Josh Stewart is one of skateboarding’s great filmmakers. He travels the world in search of unique spots with a cast of talented skaters. Josh is also just as concerned with how his clips will look when sequenced as he is about the tricks being captured. Given the popularity of the Static series, we’re sure that you’re familiar with his work already. Continue reading for Josh’s full story.
Interview by Keir Johnson
Keir: Josh, set the tone for me, whats your skating story?
Josh: Let’s see here, well I was born and grew up all around the city of Tampa, Florida. My brother was a sponsored skater who rode for H-Street and would always try to get me to start skating, but I thought skating was gay because it was so popular at the time. Then, believe it or not, I finally started skating as a way to get in shape after spending two years on the couch watching MTV and my brother’s skate videos. Jesus, I think it’s been over 18 years now since I first set up a board out of a box of scraps I found in my brother’s closet. Turns out my first board was a Marty Jimenez freestyle board. I had no clue until my brother came home to find me tic-tacking around the neighborhood looking like a fool.
Keir: As a skateboarding video producer, what would you say your magnum opus is?
Josh: I guess that would be Static 2 and the Adio video One Step Beyond, those are the two most well known. Other than that there’d be Static and I guess maybe Rising the World Market shop video I did from like ’98.
Keir: Talk about your golden years in the Tampa.
Josh: Jesus man, golden years, you trying to make me sound old here or what? Well, I was always making videos of myself and my friends, skating and filming always went hand-in-hand. It probably wasn’t until around age 16-17 that I started trying to do a video that would be on a bigger scale than just Tampa. That video was called Cigar City and it was based around some Tampa skaters but also on some of my first travels outside of Florida. Right around when that video released was a really good time because Tampa’s older scene had sorta tapered off a few years before and things had been a bit dead for awhile. Since the skatepark of Tampa opened up and a lot of new skaters started moving to Tampa from different cities like Allen Russell, Paul Zitzer, Matt Milligan, Paul Urich and then there were locals like Chris Williams, Scott Conklin, Mike Frazier and Jeff Lenoce. Then Ed Selego moved to Tampa from Jersey and starting going to my high school. All of a sudden Tampa had a scene again and we grew into a tight-knit group of friends. It just naturally happened that we started working on another video. It wasn’t until it was almost finished that we decided to make it a World Market skate shop video. It was such a sick time because skating was so small then that you could skate all night long through the city and not get harassed by a single cop. Those were good times man. Everything was brand new because nobody had ever even filmed in Tampa before, everything was fair game. We were so lucky to be the first ones to really be able to claim the city as our own.
Keir: How did the first Static video come together?
Man, I could write a book to answer each one of these questions. Well, Static came about first with me wanting to do a video part with Paul Zitzer. The dude is such a sick skater and one of the raddest people in skateboarding, but I had no idea what to do because I’d already done parts with every skater in Tampa. Then, during the 1998 Tampa AM contest I saw Jake Rupp and Sean Mullendore skate. It’s funny because I can’t remember anything about Rupp’s run and all Sean did was skate the flat box in the middle of the park. But they had such original and raw styles. It was like one of those rare moments in life where a light bulb just pops in your head and you get immediate inspiration. I didn’t have my thoughts in order enough to talk to them at the contest so I waited and talked to Zitzer about the idea of doing a video with skaters from all over, sort of a new East Coast video to show what was happening all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. So I cold called Rupp and Mullendore out of nowhere, it was so weird; because who the hell was I to be asking these guys to commit to a full video part with me. So weird, but they were super cool and down for the cause. So that’s how it started. The rest of the pieces just fell into place. In my travels for that video I drove up to Washington DC and met the local skaters there and I was so stoked on the scene. I had never heard of a single one of the guys skating there (aside from Pepe of course) but they were all incredible with amazing styles. Igei, Honen, Pepe, Sean O’Brien, Brian Tucci, Adam Graham, Lil Sammy Weintzen, Paul McElroy, Jeremy Owens, and others. It was so ill and they would hold it down every day at Pulaski getting chased by cops every couple of hours, it was amazing, it became obvious to me that I had to do a segment on the DC scene as well. I also befriended Andre Stringer, the filmer / motion graphics guy. He really helped me out a lot and ended up taking on the job of graphic design for that video. I think he was key in helping me to develop some branding for the Static videos.
Keir: How did the city segments in Static happen?
Josh: I think the idea for city segments came from my travels filming for Rising. I would travel to a new city like Philly and find a huge amazing scene I never even knew existed. When I got to Love Park I was scared to death, but the local skaters were super welcoming. I was blown away to see the skills of Kalis, Pappalardo, Wenning, Sabback, Tim Achille, Omar Alverio, Tony Montgomery, Rich Adler, and Kevin Taylor. I mean talk about the last hey-day for East Coast skateboarding, that was it. When the Love Park and Pulaski scenes were thriving in the end of the millennium, and cities like Atlanta, Tampa, and Boston still had strong scenes. Wow man, the East Coast was seriously on fire and I was so fortunate to find myself somewhere in the mix. What’s funny is that I forced my way into it. I had no business being in these cities like Philly or DC. I was just a dumb country kid from Florida. If it wasn’t for Rising and Static I never would’ve gotten to witness those scenes when they were thriving.
Keir: My personal favorite part in Static was Rupp’s. What was that part like to make, and why did you choose to put it after the credits?
That’s a touchy subject. I caught a lot of flack for that decision. Basically, it became obvious from early on that Rupp’s part was going to be the shocker part of the video. I couldn’t believe he was letting me put this part in the video, first off, so I thought a good way to promote it and create some surprise and shock from the audience at the premiers would be to make them think that the only footage Rupp had in the video was his stuff in the desert and northeast segments. Then the credits would start rolling and people would be scratching their heads wondering what’d happened to his part. Then, I tried to make it look like the video glitches and gets all screwed up in the player and then all a sudden Jake’s part pops on and closes off the whole video. Some people appreciated it for what I was trying to do, but a lot of people were confused and actually pissed off about it. I called Jake before making that decision to make sure he was cool with it. He gave me the thumbs up so I went ahead with it. That part still holds a candle to modern day video parts to this day. His skating was so ahead of its time, my travels with him were so unreal. He would often tell me what tricks he wanted to try and I would think he was either joking or delusional. Then he’d be riding away from the trick just minutes later. That frontside noseslide he did on the fence in Vegas was one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen someone do on a skateboard. For the time he did it, the angle of the sidewalk he had to skate to hit it and how quickly and easily he did it, that was probably the most memorable trick for me from the whole filming experience from that video.
Keir: Since you mentioned both Rupp and Mullendore, tell me about making Sean’s part, especially since he’s been out of the lime light these days, what would you tell the skaters of today about him?
Josh: I often imagine the scene of a crazy traveling circus from the late 1800’s. When the circus would roll into a small town and people would witness these bizarre talents from around the world with skills that nobody else in the entire world had or would ever even think about trying. That’s how I saw Mullendore. Sean had a talent that is beyond compare even to this day. We’d often all just find ourselves sitting back and watching him skate flat ground in amazement. Especially at that time around 1999, nobody in the world, and I will swear to that, nobody could do what Sean could do on a skateboard or look as rad doing it. It’s incredible to me who becomes the famous and well paid in skateboarding and then who ends up getting the short end of the stick. There’s some sort of tragic poetry in it, but it sucks none-the-less. Sean never got what he deserved out of skateboarding and to this day he still remains one of the raddest skaters I’ve ever had the fortune of watching skate in person.
Keir: Yeah, Sean still skates casually these days. What about the soundtrack of Static, it’s very memorable, talk about putting together the music.
Josh: Well, I think music makes up about 65% of the quality of a good video. I knew from the beginning that i wanted Static to have a dark theme, gritty and urban. I figured the more early 90’s hip hop I could use the better. I wanted beats that would feel appropriate for dark and creepy imagery. I picked all the music for the video, but Kool Keith was a natural selection for Forrest Kirby since that was pretty much all he listened to at that time. It’s been so long that I can’t really remember what songs almost got used for people’s parts. Sean’s song was the hardest to pick and I just ended up settling on that Zeppelin song. The DC section song was easy, I had wanted to use that Jeru song for a long time and when I put it to those guys’ skating it just made so much sense. The DC skaters have such a strong presence to their skating and that song is so dark and heavy, it worked so well. I knew I wanted the DC segment to be the last part before the credits hit and the fact that the last word Jeru says is Static – it was just like it was meant to be. Add in the fact that he loops static to make a beat, it’s brilliant. I sorta copied that with the intro of the video and used radio static I recorded off my grandfather’s old clock radio then looped it to make a weird beat. I figured it’d be a not-so-subtle play off the name of the video.
Keir: Moving ahead, how did Static 2 come about?
Josh: Static 2 was something I had wanted to do immediately after Static 1, but I got tied up for years on the Adio video; which was definitely a good thing as it allowed me to learn how to work with other people. That was something I wasn’t too good at before. Static 2 took a long time, almost 2 years from start to finish. We traveled non-stop for that project and I spent way too much money as a result. From the start, the only thing I knew was that I wanted a Kenny Reed, Ricky Oyola, and John Igei part. I originally had wanted Rattray to have a part, but then he came out with a full Zero part. When I traveled to London and met Shier it became obvious that he was the right pick. I wanted Puleo, but I didn’t think he was skating much anymore. Then Frankie, the photographer from Philly, told me he had been skating with Bobby a lot lately and he gave me his number. Bobby wasn’t sold very easily. It took seriously over a year of filming with him to convince him to commit to a full part with me. He was doubtful up until about one month before the video was finished, I shit you not. Those were some stressful times right there.
Keir: What was it like making Igei’s part, how do you feel about his skating?
Josh: I knew from the day I finished the first Static that I wanted to do a part with Igei. His style is off the chain first of all, but he has this sort of quiet brilliance to his skating. That sounds gay, but there’s something about his skating that is so stylish without looking like he’s trying to be flashy. You can tell that he grew up skating in a real city. He reminds me of like a mixture of Welsh and Pepe. Ledge and manny skills for days. So sick, and there are so few skaters out there anymore that focus on those styles of skating. When everybody thought they had to huck their life down shit to look good, John was still doing his thing and not being swayed by the trends.
Keir: Whats your favorite trick in Johnny’s part?
Josh: Hmmm, favorite trick of him? That’s tough, I really like that long front crook of him at the National Archives in DC, but also a big fan of his switch inward heel over the manny pad at Pier 7.
Keir: What about Andy Honen, he’s been on the DL these days, how do you feel about him?
Haha, well if you know Andy, you know that traveling with him is a serious adventure. He’s one of my favorites, we had a lot of fun on trips. Somehow he swindled his way onto a 411 trip throughout all of Asia with me. I think we got like one trick on that whole trip because he was so busy hunting down hot Asian girls to swoop in on with his fake gangster style. They loved him out there, he’d see a hot girl walking by and he’d just make this weird noise, like”skish-skish” and the girls would come swooning for him, it was hilarious. Andy’s got one of the sickest styles out, I wish we got to see more of him these days. I’d be so psyched to see someone do a part with John & Andy but just film it all at Pulaski.
Keir: Yeah, John’s been in Japan for awhile now, but maybe one day it could happen. Many people really liked Puleo’s Static 2 part, what was that like to make, pretty tough?
Josh: Hmmm… well, yes and no. No because Bob can skate and look good on almost anything, all we had to do was travel a bit and Bob would get footage. So getting his part filmed was no problem at all. We actually had almost two minutes of footage that didn’t get used for his part. He’s just holding onto it for that Greatest Misses DVD we’re doing. The “yes” part comes in with dealing with Bob. He’s hilarious and probably one of my closest friends now, but there were several times that it almost came to blows. Mostly just in the editing room and arguing over what I could and couldn’t use, etc. He’s so particular and set in his ways. We were editing at my house in Tampa and at least two times a day he’d get so angry that he’d leave my house and walk around the neighborhood blowing off steam for hours. It was bizarre, but it helped us really scrutinize the video and trim the fat. There are several things I finally just changed so he’d shut up then changed them back after he flew home haha, it was either that or an all out fist fight. Traveling with Bob and Shier together was so sick because they’re probably two of the funniest humans on earth, and they’d play well off each other. If you could put Shier, Puleo, Zitzer, and Tim O’Connor in a traveling comedy tour you’d be guaranteed to make millions.
Keir: Static 2 was such an ill video, do you feel pressure making Static 3, what’s going on with that right now?
Josh: Ugh… deadlines, premier dates, release schedules…I seriously have no idea. We’ve been working on Static 3 for just about 15 months now. We’re very close to being finished but we need to tie up some loose ends. I still am hesitant to tell you who has parts because there are still a few things up in the air about it. We have far too many people lined up for this thing but it’s looking really good regardless. May have to break it off into another video just to keep things at a manageable size.
Keir: Will there be a trailer out soon?
Josh: The trailer is just about finished now and that’s sort of where I want to announce the lineup and make it official. So if people wanna log onto the Theories Of Atlantis site in about 2 weeks, they can link to the Static 3 site from there and the trailer should be up and running.
Keir: Yeah, not leaking too many secrets huh?
Josh: I’ll tell you this much, Olly Todd’s part is going to be really sick…
Keir: As an accomplished skateboarding videographer, in your opinion what are the sickest skate videos?
Josh: In no particular order:
Alien Workshop: Memory Screen – This video is at the top of the artistic spectrum of videos and it was edited on analog equipment. It is absolute genius, that’s all I can say.
Toy Machine: Welcome To Hell – This video changed the way people skated, filmed, and edited. Not only that, but it was one of the most diverse videos ever made for it’s time. I think it was one of the most influential videos ever made.
Stereo: A Visual Sound – This movie was the best combination of art and good skating. Look at the styles: Ethan Fowler, Mike Daher, Carl Shipman, and Jason Lee. Add in some of the most original music and film shot for a skate video and an amazing art direction and you’ve got what is a serious contender for best skate video ever made.
Alien Workshop: Photosynthesis – I’m not sure where this video stands on the top 5, but it belongs somewhere near the top. This was probably the most recent landmark video that changed the way videos were made. Joe Castrucci picked up where Mike Hill left off with Memory Screen and added in some of the most well integrated motion design up to that time. His motion design isn’t even that great in this video, it’s just the way he incorporated it into the mix. Then you have Dill’s part and Wenning’s epic breakout segment. Also considering the music Joe composed with Mr. Dibbs – this video is nearly flawless for it’s time.
Eastern Exposure 2: Underachievers – Finally there’s Dan Wolfe’s epic. To me this is probably the best skate video of all time. It is like the East Coast Video Days in that there are no frills, just raw street skating and amazing music. Dan captured something here that will never be duplicated. A moment in time when East Coast street skating was absolutely pure. Nothing in this video was fake or overplayed. It’s all original and I will argue until my death that this is the best video ever to grace the eyes of the skate public.
Keir: Thanks to the infinite medium of internet bandwidth why not offer you an all out thank you list, any shouts?
Josh: I get a thank you list? Wow, this list would be endless. So, I’ll just say thanks to everybody that’s inspired me in the past and continue to inspire me in the present. I’ve tried to get out of this line of work for years because I can’t make a living at it. But every time I try I meet someone who’s skating inspires me again, and I can’t help but get started on another film. So thank you to them and thank you to everybody that still supports independent film and underground skating. The video market is dying fast and independent videos and my whole way of life would be impossible without people supporting what we do by actually buying DVD’s and not just resorting to watching videos on a tiny Youtube screen with the resolution of a 1980’s Atari game, thank you.