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Social Distancing with Ben Laxton

Jarryd Rees Slappy Crooks with Ben breaking our new social distancing rules

Social Distancing is a term that 3 months a go we knew little to nothing about. Now it is a turn of phrase that you can't get (1.5m) away from. From loved ones to the people buying bog roll, none of us are exempt. Yeah it affects everyday life but what about people who film/shoot skateboarding? The phone reigns supreme these days and the fisheye lens isn't as prevalent as it once was, however there are people out there who are fisheye connoisseurs. There is no way you could stay a safe social distance with a VX1000 and a Deathlens. Most of the time the focal length is 1m for such a lens. Half a meter and hefty fine to close for comfort.

What is also crazy is that the fisheye's main use, when first developed, was to get a full 180 degree view of the sky to study clouds and weather patterns. Opposite end of the spectrum for what skateboarders use it for but well within the rules during a pandemic. When pondering all of these things one name came to mind - Ben Laxton.

Ben has been holding down the crown for most "all up in the grill" filming with his trusty (yet completely beat up) VX and Deathlens combo for the good part of a decade in the gong. Ben gets so damn close that people have simultaneously slid there nose on a ledge and the tail on his fisheye. As someone who loves to get a lens right under skateboarders noses while shooting photos myself i thought it would be a good time to speak to "Lacko" about techniques, favourite clips, close calls and how his setup still functions after so much abuse.

While of course staying the recommended distance apart.

Ben getting a taste of his own fisheye torture with a Wallie nollie

So let’s get straight into it Ben, what motivates you to get right up in the grill when filming?

I guess I’ve always liked seeing the bottom of someone’s board or a truck close up in the shot because I think it can make a clip feel a bit more exciting to watch.

Was there a filmed/video that sparked that feel for you?

I wouldn’t say it was one specific video that got me hyped to get close but I’ve always enjoyed watching Collin Reeds videos and I’d have to say Quentin Guthrie too. Ive always admired how they use the VX so those guys definitely played a roll in sparking the love for getting close.

Yeah those two guys are well versed in being up in there! Also the VX and Deathlens is perfect for getting those frame fillers. Why do you think that is?

I feel with the MK1 lens being as wide as it is and the VX being in 4:3 it allows you to fill the frame up nicely in the sense of when you get close you really get to see the trick in an exciting way because it fills the whole screen with that trick, plus I feel like the handle on the VX is in a perfect spot for you to hold and get in there.

Yeah there is no way you can get that close with a HD16:9 setup. You would be chopping heads for sure haha. Do you think the handle position naturally makes you point up? Also how did develop the technique to keep the skater still in frame?

Haha yeah I feel you man, I’ve never really used a DSLR or anything like that but I feel as though id fuck the footage haha. I’m sure I’ll have to bite the bullet one day and start getting used to using a HD cam but for the time being I’ll just stick to the old faithful and keep duct taping it back together. I feel like you naturally go to point up for sure, maybe it’s got something to do with there being more weight towards the front of the camera. I remember when I first started filming I would hacksaw people’s feet off because I held it to high so I started holding it lower and I guess I’ve just stuck with that technique ever since.

Well it’s working for you mate! I’m amazed how much you can fit into frame. Speaking of duct taping your camera back together, it causes me anxiety looking at your setup haha. How much abuse has it copped? Any memorable moments of getting to close?

Thanks lad, haha oh man That setup has copped a few beatings, the lens has been knocked off more times then I have landed skate tricks over the past few years, and the camera looks like I picked it up from the tip last Wednesday, a good day is only having to give it two or 3 love taps to get it working. There has been a few memorable ones with the many VX’s I’ve had but a good one was a few years back. I was filming Harry Dobson on that Kiama bridge rail trying a blunt slide and the board slipped out from the rail while I was right in the grill and snapped the mic clean off, keeping in mind i had knocked back a few ales that day so I probably wouldn’t say I had cat like reflexes to pull the camera back in time, another time I was filming Dave Adams trying to fifty a wall rail at Nareena public school and one attempt he kicked his leg out which smacked the lens off and also kicked me in the eye, I had a bit of a bruise but it was a great laugh.

Haha man a kick to the eye from Yads would of sucked! What about going out and filming now with the social distancing? With no one around it has to be real tempting to hit spots that would normally be a no go?

I personally haven’t done it but lately I’ve been doing a lot of driving around and have come a across spots left right and centre that you normally couldn’t hit, so it’s definitely tempting to get in and snag a few clips. I was actually talking to Jarryd about this recently and he said he filmed a line in the mall the other night and some cops rolled past but didn’t say anything so who knows, I might have to give it a go.

It doesn’t seem too hectic yet and with a two person crew you could get in and out quick. I’ve heard you can be pretty strict on what footage makes the cut. Is there a criteria for you that makes footage unusable?

Yeah that’s what I’ve gathered too, it’s only early days with this whole thing so if you get in now you might be sweet. I don’t think I have a criteria or anything like that in terms of the actual trick but if I don’t like the way I filmed something or I’m just not that into the clip then i might not want to use it which has caused me and Jarryd to have some funny arguments while where editing but it goes both ways. As time goes on I’m usually glad he talked me into using something I didn’t like at first.

It’s easy to be your own worst critic but that’s also how you get better. I know for myself too that I’ve hated the way I’ve shot or filmed something but everyone else is to let it slide sometimes. So what’s coming up for you mate? Will Lackos vault be cracked open during these unprecedented times?

Exactly man, I couldn’t have said it better. Yeah I started digging through the archives the other day so I think I’ll bring out an edit with footage from the past 5 or so years, I’ve never really thought of doing this since it’s all been seen in numerous projects Jarryd and I have made but since there isn’t much to do I thought I may as well dig through some gems and reminisce on the good times.

It’s a good time to reminisce that’s for sure. Also good to keep creative when there is not much else to do. Can’t wait to see the clip! Thanks for taking the time to chat Lacko. Looking forward to seeing you back with VX in hand and terrorising people with it! Stay safe mate.

Definitely lad, thanks Granty I appreciate it, you too.

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