work maybe?
As the filmmaker, how do you feel about the expectations the audience might be bound to have, due to anticipating the video as a new opus in the long-lived TWS series?
Chris Thiessen: For anyone that did not see Substance and have the prior knowing that the videos were VX, it might catch them off guard. I'm not really focused on that side of things though, once we are working on the project I feel like I get lost in our little bubble for that period and sometimes its easy to lose track with what a lot of the rest of skateboarding is doing at the same time. Which isn't a bad thing because you just have the little world between you and the skateboarders you are filming with in focus.
It's such an amazing opportunity to do the TransWorld videos, so I felt that trying to do something personal to myself and the skateboarders honored the legacy more than trying to stick with the popular formula.
Ben Gore Bordeaux wallrides. ph: Aymeric Nocus
LSM: Finally, how do you reckon Riddles in Mathematics will end up fitting in said legacy of TransWorld videos? Which is notorious for being a legendary institution featuring some of the best skate videos ever made, but also occasionally departing from its original identity every once in a while (as, for instance, some people find it did as soon as the mid-to-late 2000's when the first HD rigs appeared) - although technical quality always looked like an obvious primary focus, people are very concerned about the style.
By the way, do you have a personal favorite era of TransWorld videos? Maybe some aspects of your works are (and could be interpreted as) nods to some of them?
Also, with first Substance and now Riddles - both of which were urban oriented and VX - as well as their editorial content in general, over the past couple of years TransWorld seems to have been especially concerned with the resurgence of actual street skating and the intricacies of individuality as expressed through style and more generally art (retaining top standards regarding the featured photography also enhancing that feeling), as well as an accute focus on independent films and companies. Do you feel like they may be trying to come back to certain roots and ethics, as well as keeping living up to their established notoriety? And, as part of the equation (riddles...) - how do you personally feel, being an actor in all this?
Chris Thiessen: I'm honored to have Riddles In Mathematics be a part or the legacy. I grew up on TransWorld videos, so it's an unbelievable feeling.
My favorite era was the late 90's early 2000's. Everything from The Sixth Sense to Free Your Mind. These were the years where skateboarding completely took over everything else in my life.
I think my favorite TransWorld video overall might be Modus Operandi though. I've had different opinions on that over the years but I think it's my favorite. I love how Ty would edit with the quick cuts and how he edits to the songs. Carroll and Rick's part is one of the best edited parts ever as well. A masterpiece. 
I am stoked to see that TransWorld has become an outlet for all forms of skateboarding. Skateboarding is an outlet for self expression and I am most stoked on skateboarding when its personal. 
LSM: Thank you very much for finding the time, Chris!


Live Skateboard MediaLive Skateboard Media

Wait to pass announcement...