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SxSW 2015 Interview: SNEAKERHEADZ director David T. Friendly

by Jason Whyte

"SNEAKERHEADZ is a doc that examines the dense subculture of kicks in all their glory. There are very few products in the world that link together hip-hop, fashion, sport and history. The film takes the viewer behind the scenes with collectors, designers, celebrities and athletes, all of whom are hooked on kicks." Director David T Friendly on SNEAKERHEADZ which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

Yes of course I will attend our premiere! My co-director and producer Mick Partridge and I are coming in for the whole week to check out lots of other movies, panels and parties. We are especially excited that ATT is throwing us a party catered by Salt Lick!

Your favorite beer in Austin?

Lone Star Beer.

What do you love the most about showing movies in Austin and Austin in general?

My experience in Austin was in producing COURAGE UNDER FIRE, the 1996 Edward Zwick movie starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan and Matt Damon. It was my first "produced by" credit and I fell in love with the city. My family and I rented a bed and breakfast to live in and there were peacocks in the backyard!

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

How much room do you have? I began my career as a print journalist for Newsweek and then the L.A. Times. In 1987 I was lucky enough to be one of the first hires at Imagine Entertainment. I supervised numerous films for Ron Howard and Brian Grazer including BACKDRAFT, MY GIRL and THE BURBS which was written by my roommate at the time. I left there in the mid 90s and started my producing career doing films like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and all of the BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE movies along the way. To date I have produced more than 20 films. SNEAKERHEADZ is my first try at directing and is also my first documentary. I just finished shooting on my first TV show QUEEN OF THE SOUTH for The USA Network.

How did your movie come together as a director?

Well, it's not generally known but my first choice to direct was David Gelb, who directed JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI. When he passed because he was doing a feature, I decided to direct it with my good friend Mick Partridge.

What was your process in getting the movie made once you decided to direct it with Mick?

It all started in my home office with a long time collaborator and co-producer Felipe Linz. Felipe, a UT grad, started as our intern at Deep River Productions and we have worked together ever since. He and I got the original pitch down on paper and then started putting together our team. Mick Partridge, my co-director, brought a younger sensibility to the show and felt like a great fit. Our cinematographer Paul deLumen got the job when we saw his reel. Later we found out he too is a sneakerhead! Our editor, Steve Prestemon, got the job based on his excellent work on MEET THE HITLERS. Steve lived near me and I could get to the editing room above his garage in twelve minutes.

What was your biggest challenge with this movie, and how did you over-come it?

The hardest part was tracking down the characters that inhabit the move and getting them to commit to being at a certain place at a certain time. These folks are not bankers or lawyers. They are free spirits and they are completely independent. Once we got them to sit down, they were all fantastic. Then in the cutting room we had 68 hours of footage to trim down to 74 minutes. We "murdered a lot of our darlings"...

If you had to pick a single favorite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something"?

We were in Brooklyn on the street with Futura, the famous graffiti artist-slash-sneaker designer and he started talking about the lengths people go to for an elaborate collection with lighting and design elements. Then he said this: “In the end, the whole thing might wind up in a storage facility somewhere, so good luck with that”. I just loved his honesty there. It said so much about kicks and collecting in general.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you as a filmmaker?

Well I will say this; when you direct, you feel that overall responsibility in a very different way than producing. My crew, and people who know me well, will tell you I have a lot of nervous energy and I worry too much. To keep up the energy, we made lot of Starbucks runs.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography and the look you were going for.

Paul deLumen has a great eye and we trusted him. Very often we would turn to him and say "Tell us what you are thinking and then lets go from there." I just kept saying, "More inserts, more shoe porn!", which really was code for more micro shots of kicks. We shot the whole movie on a Canon C300 and even a 5D sometimes that Mick Partridge would sometimes operate.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

We have never seen the movie in front of a large audience and I'm curious to see what the audience responds to. We have some funny bits and some elegant shots I want to see what connects.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?

We have already been invited to numerous film festivals. For me, I am hoping we get to go to Germany because I want to see where the Dasler Brothers created Adidas.

Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I would pick the Ziegfeld in Manhattan. It's the theatre where I first saw THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW and they always had the best sound in the city.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

Given the subject matter, that might be a lot of people! This is, after all the multitasking generation. They will probably be scrolling their screens for a new sneaker release as they watch, so I am ready for it.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

I would tell them what I tell everyone who wants to get into the biz: Embrace rejection, keep knocking on every door and never, ever, give up.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?

That's actually easy for me. THE GODFATHER remains my all-time favourite. If it comes on TV, I never change the channel. Coppola was at the top of his game, the actors were flawless and the movie changed the way the culture viewed the Mafia. Alas, no one was wearing kicks!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/11/15 10:00:27
last updated: 03/29/15 02:30:28
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