WARNING: Explicit langue is used. If you’re easily offended, perhaps you should move along to something with less offensive verbiage. Love, me aka the only vurbmoto employee that doesn’t have a username inspired by a hot dog. [Slaw Dog Note: Which is dumb.]
If you missed Part I, read it here.
I didn’t tell many people this shoot was happening, because if I did, then it all falls through. As Michael Scott once echoed, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.”
Anyway, I will say my close friends and family that were aware of the project, were concerned for me. They thought I would freak out or cry or faint. Now, the positive in my line of work is that I’m used to being around and working with the best guys in our sport. I’ve worked with Jeremy McGrath, Chad Reed, James Stewart, Travis Pastrana, Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb, Ricky Carmichael, and Ryan Villopoto to name a few. No matter who you are, I know how to turn off the switch and instead go into that business/work mode. So, I knew, even with a guy like Tom, no matter how much I respect and admire him and what he’s achieved, I’d be just fine maintaining my composure. However, I will say, on our first day of shooting, I did have a small moment…
We spent our first day shooting at To The Stars HQ, Tom’s offices, in downtown Encinitas, CA. We were gathering b-roll and establishing shots of the office. However, before a camera was up, we were asked by Tom’s sister and Tom’s manager, Lisa, to take a seat in Tom’s personal office to go over the game plan. So, I am legitimately sitting in Tom’s personal office, at his desk, while his sister and manager sit on the other side, discussing creative with Ben and m
I remember looking cool, calm, and collected on the outside, however, on the inside I knew that I was about to burst because I was so overwhelmed with the situation. Genuinely, it did not feel real or like I deserved to be there.
“How did I go from being some dumb kid from Huntington Beach, CA, singing along to Blink 182 with my best friends in high school and making atrocious d*** jokes, to now sitting in Tom DeLonge’s office, preparing to work with him? I don’t deserve this chance.”
That is all I could keep asking myself in that moment as the imposter syndrome was coming on strong. After we got through that five or 10-minute discussion, I knocked out all of the b-roll shots inside of Tom’s personal office. It was surreal pointing my camera at such iconic images, memorabilia, awards… you name it, I saw it in person.
The following day would be the day. The day where I officially meet and worked with Tom. That morning, I recall us first heading to the TTS offices to unload all of our grip and electric. I had my gaffer, Mike, and camera PA, Josh, stay at the office to setup lighting for our sit-down interview while Ben and I carpooled to Tom’s house to shoot some beauty images of his motorcycle and him riding out of the driveway. Tom came out of his garage, shook our hands, and could not have been any more polite, genuine, and easy-going.
As I mentioned, I’ve worked with the most high-level athletes in our sport, some of which think they are way fuckin cooler then they truly are. Yet, here is Tom, a visionary artist and, perhaps, we could say a rock n roll icon of sorts, and instantly it was like we’d all been friends for years. No ego, no attitude—not a damn thing. Just a good dude who was stoked we wanted to showcase his passion for riding motorcycles.
We spent about 20 or 25-minutes knocking out the beauty shots of his steed before heading back down the road to his offices to conduct our sit-down interview. Unless the client requires it, I do not write down any questions for my interviews. I do my best to keep it casual and treat it like a conversation. Looking down at your phone or a sheet of paper with questions is distracting and disengaging for both yourself and the subject. For me, during these interviews, eye contact is crucial, and you must listen. And that was the approach for my interview with Tom. We were scheduled for 45-minutes to conduct our interview, and I used up the entire 45-minutes.
With thousands of questions armored in my mind, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath before my first question and thought to myself, “Holy fuck. This is happening. We’re in the deep end now” and off I went. Did I feel pressure? Yes and no. I have my entire crew surrounding me, Tom’s sister and manager watching on, and his employees are within ear shot. I didn’t want to sound a like a tool, but I also knew that out of anybody that’s going to interview Tom, I probably had the most well-rounded knowledge of who he is as an artist, what he’s accomplished and, most importantly, how to keep it genuine and sincere.
I knew I had maybe hit a home run when I asked him one of my last questions. Simply put, I explained to him how I barely got through high school, struggled with certain insecurities, was bullied, and more. Yet, the motorcycle was my one escape where no matter how big the problem was, the motorcycle made it all fade away. While opening up my heart to an extent, it allowed me to transition into the question I was asking him about some of his personal struggles in recent years and if maybe the motorcycle meant the same thing to him as it does to me. I could see looking into his eyes that they were starting to become a tad watery, and in my head I go, “Fuck me. I just made this dude cry.”
While I never saw a tear fall, they did get a touch watery. This moment and his answer to the aforementioned question made the film. After we wrapped the interview, Tom’s sister explained how thrilled and impressed she was with said interview, but I didn’t think too much of it because, honestly, the guy has done thousands of interviews. Mine couldn’t have been that good?
After our interview, we grabbed some shots of Tom working in his office, reading through some declassified government documents about UFOs (yes, you read that right), before knocking out our final shots of Tom riding his motorcycle along the San Diego coast. We were incredibly tight on time, so every shot of Tom riding his steed in the film, is exactly every shot I had time to capture. I had my gaffer, Mike, driving my truck while myself and my camera PA hung out the bed of my truck with a RED camera mounted to a Ronin 2 gimbal, hauling ass down Pacific Coast Highway to capture these tracking shots of Tom. At one point, we were even pulled over by state beach police. It was a real punk rock moment. Just a few dudes going full gorilla style to make some shit happen without permits and now we’ve run into trouble with Johnny Law. Luckily, we escaped without being citied
After we wrapped our shoot, we all said our goodbyes. However, Tom possessed one thing in which I needed. A selfie of us that he took on his phone. Prior to our sit-down interview, I had to mic him up and, as I am doing so, I look over and he has his phone out and is taking a photo of us as I am all up in his grill, running a mic up his shirt. He takes the photo and goes, “Oh yeah, man. I just like to document any moment when another man is touching me.” Quick to pick up on the joke I replied, “Well, yeah. I don’t know why you wouldn’t?” We shared a small laugh and then I needed to figure out how to get that photo from him. As Tom and I are saying our goodbyes, the conversation goes as follows:
Me: “Hey sir, is there any chance you could text or e-mail that photo you took us to your sister, and she can e-mail it to me? I don’t want you to have to give out your phone number or e-mail to a stranger like myself.”
Tom: “Dude. Fuck that shit. What’s your number? I’ll text it to you right now!”
Me: “Calmy, I give Tom my cell phone number while my brain is trying to process how my life came to such a moment in time. He texts me the photo right then and there.”
After we wrapped, Ben, myself, and the rest of our crew went to dinner and had a small wrap party of sorts. Then, once I got to my car and was by myself, I remember all of my emotions finally coming out. The day was a blur and moved so fast I don’t even think I took a breath, but in this moment, I let out the biggest yell possible, shouted “Holy fuck I fucking did it” punched my steering wheel a few times and shed a few tears. I hope this doesn’t come across as a super fan type deal, because it’s not meant to. In that moment, I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what else to do. I, somehow, just managed to work with an artist whose musical catalog as defined and inspired my life since I was in 5th or 6th grade.
My first record I bought with my own money was Blink’s Dude Ranch, my first live show was Blink, the first date my girlfriend at the time and now wife was to see Angels & Airwaves on their first-ever tour circa 2006 with their original lineup, my wife walked down the aisle to the acoustic version of The Adventure, and now I get to work with the individual who has inspired my creative path via his perception of the world around him. It was and still is a surreal moment that I’ll never truly understand how or why it happened.
After all of this, I dove into editing and, even then it was still so odd to me that I had this opportunity to share Tom’s story through my own eyes. I recall feeling some pressure once I got into post. I knew that Tom, Kari, and Lisa would be reviewing the film and providing me with feedback. And I felt such a strong obligation to tell his story in the truest, most sincere fashion.
Every cut I made was meticulously thought out. Every musical choice I made for this film via AvA’s catalog was with great intention, and even how I cut the archived footage of Blink in the intro sequence was cut and timed with very specific intention and purpose. For example, in the past, Tom has spoken about his approach to the architecture and sonic landscapes of writing the Box Car Racer album. He’s explained how the guitars will start out sounding incredibly quiet, thin, and small and then, out of nowhere, it turns into these extremely loud, thick, fast, in your face guitar parts, and then back down to sounding very small and thin or vice versa. It was something he intentionally designed. So, my subtle way to pay homage to that record and said idea in our short form doc was by my choice in how it all starts.
The film opens with a song called Paralyzed from AvA’s album, The Dream Walker. It starts out a bit slow and mellow and then, all of a sudden, it just kicks you in the ass with these epic guitars and drums to get us through the opening sequence. Then I did a hard cut on both the song and visuals and, we instead, move from these fast, chaotic archival images to a locked off, well composed, well lit, and almost calming image of Tom sitting and talking to us. Musically, to match this, I hard cut from Paralyzed to a very slow and quiet song from LOVE Part II called Moon As My Witness. Realistically, it’s an incredibly subtle editing choice I made, but one that I knew was there and was my way to pay homage to that BCR record and idea about sonic landscapes.
Like I do with all athletes I work with, I will text them colored frame grabs as I edit. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to do this with Tom, but my wife suggested it was okay because, at the end of the day, I am a professional, and I know how to handle myself. So, throughout editing, I would text Tom colored frames and he’d always text me back with a comment about how great he thought the shots were looking, or how stoked he was I made his bike look so sexy. They were short messages, but it was something I greatly appreciated. After completing post on Tom’s short form doc, I learn from my friend, Berkley, who works full-time with Tom at TTS, that Tom, Kari, and the entire staff at his offices were very impressed by my interview with him. Apparently, Kari had said something along the lines that Tom has done thousands of interviews and she’s never liked how any of them went or how they turned out. But my interview with Tom was hands down the best one she’s ever seen conducted.
From my approach, to the thoughtfulness of my questions, and actually being aware of who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s trying to do, everybody in his camp was impressed and loved what I did. It’s something I kind of shrug at because what I did with Tom felt so natural and easy to me. For me, I hear that and think, “Really? I didn’t think I did anything all that special?” It’s a cool fun fact. It’s super weird to me. But I am proud to know I did something that impressed and meant a lot to everybody at TTS. Apologies, I’ll stop tooting my own horn. If I may be honest, it does make me feel very uncomfortable even sharing that because I am not that cool. I am more comfortable with the whole self-deprecating thing.
So, To The Stars… Tom DeLonge releases a couple months later. Fast-forward quite a few months and its now October 2019 and Angels & Airwaves is back on tour for the first time since 2012. My wife and I bought tickets for one of their San Diego shows because it fell on our wedding anniversary, however, we also got an invite from a friend of ours to join them in seeing AvA play a few days before the SD show at the House of Blues Anaheim, across the street from Disneyland where I met my wife when we worked on the Jungle Cruise together circa 2006 as skippers.
Our friend explains to us that her fiancé is good friends with the guitarist of AvA, David Kennedy (David also played in Box Car Racer with Tom), and David got them four backstage tickets for said show. My wife and I agree as we are also friends with David Kennedy (but that’s a story for a different time), and it’d be great to see him! So, we accept and head on down to the show. No bull shit, I had no expectations of anything. I didn’t think we’d get backstage, nor did I think we’d see David or Tom. My wife and I took it as, “Hey, it’ll be fun to go see them live with some friends and have a few drinks.” What transpires next was, again, surreal and further proves that when you have no expectations, shit works out better than you could ever imagine.
About an hour or so before AvA is set to hit the stage, David reaches out to our friend via text and informs us to come backstage. Thus, we do just that and run into David as he’s heading back to his dressing room. My wife and I hadn’t seen David in a few years, and he didn’t know we’d be there. So, when he saw us, the reaction was, “Holy shit! Guys! How have you been?!” to my wife and I and gave us both hugs followed by inviting all of us back to his dressing room.
This is where we find Ilan Rubin (drummer for AvA and drummer for a little band called Nine Inch Nails, not to mention his own band The New Regime), and AvA bassist, Matt Rubano (formerly of another little band you might know of called Taking Back Sunday), all hanging out and having some drinks. David tells us all to make ourselves at home and grab an adult beverage. My wife and I take him up on the offer as we are both thinking, “WTF is happening right now?”
David introduces us to Ilan and Matt before my wife, David, and I start catching up and talking about life. And then… Tom walks in. David, not knowing Tom and I worked together at the start of the year, taps on Tom’s shoulder and says, “Hey! I want you to meet a couple of my friends.” Tom turns around and sees me and, before I could re-introduce myself to him, he says, “HOLY FUCK! I know you! You made me look fucking cool on my motorcycle for that video!” I laughed and said, “Yessir, that’s me!” And, the following exchange happens inches from my face between Tom and David:
David: “Wait. You know Kyle?”
Tom: “Yeah, dude! He shot this really beautiful video of me and my motorcycle for that META book.”
David: “Oh shit. I saw that video. Kyle, you did that? That was fucking good!”
Me: “Yessir. That was me!”
Tom: “You should see his shit, dude. His work is really good.”
David: “Yeah, I know. His stuff is really fucking good. You should see what he does with motocross!”
Tom: “I know. It’s really good. You need to watch our video. He made me look like a badass.”
Me: “I tried, but Tom you were definitely difficult to make look cool.”
Tom: “Hey! You shut your mouth. You must only speak well about me!”
We all laughed and Tom thanked me for being at the show, said it was great to see me, and told my wife and I to have a good time. I was fucking flabbergasted. I just watched Tom and David go back and forth talking about my work, right in front of me and my wife and then we all shared a laughed. After this, David invited us to watch their set from on-stage on his side! In June of 2006, on what was our first-ever date, my then girlfriend and now wife and I stood in the crowd, amongst 20,000 other fans and watched this very band play on their first-ever tour inside the Long Beach Convention Arena. She was 18 and I was 19. We were babies. Now, 13 years later, in 2019, we’ve been friends with David Kennedy for a few years, I’ve met and worked with Tom, and my now wife and I are on-stage with Angels & Airwaves, watching them play their set. Live.
Even now, as I write this, it seems fake. It feels like a dream and something that shouldn’t have ever happened. Still, I scratch my head wondering how this unimaginable opportunity came to be? And, as if it couldn’t become any odder, in 2011, AvA released a sci-fi/drama feature length movie called LOVE. It earned critical acclaim, won awards at major film festivals around the world, and had a limited theatrical release. Yes, seriously.
So, the lead actor of that film, Gunner Wright, is a big fan of supercross/motocross and managed to stumble upon the film I did with Tom. He enjoyed that along with the rest of my work so much so that early this year (2020), he reached out to me via e-mail to let me know how much he appreciated my work with Tom, my work within the sport, and that he would love the chance to work with me on a project down the road. Uh, what? A legitimate, real deal actor who has been in films such as LOVE and J Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood, wants to work with me? Now, here we are in November of 2020, in the early stages of pre-pro for an upcoming sci-fi drama that I will DP and Gunner will play the lead in. Flabbergasted is the only adjective that I find fitting for this peculiar journey.
Throughout this odd situation, I have one big take away. Well, actually two. The first being that apparently anything is possible as I went from being a kid in the crowd singing along to Blink, BCR, and AvA, to then, at the age of 32, working with the mastermind behind three of my favorite bands. But, more importantly, the real takeaway from all of this is that Tom is, simply put, an incredibly humble, polite, and normal individual. Throughout my minimal time spent with him, I picked up on the sense that, despite his well-earned accomplishments and success, it’s not something he’s necessarily comfortable being identified as. He came from a broken home, lived in his mom’s garage, was kicked out of high school, and grew up skateboarding and playing the guitar.
Similarly, I, myself, grew up with a single mom who worked multiple jobs to keep a roof over our head, we spent quite a few years moving around from apartment to apartment, I BARELY made it through high school, and I had a two very close friends and a dirtbike which I still have today. Well, my two best friends. The dirtbike is no more these days. My point is, for those that admire and appreciate his body of work, it’s easy to see the fame and fortune aspect of it all. However, what I am attempting to poorly articulate is that what I experienced was an individual with a great passion and a strong work ethic to bring his dreams to a reality, yet he is no different than you or I and he doesn’t let his accomplishments dictate his ego or how he treats others around him.
He’s an individual that, if you did not know who he was, you’d never know what he’s accomplished. And, ultimately, that’s the shit I respect and admire most from anybody. Who gives a fuck what you do for a living or how successful you are? What matters is who you are as a human being and how you treat others around you. And, like I said, I’ve worked with some athletes that truly think they are God’s gift to supercross/motocross racing and I should so lucky to even be in their presence. The lack of self-awareness some of these athletes show is permanently unattractive.
In conclusion, I don’t know that this article will ever land in the lap of Tom, but if, for some reason the universe finds another mysterious way to do what it does best, I would like to say thank you for the inspiration over all of the years. It’s forever helped me to believe in myself, my work, and to take chances with my creative approach (hence my short film No Runners, which recently won an award at the 2020 IndieFEST Film Awards for its artistic and technical approach).
Granted, I still maintain I suck at what I do, and I have a tremendous amount of work ahead of myself to ever reach and attain the goals I have set for myself (see my previous installment of FoM where I discuss my long-term goals). Maybe, one day our paths will cross again and we can collaborate on future projects. And, if not, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I did have to work with you thanks to our friends at META. That will forever be a special piece I will hold close to me.
In essence, thank you for having an impact on a kid that came from nothing, struggled with learning disabilities, and keeps trying to reach for the stars.
KC’s recommended film to watch:
-Directed by: William Eubank
-Cinematography: William Eubank
-Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama