Ben Brillante loves roller skating, there is no doubt about that! Ben lives in Paris and has been skating for 14 years now. He is a pioneer of Freeskate in the capital city of France: this is a very tonic sport, which you need to be in symbiosis with in the city streets. Ben shares this passion through very graceful videos that he produces with his best friend Greg Mirzoyan all around the world. Ben and Greg notably produced the famous video “Bombing Down the Salt Mine in Poland”, which was watched by more than 1 million people online! In this interview, Ben talks about how he discovered roller skating, his years of practicing, his numerous travels for the sport and the way he sees Freeskate. Interview!
Hello Ben. How long have you been practicing roller?
I am 30 now and I started when I was 16. So, it’s been 14 years, with some more intensive periods than others… Sometimes, I had to stop because I was injured. I first practiced in the streets with quads and then not long after with inline skates, for the Freeride.
You may have done some other sports, right?
Yes I practiced gymnastics and trampoline.
It allowed you to keep some good qualities of bouncing and flexibility I guess!
It is more tone and reactivity than flexibility I would say. On another way, these two sports help you to situate yourself in the space and teach you, for example, how to fall correctly, how to apprehend rotations and other movements in the air. On a physical plan, it gives tonicity and energy. You will find all these qualities in my own way of skating!
You mean that these sports were so restrictive that you had to stop them today?
I mean it is restrictive in terms of time, mainly. I had to stop trampoline two or three years ago because I had no more time to practice. It is different from roller skate, where you just have to put your skates on and here we go! Concerning the trampoline, you need to go indoor, have a time slot, to jump with a group of people. It is the same for the gymnastics. It is always more complicated when you go out from your job at 21:00 and that the training is at 19:30…
When you started roller skating, what was new in comparison with these sports?
Freedom! I started roller skating by chance. I didn’t want to do extreme sports. My younger brother had some skates which used to trail on the floor. I used them to go shopping around or to go to school. I was going further with those skates. Unescapably, I met people who were practicing as well. I started improving. I wanted to be one of them, to share the energy they gave… And here we are!
It did happen in Paris?
Yes. I really am from here! I belong to this city. I know the skaters well. But my experience with Rollerblade® and the competitions allowed me to travel here and there. Today, I prefer escaping from Paris to practice Freeskate. Thanks to Rollerblade®, we (Greg and I) recently went to London, to Cracow or to China… I always had this will to discover new spots and new tricks in order to develop my vision of the sport. You can come back to the same spot, for example in Paris, innovate and do different things. But you also need to innovate in a new vision, a new environment, something fresh: it is easier when you are away from your home, in an unknown place for example.
However, you said that you discovered roller skating in Paris. Can we consider that it is a perfect place to practice Freeskate for instance?
Among all the big cities in Europe, I would say that it certainly is a perfect place. I travelled a lot in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Beijing or Sidney and in almost all the European capital cities… I can say that Paris is the most appropriate place for roller skating because the grounds are flat and neat, just like the sidewalks. We have less spots because the architecture is more classical, but we can find modern architectures in some suburbs such as La Defense. In London, the ground is in a bad state and you will find a lot of cobblestones: it becomes harsh quite fast… There is not such a problem in Paris. Some of the Southern cities in Europe have the same configuration as London, which makes things more complicated too. Moreover, we developed a roller skating culture in Paris and a lot of skaters are like a tribe. When you are part of it, you cannot escape from it!
Maybe you need this kind of energy, this stimulation, to go on…
In every possible way, I know very few people who are able to skate alone to challenge themselves! You need to be in a group to be stimulated. I can hardly skate alone, even if it is for a video: if no one is there to tell me “it is Ok, it will be good”, and gives me motivation, it is a little difficult.
Recently, you skated in the streets of London. But this time, you were in front of the camera!
Indeed… Usually, Greg is in front of the camera because that is the way we work for Rollerblade®. I am here to shot him, because he cannot do it by himself. In London, we wished to have different types of video: one with Greg with his pro-model, one with the two of us like we did in Barcelona and one with me, in order to show what I am able to do.
How do you plan such a scenario then? Did you know the city before going there? How do you check out the places?
Personally, I had been to London once before. Greg knows the city very well, because he spent a lot of time in England. We checked out the places on Google Map or some other videos. We did not go there like tourists; otherwise, we would have stayed there for one week instead of three days. Besides, we were short in time, which obliged us to be very efficient. When you shot such videos, you need to preserve your body and play the tricks first to make sure that you finally get what you want on the video. We try to be coherent in our choices of figures. In a second time, we broadcast the riding part of the video, to put more speed in it.
Sometimes in the video, we can see a lot of people…
It is one of the big “problems” in that city. In Paris, we meet a lot of tourists, but in London, there are also workers: we cannot play the policemen in the street to control the circulation of 300 people! That is the reason why we try to capture some moments, some spaces between the crowd’s movements. When the time has come, we go. It is not always safe at 100%, but we try to do the maximum in order not to face or hit someone on the sidewalk or a car in the street.
Thus, you lay on the people’s habits that you well know…
In one way or another, we first observe before the shot. In London, I did some tricks completely blinded. For instance, on the last trick of the video, behind the cameraman, there is a wall which hides the traffic of the road where I was supposed to land. Thus, we asked a few English to stop the cars for something like 30 seconds, while we were shooting.
People are watching and seem to be respectful with what you do, right?
They are always respectful, but most of the time, they are surprised. Some are watching like spectators: if it is the case, they try to stay at a safe place. But most of the people are surprised by our speed. They can be afraid and think that we will hit them or even rob them! The real difficulty in London remains in the safety around some trade or business centers: it is sometimes forbidden to cross the security perimeter… Then, we have to wait that the security guard go away to shot within a few second before quickly leaving the place.
By the end of the video, we see that you get almost caught by the slippery ground: you jump and we see you touch the ground with a slight movement…
In fact, I had one shot on which everything was good, no slide. But I preferred this one to put life in the video. My left foot is going away, and I wanted to show it. The goal was to put something human in the video, to show that nothing is completely perfect!
You said that in London, it is not always easy to skate. You also need to consider the fact that the cars are driving on the left side of the street!
It is the first thing we think about when we arrive in London with our skates. We think about the fact that it is very dangerous if we don’t care about where the cars come from. There is not as much respect for pedestrians as in France. Thus, we really need to take a look at the right side, at the left side, and again, in order to cross the road. No place for mistakes…
You recently became famous thanks to the Bombing Down the Salt Mine video in Poland. We see Greg Mirzoyan achieving a spectacular downhill in a salt mine gallery and you are following him with your camera. How did this happen?
I first want to say that 80% of people forgot that there is someone behind Greg. There were a lot of comments about this video which was watched more than 1 million times. It was not that easy to do, even for Greg who was skating in front. I was just behind and I was trying to be concentrated on my camera, which was not simple at all… To tell the truth, we first passed in front of this downhill and we said: “we have to do it!” Then, we walked around the mine and we came back at the same place. We put our skates on and there we went! The miners secured our run so that we would be sure not to cross someone in the gallery. We did it two times and, during the first run, Greg jumped very close to the roof: I was quite scared. The second shot was the good one!
We can say that you are focused on the way Greg is skating down the way…
Yes, of course. I hold the camera in my two hands and I was watching a little screen on the camera in order to focus on him. The view angle is quite large, which allows me to be precise. But I must be sure of the stability of the camera, and that is why I had to be very concentrated. Greg is a very good skater, there is no doubt about this. I was confident with him. We trust each other and the goal is to skate safe in any case!
Is it possible to ask you what will the next video which will create a buzz be?
Huh… We have been thinking about it, but I will not say more. We started to locate an area and we have got a first idea… Anyway, we understood well the interest of people for that kind of videos. At once, roller skating does not create a buzz because of a fall or a ridiculous situation. We are talking about real roller skating!
What a good video for you? I mean, is that not frustrating to consider that Bombing Down the Salt Mine, a 15-second-video, had a bigger success than the other ones, which deserve far more work of production?
I had already put videos online which created a buzz, but not with such success as Bombing Down the Salt Mine. I mean, it is extremely frustrating. We put a lot of energy to produce videos with more quality… But the video Bombing Down the salt Mine deserves roller skating as well: it shows that we are able to do incredible things on our skates, making the people thrill at the same time. It gives us credibility in a moment where roller skating is less considered than some other street-sports. To conclude, I must say that Greg and I love beautiful images: we want to play on the two scenes, the spectacular one and the thrilling one. We can take a lot of time to produce good videos of more than 10 minutes, such as the ones in London.
You produced videos all around the world. What are your next plans?
We need money to travel, and we don’t have it. Rollerblade® supports us and we need their support for the future in order to develop new projects and new videos. We would like to go to unobserved places, for example in South America or in Asia. If we produce a video in South America, a place where Freeskate is quite unknown, you can be sure that all South America will watch it! It is exactly the same thing for China, where videos are broadcasted on their own network. So will it be in Taiwan, Singapore or Hong Kong?
What about the Freeride competitions? Is there a world circuit for example?
There is a world circuit which has been on for a few years, but with very few competitors in. It costs a lot and there are not many sponsors which are involved.
Isn’t it a bad thing according to the fact that there are very few young skaters to practice?
That is a very big problem in Freeskate. People from my generation, who are 30 or 35 years old, are still better than young guns of 20! They should be a lot better that us, even if we are still good, because they are more athletic and they have more will… But young generations seem not to be interested in Freeride anymore. Of course, you deserve a lot of qualities to do it, but also a kind of notion of danger. I saw people breaking their arms, their shoulders or their ankles. Even I, I had to stop because I broke my leg once… You will not find all these problems in slalom for example: it is far easier and far less dangerous. But even if you are not at the top, you can express yourself in the streets without having to tease with your limits. People don’t understand that: they first see the falls and the danger. It is a wrong idea, but the consequence is that it is hard to renew generations. What a pity…
Ben left us and went away toward his “low season” as he says. He explains that winter is not the good moment to skate in Paris. The best thing for him would be for Greg to give him a call from Barcelona to offer him a new trip to the South of Europe… or further!