Photography by Brian Gabermann, Jai Tanju, Thomas Campbell, Anthony Acosta, French Fred, and Arto Saari.
Interview with Thomas Campbell by Jonathan Hay
Text by Sergej Vutuc
What’s the concept of the film?
I think the concept is a celebration of where skateboarding is and it’s been a 44 year journey for me. I started skateboarding when I was five, and I’m now 49. It’s just been a really interesting trajectory of where skateboarding has gone and where myself and a lot of my friends have always looked at skateboarding as whatever, we’ll skate whatever. It didn’t really matter, the divisions that were very apparent in the 90s and early 2000s, like tech skaters and pool skaters and vert skaters and all that shit, just seemed really ridiculous to me and I didn’t really like the vibe of it. It just seems that with the advent of parks everywhere that kids learn to skate on transition and that automatically gives them an open perspective. I just really like where skateboarding is today it just seems like the kids are free, just skating whatever they want, doing fucking wallies or whatever, and having fun, and that’s what I always saw it as, and that made me inspired to want to document it more again. It might seem highly conceptual but in a way it’s just basic as out pull a skateboard and let’s make something cool. Documenting it, and it’s really more or less two groups of skaters driving around in these two little cars and those two cars meet in their ultimate demise at the end of the movie and I don’t know, whatever, skateboarding is destructive to your body, and to some properties, but through that is the joy, and the reckless ruthless nature of the beast, that’s where the name came from.
How did you choose to focus on DIY spots, ditches and pools?
It’s mainly diy stuff and I just find that’s a really interesting movement where people are being creative and being outlaws at the same time, just making stuff on properties that aren’t there’s and it’s a movement that creates an interesting community and there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on everywhere on that level. Sometimes you start a project and you think it’s one thing and then you start working on it and it tells you what it wants to be and hopefully you listen, and I think I listened a little bit. So a lot of it is DIY stuff but there’s parks in there and ditches and pools and some street skating stuff.
How did you choose the crew of skaters?
I was involved as a writer and photographer for Transworld and Skateboarder and Big Brother from when I was like 17 years old until I was 29 years old and some of the older crew who are in the film like Max Schaaf and Ray Barbie and Aaron Suski and Elissa Steamer and different people, I’ve known forever, Jason Adams and Louie Barletta and Barker Barrett, there’s a lot of old friends that are still ripping that I wanted to incorporate into the movie, and then being involved on some levels on the modern day capacity, I worked with Element for many years, like Nick Garcia and Evan Smith came from that camp and it just kind of built up, and sort of coalesced as it did.
You had some guys that are really good at building DIY spots on the crew too right?
My friend George Rocha that does Iris skateboards, he’s a good art builder, diy builder, he helped a lot and we ended up doing some stuff with the guys down at Kernside in Bakersfield because there was an opportunity of going there and filming there: I was looking at it and saw an area that was cool because I wanted to build something bigger, compared to the stuff we’d been skating, the DIYs, which were kind of smaller. Then Ben Smith who’s kind of the main guy out there, I said what do you think about doing this and I’ll pay for it, and he was super down. Just the vibe out there, the people are all really cool and super supportive, it’s just a wonderful scene, it’s kind of removed from the industry and just really cool, really faithful. We had a good time and all the heads from the central valley came out and helped build, all the diy kids from Visalia and all around the central valley came and worked on it and we made some cool stuff. It’s just kind of community oriented, getting people involved and just making shit.
What about the cars in the film, did you research the best skateable cars, or how did you choose them?
I had the Cadillac maybe for 10 years and I bought that for a different project and I wasn’t even going to have that in the movie so I went and bought a Ford station wagon because I thought that would be a good kind of car and it had a lot of straight lines that you could skate, so I went and got that car and I was filming for a few years, but I tried to sell the Cadillac but no one would buy it because no one wants a gas guzzling car. Then I just realized, wow, I was just going to smash the one car into a wall or something, but I thought if I can’t get rid of this I might as well just destroy it. Then I thought, oh, I got all these people in the black car, and I was starting to do stuff with my friends in San Jose, so I thought maybe the guys in San Jose can be based around the Cadillac and the other car will be the other crew, and I started working with those guys and I dragged that car over there. So it worked out, it wasn’t super over-thought out but the Cadillac was a ‘71 and the station wagon was a ‘72, so they had a similar era, and then I had them forever and they were crazy expensive and my wife was like, ‘what the fuck are you doing dude?’ And I was like, they’re going to end in a smash up derby and they’re going to be gone, sure they are, they’ve been here forever. Then I remember, we totally did it illegally or whatever, I organized the pick up for the cars at like 5 o’clock at a destination right next to Kernside on the side of the street with this company, and there’s more stories behind it… but we did the smash up derby and the guys came and took the cars away and that was it. Also, I think they’re just a good, excuse the pun, a good vehicle for movie making, to have something that carries you through. And whatever, I like making movies that have dynamic movements through them visually and that definitely created a scenario for that.
And how did you go from making surf films like “Seedling”, “Sprout” and “The Present” to making a skate films, was it like going back your beginnings?
I made skateboarding movies before I made the surf films. I worked on the Debunker movie for SMA a really long time ago in the early 90s, I made the I Love Supreme movie for Supreme in the mid 90s, ‘96 when I lived in New York. Then I made Cuatro Suenos Pequenos with Javier Mendizabal and Madars Apse, maybe like five years ago. But whatever, I came from skateboarding, like anything I ever did in surfing I kinda just transferred over my diy kind of ethos from skateboarding into surfing. So surfing is not really influential on any of this at all.
What do you enjoy more doing the surf films or doing this, skateboarding?
They just feed different things you know. I would say in the end of the day I’m a skateboarder, and I love surfing but I don’t really identify a lot with surfing culture, and usually I tend to get drawn to the outcasts within that culture, but yeah I like doing both things.
Does the film have any sponsors or how did you raise the money to finance it?
Ummm, no. The film doesn’t have any direct sponsors on purpose. I just felt like I wanted to keep it away from that because I truly wanted it to be almost like a gift or something that is not selling anything. I ended up having a lot of my friends from the artist community I’m involved in paint paintings on these raw blanks that didn’t have any holes in them and weren’t sanded at all they were just rough veneers, then I’ve been auctioning those off to help pay. I mean in the end it’s a losing battle, but I guess if you’re doing the thing you want to do and you feel good about it in the end, then that’s success, so I’m heading towards that.
Who filmed it?
Myself, French Fred, Jon Miner, and Mike Manzouri, and also my friend Connor Wise. Those are the main five people.
How long did the film take to make?
It started off slow, without a lot of vision and so the earliest stuff was probably seven or eight years ago, then I kind of went slow for a while, though I was kind of doing some trips here and there, and then in the last few years I realized I just had to get it done and I put in a lot of time. So yeah it’s been a long process, I’m in the end of editing now. There’s a lot, so not everything will make it in the film, then I’ll probably release other little pieces of trips and stuff as different video parts.
When and where can people see the film?
It looks like it will be released probably in the middle of February as a book and the only way you can get it is if you buy the book. A little book, a small book, but 120 pages, and it has photography in it by Brian Gaberman, French Fred, myself, Jai Tanju, Arto Saari… there might be more… there’s a really crazy amount of really cool photos so I wanted to share those. Then after the book sells through, sometime towards the middle of next year, it will be free. The book will come out on my publishing platform, the book and movie will, it’s called Um Yeah Arts you can follow us @umyeaharts that’s where most of the info gets disseminated. But after that it will be free. I want people to be able to see it!
Last thing, tell us about the soundtrack by No Age?
I think in general the movie has a very different feel to it, pacing wise. The people I’ve shown preliminary screenings of parts of the movie to, someone said it’s like a Western which I thought was an interesting compliment, because it is basically a bunch of outlaw criminals driving around skating and breaking the law all over the place. So yeah, No Age is going to be making us an original soundtrack to the film and it’s going to be kind of atmospheric and generally improvisational, which I feel like just really fits the theme of it which is like free and not contained and raw.