Interview and photos by Jeff Zielinski
I've been a fan of Charlie Crumlish for as long as I can remember. From his riding style, to his sense of humor, and mostly, how he follows his own path—regardless of whether or not it's the most popular thing happening in BMX at the moment. Charlie is probably most well known for his technical street riding style, but he's also an accomplished filmer and editor who is largely responsible for the BMXFU DVDs and Web videos.
Describe the Niagara Falls/Buffalo scene for me.
If I'm riding street back home, I'm in Canada 75 percent of the time. That's where my crew lives, so I don't ride Buffalo too much unless I can convince them to come down from Niagara Falls. The Buffalo street scene, for a major city, is really small. There anr endless spots, but not a lot of people who are down to ride them every day. Nothing against the dudes in Buffalo because it's a good time whenever I see them, but in Niagara Falls there are people riding every single day and that's what it's all about. I'll go up there planning to stay for a day and end up chilling at the FU house for two weeks riding and filming heavy because the vibes are so good. Come check it out for yourself—never visited a better scene.
Tell me more about Orbell's garage, and why is it so special?
Orbell's Garage is BMXFU Headquarters. It's my friend Chris Orbell's fully furnished garage behind his parent's house in Niagara Falls and has been home to a shit ton of important BMXFU business meetings. If you've seen our new DVD Guy Stuff, in the intro with the TV snowman getting smashed, that was shot in there. Every Tuesday night Orbs organizes "Garage Night" where we all throw in five bucks and cook a crazy huge meal and party. Whenever I have a bunch of footage from a trip or a few weeks of filming I burn a disc of the footy and bring it there so we can all watch our clips and get psyched. It's also fully stocked with every tool you'd need to fix your bike and tons of spray paint if you're getting sick of your current color scheme. Also it's kind of a FU rite of passage to pass out and spend a night in there.
Would you mind giving me a quick history of BMXFU?
I wasn't even there when the phrase was coined, I was around 17 or 18 years old and didn't drive at the time. Some dudes from Newfoundland were up there riding with Greg Henry and I really wanted to go meet up and cruise Niagara Falls with them. I didn't make it up, but the next time I rode with Greg he had "BMXFU" written on his frame. While they were out riding street a random crazy guy on the street shouted, "BMX? Fuck You!" at them. When Greg told me the story I thought it was the funniest shit and I wrote it on my frame right away. We started saying it all the time, drawing MS Paint graphics about it, making edits, and now we pretty much do the same things with it just on a larger scale. Those dudes are my brothers and I can't wait to see where the next few years take us.
In just about every FU video summary I've done in Ride I've mentioned that you guys don't seem to take much serious, at least that's the vibe I get from the videos, anyway…
I don't know? We kind of take some things seriously, but they're usually things that are fun. While we do our shit like long drives, riding every day, trying to film a trick for an hour, the jokes never really slow up and there's usually at least ten riders there cracking jokes—it keeps the vibes positive while we do the things we want to get done.
How does the crew manage to put out a 45 minute DVD like once a year?
The DVDs are a good example of this. I've had a lot of people tell me that it's crazy how quickly we put out full-length videos. For me, though, I think I could put together a 30 minute DVD every month with footage that we get. There are so many cameras and so much stuff gets filmed—when we go out filming every day it's inevitable. It's just that I really want the videos to be something we work on and refine for a year, it seems like a long time, but in the end it's always worth it. Filming has become a natural part of our riding—it's to the point where if a rider wants to film something, they don't have to ask. I try to get the camera out without that moment of, "Hey, you wanna film that?" Which can make a rider second-guess themselves and break them out of the zone. The same goes for if I'm riding and I start trying something, a bunch of the FU dudes are solid filmers so there's always someone there to grab the camera for me if I start trying a trick. Everyone has their own personal goals for their sections and it's the best feeling ever going out to a spot someone wants to do a trick at, and we leave with a bunch of clips in the stash. The clips go into the rough draft of their sections, I show them the progress and it gets them hyped to keep going. As the year closes out and winter rolls in, we're each sitting on a full section of stuff we're proud of. As we speak, I'm staying down in Texas and Chris Orbell, Andrew White, Dave Wininger, Jordan Krupa, and Shawn Swain just left from a two-week stay down here. We filmed so much that my terabyte hard drive filled up, but it still felt like a vacation because we didn't go out to film, we went riding and swimming and brought the camera. FU666 is off to a solid start (only being a month in) and it's a good feeling.
Obviously you still feel like there is a need for DVDs because you still release the BMXFU videos on DVD, but do you think that the kids who are just getting into BMX are losing interest in that form of media?
Fuck yeah they're still worth making! Go out riding all day every day with your friends, travel to new cities, and see what you can find. You save up all your best clips for a year then hold a huge party to show the video to tons of people like it's a Hollywood feature. It's one of the best things going in BMX. Even if the DVD format died entirely, I'd still do annual videos for the premiere alone then toss it up online, the more people who see it the better. Distribution for our videos is actually doing better than ever. And that tells me more people than ever are buying our videos, so even if that young kid just getting into riding doesn't buy a DVD himself, he's gonna see it from his older brother, or some other rider in his town. Our videos represent our scene and if they can inspire that kid to start something similar in his town, that's what's up… I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't stuck with it.
There was a lot of HDDSLR use in FU5. Is SD a thing of the past for you guys?
The decision to go to the DSLR was because my VX shit the bed. The CCDs got misaligned from too many camera flips and the footage started coming out as a blue and purple blob. My friend Brad Hill, FU co-filmer, had a Canon 5d mkII that I loved using. The footage just looked insane, I'd never seen anything like it the way he used it. At that point, I'd done four full-length DVDs and hundreds of web edits with my VX and I felt like I was getting burnt out on it and I wanted something new to experiment with. I saved up and bought a Canon T3i setup right before a NYC visit earlier this year and that became the first Guy Stuff trip. I got accustomed to the camera over that week and Craig Passero shot a good portion of his section while we were there. I will probably go back to the VX for an edit here or there once I get mine repaired—just to mix it up. I have ADD so I need to switch it up often to keep from getting bored. With the next video I really want to push it a little further, as far as different cameras are concerned. I'd like to shoot a good bit of film—Super 8 and 16mm (just to give it a different look from the last DVD).
While on the topic, what is your opinion of SD versus HD?
I personally prefer the look of HD as far as the footage I get goes, but they both have their places. Plus some people are damn good with a VX—Navaz [Ryan Navazio] and Tony Ennis to name a couple real quick. If the footage off my VX2000 looked like theirs, who knows if I would have switched it up at all. I like the raw look of the VX and even the DVX, but I've been really into treating BMX videos more like a feature movie and trying to imitate the look of that footage. The T3i is an amazing and lightweight camera that you can fit into a small backpack, but can still come damn close to that level in the right conditions. I hope I don't ruffle any feathers because I like both cameras a lot—I like all cameras. The only reason I've gotten involved in SD vs. HD debates was to defend DSLRs.
What were some of your most watched BMX videos growing up?
Road Fools 7 because Jim Cielencki, our local pro, was in it. One of the first street videos I saw was BASE Brooklyn Neighborhood Superheroes. Can I Eat? was the one for me, though, that inspired me to pick up the camera and eventually start making my own full length videos. I have a huge amount of respect for Ralph and all the Animal dudes, I can't say that enough because those were the videos that showed me how to ride the shit that was in my town. One of my all time most watched VHS tapes was a skate video though, Yeah Right! My friend Sam who skated let me borrow it and he never got it back. He eventually just gave it to me because I watched it every day. The way Spike Jonze and Ty Evans made the video flow through skating with some fun movie-style scenes was awesome. I pretty much studied that shit for years and that's the biggest influence on the way the FU DVDs are put together nowadays.
Other than Hans Rey, what other riders did you look up?
Wiz, Bob Scerbo, Vinnie Sammon, Joe Tiseo, Luc-E, Butcher, Jim C., Kevin Porter, Lino Gonzales, Greg Henry, Shawn Swain, Corey Dewey, and probably more than all those put together, George Dossantos.
I have never met anyone who reps the GoPro camera as hard you do (or did). Why did you choose to use that camera so much?
That wasn't really a choice, that thing just sort of fell into my lap after my VX got fried. Rich Hirsch gave it to me to mess around with and I ended up sticking it in my pocket every time we went out riding while I was in California last winter. That thing is seriously magical, though, you forget it's a camera so the footage that comes out is the closest you can come to watching real street riding, I think. Instead of feeling like you're on a set with 2 HD cameras, photographer, generator, lights, with the GoPro you don't even realize you're being filmed. It's more fun, less pressure, and the footage reflects that for sure. Not in reference to the resolution, colors, etc, but rather the way people act and ride on the clips. It's something that's tough to put into words, pick one up and see for your self.
Tell me a little about what you studied in college.
I enrolled in a business program at a community college in Buffalo straight out of high school. I stuck with it for a year and a half, but didn't like the type of career and life that it was going to lead to, so I dropped out for a semester and worked a shitty pizza job while I figured my life out. I pretty much had quit riding and the pizza job sucked, so I made some changes and decided to apply to a local university for a video production program. I had always wanted a career in film, but was hesitant to go to school for it because I didn't want filmmaking to stop being fun. I got accepted to the program, and started riding again. That summer was when I decided to do the first BMXFU DVD That Counts, on my one chip camera. I was balancing school and riding, but riding would take the upper hand again and again, and I'd skip class a lot to go ride up in Canada. That program ended up being absolutely unbearable by the second semester. I wasn't learning anything I had hoped I would before I applied. I was bored in class and all I could think about was riding. Adam22 had just put me on OSS, which was my first bigger sponsor and wanted to do a trip to Austin to film for the Football DVD. I could stay in school and become a cameraman for a local news station, or do what I'd wanted to since I was a little kid jumping curbs and try to become a professional BMX rider. So naturally, I dropped out of school and disappeared to Austin for a month. I'm not telling you to drop out of school, but I will say that it's not for everyone. If you have a feeling that you can do something bigger and better outside of school, go for it and make it happen, put your all into it. There was no way I could have stayed in school. I would be stuck editing some used car commercial right now instead of organizing BMX clips and planning filming trips. I'm heading down to the skatepark in a minute to cruise and clear my mind before I come back here tonight to edit. Craig Passero is coming down to Austin in a week to start filming for a few projects we're doing this year. Life's good.
What would your dream job be?
Hollywood movie director. Since I was a little kid I've been obsessed with movies and I would really like the opportunity to produce a full-length non-riding film someday in the future.
Did the Stranger Coastersaurus really change your life?
Dude, yes! It made riding 1000x more fun and opened up so many possibilities. Old spots became new spots—it's like you get to have the fun of starting riding for the first time all over again. All of the sudden there is an unlimited amount of new tricks to mess with. Maybe someday I'll go back to cassette, but the freecoaster is way too much fun. Any time I put my bike down to grab the camera and film something, it's snatched up quickly by one of the crew who wants to play around on it. I've been on the same Coastersaurus since last April and I haven't touched it and it's still perfect. I'm probably more surprised than anyone because I'm really hard on hubs—a lot of the stuff involves back pegs and a lot of force. The testing stage is a big deal to Rich and myself so I've really tried to be as hard on it as possible to make sure we're putting something solid out there.
I know you're in Austin right now, and I'm sure that's good, because Austin always is. What else do you have in the works? What are you working on right now?
Personally, I'm working on another freecoaster promo for my signature Stranger hub. I ride the skate plaza here every day so I'm in the process of filming all the little lines I do there every day and try to get them all in one edit. It's honestly the most work I've ever personally put in for a skatepark edit, but it's been awhile since I had some fresh footage on the internet so I can't wait to get it uploaded—give that a few weeks.
On the filming side, FU666 is the main focus right now. I've got a few things filmed for my section already and the same goes for all the dudes who came and visited last week. Like I said before, Shawn Swain was one of those guys so as we speak I'm doing an edit of Swainer for Cult that he shot at the local skatepark here. Craig Passero and Chris Zep are coming here to shoot some stuff, namely a Lotek shoe promo for Craig's pro model shoe. I'm excited to film a full-length street edit of Craig for the web before we get to the FU DVD section for next year. Craig's coming off an elbow surgery so he's gonna take it easy, but he always comes through and I'm sure this edit is gonna be awesome—as always. We have a few Stranger trips this year as well as starting work on a full-length mixtape, as well. On the back end, I've got a Seth Peterson edit for ESPN we're putting the finishing touches on. No one rides like Seth and that edit is turning out crazy. Navaz and I have plans to shoot something about what he carries around in his camera bag. I've never seen more gear in one bag—a Volvo maybe, but definitely not one backpack. Also, this is kind of out there, but I have a crash DVD I'm putting together for this distributor who wants to try to get it sold in Wal-Mart and Target. It's going to be funny and hopefully get some mainstream exposure for real street riding, even if it is in the form of eating shit. That's a long shot, but who knows? It'll be worth a few days editing if it does end up working out. I have a friend who shoots music videos named Brooks Reynolds coming to Austin in a week or so. We're shooting some kind of fireworks/BMX footage for a project he's working on, too.
Do you want to show some gratitude now?
Yeah! So many good humans have helped me out, hope I don't forget anyone, but I'm sure I will, so sorry in advance. Chris Orbell for always fixing my bike, Greg Henry for pushing me to think outside of the box further and further, and Paul Hoerdt for doing the same, all the FUs for everything and believing in what we have been doing for years, Chris Nicholas for teaching me a lot of the basics many moons ago, Jim C. for hooking me up with a few frames back in the day, Adam22, if it weren't for that OSS hookup I don't know if I would have pushed my riding this far, Rich Hirsch for being down to help out with whatever I want to do, Scott Barker for helping me out with BMXFU.com and being the best graphic designer in BMX—and the world. All our DVD distributors and bike shops who buy from us direct. Mike Samson at twistedsticker.com (you know those Fumen look slick). Brian Tunney at ESPN, who is the biggest reason I've been able to do what I do. Sean Burns, Paul Robinson, Ron Bonner, Jack at DUB BMX, Thomas at Glidecam Industries, Robbie Morales, Nathan Parker, Tom Williams, Eric "Barney" Cuiper, Drew Bezanson, Brad Hill for being the other dude behind the DVDs, my girl (of course), my family for the support, and Z for the interview!