Aug 16, 2017

You have to be creative to find good places to skate in Havana, Cuba. Perhaps no one understands this better than Yojani Perez Rivera. While most skateboarders are overcoming obstacles in the form of ledges, rails and security guards, skateboarders like Yojani in Cuba struggle to even find a board to skate on. Political and economic conditions mean that imported boards are scarce and materials to make your own are just as hard to find. This, however, did not deter Yojani who has become a pioneering figure in the Cuba skate community. Against the background of the old city, a young and vibrant community of skaters is thriving with Yojani at the helm.

The community’s skatepark is small, the elements handmade and uneven, but beloved. Together they are a family and this skatepark is their home. Inspired by more than the excitement of mastering new tricks, they are driven by a shared passion for progressing the sport and sharing that passion with others. They stand out and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Enter Corey McLean, Marco Bava and Seth Brown. The three friends grew up in the same town on the coast of Maine, drawn together by their love of storytelling and videography. In 2016, the friends came together and traveled to Cuba to shoot a documentary entirely on GoPro about this culture and community that Yojani is cultivating in Cuba. We asked the filmmakers to share about their experience of shooting the film and how they captured this amazing story.

What was your inspiration for this film?

This video came to mind as a fun experiment with the GoPro. We had been working with Yojani on a bigger film and loved his story about the skateboarding community. We knew we wanted to make a piece on it, but felt like it’d be better as a short than in the film, so we decided that the story would be a cool opportunity to see what we could make with just a GoPro. Our real goal was to see if we could make something with a different look and feel and to see what kind of quality we could achieve. We had a blast treating the camera in a different way than we’re used to, making different rigs and experimenting with it beyond typical action cam styled mounting.

How did you set up the shoot?

The streets of Old Havana made a great visual base to build from. We wanted to place Yojani within elements of his famous city, but use that crumbling landscape as a way to elevate the youthful excitement Cuban skaters bring to the sport. Our goal was to capture the humanity and love these skaters had for their sport, so we put as much time into focusing on them as we did their skateboarding.

What story did you want to tell in this video?

The goal of this piece was to take the viewer on a journey through Havana that would help illustrate the intimacy of the Cuban skate community. Yojani talks a bit about how people don’t understand skateboarding, and so we really wanted to try and use images that communicate the way he sticks out like a sore thumb. Skating in Cuba feels inherently out of place in such an antique city, so we hoped that feeling would come through in our footage. We also wanted our footage to emphasize the two sides of Havana’s skateboarding relationship - that despite it being so unfamiliar and bizarre to many in the city, the small community of skaters is more tightknit than most places.

How was this shot?

Most of it was shot in 120fps and 60fps, but a few critical shots were done in 240fps. When we could, we shot with multiple cameras to capture maximum action, but occasionally would use one camera at a time to film scenes in a more cinematic style. For accessories we used a Chesty, a 3-Way and a ‘Wizard staff’, which we semi-invented by attaching a motorized gimbal to the leg of a monopod. It allowed us to film smooth and highly maneuverable shots on the fly (for example, the opening shot).

Did you use any specific techniques to get the shot you wanted?

We experimented a lot with the different frame rates and aspect ratios to create moments that feel a little bit dreamy. GoPro footage is usually wide angle and puts you right in the action, so we wanted to try and mix up the styles of shots a bit more so that it felt more like it had been shot with a variety of different focal length lenses.

Why did you decide to use a GoPro?

In the past, GoPro’s helped us change our perspective as filmmakers, into people experiencing a situation along with the subjects. This time, our experiment was to see if we could melt away entirely, and let the situation unfold as naturally as possible. When you stick a huge camera in someone's face, they are very, very aware of the fact they are being filmed. GoPro’s have the ability to put people at ease. So for this situation, it was a perfect camera to create a faithful, in-the-moment style video, where everyone was acting totally natural…. just being themselves.

 

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