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Monday, November 21, 2011
Talking Loveletters season two

The second season of "Love Letters to Skateboarding" premiers today on Off The Wall TV. Once again, filmmakers Rick Charnoski and Coan "Buddy" Nichols [filmmakers for Fruit of the Vine, Tent City, Deathbowl to Downtown, etc.] have teamed up with Vans and Antihero pro Jeff Grosso to blow the dust off the history books of skateboarding. Last season broke down "the lost art of the hand turn," plus paid homage to human locomotive Ben Schroeder and northern California's legendary Steve Caballero, among others. Season two promises to take a look at all-time skate photos, the origin of the backside ollie, a Jeff Phillips eulogy, and a two-parter on the Jersey Devil. For a peak behind the scenes, ESPN caught up with Nichols and Grosso.

Buddy Nichols mans the camera as Rick Charnoski directs and Jeff Grosso interviews.

ESPN: Who came up with the concept and how did it develop from there?
Jeff Grosso: Lance Mountain! It should have been hosted by Lance. He's the ultimate in skate nerd-ism. But sadly, Lance rides for Nike. Honestly, I subconsciously stole the rough idea from a project Lance was working on about Darrell "Gnarls" Miller and Bobby Valdes. It was kind of a history of the handplant/childhood heroes piece he was working on with Buddy and Rick for Fuel TV. They came to interview me about inverts and I thought, "How cool!" The project got shelved and months later Vans approached me to do a David Letterman-type talk show after seeing a promo video I shot to implore the sales reps to give my shoes a shot and order them. I think it was the first in a series of what I like to now call The Pink Robe Tapes. Anyway, the Letterman thing seemed like it would become stale after one or two episodes and honestly I really didn't want to get involved. I mean, I'm a lazy pile, and this was gonna be work! I just pitched the idea and the name, trying to get out of having to do it. I thought they'd get Geoff Rowley or someone. Anyone but me! But I love the Van Doren Rubber Company and when I heard Buddy and Rick were coming aboard, it started to sound like fun. Honestly, the money's nice! Ha! I thought we'd do a few episodes and be done with it, but it seems like folks enjoy them.

Talk about your production style; it looks deliberately low-key.
Buddy Nichols: The original idea was to make the show look like a mid-'80s cable access show -- down and dirty, low-production value, but make the stories interesting and unique. This season is a bit more in depth than the first. We put most of our energy into researching photos and footage. We went crazy finding stuff.
Grosso: Production style? Budget? What's that? We just get this s**t out there anyway we can! We're more interested in telling the story, spreading the love! Personal archive photography, found footage, and old yellow skate mags are hard to edit together in any coherent fashion. I do not envy Buddy and Rick. The task I have asked of them comes with an enormous responsibility. I mean, this stuff matters to at least a couple of old fat dudes like myself.
Nichols: It's pretty unglamorous work, sitting in an edit cave searching for footage and photos. When we showed Allen Losi the Love Letter we did for him he tripped out on some of the footage of himself that he had never seen. That was cool.

What sort of feedback did you get on the first season?
Grosso: My mom said she liked it. And you know what? Steve Olson told us he liked what we are doing! That is all the praise I need, truly.
Nichols: People seemed to like them a lot. They're short and interesting, so what's not to like?

Jeff Grosso towels off with an image of his likeness.

Do kids care about skate history? Should they?
Grosso: You know, I don't know. Maybe? I hope? This is where I give my impassioned bitter-old-dude spiel about it mattering, because it matters! Marty Grimes mattered! Billy Ruff mattered! Phil Shao mattered! These people pioneered the act of skateboarding -- what could be done, style, new moves. When I see some child thinking he just made up a 360 boneless it breaks my heart to have to tell him, "No, you didn't make up that trick because Gator did in the early '80s." Or someone else thinking they've done something new street skating only to have their bubble burst because Gonz did it in 1986. I fell in love with skateboarding at a very young age and I just wanted to know everything I could about it. I wanted to inhale it! So many have lived, bled, and pushed the boundaries of our precious wooden toy. I love them all because we share that common bond: We skateboard! History matters. To quote Lance Mountain: "I just want to see these kids have an experience like I had." [Love Letters] is just our feeble attempt at spreading the love, you know? Remember when? Wasn't that rad? Wasn't he cool! Did you see how he rolled his foot on that ollie? Let's go skate! That's all we're trying to do here. If after viewing a Letter someone gets stoked and goes for a ride ... well, then I guess we did our jobs.
Nichols: I think skating has gotten old enough that everyone realizes it has a history. I always figure if kids don't give a crap now, they will get into it as they get older. When you're young, you are too busy just skating all the time to care about what came before you. It's a rare kid who appreciates the past, and that's not a bad thing. Kids now are making the history, and they will have time to look back later. The good thing is that these web-isodes are short enough that a kid who doesn't really care can usually get through five-minutes worth and get stoked that he or she is part of something that's been around for a while.

Anything else you want to add?
Nichols: I just want to say that it is so killer to have the opportunity to do this show. Being able to pay respect to guys like Tom Groholski, Allen Losi, Chris Strople, Eric Dressen, Brian Lotti, Jeff Phillips, etc., etc., is cool.
Grosso: You know, I sucked in school. I'm a terrible student. I don't claim to know everything about skateboarding. I'm learning, just like everyone else. We are trying to loosely question, remind, and romance all things pertaining to this wild and wonderful wooden toy! And I do not mean to insult or negate anyone's contributions or efforts. It is nearly impossible to sift through the collected ego that is skateboarding. We are trying, though. Cut us some slack! I'd like to thank Vans for the opportunity. My friends and family for all of their love and support. Buddy and Rick -- they truly are the driving force behind the Letters! And most of all, I'd like to thank anyone who has the brass to call themselves a skateboarder. Because it matters!