Although everyone at the office thoroughly enjoyed Something Sinister, we couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated about not knowing more about the project. Who are all these incredible dudes we’ve barely heard of? Are they Chinese or do they just live out there? Is the Chinese skate industry big enough to fully support “pros” or do they have day jobs? You’d think the ridiculous amount of China footage American companies have subjected us to lately would have desensitised us a little, but it didn’t. Then again how can you not be curious about what the locals get up to with all that marble? Luckily Tommy Zhao, the man behind this exciting project, was happy to tell us all about it.
Lets start off with a bit of background info. Have you always lived in China? If not when and why did you move out there? Do you film full time or do you have a day job?
My name is Tommy Zhao and I currently live in Shanghai, China. I didn’t always live in China but my parents are Chinese and they’re from a city in the Anhui province called Huainan. I was actually born in Nagoya, Japan and shortly thereafter, my family moved to the States. It wasn’t until after I graduated from university that I actually made a move out to Shanghai and somehow have made it my home for the past five or so years.
Yeah, filming definitely has become my full-time gig. I came out to China with nothing really in plans to stay longer than six months but got lucky and met the right people at the right time so throughout it all, I’ve somehow managed to survive as a freelance filmer for the past few years.
Can you tell us about how this whole project came about?
Well, when I first moved to Shanghai in the autumn of 2008, I realised that Shanghai (and the rest of China) held some of the most amazing skate spots I’d ever come across! So one of my goals was to talk a bunch of my friends from back home in Delaware, USA to move out to Shanghai and skate and chill. Brian Peacock came out first and stayed for a few months and that was also when we met Brian Dolle (from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania), who was out here for an internship for three months or so. We would just skate and chill and party and film here and there but we never really had any set goal for the footage. They went back to the States and about a year later, Mark Del Negro came out for about five months and ended up with a bunch of footage. At the end of his stay, Brian Peacock and Brian Dolle had both made the permanent move back to Shanghai and after a while, that’s sort of when we decided that we should make a skate video to show the rest of China (and hopefully the world) how the skate scene is in Shanghai. Dan Leung had recently moved to Shanghai from Beijing before we started filming for the video, Stephen Khou was working for a nightclub and skating during the days and Jay Meador was always down to skate and the crew just kind of fell together. It was mainly whoever would meet up and skate everyday… We’d go on filming missions and the video is a collection of everything we got over the past year, except for Mark Del Negro’s footage, which we sat on for almost 2 years before this video came to light, hahaha.
The soundtrack’s sick. How did you approach the music rights issue?
Really? I’m psyched that you liked the soundtrack! Everyone put in their input on music for their parts and the rest of the sections, I just tried to make sure fit with the theme of “Something Sinister.” Haha… uh…. what music rights? Hahaha…
What’s the association with Hélas?
Well, one of the co-owners of the brand, Stephen Khou has a part in the video and he mentioned that it might be rad to do a hat collab with Legion Of Sorts to help promote the video. Hélas is one of the sickest brands out there right now and I was psyched that they wanted to be a part of the project so basically it just fit naturally. And to add to that, a month before the originally deadline (October 15, 2013), Lucas jumped onboard and flew over and joined forces with Stephen to come out with an amazing video part!
How long did it take Lucas to film what he has in the video?
Ten days. That dude is incredible on and off a skateboard.
What’s Legion Of Sorts?
Legion Of Sorts initially was a collaborative website/blog that I started a few years ago with a bunch of people who were involved with the skateboard scene in one way or another in Shanghai; photographers, skaters, graphic designers, alcoholics, potheads, haha, just whomever had an interest in making interesting posts filled with funny stories, photos of parties or of upcoming events. But in reality, a website like that is really hard to keep going since everyone is too busy with their own lives to contribute to a blog that was really only for ourselves and the few people in Shanghai who even knew it existed, haha. So eventually, it’s just ended up as a blog that mainly focuses on the skateboard scene in Shanghai and whatever random video clips we might have made and to promote local events when they happen.
How come all these guys moved from Delaware/Philly to Shanghai? Do they have full time jobs out there (if so what do they do) or do they just skate?
Haha, well I grew up in Delaware and naturally you spend a lot of time in the cities on the East coast like Philly, Baltimore and DC. So when I moved out to Shanghai, I wanted my friends to come out and visit or live here as well. I grew up with Mark Del Negro and Brian Peacock, we’re all from Delaware. Brian Dolle we actually met in Shanghai, but he’s from King of Prussia but went to Drexel University in Philly, so we had mutual friends and we all just clicked well. Not everyone has jobs… I mean China’s still fairly cheap compared to a lot of the other major cities in the world, so you don’t need much to survive. Mark Del Negro was living off his savings and Brian Peacock was on a DC China contract for a bit at the time of filming for the video… and Brian Dolle teaches English part-time.
Favorite part? Why?
Haha, that’s like asking a parent which child is their favorite. The correct answer would be “they’re all my favorite.” Right? Haha but really, I’m hyped on everyone’s part, everyone killed it so hard!
What’s the skate scene like in China? We hear a lot about Japan and their skate industry but not so much about China’s. Do companies have local Chinese teams like in Europe? Are there any big Chinese board companies?
The skate scene in China is amazing. I mean, it hasn’t progressed as much as the western countries yet, but it’s growing at a rapid pace. When I arrived five or six years ago, there were only like half a dozen kids at LP (the Lovepark of Shanghai) and now there’s almost 20-30 + kids at least on a sunny day who are there skating and kicking it. And those kids are kids who live, breathe, dream of skating… like real skate rats, not just doing it because it might be fashionable or trendy. It’s rad to see that! There are a few brands that are backing China riders and creating a China team, companies like Vans, Converse, Nike, DC… they all have China skate teams and the guys rip and it’s definitely awesome to see the support the brands provide for the riders. There aren’t a million skaters in China that are like super good yet, but with the support from some of these brands; like trips to visit other cities, film video parts, and a salary to skate and not have to work, that provides opportunities to advance the skateboarding scene here in China.
Do you have any projects lined up for the near future?
I just did a skate trip to Cuba with Patrik Wallner that should be out in late April and I’ve already started on a new skate video that will focus on LP in Shanghai and that should be out hopefully by the end of Summer!
An all LP video sounds amazing! Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
LP is an iconic spot in Shanghai like how Love Park is to Philadelphia or how MACBA is to Barcelona. The name LP actually derived from the real “Love Park” in Philadelphia because there was a section that used to look like the fountain gap, hence the name LP. Anyway it’s where everyone goes to meet up and most likely, drink beers and get stuck there all day. It’s also one of the best skatespots in the city with everything from ledges, perfect flatground, hubbas and stairs. It’s located in the heart of downtown Shanghai surrounded by museums, malls, and crowds of pedestrians. It’s basically the essence of Shanghai in one spot.
I’m working on a new videoclip that will focus only at that spot and the many ways it can be skated. I’m aiming to feature parts from two local skaters with all the homies sandwiched inbetween them and hopefully it will work out! If anything, it’ll just be rad to be able to do a project like this while LP is still around and almost never a bust, whereas in other cities with iconic spots like Love Park, or MACBA, or even EMB, they either don’t exist anymore or are a high-bust factor.
You can purchase the full length Something Sinister DVD off the Legionofsorts.wordpress.com website or the Helascaps.com website. If you live in the UK, the DVDs are also available through WeAreRockSolid Distribution. Or you can always send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.