Russel Houghten has worked extensively with the brand New Balance Numeric to create distinctive visual style and narrative for their videos. He now works side by side with James Messina, who produced the majority of their new project “Tricolour”. We caught up with both Russell and James to talk about their creative process and discuss how they have changed the visual landscape of skateboarding media.
Russell Houghten Interview
Firstly, congrats on releasing Tricolor. It’s an amazing video. How has the response been?
Russell: Thank you! The response has been great. I think our style of video production isn’t for everyone; we try to do things a bit differently and make a unique final product. We hope to make videos that first of all have great skating but also look nice and show a lot of the scenery in some of the amazing places that skateboarding brings us.
How does it feel looking back at it?
R: This project happened pretty organically. We filmed the majority of the video in Los Angeles between our travels with New Balance. It was a super fun project to work on.
You’ve been credited as being one of the first to produce a skate edit solely on the iPhone, how did this come about and would you do it again?
R: I love cameras but I don’t think that a camera is what makes a good video. I wanted to attempt making a “cinematic” skate video on a phone. This was right as cell phone cameras were getting really good and it seemed like a fun challenge.
How do you go about keeping things fresh?
R: I get a lot of inspiration from video and photo work outside of skating. It’s difficult trying new things with skating since it has such a defined idea of how it should look. I’m 31 now and have been skateboarding and watching skate videos my whole life, I want to make videos that are interesting for myself to watch and also hopefully something that others haven’t seen before.
What are some of your projects that stick out as your favorites? What was the most enjoyable one? The most difficult?
R: All of the projects I have worked on are enjoyable in their own ways. All of the NB projects are amazing to work on since the team is so amazing. “Sunland” was probably my favorite NB project because it was an idea I had which I was a bit sceptical of, but it came together really well. The Transworld “Cinematographer Project” and The Berrics “Redirect” were awesome since they were some of the first projects I had full creative control on and they weren’t attached to a brand.
We like to try and tell the full story of the spot/location
You had the privilege of working closely with Dylan Rieder. He has influenced skateboarding in so many different ways. What do you see as his defining mark that he will be remember for most?
R: His personality and approach to life were something I will cherish and miss forever. He influenced so many people within and outside of skateboarding. He was the main person who influenced me to try new things and do things differently within skateboarding. He would always tell me to “get weird with it”. I think his style, approach and individuality are his defining mark.
Many of these projects have been guided by a strong visual narrative. In “Tricolor” the long lens filming and smooth camera movements are distinctive. How important do you think these tools are to the success of your projects?
R: Thank you. James Messina filmed the majority of this video and did an outstanding job, he is my favourite filmer in skating right now. Skateboarding has iconically been filmed with the fisheye lens and it creates an action packed exciting video. We like to try and tell the full story of the spot/location when we are filming. I think filming can make or break a video so I think it is very important.
How important is travel and new destinations to work you put out?
R: Travel is super important for the team and the work we put out because it keeps things fresh and interesting. It gives the team a fresh look at spots and new ways to skate or film. Skating in Los Angeles can get somewhat stale at times as most of the spots have been skated for decades.
How do you keep inspiration alive on home turf?
R: Spending time with my daughter inspires me because I want to be a role model for her and inspire her to do something she is passionate about. I also get a nice reset from camping and rock climbing, both clear my mind and help me focus and relax. I come up with most of my ideas while I am outdoors.
James Messina Interview
Congrats on releasing Tricolor. It’s an amazing video. How has the response been?
James: Thanks! I think the Internet likes it. All I care about is that all my friends who put a lot of effort in like it, and it seems like they enjoyed it as well, so good overall.
How does it feel looking back at it?
J: It was quite an experience. Lots of fun times on the daily missions with the guys. L.A. spots are tough though, as it was a project we filmed over the course of about a year and a half, things definitely got a bit more difficult by the end. I got to know a few guys on the team I didn’t know as well, which is always great. Good memories.
I was so excited about the film that I woke up at 7 every morning and skated around the cities to shoot stuff
Your project “Planned Existence” was a finalist in the Transworld “Cinematographer Project” contest.
J: Haha oh god! Hopefully nobody goes and watches that one! But yeah, definitely, that was the first video I made, that (at the time) I thought came out pretty good. The idea that someone at Transworld thought the same was a nice confidence booster and inspired me to try and do things a little different.
What’s been your favourite Numeric project and why?
J: The video called “NB Underground” was my favorite. We shot it in London, Lyon, and Paris. Those are three of my favourite places I’ve been to. I got to shoot all the B-Roll & non-skate stuff on 16mm film. I was so excited about the film that I woke up at 7 every morning and skated around the cities to shoot stuff. Tom Karangelov came with me almost every day. I think the group of people on the trip was exactly right too. Then we were able to clear all the music I was hoping to use without having to make any substitutions either.
How did you and Russell first meet and what was the first project you worked on?
J: I emailed Russell when I lived in Connecticut in response to an Instagram post about needing some editing help. I helped him mask a clip of Levi pushing across the street in downtown for the “A Place in the Sun” edit. When I moved out to L.A. I met up with Russell and then helped him with projects from “Pinnytown” onwards.
we both want the end product to look a certain way and care about it enough to put the extra effort in
What have you learnt from Russell and why does your dynamic work so well?
J: I’ve learned a lot from Russell. The more obvious stuff, like using all sorts of different camera equipment, editing tricks, all the different styles of shooting we’ve experimented with. I’ve also learned a lot of general life things from Russell, things ranging from cooking to taxes. He’s a great guy and I’m very lucky to have met him. I think our dynamic works so well because we both want the end product to look a certain way and care about it enough to put the extra effort in to make sure it comes out that way.
Some filming techniques and equipment can slow down the process of making a skate clip. When is this a good thing, and when does it become a bad thing?
J: I think for the most part, the way we film skating doesn’t really slow down the process too much. I think it’s always better to be quick & ready with skating. I do get a lot of complaints about run-up shots though, haha.
What’s in your bag(s) on an average mission?
J: Usually I have the red camera, 2-3 batteries, a couple memory cards, a Canon 8-15mm fisheye, a Tokina 11-16mm, a Canon 24-105mm, and a Canon 70-200mm. i also bring my tripod and an Audio-Technica mic.
Do you have a favourite piece of equipment to use and why?
J: I really like shooting stuff on the red cameras. The extra resolution and raw files allows you to be able to tweak everything in post. It’s like what you have on the camera isn’t the final image.
It’s like what you have on the camera isn’t the final image.
Do you have a favourite clip you’ve filmed? All-time, and a highlight from Tricolour?
J: That’s a tricky one. I made this video with Tom (Karangelov) for his most recent colour way and I think a lot of those tricks were some of my favourite things I’ve shot. There was also this line that Jordan did in the NB Underground edit with a kickflip off a 3 stair into a crusty stone bank that I really liked. In Tricolor Flo (Mirtain) did this backside flip fakie 5-0 on a bank to bench I really liked.
The Numeric team is massive. How does the dynamic between all the team members work?
J: Everyone is friends! There’s always some sub groups on trips, but everyone gets along and is friends. It’s really cool.
Have you ever been on a trip with everyone?
J: Last summer we went to Spain and the whole team went. We all flew to Madrid together but then split into two groups and one group went south and the other north. Even with half the team the crew felt huge! It was a lot of fun though. Other than that trip it’s usually split up, and each trip is like 6-10 skaters. That’s nice too because we can hit more spots in each day and it feels like we get to see more of the places we go.