william strobeck’s new supreme skate film 'blessed' is a masterpiece
We chat to the filmmaker about his skateboarding magnum opus three years in the making.
William Strobeck’s new film for Supreme, Blessed –– the follow up to 2014’s Cherry –– might be the most exciting skate film released this decade. Cherry came loaded up with hype, a shuddering excitement and anticipation about Supreme finally dropping a proper skate video. But Blessed is better that. It’s raw and exciting and cool, sure, but it’s also a testament to the skill of the group of skaters William’s assembled: Tyshawn Jones, Ben Kadow, Sean Pablo, Na-kel Smith, and Sage Elsesser all take starring turns in the film, skating from LA to NYC to Paris. Blessed is a rugged portrayal of skateboarding, it looks tough and hard and real. William spent two and a half years working on the film, boiling it down to a feature length triumph of what skating feels like in 2018. After taking the video on a world tour, we grabbed William on the phone in a hotel room in Japan…
Hey Bill, how's it going? You’re in Japan right?
Yeah I'm not bad, chilling out, relaxing, me and Tyshawn Jones are taking load off, kicking back in the hotel right now.
You’ve been on a bit of a world tour.
We did New York to LA to San Francisco to Paris to London to Tokyo in about eight days. It's been pretty heavy and hectic, crazy and awesome. I've been with all the guys, going out, having fun every night. They are insane man, they’ve been out till six in the morning living it up.
Has the reaction been different in the different cities?
It's been really well received everywhere. We had a standing ovation in New York. I've never had that! We didn't get that with Cherry even. It was really special, because it felt like I dug real deep inside myself to make this. Kids are writing to me all day long. I love it, it’s like –– I can't believe I made that.
It’s a proper feature length film. Was that daunting?
It just organically happened, I didn't compromise on the length at all, every shot that made it in was really important –– not just the skating, but everything. There’s so much detail in the film, it captured the kids we worked with really well. They’re really special, their skateboarding, the way they look, their style, the things they say… it's so cool they found each other. They’ve got a lot of eyes on them and people are nitpicky about them but they’ve got each other’s backs.
It felt very natural to watch them skate together, there's nothing forced about it.
I just wanted to document them being themselves. That's how I've done everything since I started filming skateboarding. Even with Dill and Gonz years ago, I just did the same thing, they had those really big personalities that were worth capturing, it’s the same with this group of skaters.
Do you have a favourite bit?
Oh man there's so much of it, every single skater in it has something I love. It was really emotional to make. The bit at the end in Paris, where Tyshawn is trying that trick a bunch of times because you need to know how much went into making this film. I want to give the viewer a slice of what it felt like to be there doing it, especially if they don’t skate. Usually when you watch skate videos its just trick trick trick the end. But we're dealing with security guards, we’re cutting locks, we’re doing whatever it takes, we’re here now to get it done, no one is gonna get in our way. Tyshawn ain’t letting no one stop him, people are putting up barriers, he's moving them, call the cops, ‘if the cops come, they ain't gonna catch me anyways’, that’s the way he sees it. If the cops come he's out, he don’t care.
I really enjoyed that element of the film, this feeling in it, you've made it look hard, like it took effort, it feels more rewarding, this lack of perfection.
It's not easy to do this stuff. This shit ain't easy. We deal with all this shit on the streets, and you guys just see a slice of that in the film. I wanted it to feel like were right there next to us.
Blessed feels like a really nice evolution of Cherry.
I think that's because I didn't know those kids so well during Cherry. They were just the cool kids hanging around Supreme in New York and LA, so we brought them along. Then I started hanging out with them, and they were super fun to skate with. They were so new to it then, they didn't even know what the next day was gonna be like.
They were pretty young.
Yeah, and they had young eyes. That was exciting for me. I wanted to turn this kids into superheroes. I could tell they were going to be fucking dope skateboarders and I wanted to champion them.
Was there more pressure doing Blessed or Cherry ?
I didn't feel that much pressure making either, to be honest. At first when you're making a skate video it's hard to get anyone to do anything. They don't take it serious, they're like, 'are we really doing a video?' It’s like that for the first like, five months. Then somebody lands a really big trick on film, and people start hearing about it and talking about it. Then suddenly everyone starts trying. It becomes what it becomes, it becomes what you do with it, with skateboarding you never know what you're going to get, it could be nothing, it could be something. There's no plan, really.
So how do you go about structuring a film like this?
You have to react to what you’re getting as you’re filming. Like I could sense where stuff was going to end up, but it's a lot of trial and error around it, it's a lot about figuring out what feels right... For a while I was like, 'I'm done with skating, I want to make a movie, I've done everything, how can I go any bigger?' At the time it felt like Cherry was the big one. And then when James [Jebbia, founder of Supreme] came round my house to watch Blessed for the first time. He was glued to it the whole time. He was like 'You don't need to make a movie anymore, you've made a movie.’ That really hit me. I didn't think of it like that till he really said it. It's a documentary of a crew kids who are skateboarding. It's not really even about advertising product for a company.
What's the feedback been like from the skaters?
They saw everything for the first time at premiere. They were all nervous, I could tell, watching it they were all like, what's next, what’s next, what's my part going to be like... you can't imagine, seeing your face come up on the screen after you've been working on this for two and a half years. It was really fun for me, I mean I’d watched it 500 times already but it was amazing to see it again through their eyes for the first time. I wanted it to be like, when I'd get a VHS skate video in the mail as a kid, and I wouldn't know what was on it, and I'd end up watching it a 1000 times. That was my goal, to create that, for this day and age.
How did you settle on Blessed for the title?
Well there's a few different things, one of them was Dylan Rieder, who unfortunately passed away...
There's a tribute in there to him, as well.
There is, there is, there's a bit for him, and there's a lot of stuff in there that, if you know him, you'd recognise. He was involved with this film even if he wasn't around. He was in my brain, I was thinking of him. I really wanted him to be proud of it –– I want him to be like 'Fuck yeah you did it'.
The film is dedicated to Dylan. You realise, all you have is time, people come and go in your life, to this day it doesn't feel real that Dylan is gone. I still don't get it. It just happened. This guy was the top of the food chain in skating, he was the dude. Within a small amount of time he was just gone, but in a way I just felt blessed to have the time I had with him. You get to meet certain people in your life, and then life is over. I feel blessed to be doing this now, in 10 years we might not even know each other. We don't know what's going to happen. I think it's a blessing in itself that we can all work together and created something that very special together.