Ay! [laughs] Yeah, so let’s, uh… well, just real quick, introduce yourself.
For sure. I’m Joshua Cavalier. Pleasure to meet you Milo. I’ve been doing parkour for about 6 ½ years now, and I’ve been filmmaking – making films – for about four. I think. Something like that. I started filmmaking by editing parkour videos, I think like a lot of people who get into video work and stuff through parkour. So… yeah!
Cool! And how old are you?
You’re nineteen! Are you in school?
Yeah, I’m going to school – I actually go to school in New York! I’m just back in California for the summer. Staying with family and such.
Gotcha. Let’s talk a little bit about this movie you made. When did you start working on it?
So, I was actually taking a documentary class last semester, and on the syllabus there were four movies. Three were basically exercises, but the fourth was a final project of whatever our choosing.
I actually made a documentary back in highschool about parkour, b-boying and skateboarding, and I just called it movement. It was this kind of overly ambitious sprawling doc – it was ok for when I made it in high school as a video production project, but I knew I wanted to make a movie about parkour, just because it’s literally given me everything that I love [laughs]…
So, I felt like I just owed it. And originally I was gonna do something focused on specifically overcoming challenges, and trying to break a jump. But I realized that that had kind of been covered in a lot of other documentaries before. So I was trying to think, well, what do I have to say that hasn’t been said before? And the first thing that came to mind was – almost like an ego trip – well, what about my story? And so that kind of made me go down, I guess, the path that lead where the film ended up.
And then I’ve known Bryce for, like – I met him like three or four years ago, and just wanted to talk to him and sit down with him, because I’ve always felt kind of connection with him. He’s just a really good guy, and we’d talked a lot in the past, so I thought it’d be kinda cool to just sit down and get it on film. And then other people, like Raul and Gabby – I’ve been friends with them in the San Francisco community for about five years – Max and Brandon I haven’t known as long, but I’d gotten to talk to them a few times, so I got interested in their stories. We all found parkour in our own unique way, and it impacted all of our lives…
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I love parkour, and I know other people love parkour [laughs] so I just kind of wanted to film that I guess.
For sure! I think one of the things – and you brought it up – but one of the things I like so much about it is the personal framing story. You said there jokingly, like it was an ego trip – but I think the thing that’s so neat about the film is that really the only parts that have you in it take up, like, a minute on the front, and maybe 45 seconds on the end. It’s really all about other people. But then ultimately their stories are your story – they’re intertwined – which is, I think, the thing that’s so affecting about it.
I’ll admit I cried the first time I watched it. And then cried at almost the exact same part the second time. And then at the same part the third time. On the third viewing I was like, ok, I gotta think about why it’s working so well that it can elicit the exact same emotional response, even though I know it’s coming, every time. It’s the part where Bryce, you know, he breaks a little bit – I mean Bryce never breaks, because he’s Bryce [laughs] He’s a little too tough, but, you know, he becomes a little vulnerable on camera, and you drop the music out and just hold on the moment… I’m just rambling at this point, because I’m sort of excited by even just the filmmaking craft of it!
I guess one of the questions I had was… You know, a lot of people in the parkour community come from this background where they film and edit parkour – they film and edit movement – and what you have here is this emotionally and character driven documentary piece. I’m wondering how your understanding of filming and editing movement played into your decisions structuring the things that aren’t the movement – the things that drive the story forward – and whether you noticed parallels between those two things?
Well, first of all, that really means a lot to me. It sounds so cliche, but I feel like I can’t take any credit for the emotions elicited. It really felt like I was capturing what other people wanted to say, and just happened to be the one behind the camera-
Oh, you’re so humble! [laughs]
I mean – It was something interesting my documentary teacher said – and I have to say I didn’t really take the class seriously for the first three months or so. I wasn’t sure I really liked documentary that much. I respect the form, but I just never found any interest in making it – I don’t know, maybe I’ll make something in the future – but my documentary teacher said, make a documentary because you find a documentary that someone needs to be made. In that sense it’s totally about letting go of any sense of ego, and being like, what film – what people or what subject matter – deserves to be on film, and to be shared with other people. So that was an entry point for where I wanted to go.
In terms of the more technical question – in terms of filming movement – I guess I’ve watched, I think like anyone, GUP and Storror – all these things – so I kind of adopted techniques from different videos and that made it’s way into the action editing style. But what I’m really passionate about, and which is why I do narrative film, is just human stories, and – it’s so corny to say – but, what the truth behind each person is, and why they do what they do. And so I was interested in the people who did parkour more than the movement itself.
I think there’s only one action sequence in the doc, and originally – when I imagined doing it – I was like, oh, I’m gonna have all these crazy sequences, and crazy jumps, and I’m gonna film the best movement. And there’s some – Bryce, Raul, Max, Gabby and Brandon all do really impressive stuff in the video, but I think what really shone through was just them. They’re just such amazing people.
One thing, if anything, I feel I got the most out of the doc was just being able to sit down with them and talk. Like, Raul – he’s been my best friend for over five years now, and we never really talked for that extended a period of time exclusively about parkour, and how we thought about it. And that was actually one of the first times I ever even talked with Gabby about it too! We’ve always trained and joked around, but it was interesting because it was a chance to sit down and get to know these people better – to know how they thought about it. I mean, I read all sorts of articles – I just went on MÜVMag last night and was binge reading –
And it’s so cool, because everyone really does have a story. Like, we share the same passion and sometimes have similar backgrounds, but in the end everyone has a unique story. And I feel like anyone, if they wanted to, could make a documentary about parkour and it’d be totally unique and different if they just stay true to what their story is.
Yeah, I kind of strayed from the question, but –
That’s ok! I’m treating this more like – and I meant to do this going in – more like a conversation than an interview. I think they’re more interesting to listen to.
The thing I was curious about – or that I was trying to ask, but I definitely did a bad job of asking was… I feel sort of similar to you in the sense that I went to school for – Are you going to school for film?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So, I was also super into making parkour videos, and that became sort of a gateway drug to filmmaking. And then I sort of got invested in narrative filmmaking, and ironically my senior thesis ended up being a documentary [laughs] One of the things that I think is interesting is that, for our sport, video – film – is sort of the central medium. And, it’s SO central – like I wouldn’t even know that parkour existed – we wouldn’t know that parkour existed if it weren’t for videos. They’re literally the way in which we’ve communicated with each other across oceans, across borders, for over a decade.
So, it makes sense that a lot of people in the parkour community end up getting interested in filmmaking. And the thing I’ve found is that there are these parallels between what I learned about cutting movement and everything else. That sort of same logic holds true when you’re cutting a much more subtle scene where people are just talking. There’s sort of this underlying parallel between just filming movement – making a very effective movement driven piece – and making a very effective character and emotionally driven piece. There’s these sort of analogous cutting structures.
I guess I was wondering if you noticed that when you were editing the interviews – that some of the same logic was hitting you about where to cut and why.
Yeah. Absolutely. Since I started cutting videos, I used to cut every where. I loved the match cut when I was just starting, like, look, I can make this image transition seamlessly to here. I was addicted to that and was just cutting everywhere. And then I realized, over time, that can interfere with the flow itself, that’s in the video.
I was actually just talking to Matt Jang a few months ago. We were training, and that was the first time it kind of occurred to me, that analogy. I was trying to film this line for him, and I was like, well, I can go here, and then I can go over here, and then I can go over here, and you can do it three times and we can get it really cool. And he was like, let’s just try and get it in one take. I always try and get every line in one take. And I realized he was totally right, that’s so much better [laughs] Don’t interrupt what’s happening in front of the camera, you know?
And so, I definitely thought about that – I mean, obviously there’s faster scenes and stuff, and when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time you have to cut. And in order to make things flow you need to cut some of the um’s and the pauses. But, at the end when Bryce is just being real, I can’t cut that [laughs] That’s just there. And it’s just happening.
Now that you mention it, there’s totally an overlap. I feel like every form that you edit in, whether it’s commercial, a parkour video, or narrative, documentary – there’s something to learn in everything. And I think that extends across different mediums too. As filmmakers we get inspired by photography and literature and painting – the overlap is between every medium. There’s so much to learn from what other people do! Which is so exciting, because you just never stop learning, you know?
Yeah, for sure! I’m also curious about – it’s just an assumption – but when I watched it, one of my first thoughts was that the framing device of you, the train and all that, was a later development. That you’d probably shot half of the documentary before you even thought to do that. I actually even wondered if it was your idea, or if your documentary teacher may have suggested it. So, I was wondering how you came up with that exactly?
Yeah, for sure.
Cause to be totally honest, I saw the film floating around on facebook – I’ll admit my pretentious awfulness – and I was pretty skeptical right away, because I’m like, oh, another parkour documentary. Great [laughs] It’s probably ok. And I pressed play on this thing and was blown away. There’s a level of maturity to just the editing and structure of it right of the bat. I was sort of surprised by its understatedness. It’s the thing I think is really good about it – that you have a very strong and clear premise, but at no point do I feel that you’re hammering me over the head with it. You don’t try and make me get it, you just let me get it, and that’s really what the best filmmaking – the best storytelling – is like.
So, I’m also rambling – It’s ok, it’s a rambly conversation – But, if you could talk a little bit about how you came up with the opening thing – when I was a kid – because that’s where the title comes from, so I’m curious.
You’re totally right, I didn’t come up with that until, I think… I had a deadline for the project, I think it was the beginning of May, and I had shot all the stuff with Bryce, Max, Raul, Gabby and Brandon, and I was sitting there like, how do I not just make this a shorter version of People in Motion? Or something like that [laughs] How do I not copy every other documentary I’ve seen?
And originally – going back to the original idea I had, which was to just focus on breaking a jump – I just wanted to show it – to bring up a film term: Cinema verité – and to just shoot very candidly, and maybe not even have any interviews. It was really kind of an abstract idea that obviously didn’t work out. I just didn’t get the footage to do that, and also realized, like, would that really work? I don’t know.
So, I was originally going to frame the movie around a jump I did, I think four years ago, that I hit my nose on. It was a catleap that I still hadn’t done yet, and I was going to try and show how you can walk away from a jump. This idea to frame the documentary with myself, I kind of like that idea, and I thought, how can I retain that? And then I was going through my hard drive and I found some footage.
I’d gone home the previous semester on Thanksgiving, and my family and I went to – I think it’s in Berkley, in California – these old train tracks where this miniature train runs through the woods. I think I went there every single weekend with my parents for maybe a year. They literally drove me out there every single weekend, and we rode the train back-to-back a dozen times per day. They just kept buying tickets for me – they’re not that expensive – and we’d just go on the same train ride over and over again.
So my family took me back there for memories sake on Thanksgiving, and I just shot all that stuff. I didn’t have any purpose for that, but the emotion kind of bled through because I was going back to this place that when I was a kid I loved probably more than anything in the world. So, it was just this footage I had. And I was so worried because my documentary was due in three days and I hadn’t cut anything for the class.
And I just started cutting – I don’t know why I started cutting this footage of the train stuff. And I wrote down some thoughts I had in a stream of consciousness and was like, that kind of reminds me of the love I feel for parkour. Ok. Well, where can I go with this? And then one thing lead to another – honestly, it’s such a blur that I don’t even remember. I think any time anyone’s writing a story it’s very rare that they can remember every single point that they came up with something, you know? Or maybe that’s just me, I don’t know.
I guess in the end I didn’t think about structuring it in anyway. I mean, obviously I’m in writing classes and so some of these lessons are just kind of there now. You have to have structure for any story to work, but I was just kind of thinking, let me just write from the heart. And I feel like everyone says to do that [laughs] just write from the heart, and maybe like 80% of the time it’s bad [laughs] I’ve written so much bad stuff. Just awful things. I think every writer has, and – I’m hesitant to even call myself a writer, I feel like I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but… I don’t know, I guess it just kinda happened that way. All these circumstances came together. Just like me discovering parkour! Those circumstances just kind of lead up to one another and I was able to find what I wanted to say.
And the best stories do let you discover the truth for yourself – it’s like that Stanley Kubrick quote – I forgot exactly what it was, but it was like, if you tell someone the meaning of something it’s not gonna stick, but if you let them discover it for themselves then that’s when it… I butchered the quote, but I’ve been trying to do that in my writing forever, and I think the only reason that I kind of accomplished it here was because it’s something that’s been mulling in my head for 6 ½ years. And I had been thinking about this all that time, and it just so happened that I had this footage and started writing stuff.
I feel like I didn’t do anything it was just there, and I was sitting there like, hmmm, oh it’s like – and then I just drew a line between there and there, like, oh, that kind of works.
Maybe it feels like you didn’t do anything, but you did. It’s all you. It’s all you there! I’ll say it again: I think it’s so good. And I’ll give you my little perspective in terms of why. Part of why I think it’s so affecting – and we can see if you did it on purpose, or if this is just – I mean you do everything on purpose – but if it’s more serendipitous than it is on purpose.
I think the thing that’s working so well in the film is that framing device. The film starts and ends on this incredibly personal note. Like the footage at the beginning is – I mean, I love it. There’s no subject to any of it really, it’s just home footage essentially, which is awesome and gives it this personal perspective – this feeling – this sensation like memory. And you’re talking about something – I love the first line. You give no context whatsoever – When I started playing it I was like, wait, what is this? What kind of magic sorcery am I about to watch where someone’s going to start their parkour documentary with, when I was a kid I had an obsession with trains? [laughs]
And then you just never come back, for almost twenty minutes. You say some stuff about how you love trains, and then we just go off on this total digression where we meet a bunch of people and get their perspectives on parkour. And then you abruptly come back to your story without a ton of leeway into it.
And I think what you do there is create this really effective and transparent connection, where the story – even though it’s a story about the way you feel about parkour – it broadens very quickly, and in a really beautiful way where it stops even being about parkour necessarily in that moment. You basically say, here’s a thing I love, and here’s other people who love this thing in totally different ways, and for totally different reasons. And when it comes back to you there’s this sensation that you and those other people are connected even though you’re all alone. That’s the feeling! Do you know what I mean?
Everybody’s alone in that movie. I think the reason it works so well with parkour is because you are alone when you go to break the jump. Like all the shots of Raul when he goes to break the jump to the railing with the drop on the other side, are these low angle shots – it’s very isolating, you know? And then somehow the experience connects everybody, but the moment where you go to do it you’re alone.
And I think that’s the really cool thing about the film. That that is of a big part of the premise, and at no point does anyone ever say anything about it, yet I think it’s really clear, and I think it comes across really well, simply because of the structure. And that’s the thing I want to congratulate you on the most. I mean that’s really good, you know? I mean – Was that intentional?
So here’s [laughs] So I wanted to do that. That was the goal. And I just kind of cut it how I thought was best. I don’t think I’ve ever successfully implied an idea before [laughs] in anything I’ve ever made, so I don’t know quite how – Because I originally thought it didn’t work. Like, how am I going to talk about that? Will people understand that? I had a lot of doubts. I mean it was the intention, but the execution I felt was totally serendipitous.
I don’t know how it works. It still kind of baffles me that people were able to connect all that. I’ve had all these thoughts like – I was actually just reading your article Love and Fear in Parkour – I read that a few months ago too when I was at this point in my life where I was so stressed about making the right decision, and choosing the right path. And that article was – I have to kind of thank you for that, because that helped me at a really low point. It reminded me that parkour was all about making wrong decisions, and learning judgement, and being willing to take the wrong path in order to learn more about yourself… I kind of lost my train of thought [laughs] I don’t know how I got to there…
I guess I just felt like taking a risk. That’s so cheesy, but I really felt like saying what I wanted to say, and not necessarily worrying if people understood it. I just found it remarkable that people were able to connect to it – there was another thing in your article that said parkour isn’t the answer. Which is totally true. Everyone finds their own way of dealing with things, or finding meaning in their life. It just so happens that parkour serves that purpose. It serves that function for so many people. It gives people that sense of self and meaning and community. And it’s not really special. It’s just something that you love, and something that other people love, and you all connect over that.
I literally just ran into a dude today I haven’t seen in five years, and he was talking about the rave community in San Francisco, and everything he was saying was basically – if you swapped out rave community for parkour community – it would be the exact same description. It was all about supporting one another and giving family to people who don’t necessarily have that sense of family, and just being loved – and then still there’s that kind of stigma around it, and bad things do happen. Like in any community there’s always poor decisions, and people who aren’t necessarily representative of the whole, but it was the same thing.
It was like we both found other people that loved the same thing that we did, for reasons that we didn’t necessarily understand, and we just did it together and found meaning in that. Which I think is so beautiful, and I wish I could [laughs] say that in a movie. But if you said that then it’s just –
Yeah, but I think you did. You know? I think that’s what I’m trying tell you! I think you said it! Because I got it, you know? Maybe I have a brain that’s slightly more finely tuned to decoding meaning, but I think anyone who watches your movie would get that, whether or not they could verbalize it as clearly as I did. I think the reason it’s so effective is that for a lot of people it would be impossible to verbalize – that they would just feel it. You know?
And that’s when you’ve really done your job. When you’re able to take something that’s complex and abstract, and that if you just said in words would mean nothing to anyone, but instead you’re able to figure out at the root of those words – what the sensations, and the experiences, and the memories are that create that feeling for you, that generate those words, and break away the layers of symbolic communication, and just get it down to that root thing. And then give someone else that so they can just feel it. You know? And then everyone gets it!
Whether they can recode it back to the exact thoughts, or whether they just feel the sensation, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve effectively communicated the thing. And I think that’s the reason that I love filmmaking. It’s as close as you could possibly get to just communicating pure thought. And I think you did a really, really solid job.
I’m super excited to see what else you do in the future. Hopefully you do some more work related to parkour, but if not, I’m excited to see your narrative work as well. And it’d be great to work with you at some point [laughs] You know?
That’d be a dream honestly man!
Cool! So, I’m gonna call it quits on the the interview there. Thanks so much for talking!
Thank you Milo. Appreciate it.
Photos and video courtesy of Joshua Cavalier