Blood, family and skateboarding: Q&A with Justice Ott

Justice Ott filming in Barcelona, Spain, for "We Are Blood."

Justice Ott filming in Barcelona, Spain, for “We Are Blood.”

In the eighth grade, I gave a speech in English class about being a skateboarder. I think I showed a clip of Neil Blender in a street contest to illustrate a point, but I definitely remember my closing line, “It’s a life and we live it.”

As corny as it sounds, looking back some 30 years later, I can confidently credit skateboarding for a lot of things that make me who I am today and the things I cherish in life – art, writing, music, beer, weird friends and family.

Some major surgery, and the fact that I wasn’t very good, sidelined me for some time but I never quit. In fact, I’m still learning new things. And as much as I enjoy the looks of incredulity after a relatively successful line in the bowl, I can do without being asked my age every time I skate.

Anyway, I can’t recall exactly when it happened – maybe five years ago – when I connected with a cousin I never knew I had. I posted something about skateboarding on Facebook and she commented that her son, Justice Ott, skates and shoots photos and video.

Skateboarding brought us together, and now he has his name attached to a major skateboarding film coming out this month produced by Mountain Dew Green Label Films and Brain Farm called “We Are Blood.” Justice was part of the principal cinematography crew for the film.

The film is supposed to be a “modern day skateboarding epic” following superstar Paul Rodriguez around the globe, “celebrating the unconditional bond created by the simple act of skateboarding,” according to its website.

That’s what makes skateboarding so great. That unconditional bond, craving the battle – slamming, sweating and bleeding until you roll away and your friends howl in celebration. And, bonus, it brings family together.

Shredfred: First of all, thanks for being down for this interview. Not only is it cool to know there’s a skater in the family, but a skater who filmed some of skateboarding’s legends is beyond cool.

Justice: Haha, yeah. It’s pretty fitting that we are doing a “We Are Blood” interview because we actually are blood. I remember seeing that little “Mini Top 5 Matt Bird Meyer” video that Crailtap posted on their blog and my mom telling me that we were related. Haha, I was so stoked to be related to someone that was on the Crailtap blog when I was younger.

Shredfred: Before we talk about the film, tell me a little bit about yourself. Do you still find time to skate?

Justice: My name is Justice Ott. I am 22 years old and I live in Los Angeles. I started filming skateboarding in 10th grade. I would bring my parents’ VHS-c camera out skating and try to have my friends film me skating but I would get mad because they would fuck up the filming and I would be like, “Here film it like this,” then I ended up just getting stuck behind the camera. I was always into that sort of stuff anyways. My grandpa taught me about photography at a super young age and I have been shooting photos as long as I can remember. I skate every day.

Shredfred: I see you list Lakai as your employer. What do you do for them and do you have Marc Johnson on speed dial?

Justice: I have been helping out filming at Lakai for the past couple months. They are filming a new video. Those dudes are fucking awesome. Me and Marc used to live on the same street for like 2 years. He’s not on speed dial, no. Hahaha.

Shredfred: Tell me how you made it out to California from Arizona and do you have to worry about watering your lawn?

Justice: I met Ty Evans in the bottom of an Arizona ditch 4 days before my 18th birthday. They were on a Chocolate trip and I had an HD camera so he let me film with them for the rest of their trip. I was in high school at the time. I told him I really wanted to move to California and go to film school and film skateboarding. A couple months later I went out to his house during my spring break and I stayed there for a week to help shoot some stuff from “Pretty Sweet“. Then I ended up moving there as soon as I graduated high school. And I don’t have a lawn, man. I live in a shitty apartment in North Hollywood, haha. I’m moving into a house at the end of the year though. I can’t wait.

Shredfred: So, how did you get into skateboarding? Isn’t skateboarding just a bunch of kids playing with toys?

Justice: When I was 10, I went to summer camp with this kid who skated. He would show me Thrasher mags and he brought his skateboard to camp. I got super into skating. No one at my school skated and I got made fun of for it. Then in middle school I met a few kids that skated and I would hang out with them every day after school skating this loading dock behind the 99 Cents store by my house. Skateboarding is something that becomes your life. You see the world in a whole new light.

Shredfred: I see you attended the Los Angeles Film School. Did you graduate and how did your schooling prepare you for what you are doing now?

Justice: I went to LAFS for 18 months and graduated August of 2013. I remember when I was staying at Ty’s house helping for “Pretty Sweet.” He was working with Phantom cameras and he had a crew of dudes helping him with it. I would get super bummed because I had no idea what they were talking about half the time. Using all these terms I didn’t know. Film school laid down a bunch of knowledge for me to start off with. I still am learning every day. I’m glad I went to school. If filmmaking in truly your passion, then film school is a good choice.

Shredfred: So, Brain Farm describes itself as “an award winning full service entertainment and production company that specializes in creating unforgettable film, TV, digital and commercial content.” That sounds very corporate. How would you describe Brain Farm and in what capacity do you work with them?

Justice: Brain Farm is full of a bunch of guys who love filmmaking. Their office is in Wyoming. I’ve never been there, but I’ve met most of the people that work there. I never had a real job in my life. Brain Farm was the first place I ever got a paycheck from.

Shredfred: Do you have any side projects…films, photography, watercoloring, needlepoint?

Justice: I’ve shot shitty point and shoot photos before I even started filming. I paint sometimes. I was actually supposed to go to school for art, but I ended up not going. I started experimenting with different types of analog video formats and I’m working on a little side project skate video. I’m writing a narrative short right now that I plan on shooting and directing and I’m also in a band with a couple of my friends called Nancy. I play guitar and sing. We make dream pop’y music, our influence is bands like The Cure, haha.

Shredfred: OK, tell me about “We Are Blood.” It’s a Mountain Dew/Brain Farm joint, right? So, is it one of those boring corporate flicks made to make skateboarding accessible to a wide audience? Or is it a groundbreaking feature that uses the best of the best in terms of cameras, drones, helicopters, and selfie-sticks?

Justice: Hahaha, no selfie sticks in this one. It’s amazing that Brain Farm and Green Label films were able to partner up for something like this. This film is one of a kind. We got to use amazing gear like the Shot Over, the Phantom Flex 4k, Movi’s, and Brain Farm partnered up with Red and we used the Epics and Dragons to create something that has never been done in skateboarding. Camera systems like the Shot Over cost half a million dollars, so to be able to film skateboarding with stuff like that is insane.

Shredfred: Why is Ultra HD 4K such a big deal?

Justice: 4k is 4 times the size of 1080HD. We shot the whole film in 5k and 6k and mastered to 4k. It’s the future of digital cinema. Some groundbreaking shit.

Shredfred: How long did you work on the film? I heard it took two years to make.

Justice: It started a little after “Pretty Sweet.” I was there from day one. I remember getting a call sheet the first day and I was like, “What the hell is Brain Farm?” I had never heard of Brain Farm. We shot a bunch of stuff for a week with all the crazy cameras. It was the first time I saw cameras like the Cineflex and the Arri Alexia in person. The first year was kinda just me and Ty going out filming random dudes for a bunch of the days. I was still in film school, so I would go to class then go and meet up with him and go out skating. The film got funded at the beginning of 2014 and by that time I graduated film school and could work full time with Ty.

Shredfred: Where did you travel for the film? I know you went to Dubai.

Justice: We went to China, Spain, Dubai and 37 states on a 7-week long U.S. trip.

Shredfred: Did you have fun in Dubai? Was it hard for some of the guys to keep their shirts on and to lay off the booze (per the law)?

Justice: Dubai was by far the best trip of my life. That place is basically a Disneyland for rich people. Even the buildings look like it’s an amusement park or something. Surprisingly no one got in any trouble. The rules there are much different than the U.S. If you get in a taxicab drunk, the cab driver can take you straight to jail. You have to be on your best behavior out there. It’s no joke.

Shredfred: What’s the craziest thing that went down during filming? What’s the coolest thing you filmed? And were you there for Clint Walker’s crazy 50-50 roof roll-in?

Justice: So much crazy shit went down filming that video. I think one of the craziest things was skating the helipad of the Burj Al Arab, the world’s most expensive hotel. Ty was in a full-size helicopter filming, circling the helipad while everyone is skating this bench in the middle of the pad. If a board shot off the edge it would have landed in the valet parking area. The fact that skateboarding has such a big reach nowadays that we were able to skate the helipad in Dubai with full permission just blows my mind. When Clint did that trick I was so scared. It was fucked. I not only was worrying about not fucking up the clip by filming it bad but I was worried that I was gonna see him die. Clint is by far the gnarliest dude I ever met. He’s fucking crazy.

Shredfred: Is P-Rod made from the same robot factory as Shane O’Neill?

Justice: Hahaha, not that I know of. No.

Shredfred: Omar Salazar is in the trailer for the film but he’s not in the credits. Is Omar star-power deficient?

Justice: Omar was gonna come on the U.S. trip with us but he ended up messing his knee up. It sucks because Omar is one of my favorite skateboarders. It would have been awesome to have been on a trip with him. Omar has some sick tricks for the video though.

Shredfred: What other skateboard films have you worked on? What non-skateboard films feature you in the credits?

Justice: “Pretty Sweet” is really the only other video I worked on. I have worked on a few commercials. That stuff is pretty fun. Working on big budget sets with all this crazy gear. I’ve been helping my friend Junior who is a union gaffer. I want to learn as much as I can about lighting and set stuff, to one day be able to work in narrative filmmaking as a director.

Shredfred: Do you prefer shooting video or photos?

Justice: I like both. Video is where I think I am the best at, but photos are more of a challenge to convey a story within one frame.

Shredfred: Is this the career of your dreams or is this merely a steppingstone to something bigger?

Justice: I plan on contributing to skateboarding for the rest of my life. Working with Ty is my dream come true. I plan on one day making my own skateboard videos as well as narrative films.

Shredfred: Ty Evans, the director of this film, is described in his bio as “an award-winning skateboard director and cinematographer and is known for creating some of the most iconic skateboard films.” So, he’s another one of those skateboard legends. What’s it like working for him and did you learn some stuff?

Justice: I grew up looking up to Ty. He has the strongest work ethic I have ever seen. He loves what he does. He will stay up for 3 days straight working his ass off just to make the best product he can. When I first got my VX1000, I would watch “Fully Flared” honestly every single day studying it. I have learned so much from Ty, not only in filmmaking but in life in general. I’m so lucky to be in the position I’m in. The first skate video I ever saw was “Yeah Right!”. I’ve been influenced by Ty before I even picked up a video camera.

Shredfred: What are you working on now?

Justice: I have just been helping out with the new Lakai video. I’m stoked that they are making a new video. It’s gonna be super sick.

Shredfred: And has Marc Johnson called since you started working on answers to these questions?

Justice: No, I haven’t talked to him in a few days. Hahaha. I think I should send him a text and see what’s good though. He hurt his leg and hasn’t been able to skate for a couple months. I think he’s getting another MRI in a few days.

Shredfred: Finally, if you come to Kansas City to throw down with Sean Malto, will you put me on the list?

Justice: Fuck yeah dude, hahaha! And if you’re ever in LA, let’s cruz around.

Shredfred: Again, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Take care!

Justice: Thanks for taking the time to ask me some questions. I never really done this type of stuff.

  1. #1 by Leibman on August 5, 2015 - 1:31 pm

    Ayy! It’s cool to think back and remember I was there with justice the day he met Ty and the first time Ty called him. Good stuff dudes. -Leib

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