Vladimir Film Festival

Josh Stew­art interview

30 / 9 / 2019 / Interview

Josh Stew­art

Inter­view by: Aymer­ic Nocus

Q: This year, the Vladi­mir Film Fest­iv­al is cel­eb­rat­ing the twen­ti­eth anniversary of the Stat­ic series of skate­board­ing videos. May you briefly recount your ori­gin­al back­ground as a deb­ut­ing film­maker in Flor­ida, and what exactly was it that promp­ted you to take things one scale fur­ther with the first Stat­ic video?

A: Oh boy, how much time do you have? haha.…well, ever since my par­ents bought our firs VHS cam­cord­er when I was 13 I had been mak­ing skate videos of my friends and myself. I was obsessed with it and I pretty much made video parts with every skater I met around my home town at the time. But after the Skate­park of Tampa opened in 1993, I star­ted to meet a lot of rad, tal­en­ted skaters and decided to try mak­ing a full video instead of just ran­dom video parts. Imme­di­ately after fin­ish­ing that I felt like it was ama­teur­ish and I decided to get more ser­i­ous and make a more pro­fes­sion­al video. I was 16 years old now and finally able to drive, so I ren­ted out a little edit­ing bay from this pro­duc­tion stu­dio and when I fin­ished that video I had 100 cop­ies made and tried to sell them to skate shops around Flor­ida. At that point I had nev­er seen any oth­er inde­pend­ent videos, everything that was avail­able at the time were only brand videos. So it felt kind of crazy at the time but I actu­ally man­aged to sell all of the videos I made. It got me think­ing that we could get our videos seen by a lot more people out­side of Flor­ida and made me want to do anoth­er video on a more grand scale. We had an amaz­ing scene and it was frus­trat­ing thatSo we moved into mak­ing a video with the goal of intro­du­cing the Tampa skate scene to the rest of the world. One of the big things that helped with that video was that I had ran­domly met Jam­ie Thomas dur­ing a trip and he ended up invit­ing me to help film the Toy Machine team’s Wel­come to Hell tour. And in return Jam­ie filmed a bunch of street foot­age with me dur­ing that trip all across the USA and let me give him a little part in my own video. That video was called Cigar City and after call­ing a bunch of dif­fer­ent dis­trib­ut­ors I was stoked to get tons of sup­port for it and we ended up selling thou­sands of cop­ies all around the world.

It was super excit­ing and ful­filling to see our skate scene get­ting recog­nized finally.

Film­ing for that video we traveled up the east coast to Phil­adelphia, Wash­ing­ton DC, Atlanta, etc and we met lots of rad skaters and skate scenes, and spe­cific­ally the skaters in Wash­ing­ton DC got me really inspired. So after Cigar City came out I knew I wanted to try and do a new pro­ject focus­ing on skaters from out­side of Flor­ida. And then right around that same time Dan Wolfe came to Tampa to film the Tampa sec­tion for East­ern Expos­ure III. And I’m sure that see­ing what he was doing was extra inspir­ing for me because to this day I con­sider EE3 to be prob­ably the best real street skat­ing video of all time. But any­ways, that year dur­ing the Tampa Am con­test I saw Jake Rupp skate for the first time and it was the added push I needed to get star­ted on Static.

Train NYC tun­nel / Stat­ic IV

Q: What exactly was your mind­set after the first Stat­ic video premiered and came out? You nev­er expec­ted to act­ively keep it going as an increas­ingly ambi­tious series going as far as cov­er­ing so much of the world­wide skate scene, or did you? Were you already plan­ning ahead?

A: I was really stoked. I just remem­ber after the first premiere in Tampa Jake Rupp say­ing to me “We did it!” and it made me feel so good to know that not only was he happy but that people around the world were going to get intro­duced to his skat­ing for the first time. But actu­ally as I was still try­ing to get the video dis­trib­uted, I rushed out to the big ASR trade show in San Diego to try to find dis­trib­ut­ors who’d be inter­ested in order­ing the video and I ran into the Plan­et Earth and Adio guys. And there at the trade show the team man­ager asked me if I’d be down to do the Adio video. It was an incred­ible com­pli­ment but it was also ter­ri­fy­ing. I couldn’t not take the oppor­tun­ity, but I was only 21 years old and didn’t feel like I had the skills to pull off such a mon­strous pro­ject. So that all pretty much kept me from get­ting to bask in the after­glow of fin­ish­ing Stat­ic for very long and I had to move right into the Adio pro­ject. Typ­ic­ally, that’s the tra­ject­ory of most skate video­makers, is they put out a video that gets them noticed and then they get hired by a big brand and they leave their homet­own and stop mak­ing indie pro­jects. But, although I loved mak­ing the Adio video and work­ing with that insane line-up of tal­en­ted dudes, it even­tu­ally left me super anxious to get star­ted on Stat­ic II and get back to work­ing on an inde­pend­ent pro­ject. The stress and pres­sure of One Step Bey­ond was so dif­fer­ent than work­ing on my own videos and also, I felt a need to get anoth­er east coast/underground pro­ject in the works. So I moved back to Flor­ida and got to work on Stat­ic II.

Paul Shier

Q: How did estab­lish­ing all those con­nex­ions through­out first your coun­try of ori­gin then the globe fall into place? How gradu­ally did you build the Stat­ic network?

A: Yeah, it’s weird because it’s so com­mon­place now for every­one to be con­nec­ted through Ins­tagram and social media. People feel like they know every­one already because they saw what that per­son ate for din­ner last night on their Ins­tagram story and they listened to that person’s playl­ist on Spo­ti­fy, etc. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world. Back in the 90’s most of us didn’t even have email addresses. I wasn’t really even using the inter­net until like 98/99. To get Jake Rupp involved in Stat­ic I had to call around to find someone who might have his phone num­ber and then even­tu­ally I cold-called him and explained who I was and that I was work­ing on this new video I wanted him to be in. Not try­ing to be a grandpa here and say “In my day it was so much harder” because, yes it really required more effort, but I feel like it made you appre­ci­ate jump­ing those kinds of hurdles a lot more. Going up to Wash­ing­ton DC and immers­ing myself in their scene was my first exper­i­ence of diving into a “for­eign” cul­ture and work­ing with people I didn’t know at all. It was espe­cially excit­ing because at the time that scene wasn’t get­ting any atten­tion at all from the skate media, so I felt priv­ileged to be help­ing shine some light on them. That feel­ing was def­in­itely what sparked my desire to do the same thing in oth­er cit­ies. And the next place that I became obsessed with was Lon­don. I knew there must be an amaz­ing scene there but you ser­i­ously weren’t see­ing any­thing from there in US skate media. So, when I star­ted work­ing on Stat­ic II, the first city I wanted to start in was Lon­don and I planned the first trip with Kenny Reed. He was bummed because Lon­don was too tame of a des­tin­a­tion for him, he wanted to go some­where sketchy and weird. But when we got there he intro­duced me to Paul Shi­er and soon Paul intro­duced me to every skater in Lon­don. It went per­fectly. That’s pretty much how that all happened. I loved the feel­ing of cap­tur­ing slept-on scenes and under­ground skaters and get­ting to be show­case them the way I saw them. it just kept snow­balling organ­ic­ally from there. At the Lon­don premiere for Stat­ic II this dude came up to me after­wards in the crowd and com­pli­men­ted the video in a really pro­found way. I wish I could remem­ber what he said but it really moved me. He intro­duced him­self to me as Soy Panday. I looked him up online when I got back to the hotel and I thought “Damn, the Par­is skate scene isn’t get­ting any atten­tion right now”. And so it continued.

Bobby Puleo

Q: Has there been any decis­ive moments where you would real­ize, ’well, I can’t believe I’m doing this’ — get­ting in touch with people, book­ing a flight to some new place, or just being out some­where in par­tic­u­lar film­ing with someone in particular?

A: Haha.…it’s funny, I have two spe­cif­ic moments that imme­di­ately pop into my mind when I read that question.
1. When I booked a spur of the moment tick­et to Cairo just so we could film a scene for Kenny Reed’s part in front of the pyr­am­ids of Giza, that was a blatant moment that caused me to take pause and think “this is insane, what are you doing?”
2. After I moved to NYC to work on Stat­ic III and I had just got­ten a job work­ing at a cof­fee shop in Brook­lyn. Puleo and I used to fre­quent this crappy little cof­fee shop owned by a rap­per, haha.…it that was always closed on Mondays, and one day Bobby offered to the own­er that if he hired Bob and I we would open it for him on Mondays. The own­er said “ok”. And the next morn­ing I found myself sit­ting in the back of the owner’s car at 5:30 in the morn­ing driv­ing to the Res­taur­ant sup­ply ware­house while his own rap CD blared over the speak­ers. And as we drove over a bridge into Queens, the Man­hat­tan sky­line loomed in the amber morn­ing light to my left and to my right sat Bobby Puleo, my new cowork­er at a cof­fee shop job I had just taken. I had just turned 30 years old and I had a mind-numb­ing thought to myself “What the fuck am I doing with my life”.

Q: How many times do you reck­on such pas­sion­ate work on each piece ever came back to slap you in the face as you were put­ting it in to the point of ques­tion­ing your own judge­ment or san­ity — or did none of those thoughts ever occur to you in the moment, and you just rolled with the work­flow, maybe even lack­ing some hind­sight to fully grasp how great what you were doing was?

A: To be hon­est the whole life­style I was liv­ing was a con­stant men­tal battle because I knew very well that my obses­sion with mak­ing the next video was dig­ging myself fur­ther and fur­ther into debt and dis­tract­ing myself from devel­op­ing an actu­al career of some sort that I could sur­vive off of. It always seemed like I had ALMOST figured it out because I would fin­ish a video and it would sell well but I would real­ize I hadn’t done enough advert­ising and hadn’t mar­keted it prop­erly, or that I had just spent way too much money pro­du­cing it and that the NEXT video would be dif­fer­ent because I would spend less money but mar­ket it bet­ter. And then I’d meet a skater I wanted to do a part with and next thing I knew I would be 3 years and tens of thou­sands of dol­lars deep into anoth­er pro­ject. It’s always been some­thing I’ve gone into think­ing I could do more effi­ciently and more suc­cess­fully each time, but I always got lost in the pro­ject and came out of it on the oth­er side like a bad acid trip won­der­ing what happened and how the hell I got there.…..and what happened to my cred­it card balance?

Kenny Reed — flat­ground nollie

Q: What was some­thing form­at­ive for you that you earned through your exper­i­ence work­ing on the Stat­ic series in particular?

A: Real­ist­ic­ally, the first thing that comes to mind is learn­ing how to work with people from all walks of life, all per­son­al­it­ies, income levels, etc. It’s always been weird for me because I don’t drink and I’ve nev­er partied. So a lot of the skaters I’ve worked with over the years we don’t go out and party togeth­er and con­nect on that level, we spe­cific­ally work and travel togeth­er on the mis­sion of work­ing on a video part. It’s a silly com­par­is­on, but it’s some­what like going to war with someone. You end up in this group of dudes from dif­fer­ent eco­nom­ic levels, dif­fer­ent cul­tures and often dif­fer­ent parts of the world. We all have this one thing in com­mon, our love of skate­board­ing, and we work togeth­er to cre­ate a col­lab­or­at­ive art piece. And as the filmer you really have to act as a sort of psy­cho­lo­gist of sorts and learn how to work with almost any­body. You have to put your own wants and com­forts aside to cre­ate an envir­on­ment that’s the most con­du­cive to let­ting that skater go through their pro­cess and get the trick. I don’t know where else I could apply those skills, maybe as a host­age nego­ti­at­or one day?

Q: Nowadays you are busy work­ing on The­or­ies Of Atlantis amongst many oth­er video pro­jects, and the latest Stat­ic video is always the ‘last’ one but real­ist­ic­ally, how much of you is crav­ing to start put­ting togeth­er anoth­er install­ment at some point?

A: Yeah, the fever comes back all the time. Mostly if I find a dope song that would work well in an edit, or I meet a skater that sparks my ima­gin­a­tion. But I often miss being out there creep­ing around the city at night and cap­tur­ing clips with the boys.

Lon­don South­bank crew

Q: Where do you think that urge to explore and doc­u­ment ori­gin­ally came from?

A: My older broth­er was a skater before I star­ted. So I grew up watch­ing his skate videos before I even got into skat­ing myself. I think maybe watch­ing videos for all of the oth­er aspects aside from the actu­al skat­ing in the begin­ning made me devel­op a strong taste for strong art dir­ec­tion. So when I’m work­ing on a pro­ject I tend to spend as much time as I do film­ing skat­ing, search­ing for and shoot­ing con­cep­tu­al visu­als to help drive the art dir­ec­tion in the video.

Citat: So I guess the drive to travel and explore is as much based in the hunt for visu­al inspir­a­tion as it is to work with under­ground skate scenes or skaters who haven’t had much exposure.

Q: Are you already work­ing on some­thing of the sort — or equally ambi­tious — in the shad­ows that you could warn us about? This is only going to be a very lim­ited edi­tion of two thou­sand cop­ies (may or may not be hand-numbered) and I’d ven­ture the guess that approx­im­ately 0.85% of the read­er­ship has a slap Mes­sage Boards account (still a con­sid­er­able risk).

A: Haha… I’ve learned to nev­er say nev­er so I don’t rule it out com­pletely, but The­or­ies of Atlantis takes almost all of my time nowadays so hop­ping on anoth­er massive pro­ject would be quite dif­fi­cult, but you nev­er know. I wouldn’t sug­gest hold­ing your breath but I’m still film­ing a little every week and have been col­lect­ing foot­age for a while. So who knows, stranger things have happened.

The open­ing of the Stat­ic XX exhib­i­tion was held on Septem­ber 28th 2019 at the Kaštel Fort­ress in Pula.