What started off as a hobby evolved into a career when his modelling agent put a camera in his hand to film backstage at Paris fashion week, and Paul Herrmann realized he could use his skills from filming his friends skateboarding to direct films for major fashion and lifestyle brands. Today, the self-taught director and photographer balances shooting skateboarding with his commercial work, while always being open to sharing inspiration and advice with others – something he attributes to his generation being more inclusive.
Caroline Berner Kühl: If you were to explain to someone who doesn’t know anything about you, what do you do?
Paul Herrmann: I'm a photographer and director, and nowadays more a director than a photographer. I’ve been doing it professionally for almost five years. I started filming about twelve years ago, when I first started skateboarding.
CK: So, you started out skateboarding?
PH: Yes, I started off with skateboarding. I still skate and I still film skateboarding. I guess two years into skating, or maybe even less, I realized that filming is actually a bit more fun than the actual skating. Because I quickly realized that I have this urge to capture my friends doing tricks, and they were also better at skateboarding than I am. In that sense, I quickly became a filmmaker.
CK: Seems like skating is also so much about the lifestyle and the community?
PH: I mean, you're wearing a Supreme hoodie right now, so I guess it just developed into something much bigger than the actual skating. And I think, especially with brands like Supreme or Palace, and Civilist now, it’s grown much bigger than the actual skateboarding itself.
CK: Aside from your skate videos, you also do fashion now?
PH: Yes, which was kind of a natural transition in a sense. Starting out in skateboarding, you progress, your friends progress. People get sponsors, some of my friends got sponsored, and I would go on trips with them. Their tricks would end up in an Adidas video, or they would skate for a board company, and those companies would then send me stuff as payment. Obviously, you can't make a living off getting paid in skateboards, but I think that was when I realized, okay, there's a reward to it. And then it just progressed, and I knew I was going to move to Berlin…
CK: You didn’t grow up here?
PH: No, I'm from a small town next to Frankfurt. And then this whole Berlin hype that I was feeling became more and more real for me, because I got to know a lot of people from here, and I would pretty much visit Berlin every time I got the chance. Right about that time, Civilist, the skate shop that we still always hang out at, became more of a, I wouldn’t necessarily say lifestyle shop, but there was a certain attention to this group of friends that I'm also part of. And it evolved with Civilist. People were modeling, myself included, and my best friend Stephen was becoming a photographer. There was a bit of a hype around it. And when I moved to Berlin in 2017, I realized that if I wanted to make a living from filming and directing, I would have to also work in fashion, advertisement and lifestyle. My modeling agent knew I was into filming, and she pretty much gifted me a camera, got me to Paris to do this behind-the-scenes video of models doing whatever models do when not walking shows. That one came out in an online fashion magazine with a short interview, and that was kind of the starting point.
CK: It seems like you get to travel quite a bit?
PH: I guess that came later. But yeah, fast forward a few years from moving to Berlin, I was able to travel loads for work, which is, I think, the best part of the job in a way. Because every country you visit, you get introduced to so many new people, and a whole crew that is working just for your idea in a way. It's really interesting and inspiring to see that from the point in time where I start writing an idea to the point where, okay, we're in this foreign country, there are like 80 to 100 people
working on set just to make it happen to now seeing the film on TV, it's quite a crazy full circle moment.
CK: But you are still based in Berlin? Planning to stay here or do you have plans to move?
PH: Still based here, yes. And that's a good question. I think Berlin is great as a base because all my friends are here, so that's the most important reason why I'm still here. But also, the lifestyle itself is quite easy because for a big city it is still quite cheap and easy to get around. It's a big city for sure, but it’s nowhere near London. I was just there last week and it's crazy to me the fact that you can be traveling within the city for one and a half hours to get somewhere. It's just nuts. I don't think I could do it. So, I think Berlin is a good balance between everything you have, everything you need. It's a cool city. A lot of people from outside come here. It's cheap. Apartments are much nicer than London, considering how much you pay there. At this point, I'm really happy in Berlin, and it's also easy to get everywhere else.
CK: Yeah, it's easy to travel around Europe for sure. Kind of the same with Copenhagen. It's so easy to fly out from there.
PH: Yeah, it's true. So, it's a good base.
CK: Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
PH: We did a big skate video that came out in September. I haven't done one in like one and a half years, and we worked on it for one and a half years. We had a little screening, and a lot of people came out. That was my passion project for last year. Right now, I'm going with the flow. Just taking it day by day. But a lot of strategy and planning in order to make stuff happen. What’s interesting right now is that I am speaking with a lot of different countries, because I am going to be represented almost worldwide from this year, which is really exciting. So, it is also very much about making the right decisions on where I want to go.
CK: It seems like as things grow and you get more established, the more of that stuff there is going to be. The more planning, the more strategy, the more talking…
PH: Which a part of me is also really excited about. But at the same time, this work is very different from three or four years ago, when I started out as a director. The projects were so small that people would just hit me up and ask me if I wanted to do stuff. It would maybe be a one-day shoot in Berlin, no real pre-production. Whereas now, it can be up to six weeks of pre-production before you actually get to set. And then you have two days or maybe three days or maybe even one day to shoot everything you’ve been planning for such a long time.
CK: And it was within a relatively short period of time that it went from small to really big productions?
PH: It's crazy. I am sort of just figuring it all out as I go. How to deal with everything. Which is easier if you have a good team working around you, and I am lucky that I work with great people. I work with great producers and great companies. But still, sometimes, it actually feels so crazy that it's happening so fast. And then somebody will convince me that it’s all good.
CK: And, I am just assuming, but this feeling of when things grow big, how do you still stick to your roots, how to balance it?
PH: Yeah, and I think that's also when coming back to skateboarding is an incredibly good way to balance things out. Because no matter what you do at work, if you go back to skateboarding, everything remains the same. It’s the same people. It's the same procedure. It's me filming them. It can take 10 minutes. It can take five hours for them to land their tricks. Sometimes they don't even land it and then you go back the next day. And it's like nothing changed in that sense. Obviously, most of them have gotten really good by now. I’ve known many of them for almost 10 years, so when I was editing the video that came out in September, it was incredible to experience how everyone progressed from being good skaters to really good skaters.
CK: What’s important to you?
PH: Most important to me is love, health, friendship and gratitude. And when it comes to work being able to inspire other people to also be confident in themselves. That’s why I enjoy doing interviews like this, because I think our generation is shifting more towards being open with one another, being open to sharing how you got to a certain point. Whereas, coming up and being a 13 year-old with a camera, I would message skateboard videographers to ask about editing software or how they did certain things, and no one would answer. Now that I am in a position myself, where I can be nice to other people and take the time to answer and give advice, I want to share. Obviously, there’s not a written-out recipe to become something, but I think it’s really cool that our generation
is shifting towards the idea that there’s space for everyone.
CK: I have that feeling too. Feels like there's more room for everyone. Because you have your unique point of view, I have mine, we're not ever going to do the exact same thing anyways.
PH: No, 100%. And I also think so much great stuff comes out of talking and inspiring and helping each other out. That it's almost a shame not to be open about it. Why would you not be open about something where we can do such great things, if everybody would think this way and try to help each other? Of course, it is not always easy, and it’s also a process. But I was just in London, and I would hang out at my friends studio, and people would constantly come and go. One is doing
clothing and the other one is a DJ. And then one is working for an artist as a creative director. And there’s just so much creativity under one roof that it's really cool to even just sit in there and get inspired by them, how they approach things, how they deal with certain things. That it's just like constant learning.