Converse Skate Film “Ni” 逆

The idea and the resources behind this film gave it a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the execution was lacking something: in the narrative, the message and the (skateboarding) tricks.

4 skaters from Converse China first skate team picked 5 cities, bring along skateboard to start a reckless unknown journey. The scenery on the road has become their playground to skate. “Ni” documented this unusual journey, a group of skateboard youth chasing their dreams and believes in their unique way, always moving and never looking back.

The film follows in shadow of the Converse ‘Love Noise’ tour of China and alt punk/rock music documentary back in 2009. But the problem with the film wasn’t in replicating this formula. Without any disrespect to my friends at W+K and Converse, here’s what I would have done differently.

If I was going to make this film—which clearly wants to inspire China’s young skateboarders to be brave enough to shake-off some of the traditional values of by their parents—I would spend less time indulging a privileged few pro-skaters with quotes like “skate with your heart” and “do what you want” and spend more time engaging with young local skaters like He Ling Hao from Dali. The most compelling part of the entire film begins at 23min 44sec with Hao’s introduction. The next scene shows a much meeker-looking Hao justifying his pursuit of skateboarding to his skeptical Father. The film needs more moments like these, not to drown it in serious/depressing/futile discussion of adolescent rebellion and generational alienation, but to make it less of a show-boat tour of guys visiting their mates and more a genuine exercise in reaching-out to young skateboarders, especially in tier 2–4 cities. Rather than making it more difficult for local skaters in these cities by antagonising security guards, help facilitate their acceptance of skateboarding by skating with respect and proving it’s not rooted in anarchy.

Take this a step further by tagging content, people and locations instead of vandalising streets. No matter how authentically cool your brand is (with Converse usually leading the charge in these areas) slapping stickers on public infrastructure is obnoxious and in my opinion sends the wrong message. A few smart phones and a mobile tagging strategy would have reflected more favourably on Converse as a brand and been more constructive in the communities they visited. What’s more, a recent research project with Enovate suggested the web is the main equaliser between consumers in Tier 0 cities and the rest of mainland China –a missed opportunity for Converse.

A few final points…

  • According to a friend who skates, the tricks in the film were not particularly impressive as far as pro-skaters are concerned. Perhaps another cue to broaden the focus of the film to include the wider skateboarding community.
  • The video quality of the web version is barely watchable at 400px. Consider different video compression settings and maybe even an HD version.
  • Pick a launch date that doesn’t coincide with another skateboarding film that absolutely fucking nails it.

I hope there are no hard feelings from anyone involved with the film. There were no doubt a lot of hidden pressures, time constraints and expectations to manage with so many big players involved.

Do feel the same or am I being an asshole?

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  • Trentbarton

    love the quote “skating is a social sport” — perhaps.

  • http://pitythecool.com Andy

    Hi Trent. I actually agree with that quote. Skating is social sport. The sport itself to some degree – filming each other, discussing technique etc. But more in terms of the culture that surrounds the sport.

    I guess that’s what you were eluding to when you say “perhaps” :)

  • http://twitter.com/nickpeden nick yo

    Good post Andy. Agree with ya. Figured I’d add my two jiao.

    I’m interested to see what Converse’s role in China’s skate scene will be beyond the release of a skate flick. Are they continuing to engage the community? grow it? As I mentioned in an earlier article (shameless linking: http://www.thepushshove.com/thoughts-on-converse-music-and-skateboarding-in-china/), will this turn into another stale example of a brand merely prescribing to a scene, or of a brand helping to build and promote a scene.

    When it comes to action sports — and other alternative youth cultures — I believe it’s primetime for brands to honestly engage youth, to forge relationships and to drive scenes. Just a releasing a doc-skate-flick is not enough. This demographic is going to explode in coming years, and brands are in a unique position to amass loyalty by pledging their loyalty to the youth. A reciprocal relationship.

    It seems to me (watching afar from nyc…) that Vans’ recent China efforts are a more legitimate grassroots engagement of China’s skate scene. And who can forget Nike 6.0 who arrived to China arguably before skateboarding did.

  • Dian

    You’re so clever and completely nailed it in this post. Coming from a skating and creative/ad background, hidden pressures and time constraints is no excuse for a lazy narrative and what seems to be a ‘traditional’ branding exercise, especially if you’re going to do it in China.

    As a brand, Nike nail it every, single, time with their creative and have turned it into a craft. Even Adidas have lifted their game.

    Come on W+K and Converse, I know you can do better.

  • http://pitythecool.com Andy

    Thanks Nick. I completely agree with you. The only answer I can think of is that maybe skateboarding isn’t a big enough business driver for Converse in Shanghai. So while they are very interested in the community and the culture, they may not be willing to throw on-going cash and resources at it without the retail growth to support it –which, arguably would follow.

  • http://pitythecool.com Andy

    Thanks Dian.

    Given that Nike and Converse both work with W+K in China, what do you think accounts for difference in consistently high-quality creative?

    Is it that Nike feed/support their China team more engaging global campaigns to draw from?

  • jefske

    seems like a new venture for converse in china
    it is definitely not the most impressive film, in skating style or visually.
    videos are not just about tricks! but it is an important part of showcasing new skating styles and ways of finding spots which makes films unique.
    I watched about 4mins of this film, the vibe just felt a bit too dull and not well thought out. watching old footage from the 90s still blow my mind when you see mark gonzales and the like kick it around downtown LA, where it felt more like a community exploring the streets around them rather than just roaming a video camera with a few people in a new city.

  • Riaad

    have to say, this piece was really useful, in what I’m doing now. and I find myself in complete agreement with you. it’s almost as if they’re trying to be grassroots with an air of sophistication, which doesn’t really carry very well.

    I guess one can’t win them all.

  • LIONCITYSKATERS

    Great article. Critical and to the point. You can read about Converse’s attempt to come back into the action sports scene in Singapore @ http://www.lioncityskaters.com/2011/03/converse-asian-crown.html