JR Cronheim is currently working on a feature film about skateboarding’s immense global cultural significance as an artistic movement (perhaps one of the greatest of the 21st century) and its relationship with society at large. He’s released a 15-minute short version of the film (embedded below) titled “misunderstood.” featuring interviews with Steve Rodriguez, Taji Ameen, Dave Ortiz & Rodney Torres. We had JR answer a few questions about the film, read what he said below.
NYSB: How long did it take to make misunderstood?
JR: Pre-production started last October. I think the final cut was completed just before mid February. Films are like paintings or songs or anything else. You can tweak them forever because you’re always finding little things to fix or change. At some point you just have to say “OK, FINISHED!” Because it was an assignment for school we had a project deadline, so what you see is what I ended up within the time constraints. It was a challenging project because I had only been in school for four months when the film was written and produced and there was no budget.
NYSB: Anything you couldn’t use?
JR: Well, when I began writing the film I was intending to write specifically for this mini-doc project and what the script turned into was a full length feature film. It wasn’t until then that I realized there was no realistic way to jam that much depth and information into 10 minutes. A lot of the interview materials I shot, especially of Dave and Steve were left out. I mean, there was some footage I couldn’t use as far as skate footage just because of the weather conditions. It was a mild winter, but as the universe would have it the days I shot with Taji were the coldest of the year. That nose slide on Rivington was at 10 am and it was 6 degrees. Not ideal skating weather. The premise of the film, however, is to showcase more of a cultural and sociological aspect of skateboarding and not the skateboarding itself so it wasn’t that big of a deal. The problem was I didn’t have enough actual verite style skate footage. Thankfully Steve, Tombo, and Josh Stewart gave me permission to use some footage from past projects of theirs. Since one of the requirements for the project was to use multimedia and archive material, I satisfied the rules for the project and it saved the film. So much thanks to those dudes for allowing me to use that footage.
NYSB: Who was involved making misunderstood?
JR: My director of photography, Susanne Dollnig is a fellow student and film maker from Austria. She shot most of the character interviews. Matteo Brunetta from Italy, also a NYFA doc student, did sound for Rodney’s shoot in Queens. I have to include the entire teaching staff at NYFA, their guidance throughout the whole process was crucial and there are pieces of all of them in it.
NYSB: What point are you trying to make with this film?
JR: Basically I was trying to make a fun, informative, film about what it’s like to be a skateboarder for people who aren’t skateboarders. It was kind of like taking little bits and pieces from the feature script and making something that would do that. Obviously the subject matter is very surface and doesn’t go into too much depth. The treatment aimed to just hit certain beats. ‘What is skateboarding?’, ‘why do skateboarders do it?’, ‘what kind of conflicts arise in the quest to skateboard?’, and ‘what is the solution to ending these conflicts?’. As amazing this was, after the screening I couldn’t believe how many people were shocked to learn about skate stoppers. Like, they didn’t have any idea those kind of lengths were taken just to keep skaters out of public areas. They were so blown away. A few people came up to me days or weeks after and said, “hey, I was walking through the city yesterday and noticed all of these anti-skate devices…” That got me so stoked because my film changed the way these non-skateboarders perceive the city. They’re looking at the world like skaters do now a little bit and taking notice of things they probably had walked past 100 times and never noticed. Step 1, mission accomplished.
NYSB: Anything missing that you wanted to include but didn’t?
JR: Of course! Everything from informational stuff to actual footage of Taji street skating. Weather, scheduling, and the time constraints kept a lot of things out of that film, but I just had to make due with what I had. I would have preferred to not use any voice overs, but that was a mandatory requirement for the project. So, that’s something I included that I would rather have left out.
NYSB: What are you planning to work on next?
JR: I’m currently in pre-production of a new skateboarding film. Again, the concept is the same and is taken from parts of the feature length script, but visualized and told from a completely different angle. This film is going to be less informational as far as talking head interviews telling the audience what’s up and more character driven. Basically, you’re getting the info by going deep into the lives and experiences of the skateboarders themselves visually instead of being instructed by them. I brought Alex Corporan in on this project as an associate producer and Brian Appio in to photo document behind the scenes. I will be shooting a good portion of the verite myself but also working with a crew comprised of NYFA students. Both this film and the forthcoming film will serve as trailers for fundraising efforts for the full feature length film I hope to make. I could tell you about that, but that’s a WHOLE other interview!
What made you want to do this project?
JR: It was basically an assignment for my semester 1 film at New York Film Academy. We were required to make a social issue film. I was really dreading the assignment because I’ve never wanted to make a social issue film. A lot of the students in the program come from a journalism background or just have aspirations to make those kind of “change the world” documentaries. I come from a fiction film background and I really never had any interest in doing that. When I decided to go to NYFA I swore to myself I wouldn’t make a bunch of skateboard films. I thought it would be a cop out and I wanted to challenge myself. My first project “Holy Dance” which I shot with Pat Hoblin, was a short 3 minute, black and white film shot on an Arri and was to be my one and only skate film.
I did a couple unrelated projects, but then when it came time to do the dreaded social issue I thought the sociological aspect of skateboarding culture and the backlash it’s always received was perfect for the project. As I got into the writing process I realized that this wasn’t just going to be a short film for a school assignment. The more I wrote and discussed the concept with other skateboarders I realized that this was something way bigger and far more important. It’s a film that needs to be made and on a feature film level, never been done. Most feature length skate docs are historical or biographical. When I pitched the project to Steve, Alex, and Mike at Shut they were kind of blown away and totally behind it. I remember Steve saying something to me like, “I am SO PSYCHED that you are doing this. This film needs to be made and I’m psyched the person doing it is you.” When you get that kind of compliment from a dude like that you know you’re on to something. But there’s also a lot of pressure. When I pitched the concept to Rodney he was like, “Wow. This is major. Don’t fuck it up.” Hahaha
I don’t want to go too in depth about the project as a whole because it’s ongoing, but what I will say is, the finished feature film will be something unique, culturally significant, and important for skateboarding. I’m already in talks with some people about writing a book as well.
Favorite part of misunderstood?
JR: Honestly? I’d have to say I have two favorite parts: The juxtaposition of Rodney and Taji’s cop stories and the closing sequence. When you’re making a film you watch it, and re-watch it ten thousand times. Those two parts…I just can never get sick of them and I laugh out loud every time. I also think it was cast extremely well. You can totally see the unique personalities in all four characters and they come out in an intense and vibrant way in the film. It gives the audience a good idea of how much fun skateboarding is just by watching and listening to those guys passionately talk about it. All of those guys have some really good moments.
Best quote of the film?
JR: Oh man, thats a tough one. There is so much good stuff, even in some of the footage that didn’t make it into the final cut. Dave is just a naturally funny dude, so his antics are king. The “clash of the titans” line is tight. Rodney has some good ones too and Taji’s ender is a banger. Damn, I can’t even pick. Steve says some really powerful and enlightening things. Especially the part about incorporating skateboarding into the landscape as opposed to fencing it in off in a corner somewhere or banning it outright…About how the people that make the laws don’t think about it that way. The goals of these films, ultimately, is to change those perspectives and they way things are done. Like I said before, the last thing I ever wanted to do was make a social issue film that would change the world, but that’s exactly what we’re aiming to do.
Any closing words?
JR: I just want to say thanks to everyone involved in the past and current projects and for all of the encouragement and support, especially you, NYSkateboarding.com, for giving me this interview and sharing my work on the site.
Also, I’d like to let everyone know that we’re setting up a Kickstarter.com page to raise money for the film we are currently working on, so more details about that coming soon! These films are being made to educate, increase awareness, and encourage appreciation of the beauty and value of the skateboard culture, eventually making things better and improving the quality of life for everyone. We’re gonna need all the support we can get to make these things happen.