Are you a skater?
Terrible. Couldn’t possibly begin to express how bad I am. If a curb is approaching, I need to get off my board and pick it up. If there’s a crack on the sidewalk, I will fall.
I’ve read that you initially set out to do a portrait of the SoCal skating community—how did Skcreech Sandoval come to be your protagonist?
I love the whole genre of youth-in-revolt movies like Over The Edge and River’s Edge, or Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue is another one, maybe my favorite. I love Linda Manz in that movie. I drove out to see Rikk Agnew from the Adolescents play this weirdo house party in Chino, California, right after the economy collapsed. It felt like a scene out of one of those movies. Skreech was there, and I thought maybe he was a similar type of character to Linda Manz in Out of the Blue—only, obviously, this was real life. It was happening right now and it wasn’t a nostalgia trip. I wanted to make a new kind of movie about this kind of world. To my eyes, Skreech was its hero.
As far as the skating goes, I wasn’t interested in making a skate video. There are so many people out there who can do that better than I ever could. Our title sequence was shot by Peacock. He’s from Fresno, California and makes these incredible D.I.Y. skate videos. His last one was called “Cancer Dust” and Skreech kills it in that. So rather than try to approximate Peacock’s footage, my feeling was just tap the source and give Peacock the stage. It’s important the audience experience that kind of thing directly, because I think they’d know if it was a copy.
Perhaps along similar lines, do you think the soundtrack—Best Coast, Dungen, etc.—represents your taste, your subjects’ taste, or some fusion?
When you see Skreech driving in his car at the end of the movie, he’s listening to the Germs. So that’s his music and that’s definitely one layer of the soundtrack. But I also wanted the movie to have music that was entirely its own. When I first started editing, I was using music that I thought was maybe an overlap between my taste and Skreech’s—stuff like the Vaselines or the Screamers. But something about that felt stale. Dungen was really the cue that unlocked a whole new idea about how to use music in the movie. It felt really big to me, almost over-the-top, and I loved that, plus there was something that felt so ridiculous about making this movie about America and hearing people singing in Swedish—as if Sweden is some ideal utopia we’re all trying to make it to! It also led me to Kemado/Mexican Summer, and that was that. If this is a movie happening right now, then it should have music being played right now. It’s such a great label. I think they’re really out there on the frontier.
Parenting—or mentoring—is a recurrent theme, from Skcreech’s improvisational approach to fatherhood to the way older and more established skaters seem to look out for younger ones, by encouraging them, or letting them sleep in tents in their backyards, or whatever. There’s such a fascinating tension, in this self-contained world, of responsibility and immaturity and I wonder, having spent considerable time with these people, whether you start, I guess, “rooting for them,” emotionally, and how that affects you during the editing process.
I’m rooting for all of them, always. But I’m rooting for them because they are all exactly who they are—they’re not pretending to be anything other than that. The pressure I felt editing was to preserve their experience authentically. To try to manipulate it, I think, would be to undercut the very reasons I’m rooting for them in the first place.