Words by Naz Kawakami
Naquan Rollings was the first guy I met when I moved to New York City.
By ‘met’, I mean I intruded on his slappy curb and we exchanged tense head nods. After several months of this, I said hello, and asked if I could interview him for Monster Children. Naquan Rollings doesn’t talk much, or maybe just not to me. To be honest, I don’t really know the guy. I know he is 23 years old. I know he rides Shake Junt grip. I have seen him heelflip more than kickflip, which leads me to believe he has a preference. More so, I know his work.
If you’re in the know, you may have seen his videos on Thrasher’s homepage or on your favourite skater’s Instagram—and for good reason. The man has a way with the lens. Naquan’s most recent video is called GOOD GUY, runs for around 16 minutes long and features skaters like Ishod, Christian Henry, Ish Cepeda, and a whole bunch of other dudes who would intimidate me on the session. More importantly, though, GOOD GUY (and all previous videos of Rollings’) has the familiar flavours of a skate video, but with a less familiar, more interesting note. GOOD GUY is sick skating done by familiar faces, but presented in a way that feels, perhaps, more at ease than other videos; the angles and the editing somehow more candid, more personal than what I’ve seen in other edits, or in skateboarding generally. There are highs and lows, speed and laughter. There are sombre moments. It is a video with direction.
In a market as oversaturated with video content as skateboarding, to make me (or anyone) give a shit enough about your video to not only remember it, but think critically about it, is a big deal. It could be the original soundtrack by the homie Brandon Holley. It could be the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously while still remaining an impressive edit. Either way, I wasn’t going to find out by not asking the man who made it, so I met Naquan at the SoHo curb and got him talking.
I’m just going to ask you some basic getting-to-know-you questions and see where that goes. Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Do you still live there?
Nah, I had to move because of gentrification. Now I live deep in Brooklyn. I fucking hate where I live now, East New York where my grandparents live. I miss Downtown.
Did you go to school for filmmaking?
After I graduated high school, I wasn’t trying to go to college right away because I didn’t know what I was going to go for and I knew it took a couple years to even start studying the shit you’re interested in. I planned to go for a bit and then transfer over to a film school, but one semester in I was like, ‘why am I even doing this?’ I was spending mad money to study shit that I don’t even care about. I was filming skating a lot when I was going to college, but if I missed a day it would fuck me up. I never had time for anything. I just stopped going.
Are you into filmmaking outside of skating?
Yeah, I mean, I’m not a movie nerd or anything, but now that I film, I definitely pay attention to scene transitions and editing, especially in music videos. I help my friends out with their film shit and that’s cool, I’m into it, but right now I just want to keep filming skating and travel and get into other kinds of filmmaking and production later on.
You’re taking the Spike Jonze career path.
Yeah, I guess. I am down to film other stuff, but I just want to focus on skating right now.
How’d you get into skating?
I started because of my older sister. She always wanted a skateboard and my grandma got her a fake one from Target. I just started using it all the time. I was about nine or some shit. My first actual board was an Element board with Royal trucks and all-black Bones wheels. I didn’t know what to search to watch skating. I was watching Fantasy Factory a lot and knew about Rob Dyrdek, so I would type in Rob Dyrdek vs Eric Koston and watch games of skate. I know everybody’s like, ‘my first video was Baker 3‘ but I didn’t have that.
How’d you get started filming skating?
After years of skating I noticed how when I played Skate 3, it was from the viewpoint of a filmer. I started to get into angles and shit, and when I’d try to get a clip of me skating back in the day, I’d think about where the better angle would be. After a while, I started filming other people from those angles. In my head, I’d rather just film it myself than expect someone else to get that good angle for me.
Did you ever make Skate 3 edits?
Oh yeah, yeah! That was the best feature, being able to film clips in the game. I would be up until four or five in the morning uploading them to YouTube and it’d be on some ‘1%, 2%’ type shit and you can’t turn the game off until it’s done. I made a bunch but I privated all of them. I left one up on purpose because it was titled like, ‘Ryan Sheckler El Toro.’ I posted it nine or ten years ago and it got something like 70,000 views? They’d click and it’d be my Skate 3 edit. All the comments were people being like, ‘Fuck you! Piece of shit!’ but I think it’s funny so I left it up.
What was the transition from filming in Skate 3 to filming in real life? What was your first camera?
The first camera I was filming skating with was my phone. I would make a bunch of Instagram edits with my friends. I got death lenses for my phone and broke a bunch of those. I just took it from there. My friends decided to get me a camera, they pushed more than me, I think.
Good friends. What’d they get you?
They all pitched in money and got me a VX2100.
Yo, that’s so sick!
Yeah, it was dope. I fucking hated that camera, though. It wasn’t a VX1000. I didn’t know everything about skating but I knew enough to know when I got that shit that it wasn’t a VX1000. I was like, ‘Why does this feel so different? Why can’t I do this shit with it that other people are doing?’ I had an MKII and that made it even worse. Eventually, my friend Ben blessed me with an MKI and that made it look a little better. I filmed a few videos with that and after a while, I got an HVX.
How was the transition from VX to HD?
When I first got that camera, I was afraid to use it. I got it and left it at my crib for like five months. I guess I was trying to finish a video with the VX so I didn’t want to mix footage, but I also wanted to learn to use this new HD camera. One day I left the crib with both those shits in my bag and was like, ‘fuck this I’m never doing this again.’ Honestly, if I could, I’d get a VX1000 today if I could. I never got the opportunity to do what I wanted to do with it.
What are your thoughts on the VX vs HD controversy in skating?
At first, I thought it was weird but now that I’ve been filming with HD, I like it. A part will come out and it’s not just a part, it’s a VX part, it adds flavour. Sometimes I’ll be at a spot with my homie and he will name a trick and I be like, ‘damn that’s sick, but that’s more like a VX clip.’ There are so many clips in my mind that I want to film, but only on that camera.
What are some filming influences? Movie directors, skate filmers, whatever.
Well the first movie director I ever really knew of was Spike Lee because I grew up in Fort Greene. He didn’t exactly influence me, but I knew him from a very young age and I knew he did a lot for the community. Most of the skating shit I watch is from homies like Felix, he films a lot in the valley. My homie Eryk. Of course, I was watching all of Johnny Wilson shit. Every time I get asked that question, my brain kind of dies.
How’d you get to where you’re at with filmmaking? You’re travelling to film; the videos are blowing up. You’re a career filmer at 23.
Fuck, I guess. I don’t know. I will give big thanks to my homie Christian Henry. He’s one of my best friends. He just brought me around a lot. I know a bunch of dudes from Florida, they’d come up for Damn Am or whatever. That’s how I met Christian and all his Florida homies. I’ve never even been to Florida but I damn near know all the Florida kids.
Well, would you agree that filming is your full-time job?
I mean, yeah, I don’t wanna fucking work in a store or some shit. My mom’s always trying to tell me about these stores to work at but I don’t want to be in retail, I want to be outside doing the shit I care about. I’m 23 right now and I feel, like, old for this. Other people in the industry tell me I’m the youngin’ and I’m like, ‘bro how old do I have to be to be considered old enough?’ I don’t know.
What do you do outside of filming?
Shit, I don’t know. I love to skate. That’s what I was doing before I had a camera, skating every single day. I hardly even skate anymore. I’m more focused on filming my friends. I have homies who actually want to be sponsored and do shit, and I want to be a filmer so it makes sense for us to go like that.
What’re you working on now? What’s your process like for filming and editing?
NR: Fuck, I don’t even know. I don’t like to plan it out too much. I got back to NY from LA two months ago so I have footage saved up. That’s how I like to do shit. I don’t like to film and edit and film and edit because after the first editing session I feel fried. I don’t like editing and getting stressed feeling like I need more shit, or like I’m filming for something specific that has to look like this. I like to just film whatever, and then sit down to edit it all at once. Especially with VX footage, you just have all these tapes and you dump them in all at once. When I first started filming, I was borrowing my friend’s capture cam, so I’d have four or five tapes on GO importing. I’d go home with all the footage and started editing and be like, ‘oh shit, I have a whole video right here.’
What do you like in a skate video? What gets you stoked?
Hmm… spots I’ve never seen before. I’m also getting into slappys and shit, it’s weird. Even skating myself, I love slappys all of a sudden. Watching Christian skate, he is an inspiration for slappys, just different-looking spots. That’s probably why I like LA, they have completely different spots than here. I like spots with good colour and that’s hard to find in New York—everything is just grey. It’s funny because people say that all LA spots look the same but the way those spots look, bright and colourful, I like that.
Can you tell me about Master Plan?
That’s the homie Khalil’s thing. He made an Instagram page and posts dumb funny shit of all of us. That’s like, my main crew that I’m with every day, we hang out at this stoop and this slappy curb. That’s where we at right now, I’m being interviewed at the curb. I’ve known that guy for forever, though. He’s from here but he moved to Hawaii around high school. Yo, I got to go to Hawaii and visit. That was some good shit.
Hawaii is about as far as you can go from New York City. How’d you like it? Where’d you go?
Oahu, Kailua. I was all over, though. North Shore, Lanikai… I love it there. Lanikai Beach? I saw some fucked up houses at Lanikai Beach. That’s another thing I like. I’m stoked on architecture. Growing up my mom would watch HGTV a lot and I’d just sit and watch that shit with her. I’m just into houses and structures and shit. When I was a kid I used to be into WWE because of how they built the entrances. I used to draw them out and then design my own and be like, ‘When I grow up, I’m building this shit!’
Is that what you’d be doing if you never started skating?
I’d definitely be doing something creative; I know that for sure. As a kid, I would go through phases where I’d be into some shit really heavy, and I’d be alright at it. I was good at picking up on things. I used to be good at drawing, but I don’t think I have the patience to do really take the time to draw something today, I’m too busy with filming. But I’m alright with that. I feel like I found my creative purpose… I just want to film.