Snowboarding has long been an incubator of sorts for emerging filmmakers. And while snowboarding has allowed for a number of major production companies to find industry-wide success, it has been incredibly rare for an independent snowboard filmmaker to transcend the tried and true formula of snowboarding films and leave an undeniable paradigm-shifting mark on the medium.
A young Minnesota native by the name of Jake Durham who grew up on the small hills surrounding the Twin Cities is on the verge of becoming the most important filmmaker in the sport. Durham, who was surrounded by an immense pool of local talent, has found a unique voice in the often cluttered world of snow media. Many filmmakers would be happy to toe the line and play within the safe world of the status quo, but Durham’s films are different. They’re art, they’re vision, they’re not trying to merely keep up, they are the future.
Durham, who after filming for Videograss launched his project House Call Only, is redefining the genre by combining creative vision and new media, and while the young filmmaker is focused on making snowboard films with his friends, there is no doubt that if he chooses to he will be able to take his undeniable skill set and apply it to a wide array of subject matter. We caught up with Durham to talk about how he got his start, navigating the digital media world, and what the future holds for House Call Only.
How did you initially get into filmmaking. Do you remember your first time picking up the camera?
Growing up I was exposed to cameras because of my daddy Don (grandfather). He owned a photography business. So I’ve been messing with cameras for a long time. I have a few memories of using a video camera as a kid. One time on a family trip I messed with my dad’s camera. I remember going on some hike and running in front of my family and filming them walking down the trail. My neighbor and I used to film each other skateboarding and doing mischief, too. We were so influenced by skateboard videos like CKY and Flip Sorry. Those videos are so raw.
The next big thing was figuring out how to edit. We filmed so much, hours of footage. I’m honestly not sure how I figured out this process but I would plug in the video output to the TV, and the audio input would go into a CD player. A blank VHS would be in the VCR. I would find a clip to use, press play on the camera and CD player, and record on the VHS player. Once the clip was done I would press stop on the camera and the VCR, and pause on the CD player. It was crazy. All of the titles I would just write on paper and film the paper. When my neighbor Elliot showed me Windows movie maker that was a game changer. But then I needed a FireWire port that my dad’s computer didn’t have.
It sort of seems like there are two camps when it comes to filmers: the filmers who pick up a camera because they’re surrounded by talented people, and those that have a passion for filmmaking from the jump. Was filmmaking an innate interest or a byproduct of your environment?
In the beginning, when we were young, everyone filmed everyone. Since we would film skateboarding in the summer, naturally we started to film snowboarding in the winter. As we got older I was definitely not the biggest daredevil in the crew and became the filmer. I was down to film, though. I love my friends and have always thought of them as interesting, talented people. They really motivated me to want to film them.
I remember seeing snowboarder Jack Thonvold at school and then at Hyland Hills. At the time he was on X-Team and doing like cab 450’s onto the c-box. It was nuts. His stance was so wide and duck footed. I remember wanting to film him. In skateboarding, I grew up in the same city as Pat Gallaher. He was the best skater I had ever seen. He has been so good for so long. I filmed him every once in awhile growing up. One time I went skating with him downtown and we met up with Davis Torgerson. Davis let me film him doing a trick on his VX2000. That day stuck with me for months. I wanted a VX for years after that.
Having so many talented snowboarders at your disposal had to be a great asset. Who were the first riders you started filming?
I’m blessed with the dudes I grew up filming. I started to get season passes to Hyland in middle school. The squad was huge. Then in high school, it grew even bigger. Through Hyland, I met people from other cities. The people I was filming were Boody, Jack Thonvold, Dirt, Chad Dalman, Ben & Mitch Wheeler, Kubler, Liz Rakun, Jack Dykstra, Jimmy Blair, Elliot Larrea, John Baldwin, Shane Thuleen, Taylor & Pat Wells, Danimals, Stephen Paulson, Travis Peterson, Brandon Rhodes, Jeff Anderson, Terra Michilot, Nick Buchner, Danny Faye, Matt Englehart, Connor Nelson, there were so many people. I’m probably forgetting a bunch.
Once everyone finished high school the original Hyland crew I grew up with fizzled out a little bit. Some went to college, and I’m assuming, some just couldn’t afford a $400 season pass. I still hang out with, and talk to, a lot of the people I mentioned. Most of them are all still really good at snowboarding.
Obviously, you have Hyland and Troll in your backyard, which are sort of incubators for up and coming rail kids. Were there any dudes you were working with that you knew were going to become big time pros?
To be honest, my friends and I were just filming and having fun. When Danimals and Brandon started to get some gear from Pete Harvieux it opened my eyes a little bit. It was cool that through the videos I made, my friends were getting exposure. It didn’t seem like any of them were striving to go pro though. They were psyched to film for my videos. And I just viewed filming and editing as a creative outlet. I never intended to make money from it.
When Danimals got to share a part with Jake Olson-Elm in Videograss, I had a feeling he would be the first to really make it. He really went for it that winter. But he has never really gone out of his way to be a professional snowboarder. When we were starting to film street snowboarding, it was a time when a lot of crews were coming to Minnesota to film. I think he got a lot of exposure from that. He also didn’t have to move to a mountain to get noticed by big companies. Through Danimals getting noticed from my videos, I got noticed as a filmer through people watching him ride. We both wouldn’t be where we are today without each other. Thanks dog.
Did you initially want to make full-lengths? Was the goal to work your way up to working for a big production company like VG or were you always interested in doing your own thing?
Like I said before, I never intended to make money from my films. When I started to make my own full-lengths I was very influenced by independent skateboard filmmakers. So I liked the idea of making a video where I could choose the people, music, filming, and style. I wasn’t trying to please anyone, I just wanted to make something cool with my friends.
My freshman year of college Videograss started up and that was the coolest project out. It was so fresh and raw at the time. My friend Riley Erickson joined that crew and a bunch of Minnesota dudes were filming for their videos. I got to go out with them a few times and thought to myself, ‘this is the only crew I would want to film with.’ But it seemed far-fetched.
Towards the end of my college career, I was invited to take a two-week trip with my friends who were filming for VG, Joe Sexton, Jake Olson-Elm, Danimals, Justin Fronius, Riley Erickson, Sam Fenton, and Mike Yoshida. It was over my winter break. The trip was super productive. After that trip, I had a feeling that there was a possibility I could work for Videograss. I was pretty dead set on working for them or just doing my own thing. The following summer, after graduating college, I was at Mt. Hood for the VG premiere and Justin Meyer asked me if I would want to film with them. It was a dream come true.
I think one of the things that really stands out to me with your films is that they seem to intuitively jive with the new era of media, which is obviously shorter online segments. But you don’t seem to be willing to sacrifice creativity or quality in your edits. Is that intentional?
The internet is so confusing right now. I’m still trying to figure out the new era of media and how to show my work to the masses in a respectful way. Sometimes I feel like I’m boasting about my new video if I post over and over about it on Instagram. However, that seems like the place that everyone goes to get updates. Also dealing with internet algorithms feels like a game. It used to be a big deal to get your video on Transworld or Snowboarder magazine’s website. Nowadays anyone can get on the sites because they need new content every day.
Tell us about House Call Only, how did that start and who are you working with on the project?
House Call Only is a brainchild of Derrek Lever and myself. We wanted to do a side project that didn’t necessarily revolve around snowboarding. It started as a private Instagram that only him and I could see. Then we let people in and made some random graphics and experimental videos.
Soon after, long story short, Derrek pitched the idea of doing a snowboarding web series that I would get to have full creative control of. It was really what I needed at the time since I had been working with Videograss videos for some years prior. It was the first time I was able to create something in snowboarding for myself and my friends that were funded. I’m very fortunate for that opportunity.
Do you think the internet allows for more creativity. Can you be more experimental in your approach because of the medium?
I’ve been uploading each episode to Vimeo. They have a feature where you can “replace” a video. I think this is for if you messed up a title, or have to make a change, and you don’t lose any of your stats, views, or embedded links.
My idea was to make two-three videos, upload them as they came out, with a full video at the end. We’re still working on how it will play out. I like trying to incorporate a narrative aspect to my films, even if subtle. The videos I grew up on, CKY, Revenge of the Grenerds, Love/Hate, DC Mountain Lab, all had subtle narratives that have always influenced my work.
It’s been fun working like this, especially in a day where i’m confused and annoyed of how the internet spits out content. A big thanks to Ride Snowboards and Adidas Snowboarding for helping us with the project.
Will House Call Only be an ongoing series, or is it one season?
I don’t know.
What’s the future look like for you in terms of filmmaking. Are you going to stay in snowboarding or do you have any plans to experiment with other genres?
Oh, I want to make a music video so bad. For a while I was watching a bunch of fashion videos, too. I get a lot of inspiration from other genres of film. I’m very open to working in other worlds of film. I think I just need to connect with more creative people outside of the small snowboard world.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring filmmakers?
Don’t use the “bad tv” filter in Final Cut Pro 7.
Any big projects in the next couple months that we should be on the lookout for?
The final House Call Only video is in the works. We’re going to have a premiere/art show/party for that. All are welcome.