Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Skateboarding, traveling and all-around documentation are three components of life that seem to compliment each other quite well. It almost seems that when a skateboard is ridden, the other two acts will inevitably follow. Rick Charnoski and Coan "Buddy" Nichols are two skaters who have obsessively documented their perspectives since their earliest days of skateboarding. Joining forces years ago, the two found that their shared interests extended far beyond just the act of riding a skateboard. Creatively, the two began to collaborate extensively on skate documentaries, using the unmistakable and rarely utilized medium of super 8 and 16mm film. Since 1999, the two have succeeded in creating a unique brand of skate documentation that is truly unlike any out there. Their style of filmmaking has been showcased in classic releases like Fruit Of The Vine, Skateparks Of Oregon, Ecuador & Tabaccoland, Random Shorts, Northwest and Anti-Hero's classic tour video, Tent City. Recently, the two filmmakers went on to tackle their very first feature length film called Deathbowl To Downtown. Deathbowl is an in-depth documentary which explores skateboarding's unparalleled evolvement in New York City, beginning in the 70's and ending with today's current scene. This enormous undertaking of a movie contains pricelesss archival footage from the 70's, interviews with tons of NYC legends and innovators, and serves as an invaluable history lesson for root-seeking new jacks around the globe. Recently, I was able to track down Rick and Buddy and talk to them about their upbringing, skateboarding, art and their new movie.
NYC Legend, Jeremy Henderson Latches Onto A Proper Crail Grab In Queens
Give me some background. Where were you guys, born, how did you start skating and all that stuff?
Rick Charnoski: Born in Pennsylvania. Started skateboarding in the 5th grade. I've basically skated my entire life. Skateboarding in the 80's was closely related to the idea of doing everything yourself, cause there you had to do things yourself back then. There was no skateboard industry. Skateboarding was just this radical, underground, punk rock activity. So skateboarding, punk rock and Do It Yourself creativity and art were all sort of connected. So being completely removed from any type of inspiration growing up in Pennsylvania, it was like, Come up with anything you can come up with to make your activity more fun. Build your own ramp, do your own t-shirts, make your own graphics, make your own magazines...make your own weird fun world happen yourself with your own rules, your own way. So that was basically my childhood and it was a good time for it because all that stuff was new back then. Out of high school I just skated and traveled around skating for years. Then later on in my 20's I started to get into making films on skateboarding. And I was always making artwork along the way. I sort of put all of those ideas together and focused the energy of skateboarding and creative arts and do it yourself story telling and it all eventually culminated to what we're doing now, which is making films about skateboarding. I met Buddy when I was real young, in high school and then met him again in New York. We both had similar paths and sort of connected on this thing that we're doing now. Courtesy Deathbowl To Downtown
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Buddy Nichols: I started skating in the early 80s in Boston and then moved with my family to Portland Oregon in 1985. There, through high school I was just skating all the time. I ended up in NY in the early, mid-nineties. I went to NY to take some graduate courses in documentary filmmaking. I was getting really into documentary films and just shooting stuff all the time and then Rick and I reconnected. It was just extra fuel to the fire because were trying to do something different by shooting everything on film. Film's really painstaking, especially when you don't have any money. Everything takes three times as long cause you're dealing with old-ass equipment from the fifties and sixties that breaks all the time. You almost need two people just to run some of the shit. So it was awesome to have two people just to share the cost of the film. Three minutes of footage on super 8 ends up costing a hundred bucks. So you're trying to build a 45 50 min skate flick and everybody knows you get bails hell of a lot. The partnership essentially stemmed from that.
Deathbowl to Downtown. Was this the first film you've made that covered an entire era of skating?
Buddy: Yeah, it was the first time we tried anyway. Everything else we've done has been sort of stream of consciousness, starts in September 10 and end November 1st and whatever you've got in the middle, that's it. End of story. And it's all completed in one trip or one mission. And this&.was a fucking nightmare. You know it's a never-ending story.
Where did your interest in conquering the evolution of the NYC skate scene stem from?
Deathbowl To Downtown
An Undisclosed Ripper Bonelesses Way Back In The Day In NYC
Buddy: This was the first project where we didn't come up with the idea. Long story short, some other people came to us with it. It started as a little project. It was like we'll do a quick 20 min primer on the New York history, not this extensive thing. It was supposed to be just the root. It actually wasn't even going to go past the mid-80's and it was going to take us only a couple of months. Then we fucking crawled down the rabbit hole and ended up in the wild, putting together this project that spans 30 years. It all evolved over the span of a few years of working on it, not working on it. We did 3 or four other smaller projects in the middle. A project like this, we have archival footage from like 40 different people, probably 30 some photographers involved, stock footage from 15 different stock footage houses, we've got some NBC news footage in there. Just crazy shit. So you can imagine, where on other projects we'd be directing on the fly and being open to what's unfolding on a trip, this was much more challenging in the sense that we were directing like 80 people. It's like how many times do you have to call somebody to go out to their grandmas house in Jersey just to go through the basement and dig out some tapes on a Saturday. You know what I mean. But you know there's gonna be gold in there. Put it this way, we know there's gold out there that we don't have because people either didn't want to get or have time to get it or we didn't do a good enough time of convincing them to get it.
How long did the project take?
Rick: Probably about 3 years, off and on.
Being at the New York premiere, there were definitely mixed reactions from the crowd. How did you guys respond to that?
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Buddy: We did the best job we could of getting together everything we could and sorting through it. Presenting a particular storyline, like the evolutionary process of skateboarding in New York, you sort of get stuck into one certain thing and maybe some stuff isn't in there.
From a filmmakers perspective, after having all these people complaining about their getting their due on camera and all that other bullsh*t, at what point do you say, hey off, this is our movie? Rick: It was hard in New York, because we weren't finished with the film yet and none of us were happy with it yet and we had to show it to the most critical crew and you got to get all the feedback and fallout from that. It was a real mindfuck for us because half of the things that people were yelling and screaming about were things that we wanted to fix anyway. Where we're at now, it's really a different film now. It is what it is. It's a 35-year history. I want to see someone else come up with a film that more people are going to be satisfied with. I don't know, man, it's a big project.
Is there anything that you guys learned along your journey of making this film?
Rick: We learned so much. Dealing with people, different personalities, historical film. Dealing with 800 hours of material to edit through. We learned a world of filmmaking knowledge in making this. It feels like we went to film school like ten times over. The character of this film is so unlike any of our other projects. It's so different from anything else we've ever done.
I think it's interesting what you guys do because it's obvious that the world is oversaturated with skate videos. What you guys do is a completely different approach to filmmaking with skateboarding in mind?
Harry Jumanji Carves Frontside Over The Banks
Buddy: For me personally, I think it has something to do with age. We came up in a world where there wasn't all these things laid out for you. There weren't videos to watch everyday. Street skating wasn't big. The whole idea of going out your door to skate on the street wasn't big. All you wanted to do was ride a ramp. Skateboarding was more wrapped up in meeting somebody and creating a world that's outside the act of skateboarding. You know, building your own ramp and meeting somebody in another town and then meeting up with them to go skate their shit. I think that's reflected in the style of stuff we do. Not just the activity of skating, but what's built around it.
What keeps you interested in making skate films? Why not delve into another facet of documentary filmmaking?
Rick: We never even thought of ourselves as filmmakers. The camera and skateboarding are like Siamese twins. They went hand in hand. It was a natural marriage between the two. There's something more there than just the act of skateboarding. There's a much deeper thing there. It's a very subconscious, organic process in filmmaking and skateboarding and they all relate to each other. Buddy: To me, we're not trying to consciously do this shit. We've never written out a treatment. It's going out and just trying to represent the world as you see it. Rick: The skateboard world just happens to have a lot going on. It stands for a lot more than the actual act of riding a skateboard.By documenting skateboarding, it becomes something more.