Photo: Dan Zaslavsky
Mark Whiteley Talks One in a Million
Words: Rob Brink
Already Been Done, February 2011
You might have wondered why, all of a sudden, this year’s One in a Million series from Slap was so much more awesome than past seasons. Not that previous years were bad, but 2010 seemed to have a little extra pixie dust sprinkled on it, a little more hype behind it and a lot more of an audience watching it.
At the end of every episode of OIAM, the credits read, “Created and developed by Mark Whiteley,” so he seemed like the man to pester with our fickle inquiries. And after hearing newly coined phrases like “the Forrest factor,” learning what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling and what Slap has in store for next year’s OIAM from the most inside OIAM insider there is, we were glad we asked.
Would you say this season was the most successful One in a Million?
Yes, by far. In terms of total viewership between all the different episodes and in terms of interaction, so far we got over a million views on the videos and 90 pages of comments between YouTube and Slap. Easily three times as big as it’s been before. It was great to see it grow. A lot of that had to do with the higher production value we had with Alex Klein and his film crew coming in. They really helped bump it up to the level it probably should’ve been at the entire time. We just didn’t really have the resources before.
Explain “higher production value.” Is it bigger crews? Better editing? Better cameras?
All of those things. Alex comes from a skateboarding background and is working on becoming a director, so he’s got cameramen he works with—some skate, some don’t. He brought in more state-of-the-art equipment than we had before and they had jibs and dollies and things like that. Simple, standard movie industry camera work went a long way in taking this from a hand-held production to a more legitimately produced thing.
In years past we only had one camera for most things. This year we had three cameramen and a skate filmer, so there was a lot more to work with. And if you watch, it’s got the real quick, fast-paced mainstream TV-style editing, which is kind of cheesy, but at the same time, it goes a long way in keeping the energy of it up.
Are any of the guys from this year hooked up yet?
Ruben is getting flowed from enjoi. When we went to San Jose that day Louie really liked him. I got those guys in touch and he’s on their program now. At only 16 years old, I think he’s got tons of potential to do something.
Matty is getting help from Deluxe. Mango has been buddies with all the Rasa Libre guys all along. I don’t think he’s officially on the team but I think they’ve been helping him out too. I don’t really know what Forrest’s deal is. The Selfish guys contacted me about him and I passed that along but he wasn’t interested. I would imagine, with all the exposure he got, how good he is and the new leaf that he turned over at the end, that it should happen for him.
Do you think that was a sincere new leaf though?
To be honest, I can’t say. I don’t know him well enough to judge that. I only spent one week with him. He and I had a really long conversation the day of the eliminations on the way down to LA. It wasn’t documented but it was pretty telling for me as far as looking at his view on reality and how he sees things. It seemed to me that he didn’t have any frame of reference for the way he’d been acting and it was all news to him, so I’d like to think his reaction to our conversation was a natural one, but at the same time, that’s a lot to process in 12 hours, especially in the middle of a contest when you’re on camera and everything.
I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best. He is obviously super talented and I want him come up.
Photo: Mark Whiteley
Before this interview, you told me it was really hard choosing Forrest over Matty for the top three because, although Forrest was a nightmare, he made the show. How did that factor in to choosing John over Forrest as the winner?
I don’t want to come off like I’m dissing Forrest, but in the end we didn’t feel like the way he acted was something that should be rewarded in terms of putting him on a pedestal, which this contest does to some degree.
He’s obviously incredibly talented and did the hardest tricks of the contest, but the contest isn’t just about the hardest tricks. To me, skateboarding isn’t just about the hardest tricks. I didn’t feel like Forrest was gonna go as far with his attitude as some of the other guys could go with their attitudes and their skating. So yeah, it was a choice not to let that kind of view of skateboarding or view of interaction with people in general, be something that should be rewarded.
With reality television being so standard now, the “I like watching them because they’re such drama,” philosophy is more prevalent than ever. For example, the view of Jereme Rogers seems to have somewhat shifted from “This guy’s a kook and I hate him” to “I can’t get enough of watching this dude!” But in an ironic kind of way. Do you think Forrest became that guy too?
I think Forrest was more hated on than liked in the overall scheme of the contest, but it definitely seems more acceptable these days for people to entertain watching others behave badly or whatever. When that type of character first kicked in on reality television, maybe it became okay to accept that person for what they are and considering them a celebrity in some ways—sort of paving the way for viewers to think that watching people behave that way is cool.
I think that’s what’s changed since the dawn of the Internet too. It’s put people in this judging platform where they watch people and want to look down on them. It’s like people’s interest in gossip columns. They want to feel a little superior to people who are famous and getting themselves into sticky situations.
Was there ever a Forrest equivalent in an older One in a Million?
Not at all. Like I said, it was definitely a hard week hanging out with him, but having that character really made the show a lot more of a finished package because it provides the anti-hero type guy. I think his presence really brought the show to another level. If we just had another skater in the mix instead of him, it wouldn’t have been as big as it was. It would’ve still been our biggest year ever, but I think his personality, for better or worse, made a lot of people watch.
So do you fear that it might offset the new “formula” if in coming years you don’t have your Forrest in the show? Your “Puck,” so to speak?
To be honest, yes. There’s gonna have to be some personality component to it if it’s gonna stay at this level because it’s just so appealing. We’re probably going to ask people to submit their minute of footage as well as a minute of them talking—something that’s gonna show their personality. And that’s not to say we’re gonna let sub par skaters into the contest because of their personality, because you have to have a group of really talented skaters to keep it legitimate. But it’s definitely a big factor when thinking about how to plan ahead for future One in a Millions—the Forrest factor.
What are the most frustrating and most rewarding parts of One in a Million?
I would say the most frustrating thing was Forrest’s attitude. Not to keep pointing a finger at him, but just knowing how rare it is to get the opportunity to interact with companies, pro skaters and people who are there trying to do good for you, and having him not really appreciate those things, was definitely the most frustrating and really hard for me to understand.
The most rewarding thing was watching the caliber of skating. It was really amazing and continues to shock me. Also, seeing that the stuff that initially attracted me to skateboarding as an act and as a culture is still there and still meaningful to another generation of people was pretty cool.
The older I get, the more jaded I get and the more skating seems to have changed from what it was to me when I was a kid. So seeing those feelings alive with guys like Mango, John and Matty, who I connected with really well, was refreshing.
Something I’ve always wanted to ask you, and I should preface this by saying I’m not anti-Slap forum at all. I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy it, but, in defense of the forum, I’ve often read and heard “It’s what happens in every tour van, in every skate shop. It’s the way kids talk.”
You could reference KKK meetings and things encouraging hatred like that all over the world, right? But just because some of these private conversations exist, does that justify giving it a public forum? I know that’s an extreme example, but do you get what I am saying?
Yeah, I do. That’s a really difficult question to answer and it’s something that I haven’t really thought of an answer for. I’m not a huge defender of the forum. It is what it is. I like it for some things and I dislike it for others. But I’ve used the defense you mentioned over the years. The Forum is giving a home to all those discussions for people to connect with like they do in a skate shop, but on a more global level.
I’m pretty big on being realistic, speaking plainly and speaking your mind and I respect the forum for those reasons.
Do you think it sometimes enables an unnecessary level of negativity?
Yeah. To be honest it does encourage people to feel like they need to talk shit in some ways because that’s what it’s known for. In that light I’m not that stoked on it because that’s not me.
People have the right to their opinions and they have the right to air them and that’s all part of it, but I don’t like encouraging people to talk shit. I go out of my way on there to be as upstanding as possible because I want to foster that and I want my reputation to be one of a positive character. In some ways it’s been hard because, for better or for worse, people have their ideas about the forum and I’m kind of lumped in with those thoughts.
There have definitely been some conflicts that I’ve had with people because they felt like I enabled them to get trash talked—simply by having my name attached to the forum and to Slap as I have been for 12 years. That’s been frustrating for me because Slap was always such a positive, creative outlet for me, and then to have it suddenly be an association with a negative vibe has been difficult in some ways. I do support it as a place for free speech, so it’s a mixed bag for me.
Do you ever feel like you’re just standing there watching your friends get beat up but can’t do anything about it? Not to say that you haven’t defended people, but I think that’s the vibe I would get if I were in your position.
Yeah, I’ve definitely felt that before and I’ve even gone on to threads about people that I’m friends with to say, “Hey, that’s not how this person is.” Sometimes it’s effective, sometimes it’s not, but I think at this point I’ve kind of learned to take it a little bit less personally. Everybody who is being talked about on there understands that it’s a public forum and it doesn’t have anything to do with me.
If I tried to control it all it would look nasty. It’s a little easier for me to deal with now, but yeah, it gets uncomfortable sometimes watching people have total misconceptions about friends of mine and me not really being able to do much about it without coming under fire myself. I don’t mind taking heat from people on there if I feel like the record needs to be set straight. I totally will dive in and do that but I guess I kind of have to choose my battles.
We noticed multiple discussions on the Slap forum about the Whiteley One in a Million piece that ran last week and thought some of the stuff edited from the original piece (mainly due to length) might be of interest, so enjoy.
It seemed like fatigue hit some of the dudes pretty hard after a couple days and the guys who eventually became the top three started pulling further ahead of the pack while the others dropped off. Did you notice that at all? I knew who the top three were going to be before you picked them.
Yeah, for sure. I think there’s something to be said for choosing your battles and doing one or two things that really stand out, as opposed to really trying to kill yourself to get as much stuff as you can at every spot.
For example, Matty could have stood out way more by doing less tricks but having them be the most stylish, whereas some of the other guys were really trying to fight off the fatigue and get as much as possible at each spot everyday.
It’s not like I’m shouting, “Perform now! Make or break!” at them but I kind of like that you have the fatigue factor because you see how people operate and handle it a little bit.
Do you think John overcame a gnarlier injury than Nik? To crack your head open, still skate all week, stay as positive as he did and then win is pretty crazy. Nik just had a swellbow right?
Yeah. It kept happening to him day after day. And I think after it happened a couple times, he realized he wasn’t all that psyched on the way it was going. He kind of let it get to him more than it necessarily had to. But at the same time it’s not for everybody and I don’t fault him for the way he skated or anything during the week. He just didn’t really enjoy the forced street aspect of it I guess.
Honestly though, he was so rad. Everyday when we got back from skating; he was the guy that skated the warehouse hardest. It’s too bad we didn’t have a real good place to include that in the episodes.
Could One in a Million be a two or three week contest? Possibly giving the contestants a chance to rest or take a few days off and recover from injuries or fatigue?
Well, in terms of Nik, for example, if he were here for two weeks, he probably would’ve gone home early anyway because he was hurt and bummed out. Not that he couldn’t handle it but he just didn’t want to be there at that point.
I wonder if any of it has to do with him being an East Coast dude? Weather-wise, there isn’t always the opportunity to skate street for seven days straight and you also come to rely on indoor parks for months on end some winters.
Yeah, culturally, it probably does have something to do with it. Last year we had a similar situation with a skater named Nick from Atlanta. He did one or two really rad things but just realized he didn’t really enjoy the format and kind of disconnected.
Would you say Jake Donnelly is the most successful One in a Million winner?
Jake was definitely the biggest post-contest success story by far. He’s probably the biggest name. Kevin Coakley won the second year and went on to ride for Blueprint. He got an offer from Krooked at the time but turned ‘em down, which was kind of a bummer.
I think Tom Karangelov, who won last year, is going to do really well for himself. The Zero guys all love him and it sounds like he’s gonna have a part in their next video. I hope this year’s winner, John Fitzgerald, does well too. I know Jamie Thomas is pretty stoked on him.
There are some people who’ve been in and didn’t win, like Tom Asta, who’ve gone on to do bigger things, but in terms of winners, yeah, Jake’s definitely the big story.
When we launched ABD, a few people asked us if we were going to have a “One in a Million-style reality series.” It seems a lot of people are using it as a barometer or metaphor now, which is pretty interesting.
That’s a cool comment and I’m stoked to hear that. It’s not totally original programming or anything like that—it’s just the standard reality TV format, but it’s cool that it’s actually taking hold of being that now. We finally got the way it should be run dialed a little better.
But also, it has to do with the transition of the magazine from being print to web-based, where the first four or five years we did One in a Million, it was made to be in print form and figuring out how to transition that into a more episode-based entity ended up being a really good thing and allowed it to grow, which is great. I’m really happy about it.