Things get so heavy at points that I started to wonder when the next skateboarding sequence was going to give me a chance to breathe. Those are moments of pure joy when all troubles go away for your friends and the audience. Did you space those out deliberately?

It’s funny you say that. That was the initial intent of the skateboarding—the sugar you put on the kale. But something I learned over time was that even that feels repetitive if it continuously serves the purpose of emotional release. You watch the film and skateboarding takes on a different meaning each time and has its own arc. My thing is, the idea of skateboarding as a solve is such a dead-horse idea. It’s been done so many times, and often it comes off…skateboarders hate hearing it. “Why do you even need to say that? We get it.” It doesn’t translate. For me, it’s more interesting, the idea how skateboarding isn’t a panacea.

Talk about the style you developed in filming the skateboarding, whether you want to film from a distance or be right there among the other guys.

I look many elements from working in a camera department in movies like Jupiter Ascending or TV shows like Shameless. When you work with Steadicam operators and straight camera operators who are amazing at what they do…I’m seen Steadicam operator run full speed, go around in circles, step on a forklift while doing a single take, and it’s like “What if we translate that to skateboarding? What if we make it at eye level, so it’s less about the board and more about the person?” The skateboard is far away in the frame; it’s more about the feeling of being in the headspace of someone who’s skateboarding. Then the long shots and tighter shots, along with the rest of the film, I took that from working with ASC [American Society of Cinematographers] cinematographers and their really subtle visual storytelling techniques.

I did notice you’d worked a couple times with the Wachowskis. How did you start working with them and what did you learn from those experiences?

I was a camera department member who worked on many things, and the Wachowskis was a job [laughs]. I worked on Sense8 and Jupiter Ascending—I didn’t work on either project for the whole time; I was day-playing a lot. They were very different projects. Jupiter Ascending had a massive budget. We shot on the Southside [of Chicago] by the massive Armory off Garfield Blvd., and turned this giant armory into a massive greenscreen with Channing Tatum zipping around on a line up in the air. Sense8 was more intimate; the Steadicam operator got really beat up on that because they do these long takes without cutting, and he’s sweating holding this 100-lb. rig. They’re changing out actors in the middle of the scene because that’s the conceit of the show. You get a sense that they’re very actor-process driven, creating on the fly sometimes.

Can you give me some updates on your friends? How new is the newest footage in the film?

It’s pretty new, 2017. Keire is working in a Sweetgreen, like this upscale salad shop, in Denver. He’s still skateboarding; he’s 22, 23. He’s figuring out his life. Nina is working a couple of job and hasn’t had the time to go back to school. She’s coming out to a lot of Q&As, and feeling really proud about women opening up to her about their experiences [with domestic abuse]. And Zack is acting in a fiction film, right now he’s shooting. It’s this Berlin co-production, this Danish directors second film; he’s the lead.

That’s a turn I was not expecting. How is he personally with the drinking?

He’s calmed down. It’s not like he’s still abandoning his apartment and running off to Denver. He’s been Sam, the girlfriend you see in the film, for a couple of years, and pays child support. He was working as a roofer before he took off to do this film—it’s a SAG acting gig.

I noticed you also worked on Steve James series America To Me.

I did three storylines that became prominent that are all throughout the episodes. It’s the DGA that made us change from “story directors” to “segment directors,” so it’s confusing.

Steve is an executive producer on your film as well. How did you get involved with him?

Before I really started working with him, I saw the film Stevie, which was probably the most influential for me, for many reasons. He didn’t really get involved in Minding the Gap until America To Me. He saw a demo of my film, and thought “This guy has a rapport with young people.” I don’t actually know what he was thinking; that’s just my guess. And he hired me, and I did a year with him. And afterwards, in late 2016, Diane, my co-producer and I said, “We should get Steve to be an EP,” and I asked him that day, and he was like “I’d love to.”

What do Keire, Zack and Nina think of the film?

They saw it before Sundance. I told them early on the process that we were going to do that, before we even picture locked. We wanted them to check it for everything from “This fact is wrong” to “I hate this part.” It’s not like we’re giving them editorial control, but we do want them to be in support of the film.

Zack said he was relieved because he thought I was going to be portrayed worse, but ultimately he was really taken aback by the honesty of the storytelling. Everybody was. Nina relived the relationship with Zack, which was difficult because she hadn’t really processed it, so we processed it with her for the first time. Ultimately, I think it was a healthy thing for her. She was the only person who wanted something changed; she just wanted that video recording shortened, and we shave five seconds off of it. Keire was emotionally reflective; every time he laughed on the screen, he’s laugh in person. I could literally feel him shaking with laughter and tears on the couch that I was sitting on with him; he was jolting me with his emotions.

Great to meet you. Thank you so much.

I appreciate it.

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