Wing Ko

The mysterious name I would see time and again continued to remain just a name for me. Strange considering the nature of skateboarding, with most people hungry for the limelight, this guy seemed to have very little interest in anybody even knowing of his existence. Even after working for years traveling to California countless times, I never came into contact with this person who I eventually started to think was a made up name. I started to form my own little theory that the name “WIng Ko” was nothing more than a pseudonym or pen name being used by several different editors and filmers in LA as some sort of weird inside joke. Until one random day I was hired for a traveling job and the first stop was Denver, Colorado. I was to be met at the airport by the producer of the project who I’d be flying to several cities with and shooting the video for. As I meandered through the halls of the Denver airport I turned a corner and saw a dude looking right at me. He didn’t look like a skater, seeming very non-descript and average in appearance. I walked up and he called my name “Josh!” I walked up to him and before I could respond he exclaimed “Hey man, nice to meet you. I’m Wing Ko”.
Might have been the first and only time one of my theories turned out to be wrong…...

What’s up Wing? Welcome to Theories of Atlantis. Tell us how you first got involved in skateboarding.

I started skating late when I was 19 while in college. Kind of a late bloomer and it also explains my horrible form (mob kf’s, etc).....I was mesmerized by Mark Gonzales’ sequence in Thrasher where he ollied Wallenberg, Christian Hosoi in those weird Vision videos with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Also Natas in the Santa Cruz videos and all early Powell-Peralta videos. The visuals of skateboarding at the time got me so hyped to skate but starting so late my skate mechanics were screwy.

What skaters did you first meet in your younger years? Anybody that we ended up seeing in videos down the road?

I come from Chicago and there weren’t many pro’s coming out from there at the time. Sponsored skaters like Stevie Dread who brought the Alva team through Chicago had a huge impact on the local scene. Alva sponsored Jesse Neuhaus and I would say he was the first legit pro with a board model from Chicago. Eric Murphy made a minor splash with a part I filmed in an Acme video.

I remember watching skate vids in the early 90’s and seeing your name in the credits all the time. How did you originally get involved in these California-based videos if you were living out in Chicago?

While at film school in Chicago, with my friend Eric Matthies, we convinced John Fallahee at Alva to edit their video Out Of Focus (1990). We got sent a bunch of random tapes-vhs, reg 8, s-vhs and edited linearly in a 3/4” edit bay at our school. We blocked out the edit bay so no one could use it except us because we both worked in the film dept at school. It was good times back then.

It’s interesting that you became primarily an editor of skate videos. How’d you find yourself specializing in such a specific piece of the skate video process?

Spike Jonze hooked me up with my first job at World Industries. It was for New World Order. Spike had already done Video Days and Love Child and Socrates had shot and edited 20 Shot Sequence. I’m not sure why I was imported from Chicago to edit the video because they were doing just fine. So it just kind of happened, every year after that I would get a call to help put a video together.

So had you had any formal schooling as an editor before getting involved in skate-videomaking?

No real outside training other than editing my own stuff and the basics in film school. It’s natural when you shoot your own footage you want to edit it.

The list of videos that you’ve edited is pretty amazing. After first talking with you I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t known you were behind some of my favorite skate films growing up. So it started for you with the Alva video, and then your next project was a video for the little known Milk Skateboards? How did that come about?

That was Christian Hosoi’s name behind the company. It was another random call to help put a video together but it was a chance to work with one of my role models, Christian. But it was the time when he was king of the Sunset Strip and not skating as much. Also it was ‘93 when things were in critical beat down mode, pants were fat and wheels were bearing covers. I remember filming at Pioneer in the Inland Empire and set-up’s were so light they were flying away in the wind like kites. The best trick I filmed of Christian was a three stair boardslide.

The 3rd video that you put together is easily in my top 20 favorites of all time. I’m talking about the World Industries video “New World Order”. This was one of the cleanest videos produced in the 90’s. It had a higher production value than most other videos of this time. What were the scenes like Shiloh’s graffiti intro shot on? 16mm or 35mm?

That was all shot on a 16mm-Bolex, Beaulieux or Arri S. I think we were all influenced by Stacy Peralta’s skits, sense of fun and high production quality.

Were you involved in the selection process for the music, or any of the art direction for that video?

Working with those guys was a collaborative effort so the segments had alot of their input. I liked alot of the music the skaters liked-Dr. Dre, The Goats, Roy Ayers so it wasn’t that hard to get music together.

Daewon’s part from New World Order was always a personal favorite. How was it working on that part?
What really stood out for me from Daewon’s part other than the obvious was the audio. I don’t remember what camera Socrates was filming on but the skate audio was so crisp and loud, I remember the chunky bearings whizzing by as he 360 kf’ed gaps, did his thing on the Beryl banks, etc… Filmmakers say that audio is 50% of your picture and Daewon’s part was definitely enhanced by the skate audio.

Any interesting stories from the time you spent working on that video?

One of my most memorable experiences from that time was the impromptu premiere for New World Order video in a Holiday Inn hotel room. The video was finished the same day that Mike Ternasky was premiering Plan B’s Virtual Reality in San Diego. I went to the premiere with Eric Matthies and Craig Stecyk, the energy was amazing as I had never been to one of those big premieres before with everyone screaming at every trick. I had just finished the New World Order video and was walking around with a vhs copy of it. Stecyk rounded up all the heavyweight behind the scene dudes-Fausto Vitello, Kevin Thatcher, O, Rick Novak, and George Powell to watch to New World Order video. Steve Rocco was there and was flipping out because assembled in the room was the whole skate industry who he was trying to piss off for years. It was such a coup for Rocco to have everyone watching his video,  i remember him squealing like a little kid at the excitement of having them all in the same room to watch his video. Eric and I were each gifted our first hundred dollar bill from Rocco that evening.

Wow, then you go right from one amazing video to another and you get to work on what is one of the more significant videos in the history of skate videos, the first Girl Skateboards video “Goldfish”. Again, how did this come about? I know Spike Jonze was heavily involved in this video, but did he just shoot his vignette ideas and then have you do the editing?

Spike had shot alot of the skits already-chase scene with Sheffey and goldfish bowl, underground tunnel with Howard (my favorite!), but Spike was always busy juggling ten different jobs. So he entrusted me to work with Rick and Megan in finishing the vid. I shot a little skating but mostly filled out the skits- Gavin’s yellow line, York’s Chocolate Pow!, Lance’s pogo stick skit. We also did a road trip to Vancouver for the first Slam City Jam. I saw Sheffey get into the manliest of men fights, it was cool to have him on your team. 
It was sketchy at the time because the edit system I was using belonged to a friend of mine who was directing a Skinny Puppy project. I was editing in his loft at the Brewery in downtown, LA which was pretty dark and dingy. When the whole team came over to approve the final edit it was quite a sight to see skaters in a goth environment.

Now, moving into 1995….I remember hanging out at a skateshop in Tampa and seeing that Flip segment in 411 VM  called “Coming to America” for the first time. I think that was most people’s first introduction to the paranormal abilities of Tom Penny. I remember being really stoked on this piece because it was one of thse rare occasions where a skit actually worked pretty seamlessly with skate footage. And all the skate footage as well as the skit scenes were all shot on film. Could you explain the process a little bit?

That was filmed in one week. The Flip team had just arrived in Huntington Beach from England in ‘95. I had just finished directing an Iron Maiden video in London so I had an affinity for things English at the time. Jeremy Fox, Flip’s CEO, was the most unhealthy person I’d ever met. His diet consisted of cigarettes, red meat and donuts. He was also obsessed with assembling the most gnarly skate team ever. I couldn’t really see it with Andy Scott, Rune Glifberg, Geoff Rowley (who was hurt at the time) and Tom Penny. They all looked malnourished and light-deprived English boys. But seeing them on a skateboard was another story. Everyone took care of business right away, most surprisingly Penny whom would wake out of a slumber to kill it each day and go back into slumber mode soon after.

I always wondered how the hell you guys managed to shoot that line of Penny down the hill at the Earl Warren school in San Diego on film. Shooting that on video would’ve been difficult enough, but holding a Bolex down through that whole line seems impossible.

For the Warren line i filmed on a slalom board so it was super fast but pretty easy to keep up with him. Also the day before we had filmed the switch fs flip at Carlsbad where he was sacrificing himself doing it before landing it. From there I had so much respect for him I’d jump out of a building to get a shot if he needed. The Flip piece is probably my personal favorite because of the spontaneity and the way it came together so quick.

Jesus, then you go once again from one gem to another and you end up being the editor for another classic video, “Trilogy”. This video seemed challenging since it was encompassing all of the companies under the World Industries umbrella.

World Industries was on fire at the time. They had all moved to a new warehouse office on Nash St. and everyone top to bottom were motivated to put it together so again it was pure creativity.

It seems like videos from that era had a rawness to them that is lacking these days. Do you think the feel of that video was helped made  possible by having such raw skaters on the teams?

It was pretty well organized with Socrates shooting and cataloging the skate footage, it was just my job to work with everyone to get exactly the way they wanted. It was easy to work with Rodney Mullen, Kareem Campbell, Natas, the Blind guys. Everyone there was excited as well to put a video together from the three companies.The most underrated part was Dill’s all fakie or switch part.

“Trilogy” had a very unique art direction. Who was responsible for the look of that film? Who did those amazing titles for the 101 section?

That was pure Natas. I remember him telling me how he envisioned the title sequence done with vector frames and foamcore. It was going to be brilliant or utter crap. It just edited together with the crazy voice intros like a jigsaw puzzle. Perfect.

Well, the list of videos you’ve edited goes on and on but the interview would take a month if we talked about them all. But some mentionables in your list are “Rodney Vs Daewon”, Plan B “Revolution”, Powell “Strip Mall Heroes” and your involvement in bringing “On Video” to the world.

I was involved in putting together a video every year from 90-2005.

I’d actually like to hear a little bit from you about On VIdeo. I’d bet that most people don’t know that you were the narrator for most of On Video’s pieces and skater profiles. Who were the original people behind it?

On Video was Kirk Dianda’s creation. I don’t know how he got it started but it was an offshoot of 411VM. They had the offices separate from where 411VM was produced because he wanted something completely different from that format.

I’d say that On Video gave birth to the snowball of documentary-style interview pieces on skaters that we see happening on so many different websites, videos, etc these days. Did you intend for it to go into so many different episodes? I felt like, as with everything else, the On Video series was an awesome idea that got caught up in having to be produced on a schedule and soon it eventually eclipsed itself by putting out too many episodes. Why did On Video eventually bite the dust?

We were supposed to be a quarterly release but only made 3 a year as hard as we tried. It was definitely a labor of love. For me it was exactly what I wanted to do as a filmmaker because skateboarding was so good to me that this was my way of giving back. It never made any money but everyone loved it so it survived as long as it did. I have hopes that it’ll be resurrected one day.

Do you ever get a chance these days to catch up on the more current videos that’ve been coming out?

I still buy skate dvd’s. Love them especially if they are special enough to get a dvd release in this day and age of internet craze. I have mad respect for anyone brave enough to put something out right now.

Do you feel that things have improved/evolved significantly since the days you were more involved in the skate video industry? For the better or worse?

There are definitely certain guys who’ve change the game for the better like French Fred, Ty, TWS guys, RB Umali and Joe Castrucci. Technology has revolutionized filmmaking to anyone with the curiosity to shoot and edit. I’m most interested in the cameras on the market these days that are awesome.

You were involved in an era that many filmmakers and skaters would agree was the golden age of skate videos and skateboarding altogether. Back then, only a few company videos were coming out a year, if that. Now with the video market is pretty flooded. How do you think that has effected things?

I’m not involved in the business end of skateboarding so it doesn’t really affect me. If I were part of the industry it would eat me up alive as I’m not much of a businessman. It’s seems like a healthy capitalist model of dog eat dog eating hot dogs. I remember that skateboarding was always underrepresented but now it’s part of mainstream culture. I was glad to be a part of that early era but things always evolve.

Do you think that with the advent of the internet making everything so much more accessible and pushing for a more immediate delivery of skate videos and video content, that it has cheapened the skate video process?

From a kid’s perspective getting into skateboarding it must be great to have access at your finger tips. I’m a big fan of the game of skate on the I would’ve never thought of something so raw like that would be so enjoyable. As long as the content is there people will watch. 

Looking back, would you say you were influenced by any other filmmakers/editors of your time?

Stacy Peralta and Craig Stecyk were major influences and my inspiration to do skate stuff. All their surf influences has so much depth as well.

So, what’ve you been doing since your involvement with skateboarding has waned?

I’m in film world doing documentary stuff. StilI going out and filming every once in a while. I just bought the Canon 7D and super stoked to shoot with that.

Do you ever have any desire to get involved in another skate project?

I have a documentary on the Chicago skate scene that’s always on the back burner. It’s about friends from my era with Stevie Dread, Eric Murphy and Jesse Neuhaus. I really need to finish this one. But I’m always down to work on another project. My work in this world isn’t done.

Well, I just wanna thank you first for helping to make some of the greatest videos of my generation. I have easily spent a year of my life watching your work. And thanks for taking the
time to talk to us about your story.