Red Bull's 16-Minute "A Skateboard Film" Has Wings
I've reached a point where my day-to-day existence has morphed into something out of a hammock catalog. Where I used to be all about fried food and sports-doing, I now spend my leisure hours in a state of constant vigilance against encroaching ear hair. Too, in order to function, I need naps as long as the afternoon is… well, long. Related: Is there anything more fulfilling than an afternoon nap? Friend, there is not. I wish I could take an afternoon nap right now. Too bad it's 9:20 a.m. I'll apply for a waiver.
Anyway, this is why I get confused, as no-longer-demographically-voluptuous people often do, when I'm blitzed by youth-leaning entities like Red Bull. Red Bull, a beverage-like substance which I lustily imbibe on the rare occasions that I have reason to stay up past 7:45 p.m., invited me on multiple occasions and through multiple venues to check out its Red Bull Perspective series of something-or-other. Since somebody has to help the brand realize a return on its poorly targeted online ad dollars, I clicked on over.
To hear the YouTube blurb tell it, I was in for an experience that would kill-crush my suburban complacency: "With the best action sports clips on the web and YouTube exclusive series, prepare for your 'stoke factor' to be at an all time high." This, of course, sent me deep into the LD archives to identify my personal historical stoke-factor pinnacle. After much research and redaction of names, dates and hospital records, I determined that I achieved it on the night I met my wife, who sometimes reads this column.
That's my meandering way of explaining why nothing I say about Red Bull Perspective - A Skateboard Film has any validity to it. While I might dig the core product, I'm no longer a member of the brand's target demo. If somebody approached a Red Bull action-sports marketing rep on the street and said, "Dude! This guy said something about your video!," the rep would respond with a dismissive, "Dude, that guy is, like, not 26. He spends his money on rakes and diapers, not on helmet-mountable flip-cams. He is a pre-fossil." I don't matter as much as I once did. I know this. I'm comfortable with it.
And yet I really enjoyed A Skateboard Film, which sends four eminent skateboarders on a road trip and tasks them with a single challenge: Do skateboard stuff. And skateboard stuff they do, at three different locations in and around Arizona. First they hit what appears to be an abandoned public pool and refashion it into a propelled-by-bungee-cord-over-upturned-picnic-table aerial zone. Next they visit what one of the participants quite accurately describes as a "storage warehouse thing," which leads to jumps through the door, over the loading dock and out onto the street. Finally, they visit a field on the outskirts of town, where the paralysis-inducing jump opportunities are as plenteous as the crabgrass.
It doesn't sound like much, but the combination of spirit and scenery - if there's a more beautifully shot and edited brand video out there, I haven't seen it - renders A Skateboard Film far more intimate than it has any right to be. Yes, the skateboarders look and banter like skateboarders, which could prove a turn-off for anyone inclined to take the law into his own hands when an unfamiliar figure delivers the weekly shopping circular. The film's subtle genius is that it underplays the extreme gymnastics: It's less an exhibition than a quiet look at a culture that's usually sketched in stereotype (tattoos, backward baseball caps, live-to-skate-skate-to-live ethos, etc.).
Just as essentially, Red Bull scores with its choice of skaters (Ryan Sheckler, Zered Bassett, Ryan Decenzo, Torey Pudwill). Whether or not by design, the four diverse personalities mesh in a way that doesn't seem corporately contrived; there's little of the shotgun-wedding feel that we get in any number of campaigns that unite famous folk. It's easy to mock a testimonial like "he's a really good homey to skate with," but the interaction is pure and pleasant. They don't take themselves too seriously; they respond to falls with a shrug that basically says, "If life gives you lemons, skate over them and then go get a snifter of hard lemonade or something." One senses that talking shop with the quartet would be preferable to talking shop with a quartet of exalted surgeons or conductors.
Sure, at 16:27 in length, A Skateboard Film is a veritable Ben Hur by the standards of online brand video. And yes, Red Bull could've tossed accidentally targeted oldie-olds a bone by setting the video to dad-rock standards, rather than to a series of hip-hop/techno hybrids. But ultimately, A Skateboard Film works just as well as a brand showcase as it does brand-independent entertainment. That's rare indeed.