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Uprising: Looking for the Good with Pat Hall



The Stept Studios director speaks to Addison Capper about how skateboarding laid the foundations for him as a human and filmmaker, helming his first commercial aged 13, and a game-changing spot for the League of Legends World Finals

Uprising: Looking for the Good with Pat Hall
Pat Hall’s grandpa lived by a mantra which he passed onto his daughter, Pat’s mother, who in turn passed it down to Pat. “To look for the good” is something that he tries to apply to every aspect of his career as a filmmaker on the roster of LA production company Stept Studios. “The reality is that things will go wrong,” he says. “Hurdles will pop up, and obstacles will appear but you have to persevere.”

Pat’s interest in filmmaking has been present since the age of 11 when, like so many directors before him, he started making skate videos with his friends. By 13, he tells me he knew that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. By the age of 19 he’d already helmed his first ever commercial. “When I was 13 I enrolled in a documentary filmmaking class and advanced editing course at Santa Barbara City College during my summer between Junior High School to High School,” he says, recounting his journey to that moment. “I attended a specialty division of our public high school called the Multimedia Arts and Design Academy (MAD Academy) and that really laid the groundwork for being creative.” 

Aged 14 he was a finalist in the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 10-10-10 student filmmaking competition, where they take 10 finalists from across the US, give them a script and 10 days to produce, film, edit and finish a 10-minute film. “After winning that competition as a high school sophomore and the youngest person in the competition, I knew this is something I needed to pursue, and that filmmaking would be my future,” he says.

From there he attended the Dodge School of Film at Chapman University in Orange, California, just outside his hometown of Los Angeles, before deciding to leave and pursue work opportunities outside school. It was just before leaving school that he met Nick Martini, a director and founder and CEO of Stept. “I worked as a freelance editor there for about two months, commuting an hour there and an hour back everyday,” Pat says. “Stept and I just clicked, I knew these were the people I wanted to learn from and grow with.”

After a couple of months, Pat was asked by Nick if he wanted to come on board as Stept’s full-time editor. Knowing of Pat’s aspirations to be a director, Nick promised him that if he edited full-time he would give him an opportunity to direct. “Seven months into my time there, the opportunity came, and my career as a commercial director began when I was 19 with Stept Studios,” he says. “After that first project it was like a snowball effect. Nick took me under his wing, provided the foundation for me and with his guidance allowed me to think and grow as a director.”

That first project was a job for Asics and Outside magazine, which he shot with Chris Naum, “an incredible DP and collaborator” who Pat still works with today. “It was a travel job too and I just remember thinking ‘fake it till you make it Pat, don’t let them get a whiff of how nervous you are’,” he says. “After we got the last shot I remember shouting ‘that’s a wrap’ in an open Colorado field and will forever remember that day as one of the happiest moments in recent years.”

One of his most recent projects - and one that he accounts for being a bit of a career changer - was the teaser trailer for the 2020 League of Legends World Finals, an epic 90-second spot that included live action, CGI and 18 green screen shots. “I was lucky enough to be paired with an incredible VFX director/supervisor Ruel Smith who has worked on the likes of Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and the Jungle Book,” he says. They worked together prior to the shoot to design the architecture of the space in order to help him and DP Nico Aguilar map out where they needed lighting cues to hit on their greenscreen for them to line up with what they would be creating in post. “We truly created a world out of nothing. What started as a figment of imagination turned into the most epic piece of work I’ve ever done.

“This project was the perfect intersection for me,” he continues. “My core and foundation as a filmmaker is storytelling - from film festivals in my early years. Throughout my late teen years and commercial work I was creating eye-catching visuals with practical and CG elements. This 90-second anthem was the perfect opportunity to have both of those two worlds meet, resulting in a piece I’m incredibly proud of.”

Pat is the son of a dad who designed and built houses and a screenwriter mother, two professions from which he picked up valuable lessons for his eventual career. “My pops would take me to his construction sites as a youngin and would introduce me to the 20-25 people working on the job site,” he says. “I always loved the way he made every person on the worksite a friend. He taught me how to have people work with you versus work for you - and I think that’s incredibly important as a director. I never thought much of it at the moment but I carry a lot of that into my directorial work. My mother was a screenplay analyst for the major studios, often bringing home screenplays and reading them as bedtime stories; I think those being an alternative to bedtime picture books introduced my mind at a young age to visual storytelling.”

Skateboarding is still a pivotal part of his life and something that, along with surfing, he tries to do at least three to four days a week. “It is by far the best way to wake up in the morning and conquer your day,” he says. “They also put you in a flow state - something I feel when I get into the right editing mode, you can’t think of anything else but exactly what you’re doing and it filters out distractions. Any activities that get me into that state of mind I try to spend as much time doing those as I can.”

Skateboarding’s bond with filmmaking may seem obvious - after all, it makes sense that filming your mates doing cool stuff on a skateboard would leave you some passion for capturing other cool things with a camera. But for Pat, who cites skating for building the foundation for himself in almost everything, it goes a little deeper than that. “It’s a sport where your only competition is yourself, and the only way to get better is to keep trying over and over until you get it right, and even if you land something, you can always do better,” he tells me. “I think of filmmaking in a very similar way. Making a great film or commercial is never a fluke, it takes hard work, patience, and the ability to never give up on something. This was also the reason I first picked up a camera, to film my friends and myself and capture moments and memories. Everything evolved from that.”

Looking ahead, Pat has aspirations to be directing narrative feature work, mentioning the trajectory of Spike Jonze - who started out as a skater making films with friends before directing commercials and features - as inspiration. He’s passionate about creating a world that lives beyond one episode, one commercial, one film, or one music video. “Taking multiple stories that live in the same vein, and feed into one another and creating a common thread for multiple pieces of media to fit into is an incredible creative accomplishment,” he says. “It’s the difference between building a world for characters to live in and choosing characters to fulfill a single film/commercial/music video. As a kid growing up my all time favourite film or series is Lord of The Rings, shortly after I fell in love with Star Wars.”

He’s also just begun selling his film photography and recently picked an old VX2000 camera to get back into filming skateboarding again and generally have some fun. “I first picked up a camera to film me and my friends having fun, then suddenly when that turned into my career I took a bit of a break from that, so it’s been fun getting back into my roots.”

Which all feeds into his prime motivation: to love what he does, love his family, love his friend and love his coworkers. “If you don’t love, your life will flash by,” he says. “Life is short and I’d be damned if I spent it hating and complaining. I want to build a pathway for others to look at and use as inspiration. I hate the notion that some things are only attainable for certain people or reserved for few. I don’t see a reason why I can’t do something, which is why I want to do it all. Trying and failing is a much better feeling than not trying at all.”

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Stept Studios, Tue, 19 Jan 2021 15:39:21 GMT