Josh Stewart [left] with some of the cast of 'Static IV' and 'V.' Photo by Pep Kim
Since 1999 Josh Stewart has been skateboarding's preeminent underground director thanks to his raw, independently funded Static video series. He is often referred to as the John Cassavetes of skateboarding, by me. The similarities are uncanny. Like Cassavetes, in his five independent directorial masterpieces he chose to cast lesser-knowns who cared primarily about the final product as opposed to using "skate stars" who would have been more concerned with the number of zeros on their paychecks than any sort of cinematographic artistry. By casting these outcasts, he's given birth to new skate careers and reinvigorated fading ones. And much like the godfather of indie movies, who rebuked the larger cinematic advances of his era, choosing instead to shoot predominantly documentary-style, often using handheld cameras, Stewart prefers the visual aesthetics of the discontinued Sony DCR-VX1000 instead of the fine-fangled high-definition cameras that are so popular among filmmakers today.
After seven years of filming Josh recently released parts IV and V of Static, which he has said will be the last installments of the series. With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to skate-nerd out with the director and get some little known behind-the-scenes dirt on the 15-year project that makes up his life's work. Stewart and I talked for nearly two hours about rabid fans, camera malfunctions, Bobby Puleo madness, and more than a dozen other topics to give you 17 things you didn't know about Static, in Josh's own words.
1.) Static IV Fucked Josh Stewart's Back Up
Josh Stewart: I've always had back problems, but I've never been in as much pain as I was while editing this video. I'm convinced the worst thing for your back is sitting at a desk. The way I used to do videos—and I still feel is the best way—is to not look at the footage. I would capture everything and put it in the project and I wouldn't fuck with it until I was ready to spend four months editing, because then you're excited to see it all. With Static IV and V the problem was that there were so many video parts (I think 20 in total) that it at least doubled the editing time of a normal full-length video. After a while my hamstrings became tighter than piano strings. And so, in turn, my back just went to complete shit.
2.) Quim and Josh Spent 20 Percent of Their Lives Working On This Video
The oldest footage in the video is obvious. Quim Cardona came out to Miami when we first started filming for Static III because he was supposed to have a part in that video. One of his opening lines in his Static IV part is from that trip. He had short straight hair and is obviously much thinner. He came on that trip and ripped. He was supposed to skate with us for a week and instead skated two days and then he disappeared on weird beach missions with random girls he met on the street. To me that footage was so precious. Anyways, that was 2006. Over seven years ago. Quim and I are the same age—that is literally 20 percent of our time on this planet. So Quim basically grew those dreadlocks down to his ass in that time. What's crazy is that he can still ollie higher than anybody I've ever met. He gets on his board, doesn't stretch, and just goes. The last clip we got of him before the premiere was him ollieing up Blubba and doing the heelflip body varial. That thing is a beast to ollie up and he just shows up and does it first try. I imagine if he were 25 pounds lighter maybe he could fly.
Josh Stewart loading a 16mm camera. Photo by Pep Kim.
3.) There's a Mile and Half of Art in Static
I shot 8500 feet of 16mm film over the five videos. That's 85 rolls of 16mm at $100 a pop. It would've been 95 rolls, but during the last year when I traveled all over to film the intros for the skaters' parts, a tiny screw inside had fallen out and the film had been running wild in the camera. When I dropped off those ten rolls to have them developed you couldn't even see it—all the film was ruined. We had to push the video another six months because we had to reshoot everything.
4.) Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
There were people who I talked to who were down to do parts over the years and it didn't happen. Joey Pepper was supposed to have a part in one but then he had to do a part for a sponsor and had to use all the footage. Robbie Gangemi was supposed to be in Static III. Brian Brown as well, but he got asked to do a Transworld part. Jan Klewer, that dude from Germany who used to ride for Cliché, he is awesome and was supposed to have a Static II part, too.
5.) JJ's Bible Part
Jake Johnson's part was supposed to be a Thrasher part to go with his interview in the magazine, but Jake wasn't anywhere near having the interview done so he called and asked if he could get his footage in Static. I put Jake in a similar category as Jake Rupp in terms of natural talent. He's obviously gnarlier or whatever, but he has that same sensibility. The whole deal was that to use it we had to agree to let Thrasher put his part online and I had to choose if it was more important to have Jake in the video and do that or not have his part. I feel online parts have less longevity and having longevity is more important to me than selling video copies, but at the same time it's Jake Johnson. How could you say no to that?
6.) Brian Clarke Loves Fire Trucks
There's a weird little clip in Brian Clarke's part of him filming a fire truck with his iPhone as it goes by and he's like, "Oh, Shit! That's engine 46 from the Bronx" or something. Throughout the last year of filming for the video he's been training to be a New York fire fighter like Peter Bici and Mike Hernandez.
Jahmal Williams. Photo by Pep Kim
7.) Jahmal Got Glitched
You could technically say that the best trick in Jahmal William's part almost wasn't in it. It's a rainbow rail that you have to ollie onto from the street and he back 50s up it. I was super excited when he started trying it, but my camera died—it just wouldn't turn on. I was with another filmer, Daniel Wheatley, and he was like, "You can use my camera." And I was like, "You sure your camera is fine?" He said it had never given him problems, so I started filming with his camera and Jahmal made it pretty easily, within ten minutes. We go back and start capturing the footage, and the camera plays beautifully but the one try that he made something happened to the camera where it looks like Predator-vision. All you could see is Jahmal's heat pattern. I asked Daniel and he said his camera had never done that. For about a year and a half Jahmal and I would skate past the spot and I'd be like, "What do you think? Want to give it another shot today?" And he'd say, "Man, I'm not trying to get broke." Finally one day he tried it and got destroyed, like six really bad slams, but finally he made it clean.
8.) Static V Was an Oops Baby
Working on a video for seven years meant we would end up with new skaters coming with us, and we slowly ended up collecting footage of people like Aaron Herington, Brandon Carroll, and Brian Clark. There was no original plan to have them in the video, but when they came out with us they became part of the crew. Those dudes are amazing and, I realized, could add so much to the video that I eventually gave them full parts.At some point Static IV became way too long and the decision was to either make an hour and ten-minute long video, or make two videos.
9.) Static's Six Degrees of Pete Sampras
Steve Brandy has been on almost every Static trip since the first video. He was always the random kid in the car who I just brought. He's a full-time tennis instructor in upstate New York. He teaches six days a week so we had to film his part in one-day intervals. His dad is a famous tennis coach and taught Pete Sampras, and his sister was a pro tennis player. Steve is the best player his family has ever seen but he doesn't really like the competitive part of tennis. I think it's sick when people have a whole different side that nobody knows about.
10.) Nate Broussard Filmed his Part in Three Months
People always tell me Nate Broussard's was one of their favorite parts from the Static videos. He only worked on it for just over three months. He came to Philly for four days and killed it. Then he came on one trip to Israel, Paris, and London, and then he tore his ACL and didn't get to skate again for over a year. Jake Rupp is another one whose whole part is from two trips.
11.) Paul Zitzer Broke Josh's Cherry
Static basically all started with Paul Zitzer, a vert skater who most kids don't even know exists. He was one of my favorite skaters at the time and a good friend, so I wanted to do a video part with him. He's got such a street skater's approach to vert, and he's a sick street skater as well. The rest of it started to take shape when I saw Sean Mulendore and Jake Rupp come down and skate in Tampa Am. Both dudes had such unique and refined styles that I'd never seen before. I wanted to be the dude to present their skating to the world, and that's how it started.
Quim Cardona. Photo by Pep Kim.
12.) Static Is for the Children
Through the process of filming these last videos three of the skaters had children: Quim Cardona, Jahmal Williams, and Vivien Feil.
13.) Josh Is Not a VX-Nazi
I filmed Static I to IV strictly on VX aside from some 16mm and a couple HI-8 tricks in Static I. But the intro to Static II is shot in HD—I don't know if people realize that. It was when HD first came out. I'm not a VX-Nazi dude who is like, "No HD, ever!" I think it all depends on the aesthetic of the project. I did the MIA video and could see HD stuff capturing the city better. Each camera has its place. Static, to me, is tied to that street vibe and should be a little gritty and I think VX captures the motion and the dynamic side of skateboarding better than anything. If I'd gone HD on Static IV I never would have heard the end of it.
14.) Jamie Thomas Invented the "East Coast Line"
I've never really heard that term for doing a trick up a curb before your main trick in a line, but I can tell you who started it: Jamie Thomas. Look at Welcome to Hell. That's one of the best video parts ever and he has like seven lines where he starts by doing tricks up a curb, like, "I'm going to front nosegrind this 13-stair rail, but I'm going to switch 180 up the curb first."
15.) Static Fans Are Ruthless
Somebody basically hacked into my FTP and uploaded the Static III trailer onto the Slap message board before it was done. I went on the message boards, as myself, asking how they got it and why the hell they'd post it before it was done. All of a sudden people were like, "You're pissed that people want to see your trailer? You're a fucking dick." Then the piranha tank started bubbling and I got shred to pieces. One dude was especially pissed at me and for weeks would post "FUCK JOSH STEWART" on the boards over and over so it took up the whole screen. He also said: "Josh Stewart is an asshole. He's mad because someone wants to see his trailer? I'm going to buy Static III the day it comes out and upload it to YouTube over and over so nobody ends up buying it."
Josh and Quim Cardona at the 'Static IV' premiere
16.) Two Was the Magic Number
We made 5,000 VHS copies of Static I. For the second one, in 2004, we made almost 15,000. By 2007, for Static III, the video industry went down the toilet and we made 7,500. With this latest set, numbers IV and V, we did 7,500 and just sold out of them so are making more.
17.) Oh, Bobby. You so crazy.
Bobby Puleo is one of the parts that most people think of when they think of the Static videos. What they might not know is that right at the end he tried to pull his part from Static II. He flew down to Tampa to sit in on the editing, because I don't think he felt comfortable letting me do it by myself. He was staying at my house while we were working on the edit, and there's a spot in London where he did a trick and Olly Todd was like, "Oh, mate. Nobody ever thought to skate it that way." And in Bob's head, that was his spot now. He saw that Nick Jensen had a better trick on the same spot, skating it in the same way that Bobby had skated it. It's a spot called Holborn Viaduct, it's a wooden bench into a brick bank. Jensen did a front blunt to fakie on it, and Bob had a dope line to a back 5-0 to fakie. Bob wanted to take Jensen's trick out or put his own footage first, so he would get to introduce the spot. His argument was if you're the first to skate the spot then you should be the first to be seen skating it. I agree with that, but Bob's is the last part in the video so if I moved his part he wouldn't have last part. He said, "That's up to you, but you have to decide that or take that trick out." It got to the point where, no joke, he would have to take walks three times a day around my neighborhood to cool off. He'd say, "If I don't leave right now, we're going to get into a fist fight." I finally agreed to take Nick's trick out. I took it out and showed him and then he flew back to Brooklyn and I put the trick right back in. We've never really been friends since. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. He's always held that against me deep inside, but that's what makes Bobby Bobby.