About a year ago now, I sat down for a drink and conversation to feel out this guy’s film he was working on and get a feel if it was legit or not. We had a long talk, and I came away hopeful but in a wait and see kind of status because I didn’t really understand it. Fast forward a year and I am happy to see all the progress Michael has made and pleased to be able to share this with you all. It was hard to nail down everything from that one conversation so I had Michael write out his answers and have posted his full responses below. His project called Humanity Stoked covers many topics but the general gist is about humanity helping humanity. We spend so much time absorbed in our day to day and see a lot of negativity out there wishing there was more that could be done…or waiting on someone else to step in. The film interviews people who make strides everyday to make the world a better place and how everyone can do so in their own lives. There’s a laundry list of names that share their stories and as with any project like this, a short summary doesn’t grasp its full spectre. Get comfortable and dive in to find out more in my interview with Michael…
Name: Michael Ien Cohen
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Current Location: Long Island
Years skating: 44 Years
It’s about the love of humanity, the importance of living an open, loving life, giving back, and the issues that affect us all, from music and art, human rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the environment, science, activism and more.
What’s up Michael, for those who haven’t heard of it, can you briefly tell our readers what Humanity Stoked is all about?
Humanity Stoked is an unprecedented feature length documentary featuring the biggest names in skateboarding, including Nyjah Huston, Bob Burnquist, Tony Hawk, Leticia Bufoni, Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi, Vanessa Torres, Brian Anderson, Chris Cole, P-Rod and many others. There’s also dozens of musicians, artists, activists, scientists and more, ALL of whom are also skaters. What’s cool as hell is that it’s a skateboarding doc…and it’s NOT. It’s about the love of humanity, the importance of living an open, loving life, giving back, and the issues that affect us all, from music and art, human rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the environment, science, activism and more. These are the issues we dig into with everyone, and share their personal stories related to it all. The end game is to make a film that’s totally unique, interesting as hell, and that inspires people to think more deeply about these issues. I’m not trying to tell people what to think about issues, as that would just make me part of the problem that’s dividing people. I’m trying to get to people to think more deeply and with an open mind, before jumping to conclusions and worse, voting for people that create legislation based on knee-jerk reactions, unjustified fears and twisted facts. I also want to inspire people to live a life that’s more open, authentic, purposeful and to give back a bit more in the process. As we say at the WhatStopsYou.org Foundation, to “Live more and give more!” It’s a beautiful mission as much as it’s a film. The fact is, we’re giving away all our distribution revenue and nobody on the crew, myself included as the producer and director gets paid. We’ve been fortunate to have some amazing people in the film and companies supporting us, including, Steve Van Doren and VANS, Wing Lam and Wahoo’s, Jet Blue, Loaded Boards and many others as well.
Why did you decide to do this? What’s your motivation?
That’s a damn good question Chris. I had not been living a particularly authentic life and was ignoring the things that were critical to living a happy life, including being able to express myself creatively and doing my part to make this world a better place. It was clear to me how much activism and volunteerism is needed right now and I wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Around 2015, I began sliding into a devastating depression. I ended up in a very dark place for nearly 2 years. Often, I would just break down in tears. As I emerged from it, it became clear I had to make some fundamental changes in the way I was living. The fact is, I was lucky enough to have some great influences in my life, especially my Grandfather, Ralph Bofshever, a FDNY member that was awarded a gold medal of valor from the Mayor of NYC in 1948. Actually, they named a day after him in Brooklyn! From the way he lived his life, I learned the importance of people helping and supporting one another in any way one can. My grandfather was never wealthy, but he volunteered his time to various causes he believed in his entire life. Wanting to pay that forward, I ended up creating a non-profit, the WhatStopsYou.org Foundation to help ensure other children had a positive inspiration in their life too. I also knew an epic documentary could have an even greater reach to inspire people to help make this world a better place if it was done right and featured interviews with the right people to make it interesting. I didn’t want to produce some preachy condescending bullshit. I’ve been skateboarding my whole life and it occurred to me I’ve only seen professional skateboarders talk about skateboarding and their social lives. I wanted to have deeper conversations with them all about some really important issues that affect us all. To make it even more interesting, I wanted to involve musicians, artists, scientists, politicians, activists, philanthropists and more. I wanted to keep with my original concept of skaters however and wondered if I could find people from all of those other areas of life, but that also happen to love skateboarding. Fortunately, I was able to pull it off and the result is the film Humanity Stoked.
You’ve got a lot of big names that have gotten involved in the project. Who from New York is on board and what do they bring to the film?
Yeah, we’ve been really blessed with the support of so many iconic people who chose to be in this film and support it (the full list can be seen at www.HumanityStoked.com). From my home town of New York, we’ve got Brian Anderson, Tyshawn Jones, 6-Time Afro-Latin Jazz Grammy winner Arturo O’Farrill, legendary photographer Glen E. Friedman, Virgin Blacktop’s Charlie Samuels and more. Other cool East Coast dudes include Bam Margera, Brandon Novak, Jesse Margara, McRad’s Chuck Treece, and more. Everyone brings their own personal stories related to the issues in the film. With Tyshawn for example, we get into his childhood, growing up poor and being raised by a single mom. It’s not about just telling the story however, it’s about the value of a mother’s love and guidance and positive ways it has impacted his life. Of course, Brian Anderson gets into issues such as LGBTQ rights and equality, but so much more. The lessons people can learn from his experiences go far beyond that of one’s sexuality. Having the courage to live truly, fully, and authentically is important to all of us, and Brian’s life is a great example of that. I’m lucky to call him a good friend. With other guys like Bam and Brandon, of course we talk a lot about addiction and recovery. They’ve both spoken about that before of course, but we hit that from a different angle. Guys like O’Farrill and Treece talk about the importance music and creative expression and the way it can impact our society and even legislation. In the end, what these people bring to the film is their perspectives and personal stories of triumph, failure, giving in to fear and overcoming it as well, living life fully and giving back. Beyond the people of New York, everyone knows New York has its own energy and vibe, and that comes across for sure. We filmed all over the world, but our New York locations include all 5 boroughs, and specifically, LES, Battery Park, Long Beach, the Wythe Hotel, the Brooklyn Bowl and other iconic New York spots.
What I’m trying to do however is help make sure whatever direction we move in, wherever we end up, it’s because it’s a result of careful, open minded, reasonable contemplation, and not as a result of insecurities, ignorance, fear, hate, intolerance and the turning of our backs on science and facts in general.
On your website it says you are raising money and awareness while making the film, how does that work and who is benefitting from it?
Great question, Chris! The importance of giving back in life is a real part of the film, so we shine a light on lots of charities that many of the people in the film are involved with. Some of the famous people have their own foundations, and that’s great, but it’s important to understand each of us is already empowered to make a difference. It’s doesn’t even have to take money. Most people don’t have the time and other resources to create and grow their own charitable foundations, but we don’t need to. Everyone can help out in any number of ways that don’t require money or even much time. Actually, Nyjah Huston speaks about that in the film specifically. As for the money, that’s another area we’re very proud to speak about, and with hope that it can inspire others. The fact is, we are producing the entire film for free. Nobody in the cast and nobody in the crew gets paid. Even as the producer and director, I do not take a salary of any kind. The WhatStopsYou.org Foundation has already been granted its 501c3 Non-Profit status and we’re giving every cent of our film distribution revenue to it. More specifically, in addition to producing non-profit films for the betterment of humanity, the main purpose of the foundation is providing amazing leaders from the worlds of action sports, science, business, music, the arts and more, as inspirational speakers to schools, youth groups, and other qualified non-profits that would otherwise be unable to do so. I’m proud to say the vast majority of pro skaters in the film have already filmed promos for the launch of the foundation.
When the film comes out, what do you hope the impact is?
It’s funny you ask that, because at the end of each interview we complete for the film, while the cameras are still rolling, that’s one of a few questions I ask every interview subject. We also ask everyone exactly why they wanted to be featured in the documentary. The answers are often deeply moving and sometimes damn funny. We will be posting everyone’s answers on our social media and on a special website: www.WhyHumanityStoked.com. Anyway, my hope is that the film inspires people think more deeply about all sorts of things that affect the peaceful advancement of humanity…the issues that affect us all. Again, I don’t want to tell people what to think or what direction we should be headed in as a society. What I’m trying to do however is help make sure whatever direction we move in, wherever we end up, it’s because it’s a result of careful, open minded, reasonable contemplation, and not as a result of insecurities, ignorance, fear, hate, intolerance and the turning of our backs on science and facts in general.
Who has been the most inspiring or influential person you’ve met during the making of this film?
Okay, that question really makes me smile! It’s because I’ve set out to make a film that can inspire people, and was surprised to learn it began working from the very first days of production. During almost every interview we’ve done for the film, both myself, the interviewee and the crew have all talk about how inspiring the process was! Seriously man, most interviews end with heartfelt hug and even some applause, as was the case with Chuck Treece’s interview in Havana, Cuba. As for the most influential person, there are some obvious names like Tony Hawk because of their massive global reach and also because the impact the Tony Hawk Foundation has had in so many communities. In terms of the most inspiring people for me personally, there have been so many but a few that come to mind are Tony Alva, Brian Anderson, Valeria Kechichian, Brandon Novak, Ray Barbee, and Vanessa Torres…just to name a few. A few of the most inspiring skateboarders to me have deeply moving stories in the film and will surprise everyone because you’ve not likely heard of them before; truly amazing people like Hamish Brewer, Ray LeVier and Chris Koch.
What’s been the best part of this whole experience for you?
Without a doubt, being able to finally live my life more authentically, with purpose and being able to have a positive impact on people is an amazing feeling, although there was something else that caught me by surprise. This all began as a selfless endeavor yet in the process, my life became enriched with new friendships with some truly wonderful human beings that inspire me every day and help broaden my perspectives on so many things.
Have you encountered many challenges getting the film made?
[laughs] Ummmm, fuck yes!!. There are endless challenges to making any film, but especially so on a film like this. Remember, not only is this my first film, I’m making it with zero financing so I’ve had to be very creative with just about every aspect. I also began without a single connection to anyone from the worlds of filmmaking, skateboarding, music, art, politics, etc…so I had to literality start from scratch in every imaginable respect. To this day, I am the sole producer of the film. As far as shooting the interviews, I’ve been beyond blessed with a team of amazing, selfless, talented professionals that donate their time and equipment because they believe in the mission and social responsibility as much as I do. From almost the very beginning, Nick Lang out of Philadelphia came on board as my main DP. He’s a talented filmer and also an amazing drone cinematographer. More recently, another talented Filmer and truly excellent colorist came on board, Ian Gibson from Brooklyn by the way of Texas. Both these guys will hop on a flight with me for a 4 day shoot, working 15 hour days with no break and NO PAY. I have endless respect for them as human beings and as gifted professionals. They both deserve so much so if you know anyone that can use their services, reach out to Nick Lang at nicklangmedia.com or on Instagram @nicklangmedia and Ian Gibson at frostedindependentfilms.com or on Instagram @iangibson_fif. For the record, there are over a dozen people on the crew, all of whom have donated their time and talent at one time or another so be sure to check them all out at www.HumanityStoked.com
When and where can people go to see the film?
The plan is for a release in the spring of next year. We are in talks now for an official screening in the Olympic Village at the 2020 games in Tokyo, as well as in New York and California. In addition to any film festivals, look for it on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu. Keep an eye on our website, for progress reports and of course, like and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @humanitystoked. You can see the first official mini teaser/trailer featuring Iconic skateboarding pioneer Tony Alva and read about why I chose him for the first teaser at the website www.HumanityStoked.com. You can also look up Humanity Stoked on IMDB and see the trailer there.
Any parting words for our readers?
As a non-profit film and mission, it’s critical we build out social media following, so please follow us, like and share our posts. It really will help us so damn much down the road! Facebook, Instagram and youtube are all /humanitystoked. If you are in a position to make a credit card donation to the charity, please visit www.WhatStopsYou.org
Lastly, if you want to jump out of an airplane at 12,000 feet with me and Bob Burnquist later this year, be sure to look for our upcoming contest announcement on our social media…no skydiving experience necessary 🙂