Fat Bill is a cinematographer who has shot some of the most memorable skateboarding of the past decade. For a long time, like a lot of other filmers, I had heard of Bill but couldn’t name anything he had actually filmed (it’s often a relatively thankless job). Then, about three years ago, I got to know him through working on Epicly Later’d and became very familiar with his archives. When you think of the best stuff filmed in Philly during the Love Park renaissance, the classic lines from Stevie Williams, Brian Wenning, Anthony Pappalardo, Josh Kalis, etc., there’s a very good chance Fat Bill was the guy on the other side of the camera. He also shot most of Jason Dill’s best footage in Photosynthesis and Mosaic, two parts that skate nerds a decade later still watch with fingers hovering over the rewind and slow-motion buttons.
While he’s primarily known for his skate filming, Bill's interests go far beyond shred sleds. His most recent project, for example, is a short film for Opening Ceremony titled Where’s Bambi starring Chloë Sevigny and not a single skateboard. This interview touches on a variety of things ranging from the benign, like Australian girls, to the extremely personal, like his mother's mental health.
VICE: Do you prefer to go by Bill, Fat Bill, or William Strobeck?
Fat Bill: Well, growing up people called me Bill, which is the name I've always gone by. I'm still Bill. Fat Bill is dead. Remember, I eat celery and multigrain granola because I have a complex now from all of you keeping that nickname in the loop. William Strobeck is my real name though, and that’s the name I use for my work-related things.
You’ve been filming skateboarding for a long time now. How do you stay motivated?
My motivation is that there is still freedom in skateboarding. Everyone tries to leave, but they end up back in it again somehow. The job consists of hangin’ with your pals, doing what you want, and having fun. Could you imagine spending your whole life getting told what to do, meanwhile hating what you do? Maybe some people like it, I guess. Some people like that dominatrix stuff, too. You have one life. Use it wisely.
Have you ever visited a professional dominatrix?
I've never visited a professional dom, but I’m interested in sex and what comes along with it. I’m not really a sexual person, which is weird because I look like I'd be at Plato’s Retreat in the late 70s. I’m going down to Andrew's today to get the latest copy of Richardson magazine, the one with Belladona on the cover. That chick rules!
She has a great ass. You’ve told me before that you love Australian women. Do you wish she had an Australian accent?
Australian woman can be aggressive. I like when women are aggressive. It makes me know they want what I'm givin’.
Have you ever thought about doing a sex/skate video? Not like a porno, but like sex moves that could be cut in with the skating?
It’s funny you should ask that. I'm currently trying to incorporate naked women into skateboarding videos. It's mostly boys who watch these things, and what’s better for a 15-year-old? He can twang his wang and learn new tricks all in one video. On one side of the screen you could have a naked woman in the shower and on the other Alex Olson and Dylan Rieder skating—now that’s a good video, I'd say.
I would have to agree. What skaters do you film with the most?
I’d say lately Alex, Dylan, Austyn, Gonz, and Dill. Those guys usually, and a few more here and there.
That’s a good stable. Do you ever think of them as your hos? I think filmers can demand more from skaters than they think.
No, not at all. I don’t demand anything other than having fun and making sure the spot looks good.
I think filmers should take more control.
Well, I'm into an aesthetic—what I think looks good. I should have suggestions. Some cinematographers shouldn’t, but I’m not naming any names.
I think the skaters are to blame for filming with whack filmers. The only reason certain filmers are still working is because the skaters and companies are still using them.
Let’s just be honest. Half of the skate world is chutes and ladders. They are going for what kids will buy. Fuck that shit.
Have you ever worn lipstick?
Yes. I used to put my mother’s makeup on and walk around the house for fun. It’s a weird environment up there in upstate New York. My mom rules though.
My Lovely Mess
You have used footage of your mom in your videos before. What is your relationship with her like?
We have a very special relationship. Even though we don’t see each other that much we talk on the phone every other day. I'd say we get along well, and can say anything to each other. I like making her laugh, which is important, I think. She’s had a rough life and I think I’m the one thing she has that makes her happy.
Do you care to go into what made her have a rough life?
To keep it short, a few months after my mother had me she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. If you don’t know anything about that, it’s fucking nuts. I've seen firsthand.
It seems like that would be a lot to deal with growing up. How did you cope with it?
Well she wasn’t around. She was in a psychiatric center named Hutchings in Syracuse. I lived with other family members. I remember really wanting her “back” though. They eventually found the right medicine for her chemical imbalance, so the end of the story is a happy one.
That’s good to hear. Do you think most skaters have a happy end to their story?
Shit, I dunno. But what I did start to realize is that a lot of kids from fucked up situations start skating. They use the individuality and freedom to cover up their feelings about personal shit. It works for a while, but slaps you in the face later in life. Kids should deal with emotions. You can’t hide from them.
Yeah, I am always shocked if a good skater comes from a two-parent home, with no "problems."
Usually a good skater—or a good anything for that matter—is the most fucked inside. They go to greater extents to stay away from themselves
Very true, but let's talk about something fun.
What is the best thing you ever saw at Sway?
I’ve seen it all at that bar. I got a tight-knit crew I hang with there. We get treated nicely. I can’t remember anything off the top of my head, but it's my favorite party.
No celebrities blowing anybody or anything like that?
No, nothing like that. We dance like the Peanuts gang up in that place.
Did you just make that up?
Make what up?
"Dance like the Peanuts gang."
Did you ever see the video of the Peanuts gang dancing? I swear that’s us.
We must look so retarded, but we don’t care cause we feelin’ it.
Are there any skateboard video parts that make you want to dance?
I wanna get up off the chair when I see Jovantae Turner’s part in Love Child. Love the gear in that video. That’s what it was like back then. I like that the girl in the video has an Indy sweatshirt.
Mike Carroll is my favorite street skater ever. Do you agree?
Too many to name.
I am talking pure street.
Sean Young’s hill bombs are raw. Carroll's style—his Questionable part is off the meat hook. And his first line in that TWS video: CROWD PLEASER.COM. Eye candy. I like trannies. [There wasn’t some sort of segue that was edited out here—Ed.] Candy Darling was beautiful.
I have never really gone for trannies.
I’m obsessed with Holly Woodlawn. Her performance was great in Trash, the one Paul Morrissey made.
I like when drag queens have been crying and their makeup runs. That, to me, is when they seem the most vulnerable.
I like the older ones from that time. The ones today are too overdone. Just like anything from today.
What do you want to do outside of skateboarding?
Make films. I will be making films after a few more videos. I’m excited to work with people in a different way.
Is that how you want to wrap it up? Or do you want to promote a specific future project?
I want to say thanks, Chris. It’s been fun. OK, I’m gonna go shower and shit.