A Look Inside "Think & Thank" With The Threads Idea Vacuum
For the latest installment of the TOA Underground Network, we caught up with Matt Creasy, Alex Rose, and Josh Shupe — better known as the masterminds behind the Threads Idea Vacuum — on the eve of Think & Thank, the group's sixth video in eight years. Originally operating out of the South, the group spent much of the aughts quietly producing some of the most intricate and thoughtful videos in modern skateboarding while expanding their front to include the Long Beach and Baltimore scenes. Keep reading to sneak a preview at Think & Thank and for a rare insight into the Threads ethos.
All photos by Josh Shupe.
For the uninitiated: introduce yourself and tell us how you got into filming, making skate videos, and working alongside one another.
Matt Creasy: My name is Matt Creasy. I actually got into skate videos before I started skating. I had a friend who had Heavy Metal and Rolling Thunder and I watched them for the first time back to back in bewilderment the whole time. I wanted to make a skate video, somehow/someway. So, I decided I had to learn how to use cameras and how to skate for the ultimate goal to make a skate video one day.
It’s been about 25 years since I became completely enamored with skate videos and I’ve kept the compulsion to keep trying and figure out how to make skate videos this whole time. The majority of those 25 years was spent working on skate videos in the southeast, primarily in Atlanta. Tennessee was a frequent destination for day trips when spots in Atlanta would get hot or stale. Back then, Nashville was the main destination because of legislative plaza, especially when they had the original square block rails. However, Chattanooga is directly on the way to Nashville and a good halfway stopping point for the drive, so I would usually stop on the way and skate the downtown Chattanooga spots.
Eventually my friend Nick Turner in Atlanta moved to Chattanooga and so we would go stay with him and skate more of Chattanooga. Nick started skating with Chattanooga OG, Chris Scoggins and learned about a ton of spots, and found quite a few of his own too. Nick introduced me and everyone I was skating with to the Chattanooga scene. I really liked the vibe and cohesion of the Chattanooga scene, and once some footage started popping up from Mark Stewart and then videos by Josh Shupe and later Josh and Alex Rose, it was clear that the scene was growing and developing really fast. The videos were really relatable to me and had a look similar to how I wanted the videos I worked on to look. At the end of making the Ruin Skateshop’s third video, Birdwatching, I had a couple rad sessions with Alex Rose and I had a feeling that I could work well with him on a video. That feeling magnified after I finished the birdwatching video, as I started watching my old VHS videos again, and got into constantly watching the Beware of the Flare video. I really liked what Dan Wolfe and Ty Evans put together, it captured strong points of both of their careers. I also liked the tour aspect in a different kind of format. The first Threads video was my proposition to Alex to aim at an interpretation of Beware of the Flare, just with mixing his crew and mine while going back and forth from Tennessee and Georgia.
Alex Rose: Hey everyone, my name is Alex Rose and I got into filming because our scene here in Tennessee placed a high value on edits and videos as I was growing up as a kid. Watching the old Tennskate videos that would pop up in skateshops in Knoxville and seeing that they had connections to my hometown in Chattanooga hyped me and my friends up at a young age. The older crew of skaters became more accessible and we were able to skate with them and contribute footage to those projects as we got better at skating and filming. I got connected with Josh Shupe right before I got out of high school, he had taken over most of the local filming after the older filmers had moved away or started doing different stuff. He taught me a lot about the VX1000 and would lend me his stuff to go out filming and we started working on our first full-length together in 2010. Then, on a skate trip to Atlanta, I met Matt Creasy (whose Ruin skateshop videos were a staple in southern skate culture). I filmed and skated with Matt that day and we kept in touch over the next couple of years. He actually sold me my first fisheye lens! Eventually in 2013, Matt approached me with a video idea: Visit each other and combine Chattanooga and Atlanta’s scenes for a full-length. We had so much fun visiting each other every weekend and discussing our outlooks on skating, filming and videos, that the project flew by, and we had our first video together, Threads, finished in just under a year.
Josh Shupe: Hiya, my name is Josh Shupe. Like most filmers, I was just always drawn towards cameras and filming my friends as a kid. I started filming with whatever hi-8 camera I would get my hands on. Then I eventually graduated to the VX1000, and around that time I started hanging out with my friend Mark Stewart. He was the one that took the time to really teach me how to use the VX. I started out with no fisheye, and essentially being a second angle since Mark was the main filmer at the time. Once Mark eventually moved away I took up the mantle of local filmer and finally bought a fisheye. That all led to me making my first full length video, and during the tail end of that time Alex and I became friends. We both were really into skating and filming and that led to us becoming really close. We also happened to be the only two in the city at the time that were trying to really produce skate videos. That led to us moving into an apartment together and making a video together over the next couple of years. After that I was taking a break from making videos, but kept filming our friends in town. So, for the first couple videos in the Threads series I was just contributing footage and helping behind the scenes with whatever Alex and Matt wanted. I finally got back around to making a video in 2016 called Conjure and that’s when Alex and Matt asked me to really come into the fold with them. I think they could tell I was taking things seriously to the degree they did and that led to us making Pacemaker together and now Think & Thank. Strangely enough, the first indie video I saw as a kid was Ruin Skateshop’s video Nouveau, which Matt made. That video was an eye opener for me as a young kid, and it’s wild to now be making videos alongside Matt and Alex. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
What is Threads? What is the unifying concept behind the series? What are you trying to accomplish, as a whole and with Think and Thank?
Matt: Threads came from a story I heard about from the OG Satori trips in Atlanta in the early 2000s. It happened at a pretty famous triple set non-kinked rail in project housing. One of the residents was trying to get everyone skating to stop and Nilton Nieves was trying to connect with the dude so he would tolerate the skating, he told the guy that they were “threads” as in connected by a common bond. I felt that really described the bond developing between 2 scenes and video makers. Then, I really got enthusiastic with the name after thinking the skate videos we made were really just a digital fabric of time and space coming together, so it was also kind of a little wordplay. It also helped define a major goal, which was a video made by multiple people together. I really felt like videos were coming out where parts or footage were divided or split into too many parts, or separate videos [because] too many people wanted to make separate videos. I really thought this was because of how tough it is to collaborate on videos, and I wanted to see if I could make a way to successfully work with a group.
The original Threads (2014), filmed in roughly a year and focusing on a handful of people from Atlanta and Chattanooga (with a few geographic outliers like James Coleman and Chris Head), was intended to be Creasy’s final video. How did Threads turn into a series, and how did you get so many different people from around the world involved?
Matt: Alex and I worked so well together, I felt like it would be a big mistake if we didn’t further push or develop what we just put together with the first one. When I moved to California and spent a lot of time with Chris Thiessen in Long Beach, it was really obvious to me that Chris was at a really high point of creativity and ridiculously efficient and productive filming. I felt like we had to make one video merging two scenes and styles. Chris was instrumental in attracting new people into the fold, [and] he is really the power behind having so many people in Headcleaner: Taylor Nawrocki, Jason Spivey, Tyson Peterson, Brad Cromer, and even Fletcher Renegar. Chris helped build the connections that led to Supervisual, getting Trevor Thompson, Alex Schmidt, and the relationship with Damon Vorce that led to Dom Henry and Jonathan Ettman being down to have parts.
One interesting aspect behind the Threads series is that it's really hard nowadays to get filmers to contribute to projects because everyone would rather just do their own video. Like, everyone wants credit for their work and when you contribute to another video you only get like a small name listed in the credits. But with Threads, it feels very different. There are no egos pushing their way to the front to claim ownership over it. I see it as "Threads" and not as one single personality. How have they managed to keep it a cohesive collaboration without anyone's egos getting in the way?
Alex: It has been a challenge, and all of those things have been an issue at times. I think it developed as we worked with different filmers and scenes over the course of the videos; the ability to accomplish the individual goals to create a better overall video was always the most important part to us. We couldn’t have made this video possible without our main Baltimore contributor Ben Schmidt, and Jestin Devila while he was living in Long Beach. They added an immeasurable amount of depth to the video by elevating their scenes through their filming It’s also super sick they both were able to have full parts in the video to show off their skating as well. Communication has been key in this process; being objective and having the hard conversations needed to establish trust and that everyone's hard work will amount to a greater video together than divided.
Josh: Alex hit the nail on the head. I think it’s hard for someone who hasn’t worked with multiple filmers or contributors to see the bigger picture at times. It’s easy to think singularly in today’s world where recognition is a form of currency. Thankfully, most people given the offer to contribute realize that unifying results in a stronger, more developed video in the end.
Matt: I try to convey, or if necessary, convince people of a higher ceiling possible with collaborative efforts. Of course it’s not always a successful or productive attempt, but it’s really a core goal or tenet to grow threads with others who are doing unique video stuff. It takes so much effort and time to make videos, so a lot of people just can’t give up any creative control. It’s absolutely understandable, but still a shame because we believe that combining new skating and people can ultimately make a better video. It’s really cool for the people that have bought in and feel like the end product is worth it. I think the feeling at the end of making each video that the end product is truly better from collaboration totally eradicates the personal or individual egos.
This is the first Threads video since 2018; prior to Think & Thank, the videos were released on an annual basis. As this is the first video in three years, I’d imagine the four of you approached this project differently than past installments. What sets Think & Thank apart from the past Threads videos?
Matt: We really hope to make each video different and unique in some regard. Think & Thank was set up to continue off the lineup from Pacemaker, meaning that it still focused on the main crew, but adding more emphasis to the Baltimore connection and going back to California.
Thematically, the nod to some of our most influential video/videomakers is a structural pillar representing the Thank aspect. The references mostly come from here: the Blueprint/Dan Magee videos, A Visual Sound, and Neil Blender/Chris Carter/G&S/Memory Screen stuff. We wanted to reference skating history in skating, much in the same way that 90s and early 2000s hip hop made constant references to the artists that influenced and paved the way.
How did this one come together? Did you plan on the video being as extensive and all-encompassing as it is? I assume the pandemic played a role in this, somehow...
Matt: The approach was definitely different this time. We’ve negotiated with factors of being geographically spaced and fitting in new people and styles, but, like most people, the pandemic really affected how we operate. Covid hit around the time that we originally planned to put the video out, and it really clouded the vision for the timeline. For me, it brought my attention away from skating, and I had to direct my time outside of skating. But, on the other end of the spectrum, skating in Tennessee got even more productive because spots became more skateable. The footy really started picking up, and it became easy to decide to keep filming for “just another month.” As a result, we ended up having so much footage, much more than we ever had for another video. The editing process was much more complex and difficult as a result, it was so hard cutting down 20+ minutes of stuff. On top of that, we wanted to have a different post-production approach where we put more effort into mastering. Taking the longest video we ever put together and putting more effort into the post became a marathon that I got personally exhausted on a few times
Alex: I remember that I was in California, skating with Matt and the crew out there when we first heard news of Covid-19 in China. On the way back to the airport we were speculating whether it would end up spreading to the west. Then a couple of weeks later, Sam Shuman visited me in Tennessee to skate before a work trip he planned, but the virus just popped up in the U.S. so his job had to cancel their conference. That’s when we began to isolate until figuring out a safe way to go about skating. A lot of one-on-one sessions at spots that weren’t typically skateable, like Matt said.
Josh: The pandemic honestly made the video better in the end. That sounds odd due to the horrifying nature of the situation, but once we were able to start going out on one-on-one sessions like Alex mentioned, that sparked the crew up. New spots opened, and old spots that were a bust had no security. I think it also made us value what we were doing more because we were all ready to get out of the house and get back to skating and filming.
Do you have ideas that you want to execute before you start filming, or do you wait until editing to take stock of the existing footage and build from there?
Matt: It's always on our mind to have some ideas and methods to execute before we go in, with filming, editing, and skating. I wanted to use the French Fred Bon Appetit! and LA County crook/warp fisheye style, I knew that going into it. I also knew going into it that we wanted to mimic the Brian Wilson wall of sound attempt during Pet Sounds by spending a lot of time layering and filling the natural audio (doubling or limiting certain skate sounds, and stacking ambient audio). But, we leave a lot of flexibility to play off natural developments that happen during the making of the video.
Is it a struggle to get footage of all the original Threads members, like David Clark, Jeremiah Babb, Nick Guertin, and Andrew Edge? I mean, everyone is well into their thirties and working strenuous jobs, raising kids, or going to school.
Alex: Some have more free time than others to skate. What I’ve found to be effective is to make time for these people to film one-on-one, while playing into their strengths. Not everyone can be on the session every weekend. Jeremiah is a great example of this; as someone with a lot of responsibility and little time to travel around, he knows exactly what he wants to show and can get a lot of things done in one session. I met up with Jeremiah three times to film for this video and thanks to his deliberacy, he was able to be a big part of it.
Josh: I think that giving people the room to be as much, or as little, a part of the videos as they want seems to attract a certain comradery that is evident on screen. It can be challenging, but like Alex said, maximizing the time and really trying to play to the individual skater’s strengths plays a big part in getting the footage that we do without living in the same city as everyone involved in the projects. Whenever we’re able to go film with Jeremiah, David, or Andrew it’s like we picked up right where we left off the last time. I hope we’re able to connect with them more often now that things are getting back to normal too.
Matt: It is a concerted effort to keep the original crew in the videos, but I think everyone in Threads has figured out how to be productive. Everyone's a little different in how they operate, but Alex has figured out how to adapt and facilitate the different M.O.s of everyone and help them produce clips. I think the crew recognizes this and the emphasis on inclusivity is kind of a bond strengthening thing now.
Jim Arnold and Matt Creasy making cinematic magic at Atlanta's Black Blocks
Tell us about your filming style. Why are you sticking with the VX in 2021?
Alex: For me, it’s the way I like to see skating shown. I’ve never filmed skating with anything else, and in ways I feel like I’m still developing as a filmer with this camera and the mk1 fisheye. Matt films some great stuff on the hi8 camera, and we used to incorporate it a lot more in the earlier videos, but as we’ve included more filmers that also use the vx1000 it’s a great way to keep our footage looking consistent.
Matt: The square for barrel distortion is the key. No camera has beaten the power of the vx1 and Century Mk1, in terms of getting in the action and details. The 4:3 HD setups have improved vastly, and can look great with a solid barrel fish, but still no VX level.
The debate here used to be polarizing, but I feel like the limited capacity and growing functional issues with the vx are really decreasing the video makers sticking with them. For me, I just think it would be tough to merge the previous Threads videos mentally with a new HD look. I like all the Threads installments being consistent, so that is a big factor, I think.
Josh: The VX is such a vital piece of the puzzle for skate videos and always has been. The videos I grew up watching were mesmerizing because of the VX/MK1 combination. The look, the sound, it’s all there. It's a very crucial part of our process at this point and like Matt mentioned, it would be strange to try and integrate in the HD format for the videos after we have spent so long championing the VX with our work. For myself, it’s also a muscle memory thing. I know where I should be, and when I should be there with the VX. That leads to more freedom while filming and hopefully makes it more exciting to watch from the viewer's perspective.
Threads wears its inspiration on your sleeve, so to speak - the videos are littered with homages, citations, and references to works of note. How does skate nerdery guide your work? How do you balance original ideas alongside homages, and how do you pinpoint the best way to showcase these homages? Why did you focus on Lost & Found and Memory Screen for this video in particular? Do each of you have a favorite little reference or shoutout from the series you want to mention?
Alex: Finding ways to give props to those formative videos has been one of my favorite parts of working on the threads series. What I love about Memory Screen and G&S Footage is how cool they made all of the different cameras and formats work together. You can tell so much of it was shot telecine-style off of the T.V. and they really leaned into the effect that was created with the overall editing style, frame by frame slow-motion with grittiness and the aggression of the skating. In my opinion those videos have an entirely different energy to them and their parts than other videos. I bought a little pamphlet with a transcription of Chris Carter and Duane Pitre talking about Memory Screen after a screening in Brooklyn. It helped me to really appreciate the lengths and creative vision that went into their videos and the skating that was happening in the year that I was born! I highly recommend checking out the video on NYskateboarding.com called Memory Screen: What We Know So Far.
As for my favorite reference, it comes from the new video: Creasy referenced Santa Cruz: Wheels of Fire. The way Matt Sharer and David Clark’s part looks, they have all these fast sidewalk and Southern California alley tricks. I like to see it framed that way and thought it was a great parallel to draw from one of the best parts in skate video history.
Josh: I think my favorite reference in the videos is more of an inside joke for the crew, but it makes me laugh every time I see it: Wrong House [from the first Threads video].
Matt: What sticks out the most to me is a reference that I decided to omit. I have a list of musical artists that I’d like to get into the Threads videos, and one I’ve been trying to sneak in is Jimi Hendrix. In particular, I think Josh Stewart made Jimi work well, citing Highway Child in the World Market video and Joel Meinholz with House Burning Down in Static. I honestly just couldn’t think of anything clever enough to make the cut unfortunately. But, I really wanted to show the influence there. If I did have to pick one reference, I’d pick the mini ramp champ list from classic mini ramp sections during the Bender section. The mini ramp parts are very underrated in my opinion.
How involved are the skaters in this aspect?
Alex: It varies. For example, Fletcher was not involved in the editing process of his part, but I felt like his stuff needed to stand out thematically to emphasize the power and aggression behind his skating, so I wanted the shots to appear different. We telecine transferred 8mm and 16mm off the screen with the MK1 zoomed in a bit to really give it that CRT television effect. I thought Scott Conklin and Mark Heintzman’s parts from Memory Screen and Footage had the most accurate inspiration to draw from in regards to Fletcher, so we all agreed it would be cool to mix in some visual references as well as the Pain Teens song. On the other end of things, Jim Arnold was heavily involved in the creation of his part, and offered up several ideas for shots from his favorite moments in the Blueprint vids. To give it more depth, I wanted to reference a feel that our friend RJ Hess established through his later videos with TennSkate. He had these really folky edits of skating in the Old City neighborhood of Knoxville and the Blueridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. Jim was a staple of those edits, and I always thought he came off really well in that stuff and wanted to carry the feeling by using the Simon & Garfunkel song.
One thing that’s lost on a lot of people is that Threads makes tribute boards, as well. What’s the mentality behind that? Who designs those? How do you pick who gets a board?
Matt: Making boards with Threads was a tough decision we toiled over for quite a while. Originally, we wanted Threads to be a conduit or vehicle for the board brands that we believed in and supported the people in the Threads crew. I wanted the board brands and video makers to have a mutually beneficial relationship where board companies would support their riders using their footage for independent videos, while the independent videos would in turn create a natural promotion for the board companies. I feel hypocritical in some ways to deviate from that initial plan, and I feel personally guilty for not doing more to support the smaller board brands doing rad stuff. However, I was honest with myself and knew I would regret not doing more with the traction and loyalty we produced internally with Threads. Working and brainstorming on graphics for soft goods got me naturally starting to conceptualize how threads graphics could work for boards. There were two factors that really influenced the decision. One: the opportunity to broaden the accepted role of a board brand. Professional skateboarder, guest board, legend team, ambassador… skating is weirdly between quantified metrics to set objective definition of a pro and arbitrary terms to connect or promote people that are actually foreign to a brand. Personally, I think skateboarding focused on people and individuals is vastly more interesting than products (videos and boards) with no individual connection or emphasis. To build on that opinion, I thought it would be cool to have a board (eventually) for everyone in Threads. The videos are about the crew, and so I thought it would only be appropriate for the boards to be about the crew as well. So we came up with the character and tribute to threads part boards to represent everyone that has been in the videos. This also translates into the second point, which is that we really designed Threads as a co-op more than board brand. In the way that I feel bad about not putting my own money into supporting other board companies due to a desire for creative control and self-satisfaction. I also knew most heads in the Threads crew felt similarly. With that unified desire for our own vehicle, I felt like we could make something self-sustainable. With that perspective, I felt like Threads could almost be a co-op where everyone in Threads shares a sense of ownership. Ultimately, I felt like committing to making boards would generate a deeper connection and stoke for everyone involved in Threads.
Josh: Making the boards has been an incredibly rewarding endeavor. Figuring out the logistics of it all and then taking that first leap was a little daunting, but I’m glad we committed and went with it. The talks about what do for the boards always leads to exciting conversations that ultimately lead to us discussing a myriad of additional ideas for further down the line. Matt does such an incredible job with all of the graphics for the boards and clothing we put out, and like he mentioned above, it adds another dimension to the videos to see the boards in there. It also seems to have strengthened the crew morale because we are all so hyped to be skating boards we feel a strong connection with, and I think that is evident in the end result for Think & Thank.
What’s next for Threads? This isn’t your last video, I hope?
Matt: No, it’s not the last, in fact we are working on multiple videos at the same time right now. The pandemic greatly affected Think & Thank, in terms of extending the duration of filming and then of course the video length. But going forward I would really like to put out shorter videos more frequently. Obviously, that’s the clear way all videos are going, but I would like to make those types of shorter videos, but with more conceptually, continuity, and cohesion.
Alex: We already have a lot of new footage since capping Think & Thank! I’m excited to highlight some of the newer faces and work on succinctly showing certain people out of the crew that I think would work well together.
Thanks to Matt, Alex, and Josh for taking the time to answer our questions! Think & Thank will be live on the Free Skate Mag website next week. In the meantime, the entire Threads Idea Vacuum catalog is on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.