Patrick O’Dell’s garage sits behind a nice-sized house on the northern outskirts of LA.
It contains an assortment of the stuff you might expect to see in someone’s garage: a random collection of art, books and magazines, some gym equipment and a cardboard box full of photos he’s taken over the years. It’s all arranged in a very neat and minimalist way, almost like an office or a little design studio.
“I’m trying not to collect boards,” he says, gesturing towards a couple of Andrew Reynolds Baker boards on the carpet, both signed. They were given to O’Dell as a gift from Reynolds after O’Dell featured him on his show Epicly Later’d, for the second time.
As we sort through a random pile of his photographs—mostly portraits of skaters from the ‘90s and ‘00s—it becomes clear that O’Dell has more stories about pro skaters than I probably have time for. He can explain about the time Antwaun Dixon smashed a window and got everyone kicked out of a hotel room in Arizona or when Brian Anderson told him that he wasn’t ready to come out as gay. There are countless others, as you might expect from a dude who’s made a living from photographing and interviewing professional skateboarders for the last couple of decades.
Of course, he’s best known for making Epicly Later’d, the documentary series about pro skateboarders that’s been running for 11 years now. It’s probably been so successful because it takes such an unflinching look into the reality of skaters’ lives without skimming over the dark shit. Instead of the easy questions and uplifting music you see in a lot of branded content these days, O’Dell has generally taken a more upfront stance to his storytelling.
“I feel like in every interview, I get to a section where it’s like, ‘This is uncomfortable, I have to ask this person some uncomfortable stuff,'” says O’Dell. “You know, something that they might not want to talk about or something that might not be rad. I have it on my piece of paper [and] it’s like, ‘I gotta ask this.’”
This hasn’t always worked out, especially in the beginning. “There’s been a few episodes where I would make multiple calls being like, ‘Dude, come on, you should talk about this thing that happened,’” says O’Dell. “There’s been times where I had to lose an argument.”
An obvious example is the episode about Brian Anderson—a dude who won Thrasher’s Skater of the Year in ’99, made a plethora of burly skate parts of the years and also happened to be gay. He didn’t want to come out on the show. “I guess if it was straight journalism or a tabloid I could have just been like, fuck it,” says O’Dell. “But because I respect his privacy, I was like ‘All right, I guess we’re not talking about that.’”
O’Dell reasons that he wasn’t even sure how he would have addressed it. “If I do an episode on Koston, I don’t ask him about his wife, you know what I mean? So with Brian I was like, ‘Do I even need to ask him about his boyfriend?’”
When I ask O’Dell if he ever gets starstruck by the skaters he’s interviewing, he explains that “intimidated” would be a better way of describing it. “I don’t know if there are any skateboarders at this point that I’m starstruck by, but there’s definitely intimidating people in skating.” I bring up Antwuan Dixon, the legendary Baker skater with tatts all over his face who ended up serving a three-year jail sentence in 2013.
“He was kind of frightening,” says O’Dell of the episode he did on Antwuan back in 2011. “I remember he got everyone kicked out of the first hotel and the team manager of the company that was paying for the hotels was like, ‘Hey I’m getting a new hotel, don’t bring Antwuan.’” It turned out that the tour was for a company Antwuan didn’t even ride for, but later in the night, after O’Dell had ditched him at a party, Antwuan found his way back to the second hotel and broke a window to get in.
Most of this is in the episode, but O’Dell says he cut a lot of other stuff out, including some footage of Antwuan doing cocaine in front of some kids at a skate contest. Antwuan is out of jail and sober these days, but when the episode dropped, O’Dell says everyone acted like he’d thrown Antwuan under the bus.
“I guess I kind of made him look bad but I also thought that he reminded me of GG Allin in Hated. To a certain person it makes him look bad but to a lot of people, it kind of made a cult around him. This is a person who rules and laws don’t apply to. This is a person who is outside society.”
These older episodes can be pretty raw and gnarly, where the newer ones, which premiered on VICELAND a few months ago, have a much higher production value. It’s a testament to how the show has progressed since the early days. O’Dell says that when the show began, “It was just me with no budget.”
You can kind of see this in the first episode, where he spends a day in New York with Dustin Dollin while he goes to a few bars and then gets a tattoo. Back then, O’Dell didn’t pay much attention to the shots he was getting or whether the wireless microphone was hidden. He explains, “I was like, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter, no one cares what it looks like. That’s not the point, the point is to tell stories. And also to be in someone’s living room and experience their lives.'”
O’Dell had been to art school, studied photography, and then worked as a photo contributor to Thrasher for five years, so he was already fairly well connected in the skate scene. “I worked with Baker a lot and Toy Machine and Enjoi. I had relationships with those brands and those skaters… so when I started my show I immediately asked skaters that I knew would trust me,” he explains. Once the show took off and had built up a solid fan base, he was able to start branching out and cold-calling people he didn’t know.
And eventually, it got to a point where skaters would hit O’Dell up to do an episode about them. Ali Boulala left a comment on one of O’Dell’s photos suggesting they do an episode on his life. “I had to call him and be like, ‘Are we going to talk about the Shane Cross thing?’ Because before we even started, I needed to know what we were going to talk about.”
That was another thing that evolved throughout the show—the episodes got longer and were often separated into multiple sections. Boulala’s was 42 minutes, broken into four sections, and totally heart wrenching—it detailed the incident where he got drunk, crashed his motorbike and incidentally killed his friend Shane Cross. “With somebody like Ali, he’s just like, ‘I’m an open book, don’t worry about it,’” says O’Dell.
The newest season boasts full episodes with some skaters who ended up having film careers that were bigger than skateboarding. There’s Spike Jonze, who directed films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich; Harmony Korine who wrote the cult ‘90s film Kids and directed Spring Breakers; and Bam Margera, who starred in Jackass and had his own television show, Viva La Bam. Then there are the dudes who were just legendary skaters: Heath Kirchart, Andrew Reynolds, Andy Roy, Chad Muska and Jason Dill.
It’s incredibly polished nowadays, with O’Dell as the host, a six-person film crew and a whole editing team. Ironically, O’Dell is still kind of shy and doesn’t like being in front of the camera. “I hate it. It’s like my worst nightmare,” he says. “I had to be on camera recently and I almost had a panic attack… I was literally like, ‘Oh my god, I’m about to faint or something.’”
Now, when he introduces the show, he makes the film crew walk away and does his pieces to camera in front of just one or two people. “My ideal crew would be two people,” says O’Dell. “But then again, everyone in the crew is doing a good job. And as resistant as I was, the final product is better. Those episodes are better than when I was filming by myself.”