Theories: Robin Slootmaker & Allen Liu – “Social Distance” DVD

[23 Oct 2020]

Intro/Questions: Lino Gonzalez

Despite producing the majority of BMX parts and frames for the rest of the world, Taiwan has yet to put out a full length DVD project until now. I asked Robin Slootmaker who produced the DVD and Allen Liu of Stash Taiwan Distribution some questions about the project in our latest “Theories” article. The “Social Distance” DVD is also now available in our online shop.

1. Making a full length video is not easy, What inspired you to make this project?

Robin Slootmaker: It was a confluence of things really. Back when we started it felt like there wasnt a lot of BMX content I was really enjoying. Everything seemed advertisement on cookie cutter spots. It was always in the back my head to make a full length loosely based on Taiwan and inspired by the videos I grew up watching in the early 2000s. Something more from the soil. I have always been into independent videos, brands, and projects in BMX. Thankfully now it seems like are more and more of these independents popping up.  

 When the Thorogood brothers visited from London and shared their scene based dvd project SHOP it really solidified the desire to create something tangible for me. Basically their second trip really precipitated this project. I mean having them come film, ride, shoot photos got us stoked. Archie and Chase came right after and we were going every night and weekend filming and riding. Zef was moving back to New Zealand after graduation so we wanted to make something before he left as well. Allen was coming up to Taipei a bunch, we did some trips over Chinese New Year, and by the end we were linking up every weekend to film. After Corona hit the world and we were still riding and filming and Allen and I looked at what we had and were like fuck it lets make it something tangible and not just passing bits and bytes on the internet. Ive been low key brocam filming stuff for over a decade with no real projects or direction just to document riding and life in Taiwan the last 7 years. This seemed like the opportunity dive in on something tangible that captured a unique time, place, and people and share that. Hopefully it gets people stoked to get out explore and try and create something. If you dont see the shit you like in what you do, or enough of what you like, go out an make it happen.

Allen Liu: I’ve been talking about making a full length video for over 5 years or so, it just never worked out and we ended up sitting on too many old clips that we’re never used. The problem is, its really hard to have a certain crew to commit to going out filming on a regular basis. For me hard copies of full length videos stand out way beyond any web videos, not to mention the Instagram clips.

2. What was the filming process like? Did you guys have spots and tricks in mind that you wanted to film or did you just pedal around and find stuff to do?

AL: It goes both ways, we usually have certain cities or spots that we want to go film and ended up finding more shit to ride along the way.

RS: Starting out it was pretty casual just pedal around look for spots and or take people to spots we know. Allen and I have a pretty extensive list of spots all over the island. I spend a bunch of time just wandering aimlessly through cities just observing. When I find something I will take picture and note it as a spot to come back to. Since we dont really ride or look for standard spots the set up really dictates the trick. Usually there is some learning curve on how to use the obstacle/shape and then to get something your happy with. I always just walk away after I land it one time, if it feels good and I roll away, its okay with me haha. By the end of the video we were going specific missions to get particular spots. Steel rails are rare here haha.

3. What camera setup was used for the video?

AL: I’ll let Robin answer this. He’s in charge of all the camera gear.

RS: The initial set up was a Sony VX-2000 with an Optima fisheye then I upgraded to the VX-1000 with the Century MK1. Cant beat the standard definition look and feel of it, Im a sucker for that early 2000s aesthetic. Around the the middle of the filming process the VX-2000 shit out and we ended up using the capture cam, a TRV-19, as the second angle camera. Nothing wrong with using new shit, its more convenient for sure, but I like the process and the feel of tape. We currently live in a hyper instant gratification media landscape its nice to slow down.

4. The video comes with a zine also? What is the idea behind the content in the zine?

AL: I gotta say, I believe most of the photos in the zine weren’t mean to be in the zine. We pretty much were just shooting whatever we felt in the moment of the trips and life out here in the Taiwan streets. All the photos were taken by Robin, Archie and Alic, which is a completely foreign point of view to look at Taiwan, I thought it was a sick idea.

RS: Last time I was in the states my dad gave me his old Olympus XA. I really didnt know much about film or photography but I got super into it. Kinda threw myself into learning it. I work in a pretty grimey industrial urban jungle zone in Taipei, so on my lunches I pedal look for spots and take it all in. In my neighborhood there are always goings on, never a dull moment. Being a foreigner living here itss all different for me everyday, it is kinda an adventure. I just pedal around and try and capture the essence of whats happening around me. The small compact camera and the feeling of 35mm film just feels better than snapping random shit behind a cell phone screen. I like taking time to just observe, waiting to develop, again its a way to slow down, actually think and experience something versus a pic just thrown on Instagram to be instantly forgotten.

 The zine is a way to try and share the fabric and essence of what makes living in Taiwan so great from the ground up. Its a special, fascinating place, little understood and underrepresented. Taiwan has become my adopted home and I just wanted to share that.

 Archie Kenward and Alec Thorogood supplied most of the riding photos from their trips here. When I said I was compiling something for a zine I asked if they wanted to send anything for the project. Couldnt be more stoked on what they sent through.

5. I believe you guys mentioned that this was the first BMX DVD to come out of Taiwan. Thats pretty incredible considering that Taiwan produces the majority of BMX bikes and parts that the rest of the world uses. What has the scene been like over the years in Taiwan?

RS:think Allen will speak better to this but as a foreigner living here for 7 years I feel pretty embraced by the scene here albeit theres some social distance sometimes haha. From what Ive observed the scene ebbs and flows and each city has a different flavor.

AL: BMX has been on the island for over 30 years I believe but the culture’s just never continued to grow. For the past 15 years I’ve seen people come and go and I feel like the crew changes completely every decade in Taiwan. Majority of people here still treat it as stunt bikes with people wearing big helmets and uniforms joining contests. That’s the reason why we wanna flip that image over by introducing a more street approach stuff to really show people the other aspect of BMX.

6. How did the Covid pandemic effect the filming of the video? Were you guys on a strict lockdown?

RS: Besides Chase and Archie leaving a bit before scheduled and a slight feeling of impending doom in the air, there was no tangible impact and there was no lockdown.

AL: I’m proud to say that, it’s totally fine filming here through the whole pandemic thing. Our government was doing a great job handling Covid-19 in the beginning so we didn’t even have any signs of community spread. Plus, BMX to us is always “social distancing” cause we don’t really like to film with the people around. You can tell from the video and zines that I never wear a mask when I ride.

7. Do you personally know anyone effected by Coronavirus?, and how is the situation now?, Does it seem to be under control?

AL: Chase had pretty serious respiratory tract infection during the stays in Taiwan which kinda freaked me out, I think he was the first one I’ve known who actually got to the Covid test, it was all good tho, negative.

RS: Ya, only in the US, Europe, and India though. Taiwan arguably had the best and most swift response world wide. The VP here is a John Hopkins trained epidemiologist and there was a pandemic response team in place. Using the universal healthcare here we were all allotted masks and sanitizers, tests are cheap, available and offered to anyone. Clear calm daily updates, contract tracing, active testing, and people following rules all led to no community spread. As of writing this there are more Covid cases in the White House than Taiwan as a  whole country.

8. Any injuries, run-ins with the police, or camera trouble during filming?

AL: I think most of guys were good through the whole process of filming. Zef went down hard by hitting the huge kinker, and I sprained my ankle at exactly the same rail when filming for my ender clip. We think that rail is cursed. As for the Police, they are never an issue.

RS: Chase thought he got covid and got tested and self quarantined for a few days. But it was just a heavy beer/cig diet. The same rail sent both Zef and Allen to the hospital with similar ankle injuries. Pretty lucky for the most part though injury wise, besides Allen and Zef. Police here are chill, they usually roll up and say something like be safe.  Security seem to care a bunch more but its actually the nutty civilians that freak out. I was taking a picture of this rail hop and this guy just totally lost his shit screaming going crazy for being in front of his building. 7 cops ended up coming and surrounding me. Definitely not comfortable as a foreigner trying to explain in Chinese to them I didnt do anything  and this guy loosing his head. They made me play them the tapes on the VX1000 and watched 1 by 1 though the little view finder but I hadnt filmed any thing so they left me alone and that dood just looked hella crazy. There was another time we got chased by the cops with reason, but Ill leave someone else to tell that story. Besides loosing the VX-2000 and the VX-1000 over heating while wrapping up Zefs part, and some shit coming loose in the TRV-15 we lucked out with the antiquated equipment.

9. There is a lot of night footage in the video, is that by choice or did it just happen that way?

AL: I’d say it just happened naturally because most of us are hustling working during the day time and we just always end up riding and filming at night time. Waking up early at 5 AM to film a clip will not happen here tho (S/O to Pegy and D). They are crazy!

RS: We both work full time (9-6) in offices and live in different cities. Most of the footage is after work or on the weekends, so night was really the most logical time to film. I like the aesthetic as well, lit up spots, spot light with the fish, its just like a little window onto something much larger and hidden out in the dark. The normally packed streets empty out and you can kinda just do what you like.  Also whats better than cruising around massive dense cities devoid of people with some beers looking for new spots?

10. Are you into any conspiracy theories?

AL: Not really, but I do like to hear conspiracies tho lol. Taiwanese people like gossip.

RS: No, I am an Occams razor person, the simplest answer is usually the best answer.  People with money and power want to keep their money and power and will go to absurd lengths to achieve this. Its been this way throughout history. Truth is usually stranger than the fiction we come up with to explain away what we dont get anyway. I dunno for example using social media to homogenize society and steer people’s opinions and to purchase useless shit is pretty clear. There is no conspiracy with that.  If youre talking flat earth bullshit on the other hand, get outta here with that ignorant shit haha.