A former Venice resident and video storyteller has had some of his viral footage recognized by national figures—again.
Hunter Weiss, 24, filmed sidewalks in Venice crowded with the unhoused living in tents and the clip later appeared on an episode of the popular Joe Rogan Show on YouTube.
Weiss said he filmed tents lining both sides of the street at Rose and Third Avenues in late December for an Instagram “rant” about the homelessness problem in Los Angeles. He said it got around 5,000 shares.
“People are interested in this and seeing it and talking about it,” the San Diego native said.
Weiss said he re-edited the footage for his Twitter account, where many LA YouTubers shared it, which is where Weiss thinks Rogan’s show pulled it from.
Although no one contacted him from the show, Weiss said he didn’t mind them using it for episode #1583, “Why Restaurants Keep Getting Shut Down,” which featured L.A. restauranteurs John Terzian and Craig Susser discussing the latest round of shutdowns.
“It’s insightful,” Weiss said of the episode, where Rogan talks over Weiss’ clips and others showing various encampments across L.A. before talking with Terzian and Susser. “If you shut down restaurants you’re going to have more homeless and thousands more on the street,” Weiss said. “They used it [his footage] in good way.”
Although he’s shot additional drone footage covering pockets of encampments across L.A. and interviewed Skid Row residents, Weiss said that’s not the sole focus of his video storytelling.
“I’m not trying to harp on an issue but the more people that are pissed off at their city,” he said, “they’ll start asking questions” about taxes and mismanaged money intended to ease homelessness.
In spring 2020, Weiss shot footage of the Venice Skate Park being filled with sand by small bulldozers to discourage people congregating in the early days of the pandemic. National media used the footage, President Trump even retweeted it, and the aerial shots of the iconic park being plowed over became a striking visual of how seriously the pandemic was being taken.
Saying it was “the right place, the right time,” Weiss went to the skate park at 6 a.m. on April 17 on a tip from a friend. He initially posted an overhead picture, but another friend encouraged him to upload the video and within 24 hours it had gone viral on Instagram and Twitter.
“It became a political statement because of social distancing,” Weiss said. “Twitter had a field day with it for like five days, ripping it apart as a political statement.”
Weiss said he just thought he was filming something locally interesting, but someone told him, “You might have captured a pivotal moment in history. You just captured what explains lockdowns and social distancing,” adding the public response to the video seemed to be, “if this is happening in California, will it happen in our state next?”
The way different outlets presented the footage depended on their perspective, too, said Weiss, referencing the different approaches of CNN, Fox News and Barstool Sports.
“It was really interesting to be in the middle of it and see how the world reacted,” the University of Arizona graduate said. “People know it’s a major issue, but nothing impacts like visuals.”
“As a creator, you can’t plan for any of this to happen,” Weiss said. “You’re just happy if someone watches it or comments. For it to have a firestorm effect and be seen by thousands or millions, it’s crazy.”
Weiss recently left Venice to return to San Diego where he plans to continue making videos—he has 100 hours of drone footage to edit— and growing his digital and social media marketing business. He also sells aerial photos through his Ugly Walls website, explaining the title to mean beautiful art can fix an ugly wall.
Weiss said he left Venice mainly because his lease was up and he has opportunities in San Diego but added that the increasing homeless problem was a factor.
He cited the “lawlessness” he saw around the boardwalk, such as naked people face down on the ground in public, frequent thefts even in gated courtyards and fistfights.
An avid runner, Weiss said his morning jogs are usually invigorating, but they became depressing and demoralizing along the beachfront.
“It’s pretty crazy when you’ve never seen anyone do heroin,” Weiss said, “and then you see three people with needles in their arms at 6:30 a.m. the same day.”
He hasn’t completely given up on the area, though, and said he believes he’ll return one day “when the city can figure itself out.”
“There’s something addicting about going to the beach,” he said of Venice, “and looking at the mountains that meet the ocean at sunset.”