“We were just some kids with a couple beat-up cameras…”
The flashes pop in rapid succession and the stringy-haired kid narrows his eyes, looks ahead, looks down. He’s steadily moving toward something, from somewhere we hear urethane on cement, Swiss with the shields popped off.
The shot cuts to a pair of Half-Cabs, one shoelace torn and mended with a dirty knot. Underneath, though, no griptape but instead a plush red carpet. Tuxedo slacks, cumberbund. We hear the crack of an ollie as the kid disappears into a darkened theater, still trailed by cameras.
“You have to realize that nobody set out to make a ‘documentary film.’ We barely knew the word. What, PBS? ‘Roger & Me?’ It’s raining out. The camera battery’s charged, now what? Sit over there and talk about your town. Your scene, whatever. Grammar? What’s that? One take, you’re done, forget it.”
The brainchild of Dean “Slim” Newten, “What’s Really Good” tells the story behind the rise of the skateboard documentary as an art form. From its parodic beginnings in Bones Brigade video-part bumpers to 411VM’s early stabs at profiles and forays into long-form pieces by “ON Video,” Newten sifted hours of cutting-room floor footage and assembled filmmakers behind “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” “Dragonslayer,” “Fruit of the Vine,” “Stoked,” “Epicly Later’d,” Rising Son,” “The Man Who Souled the World, “Waiting for Lightning,” “Bones Brigade” and others to tell this no-holds-barred story through the people who were there.
“These guys were literally making it up as they went along — something from nothing,” says “Slim” Newten. “It’s an inspiring story because they were writing history and they didn’t even know it, with no rules, no film school professors, no budget. They just grabbed a camera and a tripod and a stool and went for it.”
But when the red carpets began rolling out, they sometimes led to darker places than Hollywood premieres. As the promotional tours and receptions grew more lavish, some filmmakers succumbed to the debauchery for which the documentary film scene has become notorious — writhing among glaciers of crystal meth, drifts of cocaine and endless nights soaked with heroin and frequently anonymous sexual relations.
“We always lived on the edge. But all of a sudden we looked down, and there was nothing under our feet anymore.”
Gilded mansions and white tigers on leashes soon replaced skate houses and unpaid amateurs as filmmakers’ indulgences took them in garish new directions. Directors began employing actors to perform soft-focus reenactments, harnessed cameras to miniature helicopters and experimented with “reality” television.
“In the end, for some of them, it was their original love for documentary filmmaking that brought them back from the precipice of oblivion,” says “Slim” Newten. “There are a few people — and I count myself among them, for better or worse — who can honestly say that making documentaries about skateboarding saved their lives.”
As raves pile up for “What’s Really Good,” “Slim” Newten already is looking ahead to his next project — executive producing “It Is What It Is,” a documentary by independent filmmaker Franciolious Paul Julian-Buzzles, chronicling the painstaking process of poring through Hi-8 tapes and archival VHS tapes to make “What’s Really Good.” It’s a journey that “Slim” Newten says nearly cost him everything — his friends, his credit rating and, most riskily, the love of an honest woman.
“I set out to simply tell the story behind the story about the stories of the stories of a generation that’s all too often overlooked,” says Julian-Buzzles. “What I didn’t count on was stumbling across a tale that could’ve been my own life.”
Julian-Buzzles, originally trained as an organic taxidermist specializing in Eastern European waterfowl, is currently consulting with prospective ghostwriters for his own autobiography. It is tentatively called “Franciolious Paul Julian-Buzzles: The Raw Deal.”