In production since 2008 and teased as coming soon last fall, the latest installment of Josh Stewart’s Static skateboarding video series was still met with a resounding really? when tonight’s premiere at Sunshine Cinema was announced last week. With his workhorse ethic and independent spirit, Stewart has become more than an accomplished skate video filmmaker — he’s become the underground’s ambassador. The Florida expat has been crafting his ethereal homages to both skateboarding and the backdrops where the tricks take place for 15 years.
More than a collection of tricks, Stewart’s lens captures the mood of skateboarding. Along with younger talent, Static IV features full parts from two pros nearing 40 years old (ancient in skate years): Brooklyn local Jahmal Williams and Jersey native Quim Cardona, who was originally cast for the part of Telly in Kids. Stewart took some time away from his final edit, which will undoubtedly continue until the zero hour, to talk about the challenges of making an indie video in NYC.
Well, this video has become notorious for taking an unbelievably long time to complete. Even now after we’ve announced the premiere date and posted up the flier with theater information, etc, people are still posting doubtful comments on our Instagram and suspicious if it’s all just a big practical joke. We started working on this final Static video in 2008 right after Static III released. But the expense of producing Static III had been enormous and although the video was well-received, it was released in a time when skate video sales hit an all-time low thanks to the easy access to videos online for the first time. So although I was determined to continue working on Static IV, I had to give up the vast majority of my time to working freelance jobs to pay off old debts incurred from Static III. I worked in a restaurant when I didn’t have freelance work and then I’d go out filming at night. It stretched out a process that usually would take two years into a seven-year epic journey.
It’s funny because I actually moved here to finish Static III. I used filming for Static III as an excuse to try out New York and see if I could live here. And literally after one day here I was immediately hooked and already making plans to move.
If you have ever seen a Static video you know that I’m very heavily influenced by the mood and architecture of the cities that we film in. It’s often a visual theme throughout these projects. The overall vibe of Static has always felt dark, weathered and a little creepy so I would gravitate toward cities with that aesthetic like London or Washington, DC. Shooting in NYC has obviously fallen perfectly in line with my tastes. My first time NYC was in 1989 as a young kid and there was a really similar dark, eerie mood that stuck with me from that experience. So when I first moved here I really wanted to experience that same feeling from those childhood memories. But the more I got around the city the more it seemed something was missing. And then it hit me that the one place that was still locked in time and anchored in the feeling of that old, dark NY aesthetic was the underground subway systems — the platforms, the tunnels, the performers. It really still feels like the ‘80s and early-‘90s. So that became a heavy influence for me in trying to create a vibe that carries the audience through Static IV.
Well, after finishing Static II I always felt frustrated that two of my favorite styles in skateboarding had eluded having full parts in a Static video. So I reached out to Quim to actually have a Static III part, but it just didn’t work out. I did manage to get a short piece together with Jahmal for Static III, but it definitely wasn’t enough to satisfy what I would like to do. There’s a big difference between your average talented modern pro skater and the caliber of personality that Jahmal and Quim embody. They are larger than life and they represent what skateboarding used to really be all about: self expression and individuality.
Quim is an awesome musician, he’s actually an amazing MC, he’s an artist, he owns his own brand, and he’s even a father. Jahmal is a musician, he’s established himself as a talented painter and sculptor — little known to most he’s a dope breakedancer. He owns his own awesome brand and he too is a father. And then on top of all of that, they have two of the most amazing styles to watch on a skateboard. Their skateboarding does something to people. It makes you smile because there is far more than just skill and ability being displayed when they’re on the board. It’s like watching a gifted jazz pianist just freestyle at the keys. They’re incredibly important to modern skateboarding in my opinion, so I’m so thankful to have them involved in this project.
Like an actual album, watching an actual video — not a web clip — is supposed to be an experience, something you intentionally watch from start to finish. Can you talk about how you direct and assemble a skate video to create a full journey?
Yeah, that’s a good point. The format of skate videos has completely changed and most projects are geared toward an online release, contained in a short five-minute time frame. It’s definitely the best way to guarantee the largest amount of views. But I think that it’s a trade out for staying power. I feel like the long-form video format allows a brand or a filmmaker to pull the audience into a different world and it means for a much more powerful experience that leaves a long-lasting impression.
The web videos are a necessity these days. But the long-form video allows for a much stronger connection with the audience. But determining the theme and process that you’re going to use to get that feeling and message across is the hardest part — for me, at least. That has been the biggest struggle for me with Static IV, because I know the feeling and mood I want to create but I’ve battled with myself over how to convey it to the viewer. And the biggest hurdle with skate videos is you know your audience has a very short attention span. They want to just see the skateboarding. So you have to offer the textural elements in tiny spurts so that it doesn’t test their patience too much.
Well, TOA (Theories of Atlantis Distribution) kind of started by accident in a way. Originally it was more meant to be a platform to help offer independent skate videos from around the world in one place. And also my own little clothing brand called “Theories.” But some of the guys I was working with on video parts for Static IV started their own brands and I started carrying them on TOA and it grew into almost a movement of underground, skater-owned brands. One big reason why this has become meaningful for me is because it has been impossible for almost 20 years for skaters on the east coast to prosper and survive as sponsored or pros without moving out west to California.
We aimed to change that and it’s growing into something where we could actually have an industry here that supports East Coast skating from within. And these brands are all owned and run by skaters who are fully active in all aspects of the process. Be it filming and editing their own videos, doing the actual board artwork for themselves, and actually owning the brands they are promoting and skating for. It’s the old recipe of the way brands used to be in the ‘90s. It promotes the creativity and individuality the skateboarding was always about. And which is dwindling a bit with with the popularity of competitive and televised skateboarding.
What have you been going through in the final weeks of editing and preparing the video and is this the last installment of Static?
Oh, man. The last couple of months have been bananas. I threw my back out trying to film some last-minute stuff about six weeks ago. But considering how much work was left to be done I couldn’t stop going out filming. So it’s been an interesting finale wrapping things up. Basically I’ve been going out shooting last-minute shots on 16mm film and then racing to the lab to pick it up and cross my fingers that it turns out.
I’m afraid that this has to be the final Static. I’ve been working on this series for 15 years and it’s got to end some time. And I’d love to be done with it before I’m 40 and fully crippled with lower back problems. Haha! It’ll be tough to give it up and I’m sure in a month or so I’ll think of a skater who always should’ve had a Static part and I’ll start getting the urge to start another one. But, sweet Jesus… it has to end at some point.