Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Skateboarding [Print without images]

Monday, April 25, 2011
Six Stair Productions

By Chris Nieratko
ESPN Action Sports

The visual identity of skateboarding is changing. With every filmer switching over to high definition, photographers all shooting digital and skate media in general making a shift to the world of the Internet there is a certain warmth, richness and sharpness of the look of skating that is being lost. It's that very thing that sets Rick Charnoski and Coan "Buddy" Nichols and their Six Stair Productions videos apart from everything everyone else is doing; they shoot almost exclusively on film. Their Super-8 and 16 millimeter film work lends a certain personal, old-school, home-movie feeling to whatever they shoot. It's a clearly visible and distinct style they've kept from their early "Fruit of the Vine" and "Northwest" films to their most recent Anti Hero road trip video for Thrasher, "Traipsin' in the Southwest."

How Charnoski and Nichols met and got their start is basically how most skaters meet: a chance encounter at a skatepark. Charnoski explains, "I met Buddy in Texas at Jeff Philips' skatepark way back in 1990. Then we ran into each other in New York City again. I had been a picture framer for about eight years and I wanted to start making movies. Buddy wanted to make movies. We made 'Fruit of the Vine' first and realized we had a lot of fun making it so we kept at it."

Rick Charnoski digs into a backside slasher in a deep backyard pit.

"I had this idea to make a pool skating film and Rick said he was down," Nichols adds. "That led to 'Fruit of the Vine,' which is a road trip film about skating pools. We shot it all on Super-8 film so it would have the same look as all the old family footage from the 1960's and '70's."

The name of Nichols and Charnoski's production company, Six Stair, came as accidentally as their meeting. Nichols says, "Rick and I have had a company since 1999. It used to be NCPfilms (as in Nichols/Charnoski Productions) but we changed it up a few years ago when we got a new studio. We moved to a killer spot on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles and across the street is a little six-stair. It was a joke because it's a tiny set but we could ollie down it so the name came from there. It's a retarded name because you have to spell it out or explain it every time."

Charnoski seems to laugh at the name just as much as Nichols, "It was a mistake to name [our company] Six Stair. Seriously, I don't know what we were thinking."

I'm a huge fan of everything Nichols and Charnoski put their grainy stamp on. To me, their 2004 Anti Hero film, "Tent City" might be one of the best skate road trip movies I've ever seen. If anyone wants to feel what a raw skate trip with a great group of friends is like, they need only watch "Tent City."

"My favorites," Nichols says, "are probably 'Fruit of the Vine' and 'Tent City.' The trips we went on to make them were amazing and the people we got to skate with were awesome. There are little things in all of them that bug me and things I know we could have done better but for the most part I think they are good and fun to watch."

"I like 'Tobaccoland' the best," says Charnoski. "Total stupidity and outsider-ism. No money [that hasn't changed], beaches and skating. Sometimes it's better when you don't know anyone."

Coan "Buddy" Nichols stares into the deathbox of another backyard pool.

Over the years, Nichols and Charnoski have had the chance to skate with and film some of the raddest and gnarliest skaters ever (anyone on Anti Hero fits into that category). So what's been the highlight? For Charnoski it's been "skating pools and filming lines while waiting to take another run. Catch some air. Get a grind. Shoot some stuff if someone is ripping."

For Nichols, "There have been loads of highlights. One of the coolest things ever was filming and skating the Big Pipe in Australia way out in the Snowy Mountains [ a segement during the filming of "Tent City" where the team skates a gigantic full-pipe]. We had to drive for hours, then hike down to the pipe, camp out next to the pipe, get up at the crack of dawn and start cleaning the pipe. It took hours to clean it out and dam up the water. Then, seeing Peter Hewitt, Tony Trujillo, Steven Bailey, John Cardiel and the rest of the crew pop up and start skating the thing and feeling the vibe getting heavier and heavier until people were skating one of the hugest pipes in the world as well as anyone will probably ever skate something like that, It was amazing. I remember we were walking out of there, everyone was so stoked and Rick and I had our fingers crossed that the film would come out and not be under exposed. When we finally got the reels back a couple weeks later and we watched it, we couldn't believe how rad it looked."

With their body of work, it's hard to imagine that Nichols and Charnoski ever had any self-doubt but I can say that I was a bit concerned for their well-being and success when I heard they were going to take on the daunting task of making, "Deathbowl to Downtown," a documentary about New York City's long, rich skateboarding history. Everyone in New York has an intense opinion about just about everything from pizza spots to Smith grinds. I would not want to be the one to have to make sense out of the varied stories of who did what, when and first. But Nichols and Charnoski pulled it off and did a great job. At least from an outsider's point of view.

"I enjoyed making that film about as much as I enjoy going to the dentist," explains Charnoski. "I'm just glad it's all behind me. End result ... not into it that much. There's moments that are good but overall it's my least favorite film."

Nichols elaborates, "It was like pulling teeth. Trying to come up with a story line that would be interesting and do justice to 35 years of skating was a hard thing to do. Also, trying to tie the story of New York to the larger story of skating in general was hard. We really learned a lot, mostly we learned not to try and make a film that covers that much material ever again. I am happy with the end result. Now that it has been done for a while I can see the opportunities we missed or the ways we could have made it better."

Coan "Buddy" Nichols gets some time in a pool in front of a camera instead of behind one. Frontside air.

Most recently, Nichols and Charnoski have been hired by Vans to produce "Jeff Grosso's Love Letters to Skateboarding" for the Vans website. "We got called in to shoot some other stuff for Vans and they mentioned they wanted to do a show with Grosso," says Nichols. "Rick and I said we would be stoked to do it. We knew Jeff so we met up with him and figured it out from there. He had the idea to make the show. It's cool because it's just about stuff that he's stoked on."

Nichols candidly admits, "We didn't have a paying job in like, a year so we were stoked. I would've made a video about cleaning bathrooms if someone would've asked."

Any day now there will be a new skate video out that looks like the last skate video that came out. Next month, next year there will be more of the same. So I take comfort in knowing Rick Charnoski and Buddy Nichols are out there, like The Dude in "The Big Lewbowski," doing their thing. I know, at the very least, whatever they make will have a unique feel and hopefully they'll inspire more skaters to try new and old things. Either way, the future for Six Stair looks bright ... and grainy.