IFH 488: When Hip-Hop, Skateboarding and Filmmaking Collide with Jeremy Elkin

When Hip-Hop, Skateboarding, and Filmmaking Collide with Jeremy Elkin

In today’s episode, we take you back to the late 90s and early 80s hip-hop and skateboarding culture in New York City with director Jeremy Elkin’s new documentary, ‘All The Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding.

In the late 80s and early 90s, the streets of downtown Manhattan were the site of a collision between two vibrant subcultures: skateboarding and hip hop. All the Streets Are Silent brings to life the magic of that time and the convergence that created a style and visual language that would have an outsized and enduring cultural effect. From the DJ booths and dance floors of the Mars nightclub to the founding of brands like Supreme, this convergence would lay the foundation for modern street style. Paris Is Burning meets Larry Clark’s KIDS, All the Streets Are Silent is a love letter to New York—examining race, society, fashion, and street culture.

Jeremy is the founder of Elkin Editions—an independent video production studio under which he’s done production, writing, cinematography, and directing. 

He’s most notable for his 2015 hot topic directorial debut, Call Me Caitlyn, and a second unit director on recording artist, Demi Lovato’s 2017 documentary, Simply Complicated. The documentary gives a personal and intimate look into Demi Lovato’s life as not only a regular 25-year-old but also one of the biggest pop stars in the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching All The Streets Are Silent. It gives one all the good nostalgic feels while also provoking current socio-cultural consciousness.

Enjoy my chat with Jeremy Elkin.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show Jeremy Elkin man. How you doing Jeremy?

Jeremy Elkin 0:07
Hi.

Alex Ferrari 0:08
How you doing? Right? So I wanted to bring you on the show, man. I saw your film, all the streets are silent. And it really hit a chord with me, man, because I was like I was telling you before I, I was raised in New York as a kid. So for most of the most of the 70s, and up until about 85, I was in New York and my dad, my stepdad was a cab driver. So I would ride with him throughout Manhattan, and I saw hip hop coming up, and breakdance and then skateboarding and all that Washington Square. I was all in that stuff. I was a young kid at the time, but I saw it happening. So when I saw this, I was like, Man, I'm back home. So how did the project get together? Man? How did you put the whole thing together?

Jeremy Elkin 0:54
It's a big question. Which part of the?

Alex Ferrari 0:59
Well, just in general, like I mean, so what was the genesis of the project? Like how did you like At what point did you go I gotta put this thing together. I got to tell this story.

Jeremy Elkin 1:07
Yeah, so you know, I made skate videos for a long time. And I made documentaries for a while and I had always known that he like Eisenhower had this like magical archive based on his footage that was mzr mixtape. And I knew that he was at destruction Bob radio show a lot. I knew he was a club promoter. But I didn't really know the full extent until we started to dive in. So yeah, to be perfectly honest, I didn't I didn't know there was a story until probably like a year and a half and to making it didn't really know if it was anything more than just a behind the scenes on how mixtape was made. And it really wasn't until we discovered Yuki Watanabe, who was the founder of the nightclub Mars, until we discovered his archive from the nightclub. That's where the story opened up.

Alex Ferrari 2:03
Now, how can you explain to people the importance of Mars because I had Moby on the show a little while ago, and and Moby talked about Mars like it was, you know, the second coming? So can you take the importance of those years? Because it wasn't around for a long time. It was around what four or five years? I'm like that two years? Oh, two, it was only around two years. Jesus?

Jeremy Elkin 2:22
Yeah. midnight of the new year's eve of 89. And a close spring of 92. Oh, Jesus. So it was only January 1992. Like, you know, April or May of 92.

Alex Ferrari 2:36
So a couple years, but it was such an impactful club. Can you explain to people what that was about?

Jeremy Elkin 2:42
Yeah, so it was actually not a hip hop club. It was a club that had many different genres of music. And every floors of genre that's that's how you ki and Rudolph set it up. And you he was a DJ, and he was super interested in the youth. And so he set up this little radio station and called radio Mars where he would record mixes in his little office, and he would audition DJs for the for, you know, for the next week or whatever, right? And people will drop off demo tapes. They would come You know, do a session for him and he would figure out who, who could pair with Who and What floor they would go on and whatever. But it wasn't about hip hop. Until there was one evening, famously when Beasley has a character in the film, found a microphone with Eli, the narrator. And this is in the basement. They have like this house party in the basement, they plugged in the mic. And word got around that there was a mic where you could rap because in the basement of the house, but they were like playing hip hop, like you weren't supposed to buy hip hop because it brought like bad insurance, whatever. You didn't want it because it meant like gang violence but they started playing like de la Sol and tribe and black sheep. And a non black sheep. Those later dread Dale's own tribe and you know, jungle brothers, those guys all the cons. And they had a mic and Run DMC showed up. And you know, and and we're like, you know, this is how you Ryan kind of thing. I think just word got out in the in the community that there was an open there was the ability to go to a club with a DJ and you could get a mic. So that sort of that was like the birth of I think the club blowing up and that was within the first like, you know, let's say six months of it opening

Alex Ferrari 4:28
and then I saw the vid in the film that Do you have some footage of Jay Z? A young unknown Jay Z just rapping on the mic? Yeah, that was the

Jeremy Elkin 4:39
Yuki his wife actually filmed that. That was a that was a crazy one. That tape was like that's a whole other story of discovering the tape. But yeah, Jay Z was you know, completely unknown under jazz O's when coming up. Jazz Oh sort of gave him the chain that night to wear and I think he just let off and he had never seen that footage we showed it to him many years ago and he was he couldn't believe he you know he didn't even know anyone record

Alex Ferrari 5:07
he didn't even know that Jay Z ever played that that clip because he always he didn't know who's Jay Z was so he's just was another another rapper right Ryan's name like Jay Z didn't even know that was recorded. Oh, Jay Z didn't even know it was

Jeremy Elkin 5:17
your dad and he didn't know. But no, Yuki Yeah, he didn't know. You know, he, these are all unknown rappers. It's like if you know, it's like if we go to a club next week. And there's a bunch of people rhyming, like we never

Alex Ferrari 5:30
met. And then m&m shows up.

Jeremy Elkin 5:32
We're certainly not gonna tape it. And I think yukia is why Bolton Eli as well. But you know, you I was like younger back then. But they had the foresight to record, you know, every once a week, once or twice a week and record performances of the club. And that was just happened to be one of those nights. Yeah. And I think they only recorded that because the junk if you watch the film, The Jungle brothers, he's kind of doing a dance. Yeah. And there's like an interview there's an interview where they're from, I think MTV or VHS or something like that. And they're interviewing him and so they were filming the jungle brothers being interviewed on broadcast TV like the camera man was in there. So I wonder I don't know they were in there to record the jungle brothers is as an interview in the club. Right? This is according to like what I've seen in the tape. I mean, you he doesn't remember they don't remember but I don't think the cameraman would have had the you know, I don't think they're recording all the all the musical performances that night. I mean, it was a lot of people going on. I doubt they got it in that quality. But you know, Yuki, his wife was able mammy Watanabe was able to record it. And she labeled the tape wrap streetstyle New York group or something?

Alex Ferrari 6:39
So would have never been able to like How the hell do you find that in the probably 1000s and 1000s of times?

Jeremy Elkin 6:45
Yeah, so he he was only giving me the tapes that were properly labeled. And then there was like another 234 1000 tapes that were unlabeled, who were mainly house and disco and not really the nights. It was again, it was this night. It wasn't really like there wasn't like a hip hop night collection. It was the hip hop was sort of embedded in archives. So you know, they would make these highlight reels of each evening. So for instance, you know, one evening it was, I think the one that tape where the Jay Z appear that saw a glimpse of avant was it was a mash up of a variety of evenings. And it was a glimpse of like two to three seconds of most mute of Jay Z on the mic, and I called up right away. I was like, Where's the Jay Z tape? What's that? He's like, he never played in Mars.

Alex Ferrari 7:36
Now he wasn't there.

Jeremy Elkin 7:37
I would have known him, you know? And I was like, No, no, I'm pretty sure it's Jay Z. I sent him a picture. He's like, Yeah, it looks like like, No, no, it's for sure. It's JC. And he's like water. No, like, it must be an unlabeled tape. You know, if we have it, because those highlight reels, you know, may me and him were like doing the tape to tape editing or whatever it was called where you would make like a highlight reel of a variety of tapes on the one tape. But you couldn't have like the audio wouldn't transfer with it. So you just put you choose a song and then you would layer in footage, you know. And that's that was it? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 8:11
So you mentioned the zoo, your mixtape? Can you tell people what Zoo York was and the importance of New York in this whole movement?

Jeremy Elkin 8:21
So yes, New York was a skate company founded by Rodney Smith, Adam Schatz, and he like as our 93. Adam shots, Eli had come over from doing fat farm. And Rodney was the founder of shot skateboards, which is the first New York skate company, the early 80s. And so they sort of combined forces after Eli that success of Mars and fat farm developing platform under Russell. He, you know, they got together started New York, and it was kind of like the first it was really like the first successful East Coast skate company, I guess you could say. Because Sean had some success, but it was definitely underground and more like transition pool skaters, Zoo York was really Street and it had like, the hip hop roots graffiti aspect with the tags. And yeah, it just was a it was a really like Ross street brand that existed for about, you know, seven, eight years before it got bought by Marc Ecko and and became something else but during those first years, 93 to 2000 ish. It was it was you know, as good as it gets for skated for street skate on the east coast.

Alex Ferrari 9:33
And then so um, because at that point, basically West Coast owned the the skating world I mean, with Tony Hawk and the the one of those guys called Dogtown z boys, z boys and Dogtown and they kind of I'm not sure who were they they were the first to skateboard right with it. West Coast was there or is there or is there a conversation?

Jeremy Elkin 9:57
There's a lot more cruise like it was the end Were in San Francisco. There were a lot of amazing skaters in LA that were doing street skating. Just like the New York guys. It's just the only mainstream press was hitting you know, only the mainstream press is picking up Tony authz boys, etc. But there were there were I mean, there were millions gay companies were awesome in the on the west coast. It was it wasn't it wasn't like if anything does Tony out busy boys were seen as corny. And you know, men s and some of the like, Girl chocolate skateboard guys, Spike Jones, his crew, those guys were like, those guys were like, you know, the skaters that everyone like looked up to, at least from you know, the type of skating that I grew up, you know, enjoying,

Alex Ferrari 10:39
right. And then the whole skate scene in New York was a lot more I mean, again, when I was raised there, so it's a lot grittier. There's no palm trees, there's no beaches. You don't want to go to the beaches. Most of the time, things like that. So the energy was just so different. Now. At what point did the street culture combined with hip hop was that the mixtape?

Jeremy Elkin 11:04
I mean, there's I mean, there's a lot of examples of it. You know, I think even going way way back to like breakdancing circles and the projects in the 80s. You know, I'm sure like for kids with skateboards, there was a DJ in the park. And there was a couple of these breakdancing and doing graffiti. I'm sure it was all it was always. It was always like part of one thing, you know, I think it wasn't so like black and white. But I think the mixtape just like showed, as as Josh kailis puts it in the film, he says they show how close they were in relation, I think, you know, as opposed to like, you know, some like abstract, archival photo from the mid 80s. I think just seeing a 40 minute version of that was way more impactful. And just the fact that like, clearly the guy Eli was at the radio station and the guy from escaping, also Eli, an RV family, you could tell they were using the same cameras, it might have been been been from the same tape. So I think that's what really like hit home the people It wasn't like, they just scraped the internet for x footage, and then paired it with the footage they were filming, it was all part of the same body of work. That's probably why it hit harder, you know.

Alex Ferrari 12:15
Now, two of the main people in the movie that are in all this archival footage is Harold and Justin. Who are I mean, gone too soon was luck, of course, but their characters I mean, Harold, I mean, he's a legend. I mean, there's people wearing his name his face on T shirts still. And he passed years ago. I knew him from I was introduced to him by four kids. I mean, I saw kids in the theater when I saw kids. You know, I was just completely blown, right? Rosario Dawson, who's in your movie? I was I think that was her first movie, right? That was her first movie was kids, right? Yeah. Can you explain a dude Can you explain first of all what kids was and then what that impact is kid blew up in a kind of an underground world. It wasn't like a massive worldwide hit or anything. But it was a big thing, especially for basically a bunch of street kids. You know, just running around skateboarding. How what was kids? And then how did that affect Harold and Justin? As far as what how do they affect their lives?

Jeremy Elkin 13:20
Yeah, so harmony was in town. He moved to New York from the south, I think, from to attend school to Zen college. I began this wrong but I think like the new school asked me i think i think it was a new school. And one of his I think it was his thesis project was the script for what became kids and Larry Clark who was a season filmmaker photographer at that time he I think he saw something in harmony and he needed a writer in harmony was like one basically, you know, I can't I can't I don't want to get this wrong but something like that where they you know, they joined forces decided to make this movie based on the kids of Washington Square Park. That's the the gist of it right. And yeah, they decided to cast you know, kids from Alphabet City and Laurie side and Washington Square and Tompkins he's village and and kind of create a film that was like, so real that it could have just been a documentary. That's the that was I think the goal but it's just about you know, what kids get into their their everyday lives downtown New York.

Alex Ferrari 14:34
And how did that how did that fame and exposure affect Terrell and Justin psychologically? Could you talk a little bit about that the doc

Jeremy Elkin 14:44
Yeah, I think, you know, it must have been It must have been pretty nuts. I mean, you know, I don't I don't think how was getting paid by Supreme. I think whatever board royalties and wheels and shirts, whatever he's getting from New York was probably maybe 1000 bucks, whatever you Getting a month you know, they're not exactly like rolling in the dough or, or or forgot about profitable. They weren't really like recognizable outside of the bubble of like the 100 skaters who skated in New York, you know, like, it was tiny. And then all of a sudden, he was like, at the Loews cinema on the big screen and selling out movie theaters. I think it's a it's a huge change. Right? I think, like, it must have really messed with him and Justin, I think, with their, psychologically with their, probably their, like hopes and their their aspirations or what they wanted to do. As kids, the downtown said, for sure. By changing them, you know, they were also getting older and having I don't remember what year or not remember how old Howard was when kids came out, but he must have not been more than 20 or 21 years old, and maybe even maybe they TNR was he was young for sure. Yeah, so yeah, huge effect.

Alex Ferrari 15:59
Now, um, you know, when you approach this, this project, you know, I've, like I said, I've been editing for years, man, How the hell did you go? How did you approach this? I mean, you're talking about 1000s of hours of footage on what was it? High eight, height tape, mix of

Jeremy Elkin 16:17
high eight and mini DV area? And there were like, you know, obviously photographs, 16 mil reels, eight millimeter, etc.

Alex Ferrari 16:24
How the hell did you? I mean, I'm assuming you had help, because I can't believe you did it all yourself, as far as just category category, cataloging all this stuff?

Jeremy Elkin 16:33
Yeah, the cataloging was done by a few people who came in at the very start, it was it was definitely like, you know, three people, one or two of them a week for the first like, you know, three, four months then after that, it was really just me. And my assistant Khyber who, who stayed on and, and helped develop it, you know, we developed it together, I think in terms of like, figuring out, you know, ABC grade footage, you know,

Alex Ferrari 16:57
now as far as the story goes, I'm always fascinated when I talk to documentary filmmakers about, you know, you discover the story as you go along. And, and that's something that a lot of filmmakers listening, don't understand. On the documentary side, like, yeah, you can maybe have a script, maybe you have an outline, maybe you have your thing that you want to kind of go after. But when you start, like, you know, you you meet that one interview, you're like, Oh, my God, that just took me off to a completely new direction. How did you approach the storytelling of this? I mean, did you like you said before, it could have just been a behind the scenes of the mixtape. But once you've got that one interview, how did you kind of like structure it all? Like, how did you put it together? outlining it and stuff?

Jeremy Elkin 17:38
Yeah. So I think it's a three part answer. One, my boss when I was at Vanity Fair, was the producer on the film. And he was a vanity fair for 25 years. He's an amazing journalists, amazing editor writer. So working with him, the way that we work was just the same as what we had a vanity fair. So we worked really well together. And I think that's part of the success of the story is, is the two of us. I think, if he had just been getting, he's not a filmmaker, but if he had just been doing on his own with someone else, maybe it wouldn't have looked the same. I think I would have gone a little nuts, had I not had him. I think he really like, you know, help, sort of like, I think he just, you know, he saw the bigger picture. But he also, let me tell that it was an interesting relationship. You know, like, I think that that's, you know, a, I think, you know, the bottom line here is that it's Eli stories narrator Eli gessner. It's his archival footage, for the most part, you know, largely it's 60 70% of the film is his archive, meaning that we I was trying to just tell it as he was, you know, as what he was recording. So he didn't record Janet Jackson and Midtown, there's no data, you know, that certain things aren't in the story that might pertain to like her dating cutup, or this some weird other connection. Those are left out if we didn't have the footage. We weren't just like taking things off the internet. And then and then figuring out how they were aligned. It was really like, what is the basis of Eli's collection? And how is how is there a story in there? You know, that was first and foremost. And yeah, it's like, you know, it's totally Eli's it's what happened to Eli and and also what Eli recorded that's the result of the film. Like that's the that's like the core of the movie.

Alex Ferrari 19:29
What got you into filmmaking? What What did you make? What made you want to be a filmmaker?

Jeremy Elkin 19:35
Um, yeah, I don't know. It's just it felt like I never was like, I want to be a filmmaker. It wasn't. It wasn't like that. It

Alex Ferrari 19:44
was like I have pictures of Scorsese on the wall and shit.

Jeremy Elkin 19:46
No. Honestly, I haven't probably seen like, 1% of the movies that most filmmakers like I don't like watch a ton of movies. I make things all the time and I just the medium is film but I don't know. Like a student of film, you know, like, I'm

not, I'm not I, you know, I probably watch a movie a month or something like, I don't watch movies. I want to, it's just, it's just the it's just the medium that I'm that I'm using, you know,

it's, it's, you know, it's only it's the thing that I guess I'm good at or is easy and easy for me. And that's that's sort of it. So it's not like I wouldn't have like some big master plan to be like a director. It was never that I never wanted to be a director. I always want to be a designer. And so just sort of like fell into this.

Alex Ferrari 20:34
Yeah. How did you fall into it? What like, what was the Was it a job because of

Jeremy Elkin 20:37
Vanity Fair start films. Yeah, I started filming skateboarding in Montreal. Growing up in MTL, it was like, there weren't many people who have video cameras. And I looked up to this guy, Eric lebeau. Downtown Charles Eric's awesome, great, great, dude. He had the Vx 1000 Sony that I was I was like, 12 years old. So I couldn't afford that. But he was, you know, it's inspiring to see him out there every day. And I just was like, I want to do that, like whatever that is. But also, like, my friends were way better than me at skating. And they were doing tricks that were arguably better than what I was seeing in the video. So I was like, someone's got to film this. And so you know, picked up a camera and then made one skate video and another another another, and then wound up doing things outside of skateboarding. And then, sort of now we're here,

Alex Ferrari 21:24
just kind of like how spike started. Spike Jones?

Jeremy Elkin 21:27
Yeah, a lot. I mean, not just by like, like Ty Evans. I mean, there's a lot of amazing filmmakers that come from just,

Alex Ferrari 21:34
you know, the skate world. Now, I always ask this question of my guests, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn, whether in the film business or in life?

Jeremy Elkin 21:48
Um, I think just like the things take time, like don't rush anything. I think that's the like, that's like the number one. You know, I'm interested in how people can act and how things develop and how scenes sort of intertwine. And that's always been interesting to me. So, you know, the film is a natural progression. But yeah, I think that's just, you know, I would I would say, just do something that do something that you love, and you're passionate about.

Alex Ferrari 22:17
And do you have any advice for filmmakers trying to like, kind of make it in today's world? I don't know. That's, that's my laptop. Just give me a second. Sure. Sure. Okay, we're good. Yeah. So yes. Do you have any advice for filmmakers who are trying to break into the business today?

Jeremy Elkin 22:41
Yeah, I mean, just meet everyone you can and be good to people. And, you know, try and try and make, I mean, the biggest advice, the biggest advice that I would that I would say is like, if you're gonna make a story about a place, or if, if the story that you're trying to tell is in a certain place, like live in that place, don't make a film about Tokyo living in Australia. You know what I mean? Like, it's, it's just not going to have the same texture or the same sound or the same feeling. As someone who understands their environment, I think.

Alex Ferrari 23:18
Yeah, you're absolutely right. So many filmmakers make You're right, the Australian who makes a movie about Tokyo or New York had never been there. And they just what they grab is they grab it from the internet, or books or movies and things like that. There's nothing like actually living it breathing it being there, especially a documentarian. I mean, you've got to as a documentarian,

Jeremy Elkin 23:36
yeah. I mean, the, the walking out your door, whether it's in New York or anywhere else, like, you kind of want the environment to inspire you, you want it to be like a constant source of inspiration. And, you know, just make things in the same environment as your work, you know, I don't know that's, that's, you know, like take in the typography and the architecture and the smell and the pollution and the whatever element is out there and your city put that in the picture and and sound it's gonna make a huge difference than if you're like, that if it wasn't in there. If you're just researching

Alex Ferrari 24:10
what is what, what inspires you as an artist, man, what, like, what kind of makes your juices flow?

Jeremy Elkin 24:17
Just honestly, like opening the front door, that's like the best thing. Just going I can just just walking in one direction for a lot for like, eight hours or an hour, whatever it is you just going around the block. You just at least I live downtown in the city in New York. And and it's like, that's the inspiration for me, you know? I don't know. I like seeing just how different every second of every day is here.

Alex Ferrari 24:45
And where can people watch a movie? So the film is out. When does is there I think right before it comes out. So

Jeremy Elkin 24:54
okay, so the film comes out July 30, nationwide. It's limited, really In New York and until then, and then September 7, it'll be out on digital platforms on Apple and on, I believe on Amazon as well.

Alex Ferrari 25:09
And we're in what are you doing next? What are you working on now? working on a few projects that I can't unfortunately can't. Exciting, super exciting stuff. Jeremy, thank you so much for being on the show, bro. I appreciate your time. And thanks for putting this together. Man. This tells a story that hasn't been told before. So I appreciate you man.

Jeremy Elkin 25:29
Thanks so much, man. I really appreciate it.


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