The London-based documentary filmmaker tells us about roller discos, the changing world of content, and why he's not so keen on comfort zones
Hey Ramone, what have you been up to recently?
Well, I recently went freelance. I guess this is about comfort zones, and to be honest I’m not in my comfort zone right now. I was comfortable, I was getting a monthly pay check, I was guaranteed work every week, it was steady and good. But I needed a change. I was getting too comfortable. And now it’s like I’m unsure, not knowing where the next job’s coming from. But to hit it on the nose, you never really want to be in your comfort zone. To grow - which I want to do - you have to escape it. And the moment you start to feel comfortable again you have to scramble. If I had a message to give to anyone it’s that you don’t want to be comfortable. We’re so young, and the way the industry is moving, you have to be uncomfortable sometimes or you won’t succeed, basically.
So you were at Boiler Room for a while right? What about before that?
Yeah, before that I was working in retail, but during that time I was always freelancing. Doing odd jobs in fashion, doing bits for Boiler Room — if there was a live rap show for example I’d be on the camera, on the live broadcast side. And I enjoyed it — it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do, but it was fun and different. And then I did that for two or three years full time, until they opened an actual film department and I started doing all their branded content and non-live video.
That must have been around the time that Boiler Room was going through a bit of a turning point right? They definitely owned that live broadcast space, and then starting going harder on the documentary stuff.
I think the industry was pushing them towards that. Their competitors could also stream live whenever they wanted to, so Boiler Room had to find a different angle. I count myself lucky that I was there at a particular time. I was in a fortunate position that I was in a company that had access to big brands so I could have those brands under my belt, or work in a particular country. And although I still feel very new to all of this, it’s all great experience.
I caught your documentary Soul Skate when it came out. How did that film come about?
I actually pitched for it through Dazed and NTS. I think because it was music-based I was quite interested in the story, even though I had no idea about roller skating. But a friend of mine was telling me about Soul Skate and what it means to people, so I knew it would be a very heartfelt project. During filming I was asking everyone, ‘what brings you to skate? Why do you love it so much?’, and really it was about this whole community of people.
What about Moodymann’s connection to Soul Skate, what’s his role?
Moodymann puts on [a roller-skate party called] Soul Skate. He’s been doing it for years but they’ve never really let cameras in. And Carharrt have been trying to get someone to document it and he eventually agreed. For him it was more a project to show people that his skate crew are the most welcoming, warmest skaters you can find. And that you should come along and get involved. I met him a few days before shooting and that’s what came across; it’s not about him or his crew, but about everyone. It’s just nice. As an outsider I couldn’t help but be amazed at all these different people, from all around the world coming together, and it’s like they all know each other. It’s like a big family barbecue.
I went to another event out in Detroit called Burt’s Warehouse. It was a party, but they had all this stuff there, like a kids bouncy castle… and this was at a party weekender but it was just so warm and wholesome. The skaters don’t drink or do drugs, everyone’s just there to skate and listen to music, it’s such a good vibe.
From Carhartt’s perspective, did they want to tell that story because it’s uniquely ‘Detroit’?
Yeah, Carhartt are a Detroit brand, and so’s Soul Skate, so it was just about Detroit culture.
I feel like Carhartt are doing some really cool shit at the moment.
Yeah, same. Even when we were in Detroit, they weren’t trying to push the brand too much you know? It was subtle. It was perfect to be honest.
Yeah, and people aren’t stupid, you know? They know when they’re being force fed. So yeah, Carhartt are doing the right thing.
You seem to be pretty involved in music-based projects, generally. Is that a conscious move? Do you make music yourself?
Music’s really important to me. It’s all around me, and most of my friends are involved in music in some capacity, but I don’t make any music personally. Right now I’m working on a couple of music videos for a friend’s label, More Time. But in general, I’m not working on anything else in that regard currently. It’s more about putting feelers out and putting in work to work! At the same time, there’s more out there [than music] and I want to do more. Fashion, or food… I don’t want to restrict myself.
While you’ve been working as a filmmaker over the years, do you feel any shift in the industry at large?
I think access is easier. It’s easier to get into these positions. I’m meeting more and more people in places or positions that once upon a time weren’t really possible for people without connections. None of my family members are working in media, so I didn’t have immediate connections like that, and luckily I just met the right people. But these days connections are easier to make. Or you can do it yourself, you have a platform.
The other big change is that companies right now want people who are more DIY, more hands on. Street level. Your eye is unique to them. These companies are in a position where they don’t really know what’s going on, and they need to access a certain group of people, so how can they do that? The chain is longer now, because the head of the company talks to the second, who talks to the person on the street, who takes on the commission.
That’s super true. The way companies or agencies talk about themselves now, they’re always talking about their ‘network’ or ‘community’. They’re also aware of hitting people over the head with the same story so many times. Everything comes back to ‘authenticity’ now. That’s their currency.
Yes, these companies and brands want people to relate to them, so they have to first relate to people. They need to concern themselves with peoples’ concerns to seem more human. That’s one thing that working at Boiler Room taught me. Working at Boiler Room you hear a lot of outside opinions, like, ‘Boiler Room is sexist’ for example. But then you get to Boiler Room and realise that there are all these amazing women in the building making all the great work. So I don’t know if I believe in that, you know? Now I’d never say ‘I think this brand is against a certain point of view’, because most times, when you look into the company, it’s just regular people like you and me. It’s not an evil machine.
I think companies are actually more accountable now because it’s very clear what they need to be doing, and how to act. They know - just like people know - that they need to engage with the zeitgeist to be relevant. And maybe that’s why these days there’s just not the same divide between commerce and culture.
It’s often one and the same. And people are in it for two reasons aren’t they? On the one hand, you’re in it for the love of creating, for the love of making cool stuff… but then, it’s London! You don’t just love making cool shit… you wanna make money because you need to live.
Regardless, I want to encourage people. It can be hard to find encouragement, especially if you don’t have contacts or links. Self doubt is the biggest enemy. Things can be attained if you work hard and be a nice person — people will be drawn to your energy. And this industry isn’t based on one person, it’s always about others too. In my films there’s a whole team of people, right down to researchers who sometimes I don’t even get to meet.
But that’s why I love working in documentary so much. It’s not surface level, it’s more about people’s emotions, and individual stories, viewpoints. I’ve learnt a lot through making documentaries and I don’t want to fall into the thing where I’m just out to make money. So I’m enjoying this moment right now.
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