Tornadoes and painful wipeouts. Film shows suburbanites' epic skateboard trip to New York
While describing their new documentary film "Shred America," filmmakers Arthur Swidzinski and Mike Kosciesza joked that the movie is a lesson on how not to cross the country on a skateboard.
That is probably true. But the movie also is a coming-of-age story that follows a group of four suburban friends on their amateur, highly publicized 2008 skateboard ride from Chicago to New York City.
Over 36 days, the young men zigzagged a 900-mile path to New York City on back roads and bike paths, facing tornadoes, police stops, painful wipeouts (the Appalachian Mountains were brutal, they said), emotional and physical exhaustion, and many mechanical problems. They arrived in New York's Times Square at midnight -- bruised, blistered and happy.
"I can't believe we did it, dude. I can't believe this all went down," Kosciesza told the Daily Herald in 2008, shortly after he and Swidzinski, both Niles residents, arrived in New York City with their cameramen James Lagen of Des Plaines and Tony Michal of Park Ridge. The four had been friends since their days at Maine Township East High School.
Making the film would be an equally wild journey that took nearly 10 years to complete.
For the first two years after their ride, Swidzinski and Kosciesza edited down their 90 hours of footage, trying to fill in story holes with voice-overs. At one point, they even tried incorporating animated characters.
Nothing worked. It was their first feature film, and they were struggling with it. Film school and life started taking priority, and by 2010, they'd abandoned the project.
"The first cut we made was four hours long, and it was so bad," Kosciesza said. "We didn't shoot it properly. We didn't do interviews during the trip, or talk to the camera. And we didn't know how to piece the film together."
Then in 2013, Swidzinski, who was living in San Francisco at the time, called Kosciesza, who was (and still is) living in New York. Both were now working in the film industry. "I said, 'Hey, dude, let's do this. Let's finish this. We have something here,'" Swidzinski said.
Now, with almost a decade of filmmaking experience under their belts, they knew what they were doing. They brought in a music composer and colorist to enhance the film. They also built better story arcs and shot interviews with their older, wiser, 29-year-old selves, looking back on that wild ride.
"It was a reflective experience for all of us," Swidzinski said. "I learned something from my younger self ... to live your life day by day, and whatever hits you, you'll find a way to handle it. Because that's how life is."
The technology had changed so much in the past nine years that Kosciesza had to manually recut the film's audio and video twice -- a process that took months. It was worth it, though, because they're both really proud of the finished product and plan to submit it to film festivals this year.
They're also going on "Shred Tour 2018" this summer, traveling in a logo-adorned vehicle (not a skateboard) through the towns they passed through on their ride, and then heading out west.
"Shred America" will be shown first where it all began: Chicago. The movie premiere is set for 7 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at The Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Road.
"It's like, hop on the skateboard with us, and let's go," Kosciesza said.