Meet On Ice Perspectives
Not every day does someone come along and change the way we see the world, but that's exactly what former Team USA ice dancer Jordan Cowan has achieved. Armed with a camera, a gimbal, and his vast experience, he has contributed a new perspective to the figure skating community. Jordan is so passionate about what he does and has truly reinvented the field of skating cinematography - if that even was a field before! His insights are invaluable, his future is limitless, and it was such an honor to interview him and learn more about the burgeoning phenomenon that is On Ice Perspectives.
(Original cover photo by Sergio Pasquariello Photography)
Birthday: June 20th, 1990 (28 years old)
Born: Los Angeles, California, USA
Hometown: Westchester, California, USA
Q: How did you fall in love with figure skating, and what were some of your earliest experiences with the sport?
A: I started skating when I was 8, and until then I had never done anything athletic, so to me skating was more of a mental exercise in balance and control that I had never experienced before. I remember being so afraid to fall and marveling at other skaters' lack of fear!
Q: After skating with partner Anastasia Olson for several years and going to US Nationals five times, you pursued ballroom dancing. Since ice dance has its roots in ballroom dance, what surprised you the most when transitioning from the ice to the dance floor?
A: In ice dance, you have a set routine and you get to perform it the same way to the same music every time. Because in ballroom you share the floor with other dancers, you have to learn to adapt and move your routine around if necessary, and the music is always different but the same tempo. I really liked that aspect of having to react to your environment on the fly, something I’m always doing when I film.
Well that's something different! (Photo by Melanie Heaney Photography)
A: I was definitely interested, but not really as an artist, more of a geek who loved things with switches and buttons, of which cameras have many! When I moved to Michigan to train in 2006, I started making vlogs to share with my friends back home in Los Angeles, which almost always turned into funny music videos instead.
With the explosion of YouTube, Instagram, etc., I actually got discouraged from making videos because it felt like everything was already being done and being done better. I watched a lot of filmmaking tutorials on YouTube, but never wanted to start again because I would only be copying what had already been done. You can see where I’m heading…
Q: What inspired you to start On Ice Perspectives, and did you ever imagine it would be as big as it is now? (35.8K followers on Instagram and counting!)
A: In September 2017, I joined the cast of Doug Webster’s Ice Dance International in Sun Valley, Idaho, where for three weeks we rehearsed and then filmed a two-part skating show for public television (it’s airing nationwide now!). It was so wonderful to skate outdoors under the mountain sun every day, and so I picked up an iPhone gimbal and started filming our on-ice rehearsals. For the first time I had something to film that had never been done that way before. I could capture the speed and flow of skating the way I felt it.
When I got back in October I just had a bunch of footage on my phone, and I hadn’t touched an editor in almost ten years. Also I hate filming on phones - there just aren’t enough buttons and everything gets stuck in the cloud. So in December, I bought a GoPro and started filming with it constantly, on and off the ice, making all the videos I could. I went on two trips to Hong Kong and Cancun and managed to edit a video on my phone each day (although I felt supremely anti-social in doing so!). By late January, I had dreamt up the idea of an Instagram account dedicated to skating videos. I bought my first DSLR with a wide angle lens and started reading/watching Final Cut Pro X tutorials. I set a goal to film every three days and edit/upload a video every day in February. I made my logo on February 1st and uploaded my first video on Feb 2nd. It was a short clip of me getting on the ice with my camera… if you listen closely I’m even singing to myself!
By the end of February, thanks to the buzz around the Olympics and a special visit from Jeremy Abbott, I had 500 followers, and I estimated that I could reach 5-10K by years’ end! Everything after that was just frosting.
Q: What's the secret of on-ice filming? Basically, how do you not get a toepick to the lens when you're that close to the skaters?!
A: I always use a lens hood and a UV filter! The lens hood will soften the impact of a hit and the UV filter is cheap and can be replaced. I’m only joking about impacts, but the UV filter does protect against flying snow!
Seriously, though, my #1 concern is the safety of the skater(s) I am filming. I would never want a skater to get hurt on my watch because they were nervous about being filmed. Every skater handles being on camera a little differently, and so I focus on not being noticed at first, even if it means filming from off the ice, until I know they are comfortable. As for filming the champs, I’m lucky to have trained with the best skaters in the world during my competitive career, so I’ve had a lot experience being on the ice for an Olympic-level practice. And competitive ballroom involved a lot of dodging and weaving through couples to get to the best “angle” in front of the judges so I use those skills too.
My first camera rigs were also the cheapest versions I could buy. Why? Because I fully expected to completely smash it in a fall and have to buy another. When you’re filming on ice, you have to be ready to break your equipment, especially if you have to sacrifice it to save yourself or someone else. I don’t like filming with something I’m afraid to break (another reason I don’t film with my phone!).
Q: What advice do you have for people transitioning from a career in competitive figure skating to suddenly being "retired" in their 20s? Did you ever feel lost after you stopped skating competitively?
A: Skating can and will open doors for you that you have not yet imagined. Don’t ever be ashamed that you spent your formative years only doing one thing; wear it like a badge of honor that you got to dedicate your life to something, regardless of the results you got. Competitive skating is like getting a degree in life from the most elite university, because you can apply those life skills towards anything. Find something you love to do and pursue it with the same work ethic you had in skating, and you’ll kill it.
Jordan and his trusty gimbal
Q: You're also studying computer science at City College of New York - what's that like, and where on earth do you find the time to go to school on top of skating, coaching, and filming?!
A: Um, so, I’m actually on yet another break from school. Through my skating career and afterwards, I could never stay enrolled in college for more than two semesters at at time. Even though I have a lot of talent with math, science, and computers, I couldn’t find the drive to sit at a desk and debug code as a life-long career. I’ve never felt more driven in my life making skating videos, and for the first time I’m finding out what I’m capable of when I give myself permission to pursue what I want in exactly the way I want.
Q: Take us through the process of filming, editing, storing and publishing your content - how hard is it to keep track of thousands of hours of footage?!
A: Haha that would be too long to explain! And it’s certainly interesting now that I’m spending three months abroad. I’ve filmed about 12TB of footage since I started, and I haven’t deleted or lost anything yet. When 4TB HDDs cost $100 you don’t really have to delete anything. I also built a 40TB network server so I can consolidate and access footage remotely and I keep all my recent unedited footage on portable SSDs so I can work on them whenever and wherever I happen to have the time. I’m pretty good at dumping my SD cards and organizing the footage after a shoot, and each of my cameras have dual 512GB SD cards so I can go up to a week without formatting them, which means even more redundancy when I’m on the go. I’ve heavily invested in storage because I’d rather have too many copies than lose a drive and have to decide if I want to pay thousands to recover it, which doesn’t always work with large video files anyways.
Jordan is all smiles because he knows his 40TB network server's got his back
(Photo by Sergio Pasquariello Photography)
Q: What exciting things can we look forward to with OIP in 2019, and what are YOU looking forward to the most in the new year?
A: The biggest thing in 2019 is that I’m filming for Dancing On Ice in the UK for three months. It’s currently the second most popular show in the UK, televised to over 7 million people. I’m the show’s first ever live on-ice camera operator, and possibly the first ever to do so for figure skating. That’s already a lot to look forward to!
I don’t want to say much more, because I’m really looking only a few months ahead at a time. A year ago I would not have imagined getting to this point so quickly, so maybe this year has more surprises in store. I will say that I’m planning to film skating full-time year-round when I get back, and I’m actively pursuing a few different avenues of doing so.
Q: You've already contributed so much to the skating community, and I can't wait to see where the next few years and beyond take you and OIP - where do you see yourself in five years?
A: Definitely I want to have filmed the Olympic Exhibition Gala in Beijing on live television. That’s a stretch goal, but I’ve managed to reach all of my stretch goals so far. Besides that I really don’t know. I think the landscape is far too new to predict even five months ahead. I’m just happy doing it and growing with it and seeing where that takes me.
So flipping excited to watch this season of Dancing On Ice!
Favorite camera to film with?
Right now it’s the Sony A7III
What's your spirit animal?
Pooh Bear (it was my stuffed animal before Yuzu was born so there!)
Skating element that was hardest for you to master?
Brackets oh my gosh. I want mine to be perfect at any speed, but I never learned patch properly.
What's on the top of your bucket list?
Honestly, make enough to afford a good healthcare plan. The past year has really taken a toll on my health, and I need to sleep more.
Favorite and least favorite compulsory/pattern dances to perform?
Favorite: Pretty much all of them. Least Favorite: Dutch Waltz because I always run out of space!
Go-to NYC restaurant?
The George Washington Bridge in NYC x Jordan's camera
Favorite skating program of all time?
Don’t want to answer this one, as I don’t have one!
If there’s anything I learned in 2018, it’s not to hide your talents. That said, I’m really good at memorizing songs. I’m much better at remembering choreography if the music is playing.
Approximate hours of on-ice footage that you have stored?
Um… well I did a lot of documentary work this year, which involved filming for hours a day. But when I’m filming for myself, I try to be more efficient than that. Let’s just say I could make a video every day for a year, if I wasn’t such a perfectionist about editing. Fortunately I keep getting better and skating repeats itself every year, so to those I’ve filmed in the beginning and haven’t released a video for, I’d love to film you again but this time it’ll be much better!
Quote to live by?
Just do it!
Jordan with Michelle Kwan after filming her skating in LA, what a legend
KEEP UP WITH ON ICE PERSPECTIVES
Behind-The-Scenes Instagram: @oniceperspectives.backstage
Facebook: On Ice Perspectives
Youtube: On Ice Perspectives
Jordan's Instagram: @jordanicecam
Jordan's Twitter: @jacowan
And find out more info about Dancing On Ice, airing Sundays at 6 PM in the UK on ITV and STV (available online too), and follow DOI on Instagram at @dancingonice - you might see some of Jordan's footage!
All other photos courtesy Jordan Cowan and On Ice Perspectives