A Skateboarder’s Lens Shows You a Detroit that Mainstream Media Won’t


Image by Joe Gall

At the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, we had the opportunity to meet filmmakers who were at the event and those around the world thanks to social media. It’s through our #SundanceSpotlight, where we asked people to share what inspires them, that we found 26-year-old Jordan Garland from Detroit, Mich. We featured his inspiration, his hometown via his trailer #ADetroitFilm, on our screens at the festival.

To thank him, we offered him a three-month Creative Cloud membership. What he did with it has us so excited. We caught up with Jordan to hear more about where he’s taken #ADetroitFilm since Sundance. We’re inspired by his tenacity and his vision to keep telling his stories.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
I don’t like to say I’m a filmmaker because it’s probably a discredit to people who put their whole lives into this, and it’s limiting to put yourself in one category. I just like to CREATE things. My experiences in life give me a different take on things, and I’m obsessed with bringing those ideas out to the world. Right now it’s manifesting in film.

What was your inspiration for #ADetroitFilm?
I was skateboarding in a lot of top Am contests and experiencing so much of the world through that process. I wasn’t seeing anywhere else that was like Detroit, both in the good and the bad. I also saw that, like most things, the media has made it out to be something that is completely one-sided. I want to reverse that in some sense, but do it in a way that is dope and actually matters to people.

How did you evolve your short film since the trailer you shared for our #SundanceSpotlight?
Since then, I’ve had Travel Channel and a bunch of other people interview me and help me guide their features about Detroit. I learned a lot about the production world and how things move on the business side too. At one point since Sundance, I was also signed to a producer and learned a lot about that side of things as well. Throughout all of this craziness it just brought the film and also my mentality to a point of, worry about making something that matters most about your generation, and less about any tangible success. We’re still on this crazy search for funding, we’re shooting and releasing content to let people know that we aren’t slowing down. Other than concepts and shooting, so much of the growth has been learning the ropes in the production world.

What is the process behind creating your film, and along those lines, what tools did you use?
I usually just hit a point where I’m having a stream of consciousness at like 2 a.m. I get in the mentality of, how do I fix this or get this out in an effective way? So I spend 500 hours on SoundCloud and YouTube, and skim through a million songs until I find the one that feels how I feel. It almost feels guided because the shots come to me instantaneously the second I hear the music. From there, I storyboard, scan them to my MacBook, and then put the storyboards in Illustrator and clean them up/color them. Then I send them to Josh Kryzwonos who is my good friend and RED operator. Once we have footage I throw it in Premiere Pro and just look at it like I’m mixing a song. It’s so insane to me that this works, because with no budget, and the belief in my idea, I’ve gotten to use RED cameras, drones, Creative Cloud and all the Apple products I love. It’s like I have the BEST chalk on earth to make masterpieces with. There’s no going back once you play with the big toys, I swear.

Watch his second trailer:

How did you get involved in filmmaking?
Skateboarding did everything for me. Robert Sorich (who now films for DC Shoes) and I, were always making videos and editing them ourselves, and putting out DVDs. We learned how to do “ramped slo-mos” in After Effects. Even basic revelations like “Ohhh, clips should be on beat,” grow into, “I control the rhythm of this whole thing, and it all has to move right.” Truthfully I really think everything I put out is intuitive. I just go off a feeling and less off of any rules, which may be a gift and a curse. I’m not claiming I’m an incredible cinematographer. I just know how to make things feel exactly how they feel for me.

How did you get involved in skateboarding and what influence does that have in the stories you want to tell through your film?
I always wanted to skateboard because of Tony Hawk and Tony Hawk video games, but we just could not afford a board. Eventually, my sister offered me a board she bought with her babysitting money as long as I logged off the Internet so she could call her boyfriend from the house phone. So it was on from there. Every day for 10 years I skated.

It’s influenced everything. People don’t understand how incredibly hard it is to skateboard, and that you fail for five years, and fail thousands of times on each trick, until you get it right once. You have to have such a deep dedication and connection with yourself to achieve and it’s so rewarding. It’s a question of what did that teach us about life? You don’t look at a city and just assume it appeared there. You gotta build. Everything takes time and way more patience.

What do you hope to accomplish with your films? Is there a message/specific audience you’re trying to reach?
This is how I see the world in my 26 years on earth. There’s not really any specific audience, but it’s very important to me that it resonates with Detroit. It’s also important that it’s honest – for good and bad. I also think people have this misconception that you have to be in a certain circumstance to do something like this, and I want to put an end to that Anyone can do it now, so why not get your story out? Of course I want it to be at Sundance and Tribeca and Cannes, but I have full belief it will affect society at its core so much I try not to stress those things.

What’s next for you?
I’m just going to continue to put out these messages to the world and grow and develop with the film, and the audience, and hopefully find funding and assistance along the way. My vision isn’t just for this film. I want to work with Apple, and learn from gifted artists like Kanye West and his company DONDA. I want to do an ad campaign that shows how I built this world on your products, and do it in a relevant and dope way to motivate young people to go do the same, and show them how important it is that we all know how to take photos and make moments and edit them. In my dream world, I want to remake the Harry Potter films. Though they were good, I was a kid when those books came out, and those directors weren’t, so they didn’t actually live and breathe that world like I did, so I want to put how that adventure felt for me into those films.

Final thoughts?
I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported this journey and shared the trailer and all of the media outlets. Thank you Suchan and Josh and Robert and Harmony, and everyone who is reading this. Believe in yourself, please. Then make dope stuff. Much love.