In talking about 411’s roll as an accelerator of skate-video content production is it safe to say that 411 was just the logical result of what the major electronics manufacturers were doing at the time? Would it have been impossible for 411 to have existed before that time because video camera equipment was strictly for the rich?
In the late 80s/early 90s Sony and Panasonic were growing their businesses by, for the first time in history, designing decent video camera equipment that was affordable to the average consumer. 411 didn’t do that, they just naturally emerged as the de facto platform on which all this content, that was coming into existence anyway, was viewed. The 4 horsemen that started it up were Josh Friedberg, Steve Douglas, Paul Schmitt and Chris Ortiz and although the opening music might have felt hackneyed after issue 64 it still makes me nostalgic for a simpler, more innocent (read “innocent” as naive if you like) time.
The 411 conspiracy theory began when Tim Olson texted to explain that getting on the instagram popular page was the equivalent of getting a 411 opener. As someone who’s aquainted with both these experiences I can tell you, 411 openers were far better, although for the benefit of positive-mental-attitude the popular page is a reasonable surrogate.
During the ensuing textual sparring match that transpired many questions arose. Questions like; did the brand name 60/40 have anything but a purely coincidental connection to the eating/working ratio of 411 founding father Chris Ortiz? In the branching tree diagram of 411 where does Tom Krauser fit? Was the Controlled Chaos section in fact a huge, cunning advertising deal? Where does John Fallahee, owner of ATM Skateboards fit? Was he the true architect of this video behemoth? Did he have Mark Gonzales on payroll? If so, how? Is he Sicilian? Who edited the 411 60/40 ads and why were they so great?
The following YouTube clip is a later example of the 411 opener format.
Watching it, despite being massaged into a lachrymose nostalgia by the music, I can’t help but get the sense that some sort of brutal corporate merger or acquisition has taken place and I fear for Josh Friedberg and Chris Ortiz. I can’t help but picture them behind camera, bound and gagged, being closely guarded by Colin McKay’s Chihuahua. I emailed Tim regarding these fears and his response, to some degree, helped put my mind at ease, “I believe since the euro tour, DC may have paid off Fallahee and in turn had Friedberg forced into wearing a wind-breaker outfit and pushing a mop at the Media skateboards headquarters. Ortiz was fine. I think he may have been dating Ken Block’s sister at the time,” Tim wrote.
This case was turning into a snake pit of cloak-and-dagger double-crossing, violence and intimidation. Despite the fact that Tim and I had figured out that the true mastermind behind 411s domination of skate video content was Chris Ortiz, and Josh Friedberg was just a pawn in Chris’s elaborate scheme to make Sage Humphries famous, I decided to contact Josh and try to get to the bottom of the sinister rabbit-warren that was The 411 Video Media Empire!
How’re things at IASC?
It’s cool. The end result is that we should have some really fun ways to do good things for the world through skateboarding and continue to grow skateboarding but there’s also sort of a lot of baggage that comes with it. Politics and everything else so…
I’m sure there is “Politics”. [Already I can sense that there’s more going on here than Friedberg is willing to let on to] So what exactly is IASC?
IASC is supposed to be a resource for the industry and people hit me up for data all the time; how many skaters are there? How many board sales are there? And there’re a lot of random stats that get pulled together that people sort of trust but nothing solid so I’m really trying to up the research side of it.
Okay, so 411 started in ‘95 or before that?
We started working on it in ’92 and the first issue came out in July of ’93.
What was in that issue?
Jeremy Wray profile, maybe, um, was the London metrospective in the first issue?
Maybe that’s what it was; I remember Penny and some of those guys were in a pretty early one. [The founder can’t remember? Very suspicious. Is someone threatening this guy?]
Yeah, Douglas obviously being from the UK there would always be that connection.
Ah yes, Douglas, now we’re going to begin to piece this puzzle together for the discerning readers of The Predatory Bird.
The whole thing came about when I had been skating for New Deal and moved to California and wound up working there in the warehouse at first and…
Was it Giant at that point?
It was still New Deal then, that would’ve been ’91 I guess.
New Deal was owned by Steve Douglas, Paul Schmitt and Andy Howell. They started Underworld Element and that’s when it became Giant Distribution.
Stepping back a bit what path led you to video production, did you attend any college courses or anything?
I dropped out of college. I’d always made videos when I was a kid in Kansas and we’d managed to hijack a friend’s 8mm camera and shot as much stuff as we could and edited it together with VCRs.
By 8mm you mean Hi8 video?
It was before Hi8.
Okay. Because I was just watching Colin Kennedy on the Berrics and he was talking about how he really wanted to get the Hi8 camera because that was the submission criteria for 411 and he ended up getting this VHS camera and he was simultaneously stoked and bummed. So why didn’t you accept VHS?
Haha, they just looked really bad.
So Hi8 was actually a significant step forward in video technology?
It was, the quality was better enough that it made a [noticeable] difference. We did actually accept some VHS C tapes…
The ones you had to slot into the plastic adaptor?
Yeah. We had a tape with Penny and Shipman, one of those tapes from England came on VHSC. Oh and PAL format so you also had to convert, juust teh-rrrible.
It seems like something Anti Hero might have done intentionally you know, Julian’s all like “we need to get a PAL camera, have you seen how shitty these conversions look? It’s great!”
Ha! I mean you look at the Palace [Winner: Best European team, Bright Trade Show Awards] stuff right now they’re filming on VHS.
Oh they’re going for it! I love that stuff I think they do a great job.
Yeah I think some unique approaches are much needed at this point in Skateboarding. Actually we had a meeting early on that was; myself, Johnny Schillereff, Jose Gomez, Andy Howell, Gorm Boberg maybe, Paul [Schmitt] and Steve [Douglas], that sort of laid out what the project  was going to be. We got all the creative people around New Deal and Element at the time and I think we came up with the name and everything in that meeting.
Do you feel like 411 was a precursor to the internet in terms of information delivery and the quantity thereof?
Yeah, I mean it’s pretty obvious to me to look at the connection between the 411 articles we had and the segments they have on the Berrics for example.
Zitzer does a section on The Skateboard Mag called “Backslash” and he should maybe be paying Sal Barbier or yourself some royalties, was it “Grapevine”? The 411 analogue to Backslash?
Yup. I can’t remember who thought of that but we just wanted to have a news type section. The whole point with 411 was just to connect people who cared about skateboarding to what was going on. Doing it, at that time bi-monthly, it was crazy, and now it happens multiple times a day!
I know. I was texting with Ewan Bowman and I asked him if 411 was the internet of it’s time and his response was that was sort of the case but it didn’t feel like a real job at that point, that could be because he was juggling filming with a job at Noah’s Bagels. Do you feel like it was a real job? It sounds like it was a pretty heavy workload.
Yes. We went from me sitting in a room editing and Ortiz coordinating a handful of camera guys to, at our peak we had about 40 employees in-house and put out 30 full-length projects a year.
That was with ‘On Video’ at the time? Was that the peak-workload era for you?
Yeah that peak would have been right around 2003 probably and that had everything, we were doing all the different sports aswell, and On Video and random videos to fill in the spots in between. Then the internet showed up and sort of destroyed our business.
I noticed there’s a 411 dot com, did it get sold on?
Yeah. It was part of the acquisition. They bought all the intellectual property so they owned it.
So the acquisition was Giant getting bought or…?
No, 411 was a separate company and we got bought by Wasserman Media group in LA.
Who own Transworld?
No, they own ‘The Familie’, which is athlete management; Steve Astephan. They were looking for a production company that could do “action” sports so they sort of head-hunted us and we went through that process.
At the time our business was dealing with the effects of file sharing.
The Napster Effect we might call it?
Yes. We did a ton of international business and file sharing picked up way faster internationally.
So if you guys were being debilitated by The Napster Effect then who would you say was skateboarding’s Lars Ulrich, you know the most vitriolic, outspoken Napster detractor?
I don’t think there was anyone really. I mean, I looked at it like, if I was a kid then I would’ve been doing the exact same thing because when I was a kid in Kansas one of my friends would buy a video and we’d all make a crappy copy of it. So I was never really angry that it happened, I mean it sucked that it had so much impact on our business and all the people that worked in our company but you can’t be mad at technology; it’s gonna march on.
Yeah, I suppose it’s adapt or…
Josh Friedberg was a founding member of 411 Video Magazine and is now executive director at IASC a member-owned, non-profit trade association for the skateboard industry, focused on promoting skateboarding, increasing global participation, industry education and saving it’s members money. We went on to talk about such deep-reaching topics as; If 411 was Star Wars then who was Princess Leia, who were the hardest working contributors, where did Matt Schnurr end up and why was he naked and who’s the best candidate for the title ‘The Steve Jobs of Skateboarding’. If you’d like to read that stuff let me know in the comments and I’ll post the follow up specifically for you.