in conversation with Adam Talan
To celebrate the release of our debut feature film “Out on a Wire” I sat down and talked with the director of the movie for this week’s Possessed Magazine. Adam Talan is a super talented multi-hyphenate creative from Los Angeles, life-long runner, skateboarder and cyclist. We discussed what it was like directing and editing the film, growing up in The Valley, mini DV tapes, becoming obsessed with ultrarunning, being yourself, meeting Andrew Reynolds, dreamcatchers in Topanga Canyon, working together, compassion and being nervous for his first movie premiere this week.
Very excited to introduce you all to our friend Adam Talan... What’s your full given name?
My full given name by my two human parents is Adam Davis Talan.
You got any nicknames?
Uhhh, not ones I would want to share with the world. My cousins called me Gasman when I was growing up. Not because I had bad gas but my second real job in high school was I was a door to door salesman. And I wore this auto mechanic shirt and they just thought it looked like I sold gas. So they called me the Gasman.
How old are you?
I’m 29 years old.
Where are you originally from?
The San Fernando Valley.
What was growing up in the valley like?
It was the best. It was fucking great. I feel like it’s kind of like what every kid’s idea of the Hollywood movie is and growing up in suburbia, ya know? All the high school house parties are what you think of—it’s removed but it’s still LA. And there’s good sides of it and then there’s well-off parts of it and actor kids and everything in between. So, you kinda get every part of life at once and it doesn’t seem so jarring cuz you grow up in it.
And you call Topanga home now? Tell me what life in Topanga is all about.
Yeah, Topanga is sick. I really like being outdoors — riding my bike and running around. It’s really cool to feel like you’re in a whole different city but you’re still 20-30 minutes from everything. And if you wanted to you could not see anyone for a month and just hang out in the canyon with all these pseudo weird hippy people.
What would you say the average Topanga resident is like?
They probably have a dreamcatcher unironically and their yoga mats are well worn in. They definitely smell like patchouli and they are not religious but spiritual.
You’re a man of many talents — you’re a director, animator, graphic designer — what am I missing from your resume?
I’m a pretty good listener and I try to be a good friend. It all started with drawing really, which came from graffiti, which came from skateboarding. Graphic design too. I thought I was going to be a storyboard artist for a while, but that led into film and animation. I try not to limit myself or label it all, but drawing was definitely the first main passion and still what I do to observe and pay attention to life. I like to take things in and put my own spin on it.
"Out on a Wire" premieres at the IFC Center in New York City on July 28. Will this be your first official movie premiere?
Yes, this is my first actual premiere for something I’ve made. I’ve always done music videos and pieces like that. Nothing that’s really had a giant opening to it like this.
That’s cool. Are you excited?
Yeah, I’m super nervous. It’s fun.
How did the idea for the movie come about?
Like we were talking about before, I’ve made a bunch of shit from a bunch of different realms of the world. And I’ve been a runner for my whole life. I’ve always liked running, even when I was a little skate punk and graffiti kid. All my friends would make fun of me because I wanted to run the middle school race. So I’ve always liked running and I’ve met a lot of really great people through it, but my creative expression has never really been inside of it. I really like music and I worked in skateboarding for a long time, making art. But this is my first time throwing my hat into the mix and creating content for running. What makes it super nerve-racking for me is I’ve been pretty critical of everything in running because I’ve been such an outsider of it. And I just think everything is super lame and my idea of interesting is completely different. And so I guess it feels like, Ok buddy, you’ve been talking shit on this the whole time. Now you make something! And now I’m just trying to make something that I would like to see in it.
I got involved in all this because of Leigh Gerson. She just knew I made things and she just had me on her mind when this project came up. Which is cool cuz my thing with most creative endeavors is you should look outside of the realm to create something new. So if you like running the last thing you should do is look for influence in running. You should look for something outside of it that influences what you’re going to say about stuff. So I think it was cool she thought of someone who liked to run but they were much more interested in other things. So I give her credit for trusting me on that. And it all feels really exciting!
When your friends asked about The Speed Project how did you describe it to them?
That’s so funny cuz so many people have asked me about it. My buddy I was just staying with who was a designer at Baker Skateboards with me back in the day, he doesn’t get any of it, no matter what. He’s going to come to the premiere but he doesn’t understand the weight of it. Even being here he’s like, "It’s at what theatre?"
On the surface level, the event is just a big ol' gnarly relay race of people getting together and trying to make it across the wild desert. I think the event itself is probably the least exciting part about the whole thing. It’s the table that all the interesting dishes you cook get put on top, ya know? I think there’s a bunch of crazy shit if you’re in these worlds so making a crazy event isn’t the end all be all. Anyone can come up with something wild and there’s a bunch of wild shit that exists. But I think the way you do it and the people involved is the super interesting part.
When I describe it to people though I just say that it’s a 340-mile race that’s from Santa Monica, California to Las Vegas, Nevada, and it’s a six-person relay. That’s the more real answer, that kinda is what it is.
Tell me about the movie! What’s it about?
The movie to me is about all the different characters. What I like about all the people involved is that it’s not even like they’re the fastest runners, not that they’re not incredibly fast and talented. It’s not about social media pull. It’s not about all this shit. They’re just people that when I look at em’, they make me question the stereotypes you think of when you think of a runner. And on top of that, their personalities are all so different and they represent people that maybe I don’t think would feel comfortable to be runners normally.
As I was saying before, so many of the spaces I exist in don’t understand me as a runner and I think a lot of the people who were a part of that team that we were all on, they have also felt that way to an extent. Or they at least represent something that hasn’t been seen or at least understood [in running]. So the film is about all those people interacting together. It highlights them and how they all got together.
It’s kind of about being ok with being yourself in this space and not feeling like you have to fit into the Type A personality of a runner. It’s about being yourself. And if I really break it down, it’s about working together, understanding and compassion.
Did you know any of these characters before it began?
I knew Hakim, we’d brushed paths a few times just through running and cycling, as well as some mutual friends. And I knew Leigh decently well. But I think that’s it. Yeah, that’s everyone I knew. That was kind of the beautiful part, everyone was a stranger and everyone was super different. Agreeable is not the right word to describe any of these people but everyone got along with each other and was very empathetic and understanding of each person’s individualistic approach to life. Which was really nice—people actually got to be who they were and not compromise that at all. Was really special.
And what did you shoot all this on?
I shot it on a Canon XL2, they came out in 2002 or 2004. They are a DV camera. I’ve been shooting stuff on that for a long time, like music videos. And I’ve always thought about what it would be like to make something in these worlds on that camera because you always see running from New Balance or Adidas on these super high-end cameras. When it’s super overproduced, it’s so unrelatable to me. I could never look like those people and I wouldn’t want to. I guess I got off track but it’s all shot on mini DV, feels very at home.
That’s that skateboard influence, right?
Yeah I was about to say — we were talking about making our version of Welcome to Hell, the Toy Machine [skateboard] video, what it would be like to go back to that. Everything is so overproduced. That’s my idea, at least.
Talk a bit about how you shot the film.
It was hard because you don’t have any idea what it’s going to be like. And I’ve never shot a documentary. When I do music videos, I’m usually the assistant director and I do production, creative design, storyboarding and a bunch of other shit. And the director I normally work with, the thing I really respect about him is he says, Every time you pause, it should be interesting. The image should always be interesting. But I didn’t know what I was going to get, I’ve never shot something documentary style, telling a long form story was also kind of new to me and I just didn’t really know what I was going to get. You can’t really make a shot list like you would do for a normal production.
And it just never stopped…
It just never stopped. And you get tired. It was a hard event to be the one person filming. It’s just damn near impossible to stay awake that whole time and film everything that happens.
How much did you sleep during the two days?
I slept an hour and half in three days, including the day before. I have the date on my watch to prove it.
What were some of the other challenging things about making the movie?
I just had so much. So much awesome footage. It was partly the event that allowed them all to be themselves because everyone gets so tired they have to stop putting on a front, which is awesome. But these people were just great at being themselves and I had so much good footage. So organizing it in a way that was the best and made sense was the hardest part for me. Staying awake was fine, there’s certain things I’m ok with.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Yeah, I’ve got a bunch. But I guess my favorite scene is the footage of the sunrise coming up after the first day. It’s so beautiful. I’m so emotionally attached to it cuz I know what we all went through for those hours. And those smiles are so big. The fact that Leigh and Thai and everyone could be joking around and smiling so big after all that. Mixed with the warmth of the sunrise, the colors are so beautiful and there’s this weird calmness at the same time too. And the music’s so good in it. It feels good every time to watch it. It’s really special.
Tell me about the music, how did Dead Moon music end up in the film?
That was less of my choice but I like Dead Moon. I’d always heard of Dead Moon but never really listened to them. A bunch of the Baker dudes love Dead Moon. Lizard King has a tattoo or something. They’ve always been a band that skateboarding was into. I don’t know how it came about, that was all on Brice. But it feels lofi like the video looks.
What inspired you to pick up a skateboard growing up?
My cousins were from Utah and they would come visit us in LA, they’d be doing kickflips and listening to NOFX with green hair. And they always had 411 videos. And it’s pretty hard to be in LA and not know kids who are skateboarders, so I just found my own little group of kids at my elementary school who I skated with until high school.
How did you end up working at Baker Skateboards?
This is a pretty funny full circle story actually. I skated growing up in my teenage years a bunch but I wasn’t an artist yet. And I was hanging out with kids at the skate park and through that I got into graffiti and that’s what got me into drawing and that consumed my entire life for a very long time, in pretty unhealthy ways. But I always liked to run and being on the high school cross country team gave me a weird amount of structure for a kid who wanted to stay up late, was pretty constantly shoplifting and whatever else. So anyways, I became an artist and I’m still running, and I started working in art later on in life. The skateboard is always a part of me, I’ll always pick a skateboard up, I always have one and still go skate with friends from time to time. I think I worked at Baker for five years. I actually quit three weeks ago so last month was my last month there. But five years ago I was running a bunch and I hurt my hip because I got super into ultrarunning. I just got obsessed with it. It was so crazy to me just running these far distances.
What kind of distances are we talking about?
Up to 100 miles. Nothing crazier than that.
That’s pretty crazy to me.
Yeah just a bunch of 50 milers. A bunch of shit, 100-milers. I just got hooked on it. I don’t know, running just comes super natural to me. I’d never run that far and I guess my perspective changed on it. Once you do one it’s like, Oh, I guess it’s not that crazy. You at least know it’s possible. You can picture it, ya know?
Yeah, like seeing someone kickflip to tailslide or whatever. Seeing it is everything.
It’s plausible. You can now imagine a human doing it. So I was like, I can do that shit. I was working at a creative agency. Just doing design and illustration for them, whatever they needed. It was fun but it was lame. I worked for big clients like Adidas but the boss sucked and it just wasn’t me. So I was running all these crazy ultras and I hurt my hip, so I got sent to this physical therapy place in Encino. And I went there and all the skaters from Deathwish and Baker all went to physical therapy there. So I became friends with everyone, like Andrew Reynolds and the main person was this guy Shane Heyl who owns Shake Junt. But everyone who rode from them was in there—Jim Greco, everyone. And I was there for a long time, six months of physical therapy. And they were there a lot cuz those guys don’t just do physical therapy, they also do strength training. And a lot of those old dudes are sober now and they’re just trying to take care of themselves. Neen Williams, before he went on his crazy fitness journey, I saw kind of the beginning of that. He was there working out three days a week and all this shit. But yeah, I just became friends with everyone. They knew I skated and they followed me on instagram, so they saw my work and what I did. And then one day someone quit over there and they needed a new artist so they said, Hey, do you wanna come work over here? It’s weirdly... I guess the word would be... kismet. I had to love skateboarding when I was a kid, I had to find drawing and at the same time I had to fall in love with running. I had to be a runner cuz otherwise I wouldn’t have hurt myself and been there. It’s so funny cuz so many things from both of these worlds didn’t mesh. My skater friends didn’t want me to run and my runner friends didn’t get why I skated but if I didn’t do them both then I wouldn’t have ended up where I was.
You also ride bikes, what kind of bikes do you normally ride?
I like riding mountain bikes and gravel bikes. I don’t own a road bike. But I like all bikes. Bikes are sick. Bikes are fun.
Can cyclists and runners get along?
Yeah they should. I think both people should try both. For me, running is my first love and I feel very connected when I do it. But cycling isn’t far off. For me it’s about moving. Skateboarding is moving too. I just like to move around, human-poweredly. I don’t like motorcycles or engines, or give a fuck about cars. But anything you can move with your body is pretty sick to me. It feels like there’s a lot of purpose in it for me.
When I started ultrarunning I would go out way too fast and be super competitive, some races I’d do well at and some races I would just completely annihilate myself. It’s super crude in any other context, but I was doing this gnarly ass race — it’s this 30-miler with 10,000 feet of climbing — called the Double Wilson. You just climb Mount Wilson twice in Pasadena. They do it every year after Christmas. It’s the day after Christmas. I remember I did the first one and it was pretty rough. And there was this old guy who said to me, You know man, it's an ultramarathon. It’s not a dick. You can’t take it so hard. And you could just tell he meant it from the bottom of his heart. And I was like ok sure, I’ll go slower then. And that was the best piece of ultrarunning advice anyone has ever given me.
What are your desert island records? Meaning if you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring a few albums, which would they be?
I listen to so many fucking things, oh man. Maybe a DJ Quik album? That would be one thing that would satisfy something about me. For me, I couldn’t pick one. I think there’s the right sound for every type of moment and I’m sure I'd have a bunch of different types of moments on an island.
Haha, you definitely would.
I used to have only three CDs in my car when I had a car in San Francisco for a small amount of time. And I just had: Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury; Dj Quik - Rhythm-al-ism; and Ludacris - Word of Mouf. Those wouldn’t be the main albums I would take to the island but if it says anything about me then let it say something about me. But Hell Hath No Fury is classic. As far as duos go, it’s Outkast and then Clipse. And then maybe Run the Jewels. I’m a Killer Mike superfan.
What’s a book everyone should read?
Commentaries on Living by Jiddu Krishnamurti. That book helped me.
How do you stay sane in these crazy times we’re living in?
I’m far from sane [laughs]. And I’m trying to figure it out. I just try to stay busy, be very authentic, pour myself into others and try not to think about myself so much. I don’t really have any answers but that’s what I do.
What would your last meal be?
I’d prolly go to the Smoke House in Burbank.
Any last words or shout outs?
Shout out to everyone that was on the trip. I couldn’t have made it without them. Honestly, I just captured it and put it together. Shout out to all the people who were there being themselves cuz they really made this shit. They were the ones who gave this film the chance to be whatever it’s going to be. So I give all the praise to them.
Interview by Travis Keller.