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Dillon Buss

Cape Cod Skater, Artist, Filmmaker

By Kevin Slane
Video and Photo by Ryan Breslin and Dillon Buss

It’s the first warm day of the year, and Dillon Buss couldn’t be happier. After the ugliest winter in recent memory, he’s already planning out all his creative projects for the month of May. He’s spent the last month doing video work for corporate clients, and he’s ready for a break.

As we walk through Cambridgeport, the 26-year suddenly stops.

“Can you hold this for a second?”

As soon as I take his iced coffee, he hops on his skateboard and heads toward a bulging tree root under the sidewalk. With a practiced ease, he pops over the root, landing with the grace of someone who has spent his life on a board.

Buss rides back and takes his drink, apologetic. “Sometimes I see a new spot, and I’ve just gotta try it, you know?”

Buss (rhymes with ‘caboose’) is a man who wears many hats on his reddish-brown hair. He’s a skateboarder, one who has been sponsored since he was 14. He’s a filmmaker, mixing creative short films in between shoots for Boston-based ad agency Hill Holliday and Massachusetts College of Art and Design (aka. MassArt — he’s a 2012 graduate). He’s an artist, whose work ranges from simple doodles (Buss calls them #DooDills, a play on his name) to a clothing line. He’s a role model, devoting time to inspire younger generations with after-school talks, demos at the Boston Children’s Museum, and performances at the ICA.

Most of all, Dillon Buss knows what his passions are, and he has worked to “crack the code” for creating a life where he can follow those passions to the fullest.

“I have my drawings, my filmmaking, and my skateboarding, and they all revolve around each other,” Buss says. “At this point, I can’t stop doing any one of the three.”

“It feels really good to make it all work. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m doing it.”

LORD OF THE BOARD

Buss has been skating as long as he can remember. He got his first board from his dad at 4 years old, though he didn’t begin to take it seriously until fifth or sixth grade.

Even though Buss acknowledges that most consider skateboarding a sport, especially with the rise of contests like the X Games, he considers it an art first and foremost.

“It’s like a deep form of meditation when you’re trying to learn a new trick,” Buss said. “You have to envision yourself doing something that your body hasn’t done before – it’s like muscle memory. It feels like skateboarding is 90 percent mental. It’s all about achieving a movement as effortlessly as possible.”

Growing up on Cape Cod, Buss had a lot of role models to show him the ropes. The Cape is known for producing a significant number of professional baseball players, and the Cape skate scene is no different.

“There are guys who grew up on the Cape, and now skating is their full-time job,” Buss said. “When I was 15,  I was hanging out with 25-year-olds. They showed me how to chase the dream.”

Buss (left) and Brian Leff performing at an ICA skate demo. (Trevor Denman photo)

Buss notched his first skate sponsorships as a teenager, which allowed him to take skating more seriously. Today, he is sponsored by Converse and Orchard Skateshop, a skater-owned and operated shop in Allston. Orchard co-owner Armin Bachman, who has known Buss for about 10 years, said the shop sponsors Buss because of the unique energy and perspective he brings to his skateboarding.

“Skating is so big these days, everyone is really good,” says Bachman. “What sets you apart is the personality and style you bring to skating, and Dillon reflects that.”

“As a sponsor, we look for opportunities for Dillon to showcase his talent, and he represents the values of Orchard in his skating, his art – his whole approach.”

Buss’s approach is also a conciliatory one. While he credits skateboarding with making him who he is today, he recognizes its reputation among the general public. But instead of keeping that unearned rep as a chip on his shoulder, Buss radiates positivity.

In one instance, when Buss and his friends were skating in Downtown Boston, an older man began yelling at them. Rather than shove off or yell back, Buss pulled out his business card and told the man to look him up and see what he and his friends have been using skating to accomplish.

“Skateboarding is an art form, it’s not vandalism,” says Buss. “We’re putting on exhibitions at the Children’s Museum, building ramps with kids at after-school programs, and fostering this tight-knit skating community in Boston that’s really strong.”

The next day, the man emailed Buss and apologized.

BEHIND THE LENS

Back at his studio space in Cambridge, Buss drops his sketching notebook on a surprisingly immaculate desk, featuring only the laptop he’s been editing projects on for the last week. The room does have some cluttered elements. Near the entrance to a curtain-covered loft sits a shelf of at least a half-dozen cameras, including a camcorder from the early ‘90s and a Super 8 model from well before that.

Much like his skateboarding, Buss began filmmaking at a young age. (Films he made at age 7 are featured on his website.) When he had friends over in elementary school, they played around with his camera. When it came time to do a school project, Buss inevitably found a way to make it a video. The love of directing stayed with him through high school, and he enrolled as a film/video major at MassArt after his senior year.

College introduced him to many of the collaborators he works with now, and it also gave Buss a chance to discover his path as an artist.

“College is when I began to figure out what my aesthetic is, which is the hardest part,” says Buss. “Once you figure out what you love doing, you just pick up momentum and start making things. That’s when the magic happens.”

Though Buss’s filmography varies widely from commissioned shoots to personal art films, each work has his voice in it.

In 2013, he directed, edited, and starred in a short film and several commercials for The Sneaker Museum in Allston, each with a playful, humorous spirit paired with dazzling visuals and precise edits.

In 2014, he began work on a project with Olivia Ives-Flores called Collective Creature, a series of artist statements showcasing local creatives and what they make. One of the first films in their series features local artist Melike Koçak, a painter, animator, and psychic who goes by the name Golden Sweet in the art world and Pope Queen in the spirit world.

The film was a hit, earning positive press and a Vimeo Staff Pick, along with over 103,000 views to date.

Although Collective Creature was conceptualized by Ives-Flores and the artist statement was written by Golden Sweet, Ives-Flores says Buss was an invaluable part of making the film a success.

“What Dillon offers is not only his masterful skill as a filmmaker and storyteller, but also a rare ability to empathize and connect with the subject,” says Ives-Flores. “He has been the perfect person to work with on Collective Creature.”

(Music courtesy of Giant Octupus)

Around the same time Collective Creature debuted, Buss was frantically working on a film he’d been dreaming of making for almost a decade. A Canadian skateboarding publication named King Shit Magazine was holding a contest called “Connect the Dots,” where they asked skaters to create, shoot, and edit a creative short film in only one month.

After gathering friends and fellow Boston skateboarders David Lewis, Tommy Wisdom, and Bryan Leff, and shooting scenes in five locations across Massachusetts, the film was done. The result was Team Dream Team, a surreal short sending each of the film’s stars from the confines of after-school detention to the dreamy skateboarding paradise of their mind’s own design.

Team Dream Team is very special to me, because throughout my career I’d always wanted to incorporate skateboarding into fine art filmmaking, but I hadn’t been able to find the right time,” Buss says. “I wasn’t ready, something was holding me back.”

Team Dream Team won the “Connect the Dots” contest’s Most Creative Award. King Shit Magazine described the project by saying, , “Submissions like this are why we are proud to provide ‘Connect The Dots’ as a platform for skateboard filmmakers and photographers alike.”

“All of the work I’ve done in my life up until that moment was preparing myself for this film, says Buss. “I combined all of my talents and everything I learned in college and put it to this.”

“When the competition came along, it was like I was completely ready.”

GIVING BACK TO BOSTON

As compelling as Buss’s creative work is, his efforts in the community are equally laudable. In June of 2014, Ives-Flores curated a gallery at the Boston Children’s Museum on behalf of the Sneaker Museum called “Art For Your Feet,” meant to encourage children to reimagine the way they view sneakers and art.

As part of the exhibit, Ives-Flores asked Buss to create an interactive exhibit to accompany the gallery. The result was “The Art of Skateboarding,” an outdoor performance featuring Buss, Leff, Taylor, and several other skateboarding cohorts.

Buss has also given talks to younger generations through the Converse Boston CONS Project — a series of free creative workshops collaborating with experts in the world of skate, art and music — and through career talks with students at MassArt.

“I give younger kids an idea that it’s possible to be an artist or filmmaker in Boston, and that it’s an amazing lifestyle,” says Buss. “If they have something they’re passionate about and want to pursue it as a career, anything is possible.”

Beyond talking to MassArt students, Buss also worked on a series of promotional videos for the 26th Annual MassArt Auction, creating clips with students, professors, and famous alumni. Buss traveled to New York to shoot with artist and MassArt alumnus William Wegman, who is known for the work he has done with his Weimaraners, their appearances on Sesame Street, and the educational video Alphabet Soup.

Wegman offered up the use of his studio, his dogs, and his expertise for auction for MassArt — the only free-standing public college of art and design in the nation.

“When we met Dillon in person for the first time, we immediately knew we wanted to work with him,” says Susie Stockwell, MassArt’s Director of Communications. “Dillon’s demeanor is infectious — he radiates enthusiasm — he is genuinely interested in talking with everyone he meets, and his curiosity and personality, I believe, contributes to his success.”

Many up-and-coming artists make their way to New York City or Los Angeles, but Buss says the incredible community in Boston is why he’s been able to create everything he has in the past year.

“A huge part of what I do is based on living in the heart of the city – skateboarding, filmmaking – you know, I’m right in the thick of it,” he says. “Boston has such character to it. I discover something new in the city almost every day.”

It’s the same city that has given him the equally valuable chance to follow his passions and live the life he’s dreamed of living.

“I’ve traveled all over the world in the last year on film shoots,” says Buss. “But when I get back to Boston, it feels like home.”

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