Picking Up Steam – An Interview with Will Rosenstock

Intro + Interview by Farran Golding
Photos by Thomas Goldman
Venue Gospel Cover by Brent O’Donnnell

Whether behind the camera or in front of it, skateboard careers often begin with the humble shop video.

In 2012, Will Rosenstock released Old Dominion, his first full-length for Richmond’s Venue Skateboards. In the decade since, Will has worked with Alien Workshop, Vans and picked up a regular gig at Quasi while diligently documenting his hometown and tight-knit group of friends – Bust Crew – across several full-length, physical videos.

He is responsible for presenting the majority of Gilbert Crockett’s output, but lesser-known friends have always taken equal billing in Will’s projects. He has drawn eyes on Richmond’s scene simply by following an example set by those who came before him.

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Richmond has a long history of local videos predating even yourself and Bust Crew. Can you give me some background on Dominion – the original incarnation of Venue?

I feel like Gil’s said it a million times, but Maury Blankinship has always been the backbone of Richmond whether people know it or not — running the shop with his wife, Kim.

Venue has cranked out videos for a couple of decades now, whether Maury was filming and helping edit, or finding someone to make a video because he doesn’t have the time. He’s always had a crew, always been the one pushing everybody to get out and film, or at least just be skating all the time. You could feel that from watching the videos back then.

As far as I could tell, Richmond hadn’t been on “the map” until the past five-or-so years. I feel that’s when people started taking notice of skaters outside of Gilbert. But there are so many other crews in Richmond that crank out videos all the time.

It’s a little, concentrated scene – with very few spots to go around – but everybody finds a way to keep filming.

It was through Gilbert and Old Dominion that I got into your videos. Before that, you contributed to his “Life Splicing” part and filmed his ender: the ollie from behind the bench and over the stairs at SunTrust. We spoke about it for his Favorite Spot piece, but I’m interested to hear your perspective on that trick and time?

I was excited to help film for that, but we were also working on Old Dominion. I remember being a little — not salty — but a little sad, I guess, that I had to give up basically an entire Gil part. Which is funny in hindsight, because I love his “Life Splicing.”

The bench ollie was a battle. The first day he tried it, he had normal hard wheels on and took some pretty sketchy slams. The second day, he went back with softer wheels and it ended up being so much easier for him. I mean, you can tell it’s still a stretch. It never registered as something you could do. Like, “What? You’ve been thinking about this? Why?” To my knowledge, it wasn’t even something people always talked about as a “What if?”

How did Old Dominion take shape?

I was closest with Ty Beall at the time. Ty was always out skating, and once one of the guys in your crew gets motivated and starts filming tricks, everybody wants a piece.

It probably wasn’t until halfway through that we decided we were making a full-length video. We were working less; people didn’t really have full-time jobs. It was delivering pizza or washing dishes. Ty, Jon [Rowe] and I would get off work at midnight, then skate until three or four in the morning. I loved that era: being out with a camera light and skating around a dead city is so fun.

After Old Dominion, you and a few other Bust Crew guys moved to L.A. for a while. Did you have a new perspective on Richmond when you came home?

It was cool to move back. For one, it’s home, but to be around those spots again and the “make something of nothing” mindset — in L.A. there are unlimited spots. It’s hard to choose where you’re going to skate when you have so many options. It was nice to be back in a small city and not have to drive 45 minutes to each spot.

We filmed Brick right when I moved home. I’m trying to think how far after that we started on Gospel… It was probably an immediate transition as usual.

Maury has the opening part in Gospel, shared with Travis Pulley, and he’s appeared in most of your videos. Being the guy who runs the shop, but is also visible as someone skating and filming regularly must carry a lot of influence.

And doing some of the best skating of his life at age 41 – maybe 42 — at that time. That’s wild. Travis as well. He hadn’t really skated street seriously in the ten years or so before Gospel.

Maury’s always skated consistently — not to take anything away from him because it’s amazing he’s been able to do that — but it was almost more shocking to see Travis being so productive. He would still skate parks and a little transition, but he wasn’t out trying to film until Gospel came about.

Actually, that’s how Gospel came about! Maury and Travis had a VX and started filming each other. Maury would send me clips, just to show me. It was so cool: these two forty-year-old guys, out in the street, getting clips and trying hard. I’d show everybody else who rode for the shop and that got everyone excited.

“Dude, if they’re going to film parts, we’ve got to film parts!”

Neither of them are necessarily filmers, so I think we ended up re-filming almost all the clips they had gotten together once we started taking the video seriously. I’d sugarcoat it a little, like, “Maybe you could film that in a line.”

How’d the rest unfold?

We’ve never really had a lapse in filming in the ten-plus years we’ve been a crew. We’ll finish a video and maybe don’t film seriously for two or three months. All it takes is one person, like Ty or Jon, getting one really good clip. Then everybody is like, “Oh, I wanna get a good one” and it takes off from there. Every time. We’ll always attempt to do a short project, but it never ends up being that way. Everybody gets too invested.

You have a good eye for typefaces for your projects. I’ve appreciated that aspect of your videos even more as titles in videos have faded out a little. How would you say having those elements, that are also consistent with a designed and packaged video, contribute to its character?

I’ll go through a hundred different typefaces until I find the one that feels right. With the name Body Filler being what it is – sounding kind of sketchy, almost like a band name or a crime show – I wanted to do something a little different. I got my friend, Justin Klegka to do handdrawn titles, and without me saying much, he came up with something I felt was perfect in just a couple of tries. We put them on transparency sheets and filmed them off the TV.

I’m always going to make DVDs even if no one is buying them. It feels important and I like to have that. It’s almost a trophy, you could say. Instead of it existing on only a hard drive or YouTube — if you have that copy, you have it forever.

Making the packaging and whatnot — if you’re still into DVDs — it already takes you into the world of the person who created the video before you’ve played it. I’ve always enjoyed that and I enjoy seeing other people put effort into that.

Your videos feature a few guys who are sponsored to varying degrees, but are mostly made up of regular dudes. What do you think comes across in scene or shop videos that you don’t get in projects from companies?

The first thing that comes to mind is that no one is forcing them to do this. They’re doing this because they want to regardless of sponsorship, money, notoriety – whatever.

We all keep each other going, give each other shit if one of us starts to lag a little bit. It’s a healthy balance of motivating your friends and also motivating yourself.

With being on a retainer for filming, if you get clip of Gilbert or Dane Barker, does it automatically go to a Quasi project?

Essentially, but Chad [Bowers] is one of my close friends. There’s plenty of leniency in my case. I’m on retainer for Quasi, but Chad understands Gil needs to film for Vans. If we’re getting footage and there’s a Vans project, he has no problem with those clips going to Vans. It’s kind of based on what’s happening at that moment.

I couldn’t tell you how it works for everybody else, but in my case, I’m working with my close friends. I worked at Venue for a year-long stint, but other than that, I’m pretty much always filming skating. With Caleb [McNeely] being sponsored, Dane living here as well, and Gil, there’s always something going on.

I’ve thought about trying to dip my toes in other stuff, but once I get close to actually pursuing something, it’s always time to go on a trip or get rolling on filming for the next video. I never thought it would work like this in a million years, and I’m very appreciative.

You have a part in Nightmare Van, which honestly, I think is one of the heaviest. A filmer friend of mine talked about how filming can require a sense of selflessness if you’re someone who enjoys working on parts yourself. How does your relationship with making skate videos and being in them yourself weigh up in that respect?

Nightmare Van was a special case. Caleb and Thomas Goldman were in L.A. Ty, Daniel [Ravenal] and Corey Bittle lived in New York for a year during that video also.

The crew dwindled down to me and Jon. Gil was here too, but he wasn’t filming for Nightmare Van. It was one of the slower periods in the past ten-or-so years. I was like, “Well, there’s not as many people around right now…” so I decided I’d try filming more.

Kevin O’Dell lives in D.C., but he would come down to Richmond at least once a week. We’d meet up and I kinda got on a roll. My part was probably filmed in a six-month period, then everybody started funneling back into Richmond.

Alright OK, Quasi’s Grand Prairie and Body Filler all overlapped a little. How does having multiple videos on the go affect your motivation?

It’s almost always for the better. If one project feels like it’s dwindling, you have the other one – or two – to fall back on. Maybe those are picking up steam or staying steady.

It feels like our Richmond crew is filming for the same video even if there are three different projects going on. We all get in the van together and everyone is getting clips for their part. I still have to do my job, so with all of what you could say are Gil’s “best” clips, Quasi takes priority. What we’re left with, I wouldn’t consider to be “weak.” They’re still cool, we’re both excited about them, but the main focus was Quasi. It feels cool to make something a little shorter like that.

I will say though, that switch shove-it to 5050 on the rail against the wall just slipped through the cracks [Gilbert’s second to last trick in Body Filler]. That could have been in Alright, OK or Grand Prairie. For whatever reason, it didn’t land in either, so I ended up having that clip.

Across those three videos, you see the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Boulevard getting skated and progressively more fucked up. Given Virginia’s Civil War history coupled with Black Lives Matter protests over the past couple of years, I wondered if you wanted speak on how that was felt at home?

It was actually the J.E.B. Stuart monument, a different asshole.

It was exciting to see those things come down. I think everyone got so used to having them up that it wasn’t until more recent B.L.M. protests that people started to take notice again, like, “This is weird these things are still up.”

People would come out from the sticks that were against them coming down, but I’d say the majority were excited to see them go. I remember seeing random posts, like, “I’m never stepping foot in Richmond again. This place has gone to shit!”

“Well, you don’t live here anyways so that’s fine…”

How quickly did that specific statue become a spot?

Oh man, we’ve looked at that thing our whole lives. It’s on a main road, so ever since we were children and went into downtown Richmond, we’d see that thing. There were giant steel gates up around it, but you’d always look at it, imagining, but knowing there’s no way it would ever happen.

Someone sent a photo into this massive group text of the gates down, laying on the sidewalk. I guess that was late one night in the beginning of the protests. The next day, the gates were completely gone. Either the city had removed them because they’d been mangled or protesters had removed them. We thought we’d probably get in so much trouble for skating it, but we had to at least try.

It turned out every time we’d skate there, cops would just drive by. It’s like they were scared to kick you out because people were especially angry at the police at the time. It’s almost like they were intimidated to kick us out.

We abused that spot to the point where no one in our crew cares to skate it anymore.

You’ve always released parts and entire versions of your videos independently. Although having a bigger outlet behind your project can open doors and provide wider exposure, how does that compare to the satisfaction of self-publishing?

It goes back to how I said all the guys in our crew make videos for ourselves, for the most part. We appreciate anybody who enjoys the videos, but at the end of the day, we’re doing this because we love to do it.

It’s cool that Thrasher and whoever else are down to host a video, but it got to a point where… sure, you can have a video on Thrasher and it has 150,000 views, but maybe 10,000 of those people actually cared and watched it for a purpose.

Whereas if I’m posting it on my YouTube channel, most of the people are going there because they truly want to watch the video.

You can pick up a copy of Body Filler on DVD via Bust Crew’s Big Cartel page.

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