From Costumes To Cinematography: Skateboarding Rules
“Zeke and Luther” is the latest hit on the Disney XD channel. The teen comedy revolves around two best friends, Zeke and Luther, who are determined to become world-famous skateboarders, regardless of their inexperience and the criticism of peers and adults alike. Standing behind the actors, camera operators, wardrobe department, writer and director ensuring the show’s authenticity is skateboard consultant James “Jimmy” Gorecki.
Gorecki, originally from Pennsylvania, got involved with skateboarding over fifteen years ago, when the sporting aspect of boarding was very new. As his skill improved, he became involved with “guerrilla style” skating projects. Different proficient skaters would take cameras and make videos showing the basics of their skating styles. Before long, production houses developed an interest in skating videos and turned to the man they saw featured in them for help.
“It was just a gradual thing,” said Gorecki. “I started off doing films for friends, then got involved with a company making skating videos. The size of the productions got bigger, and it eventually opened the doors to helping out with a couple of television shows.”
On Disney’s “Zeke and Luther,” skating doubles take the place of the actors for the more complex moves. Gorecki works closely with the leads to ensure that all elements from where their scenes start and stop match the pro skaters.
“All three leads have the regular skateboarding background,” said Gorecki. “At first my priority was just getting them comfortable. If you watch a kid on camera, his comfort level will read through really quick. The first thing was just getting them looking right as they pushed down the street; where to bend their knees, where to bend their back, and if there’s a shot where they’re rolling up to something that they have to jump over, getting them in that crouch position so it shows that if they really were to go for it, they could do it.”
Gorecki spends a week to ten days with the actors preparing them for the skating they’ll be doing in the episode. Included in the lesson are the positions and preparedness for the surfaces they’ll be skating on.
“There are always so many intricacies of skating to take into account. They could be hitting a ledge to do a 50/50 and there could be a crack in the ground two feet before it, so I get them prepared to weave around that crack, and show them how to dismount from the ledge correctly,” said Gorecki. “It’s so important, that transition piece between the actors and the doubles. You want to be able to piece it together so it’s seamless, so it looks natural and real when it’s all edited down.”
Gorecki also works closely with the wardrobe department to provide the clothing and shoes that will provide the most comfort and safety to the actors.
“If a skater can’t feel his board because his shoes are too thick, and they’re not broken in, that can throw his comfort completely off,” said Gorecki. “It’s also getting the right cut in the jeans; pants can’t be too tight. I also work with the props department, making sure the boards are concave in a way the doubles are comfortable with. From there, we match up everything the doubles are comfortable using as far as boards, shoes and clothing to the actors. We’ll take the grip tape and we’ll take an actual skateboard and damage the shoe so it matches the double.”
Gorecki also works closely with the director and cinematographer to ensure the camera is catching the most important elements of the skating.
“Skateboard shooting started out with a little fish-eye camera getting in really tight and rolling along side with the skaters,” said Gorecki. “We’re working to get that same sort of look and traditional feel of a skateboarding video. Sometimes we’ll have a camera guy riding along side them on a skateboard or on roller blades to keep tracking the actor nice and low and at the same speed. I’ll stand by the monitor just to make sure it’s not being shot too high or too low. We also take into account safety; at any time a board could shoot out, so I’ll be there next to the camera guy to make sure he’s safe.”
In addition to working on set, Gorecki will also meets with the show’s writers to ensure the skating elements are used properly.
“From early on, we made it a point that I would have lunch with the writers and give them a bit of my skating background and insight into certain stories or just give them points that they could take away and learn from,” said Gorecki. ” There are a million different things to keep the real elements of skating in the script. We want to keep the real authenticity of the sport in there; we don’t want it to get too far off the base, or too fantastical. There’s a big gap between a 13-14 year old kid skating and what he can do compared to a Tony Hawk. We never want to take the character too far out of their element, but at the same time we want to make them look good.”
Within the scripts, Gorecki and the writing team try to capture some of the different styles of skateboarding. They balance the styles with the personalities of the characters on the show.
“Zeke is kind of the perfectionist; he’s the real marksman of the show,” said Gorecki. “He’ll practice a trick, a standard flat ground trick, or a kick flip or a heal flip over and over. He might be more concerned about precision and style and landing something smoothly, where Luther’s more the wily, free-flowing cruiser, long-board type of skater. There are so many different types of skaters, if we tried to reflect all of them we’d have probably twenty different characters!”
In addition to consulting on “Zeke and Luther,” Gorecki is currently working on a skateboard video being shot in downtown Los Angeles.
“My heart is in the core skateboarding community,” said Gorecki. “I’ve made the conscious effort over the past years to help kids who were in my position when I started. I want to help get their stories out and display their talent.”
“Skateboarding has always been one of those sports that’s misunderstood; the ideology behind it has been misunderstood,” said Gorecki. “There are so many kids that don’t want to play baseball or football or a sport where there’s a coach and an umpire. Skateboarding is one of those endeavors where a kid who’s really into an individualistic artistic expression can leave the house and do it on their own. There’s a sense of open-mindedness created by skateboarding, and that to me is the coolest thing a kid could see in that activity.”