Behind the Scenes of the Mata Hari Video
Written by Mark Ponce. Photos by Ethan Cochard & Nick Jones.
In a tight time crunch, three days was all we had to film for the release video of the Loaded Mata Hari. This short time frame forced us into dealing with the hardships of the situations that arose during the shoot, no matter the circumstances.
With my imminent three month expedition around Europe and Turkey, we didn’t have the luxury to simply say, “let's just come back next Saturday and try again”. My flight to Istanbul, Turkey was two days after our video shoot and my call for adventure couldn’t be postponed any further. The time crunch on getting the shoot done justified the relentless evening winds, fighting through the thick smoke from nearby wildfires, the unpredictable lighting, and intense heat and isolation of the desert.
Driving at the speed as you would on a highway, we were flying through the vastness of the El Mirage Lakebed. Rolling across the expanse in a fresh rental car, Ethan Cochard, Nick Jones, and I desperately searched for a starting location to begin shooting the introduction. The entire lakebed is covered in a white powdered blanket of sediment with random sections of breaking ground and smooth surfaces.
Dried up desert plants littered the edges of the lakebed, begging for hydration as they were barraged by the unforgiving heat of the sun. The great vastness of this dry lakebed was something I’ve never seen before. A place where emptiness and nothingness sucked the noise out of the atmosphere. Even though there was endless open space before us, it sounded like we were boxed in as the sound of our voices had nowhere to bounce off of.
Picking a spot of what seemed to be a smooth surface, Ethan, Nick, and I hopped out of the car to check out the scenery. We spent our first few minutes trying out the surface of the lakebed with our boards. With his electric skateboard, Ethan zig-zagged up and down leaving beautiful flowing tracks behind him. Nick tested the pop from the ground, landing a kickflip first try. As I popped my board to do a simple no-comply 180, my body was ready to land back on the board but the Mata Hari decided she wanted to stay behind. After nearly eating it, I noticed the pop from my board chipped the ground, causing the board not to follow my feet. A drop of disappointment fell out of the cloud that carried the nostalgia I had for the “Of Troglodytes and Men'' video that was filmed at the very same place eleven years ago.
Our plan was to shoot around sunrise and sunset for the sake of the golden hour lighting. The first couple of shoots went by very smoothly tricking all of us that this was going to be easy but we were proved wrong when we returned in the afternoon on Wednesday. The desert winds gusted endlessly without any moment of rest. Standing still on my board, I would begin rolling almost helplessly towards the horizon. The constant wind began picking up dirt, getting it into my hair and coating the top of my board. The grip-less areas became incredibly slippery and the grip tape began turning white, almost becoming one with the desert. We managed to get a few clips and called it a day.
At dawn on Thursday morning we approached El Mirage through a thick cloud of what we thought was fog. Hopeful it would clear up before sunrise, we quickly realized it was actually a dense layer of smoke from a nearby wildfire. We were robbed of the incredible sunrise we experienced the day before. Our hopes of the wind blowing it all away slowly faded as we came to the reality that the lighting was completely different from the previous shoots.
As the day went on, the sky turned white, nearly devoid of the spectacular colors that we first arrived to. The sun became a fiery red dot in the sky, like the apocalypse had finally come. With time ticking away and thick clouds of smoke covering the previously intense heat of the sun, we decided to keep filming regardless. We focused the day’s shoot on getting isolated tricks and combos. We filmed until noon, only getting half of the tricks I wanted on camera.
We returned during the evening and stopped at the narrow road that led up to the entrance to the lakebed. The air quality had gotten worse, smelling like charred barbecue. Skating there was frustrating because every fifty feet or so a huge crack in the road would appear in the road.
The longer I skated the heavier my breathing became and the more smoke I inhaled which made it even harder to perform. Unfortunately our evening shoot was cut short due to lighting conditions dwindling. Sadly there wasn’t any space to use the clips from this spot in the final version of the video, but we did capture some very nice photos.
Friday morning was our last shoot, I was partially bummed because I didn’t get to land tricks and do lines I wanted to do. The unforeseen circumstances greatly restricted our initial plans and we had to make things work. At this point, every muscle in my body was sore and aching, with my shins badly bruised. Somehow, when you just keep on skating, the pain manages to fade away. Luckily this morning the sun was more visible, barely hidden behind a thin veil of the last remnants of smoke. We filmed a few G-turns and got a few time lapses and dancing lines as the beautiful colors slowly restored.
The final shot we wanted was a Fakie-bigflip. I was determined to land this trick more than anything and based on the tricks we filmed the day before, I knew it was not going to be easy. The board responded differently to the sediment of the lakebed compared to pavement. You wanted to skate it like it was any other flatground spot but the pop for tricks was much more inconsistent. Pop-shuvs were not a thing there, the board would not scoop the way you wanted. The techniques for popping a No-comply or Bigspin were even more different. I was constantly changing my wheelbase to see what worked best. Each wheelbase changed the pop-angle and made the board feel totally different.
I prided myself on being able to skate just about any board, under any circumstance, anywhere. And yet I failed at getting the trick just right, over and over. I ate the ground a handful of times, I landed but lost balance the other times. I felt like I got further from my goal with each attempt. At some point I was certain I was going to land it and other times I thought I was going to quit. My determination kept me going despite becoming furious at some points and slamming my fists on the ground.
After three hours, roughly 600 tries, one camera left alive on its last battery with only 6% charge remaining, I finally landed the Fakie-bigflip. There were no cheers, there was no celebration, there was silence as we all realized it had finally happened. I skated out of frame and dropped to the hot ground. I expected tears to roll down my face but they would’ve evaporated from the heat. A sense of relief flowed over me. I was determined to land the trick no matter what and I didn’t even care about the video at that point. I wanted to land it for my own satisfaction.
While my battle with the Fakie-bigflip raged on, Ethan had left a camera among the Joshua Trees recording a time lapse about a mile away. He left to fetch the camera and shortly returned in disbelief and empty handed, informing us that it was gone. Fortunately one of the park rangers that patrolled the lake bed took the camera and brought it to the information center waiting for us to get it back.
It added another layer of stress on me while trying to focus on the final shot, but the song Range Brothers by Baby Keem featuring Kendrick Lamar helped me with moving forward. It was honestly the theme song of this video shoot with Kendrick’s part stuck in all of our heads. Nick and I chanted our mantra of “top of the morning” and “lets get this sh*t” non stop, annoying Ethan with it. I kept saying over and over in my head as I skated. This helped me with focusing on my own skate style and landing the tricks I wanted.
If I could go back in time to do it all over again I definitely would. During that week my only focus was to skate the way I like to skate for my own pleasure. Hanging out with my friends in the middle of nowhere was an experience I enjoyed. We all rode the crazy roller coaster of emotions: going through times of laughter, disappointment, frustration, hunger, and sleepiness. Our suffering required a team effort to overcome. It felt like we ran out of time but at the same time those three days felt like weeks had gone by. I am proud of what Ethan, Nick, and I made together and I look forward to the next project. I will not skate at El Mirage again though so please don’t invite me to go there.
If you haven’t checked out the video for the Mata Hari, please go check it out on the Loaded YouTube channel. And after that, go pick up a Mata Hari if you’re looking for a new board to dance/freestyle on. Mark Ponce signing out, peace out, girl scout.