NYSB contributor and OG skate photographer Charlie Samuels is working on a new documentary titled “Virgin Blacktop” which focuses on a crew of skateboarders raised in the suburbs of NYC. We were interested in the new project so we caught up with him for a little interview. Check it out below.
NYSB: For anyone who doesn’t know your roots, tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been involved in the world of skateboarding.
CS: Around 1974 a skateboard put me flat on my back and I was immediately hooked. I practiced alone in a cemetery for years until I realized that I wasn’t the only one in my area who skated, so we formed a posse (see below). I started my career shooting for Thrasher, Transworld Skateboarding and skate ads for Walker, then Powell Peralta which led to mainstream magazine assignments. I then had my pics on Vans, Burton snowboards and in the NYC skate “yearbook” FULL BLEED. I helped Andy Kessler and Joe Humeres build the first few skateparks in NYC and led an activist battle to reopen a pool in an upstate skatepark (Saratoga Springs, NY). For fun, I skated the Broadway Bomb last year and taught groms in the summers… anyone wanna skate with a 52 year-old? Or how about with my 2 year-old son?
NYSB: So what’s your new documentary “Virgin Blacktop” all about?
CS: It’s a historical lo-fi film about a very diverse tribe of kids from the suburbs of NYC who had almost nothing in common except skateboarding. We were from different schools, different towns, of different ages, different races and from different economic backgrounds. Our core crew were practically the only skaters in our Hudson River towns and we had the time of our lives because our parents somehow trusted us to take road trips to skateparks, contests and demos in the Northeast. At that time, southern California was on the front lines of a revolution, but our film focuses on one group in a corner of the country who emulated their Cali heroes in Skateboarder magazine much like the rest of kids across America. After the insurance companies put a dagger in skateboarding around 1980 most of us went off to college, but we largely remained friends despite our diverse backgrounds and went on to lead vastly different lives. We still stay in touch to this day.
NYSB: How did you begin the project?
CS: In 1994 we built a skate ramp in my Manhattan apartment for a reunion – it was mayhem. We shot it on Hi8 video and at the time I had a TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) that I edited on my grandparents’ VCR and thought I’d cut it for an episode. But when I saw the footage I realized that there was a real story that went way back and deserved more than a half hour show so I started interviewing everyone, filming their skate tricks and searching for old footage. I located a handful of incredibly talented Super 8mm film shooters and we tracked down the footage in their attics, basements and storage lockers. That trove of footage is the visual Holy Grail of the film.
NYSB: How long have you been working on the film?
CS: Consciously? For almost 20 years, but with all the visuals we dug up before then it will appear as if we’ve been working on it since the mid-70’s at least. It was also an excuse to skate and bomb some hills with my “brothers” but the story unfolded way beyond my expectations.
NYSB: In the trailer you have some big names like Tony Hawk and Tony Alva, who else did you interview so far for the film?
CS: Well, it is a personal film so I mostly interviewed my tribe I skated with back in the day. I interviewed Joe Humeres (NYC’s first pro skateboarder) at least a half a dozen times separated by years. With Tony Alva, the undisputed King of pool skating and a hero of mine growing up, I had an amazing opportunity to skate a Jersey pool with him along with the late Andy Kessler. With Tony Hawk, I’d photographed him a few times so I asked him if he would have time for an interview after he pulled a 900 at Woodward Skate Camp in PA. I’d still like to film one last interview with Rodney Mullen about freestyle (flatland skating) because that was our speciality and it is basically the origin of skateboarding. Also because he always has a unique and articulate way of describing skateboarding. We’ve tried several times but our schedules haven’t matched up yet so – Rodney – if you happen to be reading this, please give me a holler, I’d be much obliged!
NYSB: Any premieres or showings coming up?
CS: Yes, we’ll be showing the trailer and some unseen nuggets in Piermont, NY on August 14th for free outside and in Nyack, NY’s film festival the week after. We’d appreciate it if readers could spread the word. Thank you!!
NYSB: How will people be able to buy it in the future?
CS: I’m focused seeking finishing funds right now and thinking about a crowdfunding campaign in the Fall. It should be available as a web download eventually.
NYSB: Any final words for our readers?
CS: Thanks for reading this! Please peep the website, check out the trailer, join the Facebook page and spread the word because this is going to be a killer story with genuine skateboard history, passion and authentic-ness out the wazoo.