Spanish Mike is one of the most genuine, passionate and enthusiastic people you will meet.
When I first told him about this site and that I wanted to interview him for it, we were enjoying a breakfast buffet at the Hotel Princess in Barcelona. Primitive Skateboards had flown him to Spain to film Paul and the rest of the team during Street League and their following trip to London. Smiling ear to ear, it was Mike’s first time in Barcelona and he couldn’t hide his excitement.
Mike’s story is a skateboard fairytale. Growing up in Long Island, NY, he spent his time filming his friends, working at the local supermarket and obsessively watching every skate video he could get his hands on. During the harsh New York winters, he dreamed of filming his favorite pros under the warm California sun.
Today, he lives in Shane O’Neill’s house in LA and pays his rent by filming the very skateboarders he grew up watching and admiring. He still can’t believe it himself.
When Heath (Brinkley, co-founder of Primitive Skateboards) calls you to ask if you can go to Barcelona to film Paul and the rest of the team, does that still get you hyped, or are you old and bitter already?
Haha, never! I still get crazy hyped. I was honestly blown away and so happy. It was one my dreams since I was a little kid actually coming true. I used to watch all the videos with everyone skating Barcelona and dream that one day I would make it there somehow. Then to actually go with a great group of people like the Primitive guys, that I’ve watched growing up, is unreal. I am truly blessed. That trip will be one of those moments I will never forget.
Right now you’re a freelance skateboard videographer. What does your job entail?
I film and edit skateboarding for skateboarders and brands that are creating content: wheather it’s for a feature skate video or just their daily social media. At the moment, I am filming Chaz Ortiz for his next Zoo York video part and working for Prod’s YouTube channel creating content daily. Also, I’ve been helping Primitive on a few videos these past few months. It’s fun because when there is some free time in between, other skaters will reach out and need help filming a trick. So I get to work with everyone.
Who are some of the other guys you get to work with?
Really, whoever wants to go film. I do not discriminate any pro or AM who wants to film because at the end of the day, we are all out here trying to achieve one goal and that’s to put out great content and enjoy riding a skateboard. If I sat here and named names you would think I am crazy haha. I will just say I appreciate all the guys that let me capture the moments we get to enjoy afterwards.
Right now you’re living in LA at Shane O’Neill’s house. But take us back a bit. Where are you from and how did you get into skating and filming?
Yeah, I trip out everyday thinking like “how did I end up here?” Well, I was born in Washington Heights, New York, and moved to Long Island when I was 5 years old. I received my first video camera when I was 15 years old and never looked back. My friends and I were already skating at that point. I would film them and they would film me. I made local videos with my friend JOEFACE and a bunch of our other homies.
What made you want to start focusing on filming?
I think what really caught my eye was watching skate videos and seeing how things were created. I started to want to create my own stuff with my own vision. Still to this day, I’m constantly watching skate videos. I haven’t lost that passion for watching videos. It feels like I never grew up.
When did it get serious for you and become your job?
Five years ago, Felix (Arguelles) gave me the opportunity to help work on the Ammo promo and move into his crib in LA. He wanted me to create weekly episodes for Famous Stars and Straps called FTV as well. I created 52 episodes for the whole year. I remember tripping like “can I actually pull this off”, but I also didn’t doubt myself. I always put it in the back of my mind to have fun with it, but also make sure I handled my shit. I appreciate what Felix has done for me and will never forget it.
If you don’t mind me asking, were you making OK money at that point?
Honestly, I got 10 grand for the whole year, but Felix let me live with him for free, so I didn’t have to worry about rent. It was tough at times because I would be so short on money, but I didn’t care. I was loving what I was doing and just focused on making shit happen. I knew if I worked hard, more opportunity would come.
It was a good lesson, too. You aren’t necessarily going to be working for your favorite brand at first, or making a ton of money at your first job. But if you grind hard you can work your way up.
How did Felix know to hit you up to film for Ammo and Famous?
Manny (Santiago) told him about me. I had a web show called Spanish Mike TV, which I was doing locally with all of my friends on my YouTube channel. I met Manny at Tampa AM one year and we just bonded right off the top. After seeing him in New York a while later he was like, “it would be dope to have you blog for my site and be like the East Coast dude creating content for it”. I can remember it like it was yesterday. So when Felix needed a filmer he asked Manny about me and Manny set it up. I owe him a lot, dude.
So starting your own blog led you to working with Manny and then with Felix. Got it. Weren’t you also working at a grocery store before you moved?
Yeah, you got to do what you got to do. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful to have had a job then, but I just remember being at work pacing up and down the aisle thinking like “imagine I moved to Cali to film skateboarding.” It really happened so fast for me that I could not even think I’d ever be doing an interview like this.
How did you end up living with Shane?
I was living with Manny and Chaz at the time and things were sort of changing, so I just had to figure out if any of my friends had an extra room for rent. I remember Dan Abadi saying I should ask Shane. I decided to ask and the rest is history pretty much.
Are you allowed to skate the park in the back yard?
Yeah, if I asked haha. I am so busy working on so many projects that I don’t think about the park even being there. I am just very grateful to have a roof over my head and able to create stuff with skaters I looked up to. Thank you Shane for everything my G.
How has social media changed the role of a skateboard filmer?
Well, because skaters and brands need new content constantly for their social media channels, it means there’s a lot more opportunity for work. Before filmers might be working on one video project for three years for one brand. Now a filmer might have a web series they’re working on for one brand, and a video part for a skater, and content for another skater’s daily social posts. There’s really as much work available as you are willing to go out and find or create for yourself.
Social is also a great way for a filmer to showcase their work. You can create something and release it yourself. You don’t have to rely on a brand or a website to put it out for you. That’s really empowering.
With so much content coming out, do you worry about things being so watered down and quickly forgotten?
Yeah, I sometimes feel like that about my work. I film it, edit it, and post it to the Internet and then it becomes lost in the rest of the skate footage on there. But I don’t think you can just complain about it, you need to evolve. Time and innovation aren’t waiting for anyone. Needing to put out content constantly is the reality of working in skateboarding today. I think the only thing you can do is accept that you have to be putting out a lot more content now than back in the day. And then do your very best to make sure the content you are putting out is as sick as possible and worth someone’s time to watch it. It’s the job of the content creators to do something new and rad and worth watching and sharing: something that cuts through the endless sea of footage. It’s not easy, but that’s our job.
Well said. You’re a big skate video (both VHS and DVD) collector. How many videos do you have?
Honestly, off the top of my head, at my parent’s, I think I have like 150 videos on DVD. I kind of lost count. I am currently building a Cali collection and trying to get most of the same videos I have back home.
What do you think is the role of traditional skateboard media, like videos on DVD and magazines?
Like I said, I think everyone needs to evolve. And I honestly think a lot of people in the industry are doing a good job of evolving. Magazines are focusing on their websites and social media and not just trying to rely on print. Brands are putting their videos online to reach a broader audience than a DVD could. And when they do put a video on DVD, they know they need to make it something special like come as a box set or with a special printed book. I think when they do it right, traditional media is sick and can play a role. It’s just the focus has gone online.
You’re as passionate, grateful and enthusiastic as anyone I’ve ever met. Is that what keeps you working so hard?
Of course. I seriously dreamt of this! I mean I know everyone says that shit, but I literally laid in bed every night and just dreamt of doing what I’m doing right now: filming the best skateboarders in the world and becoming friends with them, getting to travel to all the places I’ve wanted to go, giving back and being able to contribute to the careers of people I grew up idolizing. I can’t even believe it myself. And this is just the beginning! You already know I know what kind of blessing this life is and I’m not going to blow it. I’m going to make the most out of it and cherish every moment.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a skateboard videographer or get any job in the skateboard industry?
I really feel when you are passionate about something, the great energy you create will bring you to your goals. I really love what I’m doing and it’s really helped me. When you have passion it’s easy to work long hours and grind super hard because it’s what you want to be doing anyway. You have to find what you’re passionate about. If you have passion for filming, these are some steps to try and make it as a filmer:
-Save up your money and get an HD or VX camera
-Film your friends and learn how to use your camera
-Download or purchase Final Cut Pro editing software and starting editing your friend’s footage so you learn how to edit
-Film all your local contests and events, make little edits of each one and give them to the event organizers and post it on your own blog and social media
-Film the local skate shop team and let them know you’re down to contribute to the shop videos
-Don’t be scared to start your own blog or video series. Help to grow your scene
-Once you get good enough at filming and editing, don’t be scared to move to Cali or wherever makes sense for you
-Offer to work for free to get your foot in the door
-Create great memories you will grow up and remember
I just want to end by saying a huge thank you to my parents, Felix, Manny, you Big Ben, Shane, Paul, Heath and everyone that’s helped me make my dreams come true. I will never forget it!