Following Up with Friedberg

As requested here’s the rest of a conversation I had with 411VM founding father Josh Friedberg regarding the history of 411 video magazine. You can check out the first half here.

Who composed the opening music, how did you guys find the band and did they get residuals?

A salesmen at New Deal named Ken Wood was in the band Sol. He gave me a couple of DATs of their music and I picked The Boxcar as the opener song. We eventually bought all the rights to the song before we went through the acquisition so they got a decent check out of it.

Who designed the little blue section icons and where did the inspiration for those designs come from?

Andy Howell, Johnny Schillereff and Jose Gomez designed the first batch when they were working together in Atlanta. They were trying to create universal icons based on the article names. Later on our various art guys spruced them up when we decided they needed updating.

Some sources claim that later in 411s tenure it became harder to get footage from the top pros because they felt like they were just getting lost in the mix. How true is this?

This is one of those perception becomes reality instances. Internally we had always tried to find a good balance between exposing new talent and featuring top pros. Top pros were always busy with other filming commitments anyway, it was nothing new. Douglas began beating the, “we need top pros” drum loudly and it spread from an internal focus to a general perception in the skate community. We put out a lot of content, but I don’t think anyone ever got lost in the mix. If you had one good trick in 411, thousands of skaters all over the world knew about it right away and probably remember it to this day.

What would you say was your job title at 411?

I was everything from editor to at the end I was the president and CEO, I sort of ran the whole gamete.

If 411 was Star Wars who was Luke Skywalker, you can say yourself unless you want to be Han Solo?

You know, I would’ve probably been Luke Skywalker. I edited the first 35 issues essentially myself.

So do you feel that through the process and the experience of building 411 you grew from the whining teen into the wise, masterful Jedi?

I think so. One of the things that’s really cool at this point is that all the people that I worked with at some point and even had to eventually lay off unfortunately but through that process of building a company and interacting with people and trying to do my best to make it a good place to work, a lot of those people really appreciate the time they spent at 411 and you look at where the 411 alumni have gone at this point in Skateboarding and that makes me really proud. You know, Colin Kennedy’s over at the Berrics, Ricky Bedenbaugh’s at Etnies, Joe Krolick’s doing all his stuff at Vans.

You guys gave Ewan Bowman a good start and now he’s over at Thrasher. He had a rollercoaster ride at Flip. Anthony Claraval I worked with a bit when I first came out to the States.

Love Anthony, he was one of the early contributors.

He seems like a workhorse.

Total workhorse! There’re some dudes that you knew that if they were on a trip that they were going to bust their ass and get it done. That’s what’s cool just the chance to sit down with our friends and put out stuff that we thought was fun and cool, that was amazing.

[Spoken like a Jedi]

This all makes me think of a branching tree diagram of 411. There were some stalwart 411 heroes that you could rely on to show up somewhere in an issue and I wonder what they’re doing these days so on the diagram where would Tom Krauser fit, somewhere off the Media Skateboards branch?

Yeah he was on Media. Tom was an interesting dude, he was a solid skater but was one of those guys that just sort of got lost in the shuffle.

I’m sure that was often a criticism of 411 is that the quantity made it too easy to get lost in the mix. I mean knowing what we know now, with the internet in full swing it’s like, that was nothing.

Haha, yeah, every 2 months guys come on get it together. Yeah it’s funny to look back at that cause we definitely had that criticism, “Oh you guys are ruining skateboarding,” and the thing that sort of overcomes that in my mind is when I talked to kids who are fans of skateboarding, not the industry people because everyone’s got their own notion of what’s right. For example, I met with this guy the other day who grew up in Western Australia in a tiny town and he said that 411 was his connection to the world, like it got him out of that place and I’ve heard that story from so many people…

Well, I could easily tell you the same story.

Yeah! It makes me really excited because our whole point was just to connect people to something they cared about.

Well, I was a fan. So where does Ryan Kenreich fit on the diagram?

Well I guess Kenreich was considered a bit “cooler” than Tom Krauser, for whatever reason, he ended up riding for darkstar for a while.

Ah yeah, that’s right.

It’s interesting because with the wheels of fortune we got the chance to highlight lots of good skateboarders and some of them have gone on to become incredible professionals and some have gone on to do whatever they do with their lives but you look at the internet and you realize how many kids are so good at skateboarding and the chances of making it depend on a lot of different factors besides just your talent.

Certainly. I mean that’s probably the case with lots of paths we might follow in life. Okay I’ll give you 5 names I know from 411: Ron Ressurection!

Ron Res is 508 crew, he’s down with those guys, Mark Nisbet and Jason Rothmeyer. I’m friends with him on facebook. I think he’s skating again a little bit, I know he had stopped for a while and he might sell cars or something along those lines.

Gino Perez!

Gino! He was a team mate of mine on 60/40 for a hot second.

Owned by John Fallahee?

It was after Fallahee it was when it moved back up north.

Aha! Okay interesting. Conspiracy theories. There’re rumours circulating that John Fallahee is a major industry Godfather.

Haha! He was definitely in the mix, I didn’t know Fallahee very well. After my 3rd knee surgery I was trying to get going again and I was thinking about riding for ATM but never put it together and my body would never co-operate so…

Did you do a lot of PT and work hard on that?

Yeah, I did, I did. I think that between having a full-time job and trying to rehab and get my skating back to an acceptable level it just wasn’t possible.

Fair enough. Aaron Yeager?

Aaron Yeager? I have no idea.

Me neither. I bet Claraval knows.

Evan Shefflebine?

He’s a good friend of Colin Kennedy’s but I’m not sure.

Chris Swanson?

No clue.

Matt Schnurr?

Schnurr? If you follow Tim Gavin or any of those guys on instagram you’ll get to see pictures of Matt Schnurr naked.

Perfect, just what we’ve been waiting for.

Exactly.

The 411 section titled Controlled Chaos that was like what the Berrics now do as United Nations. Was that a mutually beneficial arrangement or did companies pay?

No they didn’t pay. We paid the cameramen for content at that point.

Josh Friedberg’s top contributing filmers?

That one’s tough. Almost anyone who’s good has come through 411, anyone from Ty Evans to Greg Hunt to Lee Dupont to the younger guys like Colin Kennedy and Claraval and Kirk Dianda, Ricky Bedenbaugh, Hayashi, Ewan Bowman. That was something that was cool too is we really had a chance to work with almost everyone.

I wonder if there’s a way of having a list?

We still have the log files, I could probably dig it up.

I’m not trying to make this any more painful than it needs to be.

Haha. No, just getting a chance to work with those dudes and seeing what they’ve done since then is really fun.

Let’s get back to this Star Wars thing, who’s the Emperor?

Steve Douglas was definitely the Emperor.

Who’s Darth Vader? Ortiz?

Haha! I don’t know. Yeah maybe Ortiz is Darth Vader.

But Darth Vader from Space Balls?

Yes! That’s a much better analogy.

Who’s the wise master Obi Wan Kenobi?

I’m going to retract my earlier answer and get in the Obi Wan Kenobi chair and say that Kirk Dianda was probably Luke Skywalker.

Would Kirk corroborate your theory?

He would corroborate.

We found Kirk when he was working for this skate shop and he did this hand drawn animated commercial and at the time we were like wow this kid is seriously talented.

Which skate shop?

JA Cobbs.

So he had a few commercials in that series and we wound up hiring him around issue 11 I believe. He was my right hand man for many, many years.

Well that sounds like a fair analogy then, who was Princess Leia?

There’s not a lot a lot of Leia possibilities. Later on it probably would’ve been Shimray Schwartson.

[Wow! In Spaceballs the fabled 'Force' of the Star Wars universe is renamed 'The Schwartz'!!! We're uncovering a deeply layered tapestry of connection after connection. I'm starting to see how people go mental thinking about conspiracy theories]

She came in and really filled a lot of spaces for many years, so that’s probably my best guess on that one.

Who was Han Solo, the reckless, idiosyncratic, handsome, swashbuckler that gets the job done in his own way.

I would actually tend to think that that was Ortiz. The Darth Vader analogy is a little bit too heavy I think for Chris.

Well, we could give Ortiz some Han Solo action.

He definitely had his own unique approach to getting things done.

In an office environment it seems like there’re always pranks being played what sort of things happened at 411?

Well, we always kind of fucked with Ortiz in many ways and he fucked with us all right back. I mean we made these stickers with Ortiz’s head all disproportionately big to make him look fatter than he really was and we changed his computer once, I think Kirk and I might have done this but we took a picture of his desktop and then laid it over his desktop so he couldn’t click on anything and we set up his clock so that it would alarm about food every hour. You’d be working and you’d just hear his computer all like “mmm, hamburgers.”

Nice, what was the ratio of Ortiz working versus eating or thinking about eating.

I’ve never seen anyone who’s happier about eating than Chris Ortiz. When it’s time to eat he has a food dance that he does. The whole deal is pretty incredible. I saw the dude eat pickled pig’s feet out of a jar from a liquor store in Long Beach during a skate session. No fear and a love of eating. He was probably about 50/50 maybe even 60/40 eating to working.

Well you can’t work on an empty stomach I suppose.

No, definitely not Chris anyway.

Who’s the most Don Corleone type industry player you’ve dealt with over the years? Either in 411 or out-with.

I have to say Douglas, he’s the one I worked closest with. I watched him go through that process and the way he got things done. It’s very interesting when you meet people that have that. He has sort of an incredible, magnetic charisma, you know, he gets people to do things you’d never expect.

We had sort of a love hate relationship just because we’re both fairly strong personalities in our own ways so we’d butt heads over the years but I respect what he was able to accomplish just by sheer force of will.

Fox or Deacon?

Those guys I think had some pre-existing Douglas relationship issues so that always sort of offset them from 411 a little bit. I mean we did that Flip industry section…

Which was great.

…it was an amazing piece to have in there and really introduce those guys.

Who put that together?

Wing Ko. Who I believe they hired freelance to produce that. At the time he may have lived in Chicago and was just doing production work. As far as I know he still does production and I think lives in LA.

Television stuff or?

Probably music videos and commercials and I would imagine he does television and film aswell.

Of course there’s Jamie who does his share of manipulating things.

Yeah it’s funny, I just read the Steve Jobs biography and

Yeah I saw some quotes pulled from it and I thought, “Is this about Jamie?”

Yeah, if you look at those personalities that can pull together a company and build a business and do all those things you have to have a lot of those qualities it seems and unfortunately some of those qualities aren’t necessarily really good but they’re also a part of the package.

What about Rick Howard over at Girl, I mean I don’t know Rick super well but he seems to be somewhat of an atypical personality when it comes to running a successful business.

I know Rick, obviously just from over the years, but I haven’t had a ton of involvement with the Girl camp. Probably most with Ty and Meza just from 411 stuff. But they seem to do things their own way which is cool. I think part of building a successful business is not caring what other people do.

Yeah you just have to go with what you think is cool and…

Yeah cause when you start looking back, I mean when I edited the 411s I had all this footage, you know 200 hours of footage that had to get cut down so the only thing I could do was to say if it’s good in my mind it’s going in the video and that’s it. No one’s going to be happy, they’ll be like why did you put this guy’s 3 flip in as opposed to this guy? And all I can say is well this is the one that’s better.

It gave it sort of a democratic approach too, that was one of the things we wanted to do was, it didn’t really have to matter who people were, to get in 411, as long as the skating was good, [and the video/filming was up to standard] you were in.

Was anyone ever banned from 411?

Nah we didn’t really have bans. Those are more Thrasher.

Advertising heavyweights. You guys had Arsenal, Media, Treefort, Bike! What springs to mind in terms of some of those interactions, the advertisers?

The thing that I was always really proud of was that we built a product that the Deluxe camp finally ended up advertising in. They just did Thrasher and Slap but 411 got to the point where it was valuable enough for them to advertise and I was stoked on that.

Let’s talk about dreams and nightmares. Any memorable nightmare moments at 411?

Hard drive crash right after I’d essentially edited a whole issue once. I think it was before issue 10 and that taught me the value of back up in a real, real way.

What system was that?

At that point we were using a system called digital effects, through mac. It was this stand alone video box and it put out a 160 by 120 digitized window on your screen, super pixilated, but you could edit to it. You would dump back out to VHS to review cuts and then when you’re ready to make the master the computer controlled the decks so that you’d switch the tapes back in and it’ll lay the tape back onto the master. You had to hand fade the audio while you were recording those pieces, it was, well my phone is so much better than anything we had for probably the 1st 10 years of 411. Our first hard drive was 3GB and it cost $5000. The system was crazy but I’d always loved computers so it was pretty natural for me, just trying to figure out how it worked. That’s another thing nowadays everything just works, back then there was a whole ton of voodoo involved in just making sure things were still running and when they stopped you’re one of maybe 100 people who are using that system so the pool of trying to figure out what was going on was real small.

Whereas now you can go on a forum that millions of people contribute to.

Exactly.

The other was maybe best of 5 and it had a red cover but something happened where they came back pink. There wasn’t a hard proof done, no one signed off on it.

It seems like the dream aspects of it have been covered in considering the branching tree diagram, the chance to work with so many rad people and see them go on to grow and progress?

Yeah, definitely, and also just running into people who were actually fans. We were sitting in this office busting our ass to make this thing that we thought people appreciated and to hear those stories, you know, 2 decades later almost…

Well we’re sitting here chatting right now because of it because you built it and I worked on getting into it.

Yeah I mean it’s great. All the people that cared about it, that’s what makes me happy at this point is just to know that we had that effect.

6 thoughts on “Following Up with Friedberg

  1. Finally got around to reading both of these interviews John. Great stuff. As an early veteran of 411's and fan myself, I'm stoked to read and re-live all of this stuff. Excellent question thread, really digging in deep my man.

    • Glad you liked it Jason. I dig, I'm a digger which means I have to ask what you'd say your finest moment in 411VM was?

  2. Good read, thanks.
    I'm sure some of the older skaters would be stoked on a 411 boxset or something like that…
    You forgot Zimbabwe skateboards ads and Joel Daenhauer! Haha.

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