William Strobeck Wants to Bring Back the Golden Era of Skate Videos
In this era of big-budget skate videos, Strobeck's lo-fi contributions are a breath of fresh air.
All photos courtesy of William Strobeck.
The 90s were arguably the purest time period for skateboard videos. The campy, day-glo, skit-filled vert videos of the 80s had given way to raw street skating spliced with irreverent behavior and scored with edgy hip-hop. By the mid 90s consumer video cameras had shrunk to palm-sized and become somewhat affordable, leading to an explosion of amateur footage. Suddenly it seemed as if every kid in every town across America was filming his scene and his crew's antics. The videos reflected just how small and insular skateboarding was at the time.
But just as skateboarding grew and progressed at the turn of the century, so did the way in which it was documented. VX cameras were replaced with the highest possible definition, and filmers were using dollies and jibs and all sorts of Hollywood gadgets and gizmos to unnecessarily dress up an art form that is naturally beautiful. Picture Kate Moss caked in makeup, if you will. We were, and still are, in the era of the big-budget skate video, where production crews outnumber skaters and spots are referred to as "sets."
In this climate William Strobeck, who released his first full-length video, "cherry," for Supreme last year, is a breath of fresh air. Best known for his documentation of the Love Park skate scene from 1997 to 2003 and his work with Alien Workshop, he began filming "cherry" in 2012, at the height of the Michael Bay-esque skate video explosion. Strobeck's 40-minute opus served as a counterweight to all that and put the spotlight back where it belonged, on the skaters and their colorful personalities. The result was the most authentic and fun video of 2014 and the closest anyone has come to capturing the purity of mid-90s Eastern Exposure-era skate videos.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of "cherry" so we decided to sit Strobeck down to discuss the video and the death of personality in skateboarding.
VICE: With last year's "cherry" video for Supreme you helped usher in a newer look of shants and high-socks. What exactly do you call that look?
William Strobek: Ha! Are you referring to the style that Dylan [Rieder] or Sean [Pablo] run? I don't know what it's called and why people even care. When I showed up and those guys were rocking that shit I felt like, Damn, these guys look like rad... and they're good at skating.
What's the most blocks in advance to actually ollieing that you've seen Sean or Sage [Elsesser] crouch down?
Ha. I had seen someone write that somewhere. Do you see something weird? Because I seriously don't even notice it. Of all the times filming these kids skating I never thought anything they've done was weird. I actually like their style a lot and the way that it all looks. They're just doing their own thing.
I just like busting their balls about it, but in general it looks like that crew of Fucking Awesome kids are having a lot of fun. And it seems like you're having fun filming them—or at least that's how it comes across in the footage.
Dude, it's totally fun and I hope that's how it comes across. Sure there are times that it has been frustrating to get things going, but whatever, that's how it is. It's like the World Industries days but in a modern way. They pretty much do what they want. Seems like they're not catering to what people want them to do, which I think is dope. I've seen how other crews film throughout the years and it'll be like, "Lets meet up at 11 AM and go to the spot and go to work." Whereas for me I was just out in a hotel in LA for a month to film "the red devil" and I'd wake up and text them and might not hear back for a couple hours or we might not even skate that day. But nowadays I like that. I like to have time in the morning and not be rushed or have a day off here and there. I guess it's been that way since I left Philly. In Philly there were so many people I was filming that I didn't have time to do anything else. If Pappalardo wasn't filming then [Josh] Kalis was. If Josh wasn't then Stevie [Williams] was or Kerry [Getz] was. There was no down time. And you can tell back then in the footage that there was a lot more going down. The vibe now looks a little more relaxed to me.
I like to be around to document the delinquency of it all, like when kids act fucking crazy.
Which way do you prefer to operate?
I guess I prefer it to be way more mellow. I think the best way to get footage out of anybody is literally to not push them to do anything at all and to hang out and just be an observer. They'll know when they want to do something. Like these Supreme kids definitely pick a lot of the things they want to do. If somebody doesn't want to skate you'll never hear me be like, "Dude, what the fuck? Somebody is paying you! You got to!" Fuck that. They'll skate when they skate. I think hanging out and being around is a part of it all and I like to capture that part of it as much as the skating.
"cherry" was Supreme's first video aside from The Love Supreme by Thomas Campbell back in 1995. How did you end up getting the gig?
Well, I'd pitched to some of the dudes who work there about doing a video a few times prior to "cherry" but nothing had panned out. Also I had known about the Thomas thing and I always loved the film and think it still holds that time perfectly. But on the other end I had heard that the skaters involved in it actually wanted a real skate video and not a film with a little skating in it. Also everyone had wondered why Supreme had never done a video before. So then a friend of mine who I had known growing up, Kyle Demers, started working there and asked me if I wanted to do a commercial for them with [Jason] Dill and Tyshawn [Jones]. I worked on that and when it came out they really liked it so Kyle came and asked me what I thought about working on a full-length video. I was super down. It was going to be my first full-length and Supreme's first actual skate video. If I was gonna put my all into a video it'd be this one. That said we banged it out in a year and a half. I guess one of the craziest things about the video is that I literally used everything I filmed in that time span. There's hardly anything left over. It was originally supposed to be short like a Tim & Henry's Pack of Lies. That was the goal, but as time went on and new people came aboard it ended up being 40-minutes. I like the length a lot actually and feel it's just enough without being too much.
You're 36. What's it like cruising with a crew of teenagers on the regular?
It's exactly what you think it'd be. There's so much personality in those kids in particular. They seem excited to be doing all this, also just excited to skate and still be fucking goofballs. That's what's fun to be around, I'm pretty jaded in general so the randomness and energy of these kids is refreshing and can actually be better than going out with somebody who's on a schedule who is like, "Meet me here, I'm going to try the trick for an hour and then I have to get home and meet my wife and kid." Another reason is I like to be around to document the delinquency of it all, like when kids act fucking crazy. That shit is exciting to be around, I don't care what age you are that shit's funny.
You know, being around this crew gives me the same vibe of what it was like growing up with the crew I did. Same shit, really—I'm just older. I obviously know my age but I don't feel old or anything. I mean who really wants to be their age when they get older anyway, you know? I just look at it like my job for Supreme is to document what these kids are about, in my own style. I personally feel like it's time for skateboarding to pay attention to a new crew of people and I think these kids have the perfect personality to get that attention.
Speaking of colorful characters, you filmed Anthony Pappalardo and Brian Wenning extensively. They've changed so much since you shot them earlier in their careers. One is as skinny as a rail and the other as big as a house now; they form the number 10 when they stand next to each other. What are your thoughts on what came of them?
Yeah, those were heavy years filming with them and it's weird to think that I don't see either of them as much anymore. I mean I still talk to Anthony now and then and he's still my boy, but I haven't really heard from Wenning for a long time. I guess it's just a case of somebody getting a lot of attention when they're really young. Those kids in particular were just some real young East Coast skate rats. All they thought and did was skate.
When I got the job filming for Alien Workshop I got a list of the guys like AVE, Dill, Freddy [Gall], Dyrdek, and I was a fan of everyone so I was intimated to call certain people at first. That's what made me call Wenning and Pappalardo, because they were unknown. I called them and they were like, "We're heading to the city tomorrow at 9 AM." I took the Greyhound up from Philly and met them at the Seaport and that was it. I hung out with them non-stop. Then they got real big because they were so good. They landed all these crazy deals and got a lot of money and things started to get a little weird. Those guys were best friends, then it seemed like they were getting a little competitive, and then suddenly they were not homies to the point where they were like, "I will not skate with that dude. I don't want to be around that dude." It just got weird.
Those two both have intense personalities, and you said before, "Personality is part of the trick." I've always felt that way. My favorite guys in history: Grosso, Cardiel, Rowley, etc, all had intense personalities. But it seems like the skateboarding industry is trying to skirt personalities to the side and make the act of skating the focus. Yet they wonder why pro models and endorsed goods have a hard time selling when there's no relatable personality to latch on to.
I think the higher uppers close shit off for the business. I'm not trying to be on some Fionna Apple-shit but it's a very political business. At times it seems like things are fixed. Like, "We want so and so to sponsor this contest, but their guy has to win so we can get the sponsor's money." Also it seems like the plain guy skater is promoted more these days because there are way more plain Jane skaters out there than not and that's good for business. So there is a chance of them getting sponsored and being a part of the industry and that brings in cash. Basically skateboarding has its ups and downs but I just feel like a lot of the soul is gone nowadays, or I guess when I was younger I wasn't aware of this back side as much as I am now and in general just didn't know any better. I really don't want to know about the back end of skateboarding or any business in general.
Final question: It seems like so much skate footage is either super polished or disposable dog shit. Which direction do you think skate videos will go in the future?
All I can say is, I think there are so many more kids skating and filming these days. Also a lot more videos are being made and seen. I guess I see people wanting to find their own niche, like for example someone like Palace filming with the VHS and then Ty Evans going next level with his own thing. Seems like now so much has been done already, how do you find an original way to do it? A lot of kids are just straight up copying what other people are doing in videos or copying how videos are being made, thinking that's the way they have to do it to get anywhere. I hope that stops and that kids everywhere just go out skating and goof around and try something new and just post it online. I think companies will see that type of rebellion against what they're putting out and hopefully we'll have a return to the purity of what I got into skateboarding for in the first place.
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