Two years after releasing the groundbreaking Wizard antics of Canada’s Leon Basin in The Wizard of Wall Street, another Big Wheel Blading gem has hit the internet. Mike Torres and Leon have just released their latest masterpiece entitled the Church of Leon (available on Sellfy). I had a chat with Mike to discuss these two projects, the new 5-wheel Wizard frames and the man that made it all happen, Leon Basin.
How often does Leon come to New York City?
Lately, it seems like he has been coming to NYC once a year. His girlfriend does something, like where she owns her own clothing brand or something along those lines. So twice a year she comes to the city for Fashion Week and stays for a month or two. So he comes here to see her and hang out or whatever it is they do together.
Was the Wizard of Wall Street the first edit you filmed with him?
Yea, it was the first full on edit of him I made. But earlier that year I flew out to Vancouver with Tim Adams and Grant Hazelton and we filmed a video called "Going Weird". That whole week we we stayed with Leon and tested the Wizard Frames. We were really new to it then, and didn't know a whole lot about what we were doing on those frames. But, I was able to film with Leon and get to know him a little bit better on that trip.
Was that trip the first time you had met Leon?
No, I had met him a handful of times before. We definitely crossed paths a long time ago. He spent his earlier years living in Toronto, Canada and I grew up in Rochester, New York. We would go up to Toronto for their street comps. I am pretty sure we had met a few times there, but I didn't really know him at all until I met him again at the last Bitter Cold Showdown. We got along really well and stayed in touch afterwards.
How did you come up with the concept of The Wizard of Wall Street?
I always thought “Slowdance” by Matthew Dear would be a really cool song to use in a section, I really never envisioned Leon being the person I would film when I first heard it. At that point he wasn’t really doing that kind of skating. I don’t think anyone was at that time. And that's not how I really saw it because in The Wizard of Wall Street he is doing these flowing Wizard moves and originally I just envisioned somebody kind of just cruising the streets and taking it all in with that song but it ended up working out really well with his movements. It was kind of a happy accident.
What was the response to that edit?
Really positive, I think Leon really does have a sort of Cult following. There are people who just really LOVE him. Like the people who love him, really love him.
How long did it take to film The Church of Leon?
It was shot over the course of one week, but we only had three days to shoot it.
Did you pick the song by Eden Ahbez used in The Church of Leon section?
Yes. We were in the middle of filming this section and I heard that song pop up on Spotify as I was walking to the train in the morning. I just about shit my pants when I heard it. I was like this is a message from the Blade God; I’m supposed to use this song, and I have to use this song! This was a very fortunate discovery, because we had the concept for the edit, but did not necessarily know what music we were going to use. To some extent we knew how we were going to shoot it and how it was going to flow. But, as far as the overall tone and mood went, you obviously really don’t know how that will end up when making a skate edit. Because, there are so many unknown variables going into it. After I heard that song though, I probably listened to it over a dozen times that day, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t wait to meet up with Leon that night to skate and film. It was beautiful, because it formed the rest of the way I was going to shoot the remainder of the edit. It was really serendipitous in ways and that was awesome.
For this new project you’ve chosen to let people name their own price on Sellfy when purchasing the section. Do people actually pay? Or are they just downloading for free?
No, people do pay. I think if you make a product that people believe in, I don't really know what words to use to describe it, but if you just stay the course and make what you are going to make and not worry about what other people are going to think based off the price that you came up with for it. I think it allows you to make a truer version of that product. There is no, “ fuck, we need to film another hammer.” If I’m going to charge people $5 for this edit, well that was the same price as Broskow’s Nowhere part, which was 15 minutes of hammers. If people want to pay $5 for this, like they’ve seen my body of work and they've seen the trailers and know what’s gone into it and they decide for themselves if they want to pay $5 for it. Then that's amazing and I'm super grateful for it. I don't want any obligations on what this edit should be worth based off of someone else’s opinion. Say I set it to 6 bucks or 4 bucks or 3 bucks or whatever it is and someone buys it for $3 and says “This is a fucking piece of shit. That wasn't worth $3”. I don't want to have to worry about that, you know what I mean. At the end of the day I can just go, well it was fucking free so what do you want from me. I made what I wanted to make, I'm not going to make what I think someone else thinks I should be making for that amount of money. I allow people to take a moment, consider what they are about to purchase and allow them to value it. If it's of value to them, then they can pay for it and I feel like the kind of people who like Leon's skating are the type of people who appreciate the amount of effort that he puts into skating and that we put into the films that we create.
In this section Leon is skating the new 5-wheel Wizard Frames. Did you notice any difference in his skating or approach to tricks using that frame versus him skating on the 4-wheel Wizard Frames?
Yea, it's really interesting to watch him skate these compared to the 4-wheel version. The point we keep beating into each other’s heads is that he is using the overall length of the frame in such creative ways. He is doing these buttery olli pivots off his front wheels and using a lot of movements to really extenuate the length of the frame and the stability that he has front to back.
It seems very hard to maneuver on such long frames.
Yeah, it really depends on the rocker and how much time you put into it. I tried them out a little bit, I should actually have a pair coming in the next couple of days but I tried his 100s on for maybe ten minutes. They are a little odd at first but I could see almost immediately the potential that they would have. They just grip walls like crazy for some reason. They are really stable and just really wacky. It almost feels dangerous at first. Like “What are doing? You should not have these super lanky rigid things under your feet, this is absolutely dangerous.” So I definitely don't recommend people just go out and buy a pair of 5-wheel frames and think they are completely fucking normal. I don't even know if they are going to be for sale to be honest. They feel a little unwieldy at first, but with just the right amount of practice they are going to unlock a lot of doors down the line of different things that can be done on skates. I think some moves in skating have the potential to look more and more like some of the interesting movements we see skiers do, like where they use the length of their skis to pivot their momentum off and project themselves in really wild ways. I think it has serious potential.
What wizard frames do have?
I have the natural rocker wizard 4x100 frames.
How often do you skate on those?
Pretty often. I use them quite a bit for transportation in New York City. I skate into Manhattan quite a bit. I try to do split my time between my aggressive skates and my Wizard setup.
How are you Wizard skills?
Nowhere near as good as Leon’s, or better yet, nowhere near Collin Brattey! He is the true Wizard, if you've ever watched that guy skating, he is absolutely amazing! He just has an unbelievable amount of control on his skates. I recommend that you look up the Skate Moves edits that Leon and Colin and Colin 's brother Stew are in. They came out a year or two ago and are full of mind-blowing maneuvers.
What camera, lens and equipment did you use to film this edit?
The camera I used was the Canon C100 Mark II. For the lenses, I used the kit lens that came with the camera, which is a 24mm-105mm L Series F4 lens. I also used an 8mm Peleng Fisheye lens, which is really wide for a DSLR fisheye. It vignettes a little bit, which is really nice, because I am used to that with my VX setup. It is also almost as wide as my fisheye I used on my HPX, so it was a relativity seamless transition going into it. I also borrowed a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens from my buddy Robbie Silcox. It was really fucking and if you watch the section again you will notice there are a lot of shots, where halfway through, Leon is skating down the street and he looks back at the camera and there are these two flares bursting in the frame. That lens must be uncoated or something, anytime any amount of light comes and hits the lens, then there are really amazing flares all over the place. The fisheye does the same thing, so the edit is just filled with all these really wild flares that added to the whimsical feeling of the whole production. I wish I could say I planned that, but it was more of a happy accident.
How much coffee does Leon drink? Based off your edits I would think he drinks it non-stop.
Not a lot, he will get a small coffee and that thing will last for several hours. He just carries it around and drinks it cold. I was working a day job when we were filming, so most of the skating and filming was at night. That fucking dude would be drinking a coffee at one in the morning, no problem. I don't operate that way.
What do you think about the whole Big Wheel Blading movement?
Oh dude, I feel like I was an early adopter of it, but I've been all in for the past four years now. I love it, it's awesome!
Have you skated on any tri-skates?
Yea, I technically own a pair but I'm not sure where they are right now. I let Jon Ortiz borrow them a while ago since I couldn't skate them because they really hurt my feet. He only skated them once because the same thing happened to him. They probably have just been hanging out in his closet for the past year and a half. I do recognize the potential of three wheels. I had 125s and thought they were a little too tall. I didn't think they were unwieldy, but I thought the height was unnecessary. I really like the long wheelbase now of the Wizard Frames, but when I was using the tri-skates I loved how short the wheelbase was. I was impressed with how much speed you could get skating through traffic. I got speed so fast and could chop my short little wheelbase so much that before I knew it I was flying ahead of traffic. It was awesome! You can really sprint with those things. But with longer frames like the 4x100s and the 5-wheel frames, that it is not going to be the thing, they are more for long flowing strides.
How would you describe Leon?
He is awesome man! It's good to watch the b-roll edit, there is truth to everything. Like with the Cultish / Churchish things, it's a little bit of a joke, but there is also a little bit of truth to how he is as a person. He is a philosophical person, he takes in and analyzes his skating and his relationship to skating and his place in the world. It's really tough for me to speak for him in that regard. But when you watch the b-roll you see he is kind of goofy in ways and just a funny guy and not this guy on top of a mountain like an actual wizard, Gandalf type guy. We all started skating in the 90s, he's just a fucking dude, but I just have a great amount of respect for him. I feel honored to create things with him. It's been the biggest thing, and it's cool that he trusts me to do things with him. It's humbling.
Interview by Jan Eric Welch
Go to Sellfy to download and watch all of Mike's masterpieces; The Church of Leon, One For The Road and The Wizard of Wall Street.
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