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Mike Piscitelli: Photographes, Films, Fucking Awesome Our insighful talk with photographer/filmaker Mike Piscitelli

Mike Piscitelli what youth issue 5
11.11.12 – TAGS: ,

Famous faces. Incredible films. Beautiful models. Rad friends. Sick photographs. Lucrative contracts. You could say Mike Piscitelli is as successful as anyone creative could ever hope to be. But such is the curse of the creative, always grinding, pulling from the past, learning. Always learning. We spoke with Mike about his work and his path to success, and realized he’s just getting started.

After the jump is an excerpt from our interview with Mike that first appeared in What Youth Issue 5. From skateboarding and music to models and Ozzy Osbourne, Mike has gotten into a lot of different scenes. He created Fucking Awesome with Jason Dill and likes getting barreled. Click here for more after the jump.

WHAT YOUTH: How did you get here?

MIKE PISCITELLI: I’m originally from the Valley, outside Los Angeles. I dropped out of school at the end of ninth grade and I pretty much ended up working in the porn industry (behind the scenes). I learned about fancy cameras and lighting. I built sets, helped photographers and filmers. I learned a lot about equipment. I did that for eight months and then realized I didn’t want to be involved with porn. From there I got a job at a rental house and then assisted some photographers.

A different form of education, but education none-the-less.

Then I moved to New York and basically spent 10 years partying, shooting model tests and trying to get shit to go. There’s actually a bit of a side story during that time I’m leaving out where I lived with skateboarder Jason Dill, started a brand called Fucking Awesome and started a record label. Then 9/11 happened and I made some videos with my friends that led me to shoot MTV’s So-Cal summer campaign. So then I’m a director all of a sudden, did a few music videos, a few years went by, I moved back to LA and did commercials and more videos. I then made the film on Ozzy Osborne. (God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, 2011)

So 10 years breaks out like this: Drop out, porn sets, Jason Dill, Fucking Awesome, 9/11, MTV, Ozzie Osbourne…

Yeah, I’ve just continued to document and shoot everything around me and turned that into a career.

You shoot a lot of different people, in and out of skateboarding and surfing, how were you involved in those cultures?

I grew up skateboarding, but I had friends who surfed. One of my best friends since middle school is Jordy Tappis and he surfed, was like an NSSA kid, pro surfer for a while, and we’ve done shit together forever. We actually produced the Ozzy movie together. His mom goes out with my dad’s brother. We set them up. Through him I know Timmy Curran, The Malloys and all these dudes in surfing. I was always this New York thrasher dude and would just take care of them in New York. Jon Rose would come to New York and hit me up for things to do. I had connections to hook them up, they wanted to go to clubs with models and shit. One time I actually went to Paris with Strider Wasilewski. Yeah, in 1999 me, Jason Dill and Strider went to Paris.

Just to go get loose and hangout?

Well, Dill and I skated for Quiksilver at the time so we went over there and said we were gonna do some promo video — but in reality it was Fashion week and we were like, “Should we go to Paris and party? Of course we should.” This was a brief thing and I was just loosely attached to surfing.

But now you surf more?

Yeah, when I moved back to LA I started surfing more, just ‘cause I’m old, I’m 34, and I don’t want to skateboard as much because it hurts. Now I surf kind of regularly and I go to Indo once a year…I mean I’m horrible, but it’s good.

Yeah, skateboarding can check you every year you age.

I was on a job once and broke my ankle doing a fucking slappy grind and was like, “What the fuck are you doing?” And surfing, I dunno, I like being in the ocean. Most of my close friends who are serious surfers will give me shit sometimes…like this year for instance, I went to Indo and brought a 7’0” Bonzer and got every wave and got so tubed and was like, “Why don’t I ride these all the time?” I can get tubed and smile a lot. Surfing is such a hard, weird, horrible thing. [Laughs]

It’s like, how hard do I need to “rip?”

I don’t even want to rip! I can’t rip! [Laughs] I just don’t want to look like an asshole. People are always like, “Why don’t you ride a “real” board? Why do you ride all these weird boards?” And I’m like, ‘because I don’t feel lame on them…’

So you do have some crossover now.

Yeah, Jordy Tappis was my connection. And now I think it’s just rad that surfers want to be involved in anything and everything that’s not surf. Including skateboarding.

Yeah, there are quite a few surfers who aren’t subscribing to the “professionalism” anymore. I’ve even had skate friends psyche on surfing.

Yeah, surfing’s gotten cool! Like Kevin Turpening, who skates for Fucking Awesome and Huf — like the dude rips — and I saw his Instagram the other day and he linked to Marine Layer and said, “ I look to surfing to get psyched to skate now.”

That’s rad.

I feel like this new generation of surfers aren’t just jocks. Surfing was really lame when I was growing up. It was jocky. Long boardshorts and shit. I don’t know what shifted but it’s almost like surf kids are cooler than skaters now. Some skaters are becoming like the ‘90s surfers if you look closely. You’ve got these dudes who are training and shit.

We’ve got our share of “trainers” still. But there are some good guys, and you have to credit Dane for validating the shift.

I see Ozzie Wright, and most kids thought he was wack at some point…and now he’s a living legend.

He was way ahead of his time.

Then Dane shows up and you’re like he’s so much better than everyone, we can’t call him lame. Is that what happened?

Yeah, now these guys are looking at guys like Ozzie and appreciating what he brought to the game. It’s full circle and it’s sick.

And I’m not super close to it, but Ozzie is so fucking down and he’s so cool. I dunno, I honestly dig him a lot.

I’d say we’re working our way out of the jock rut. Gives us some new people to talk to, which is rad.

I’ve been hanging out with Conner Coffin a bit and he seems super rad.

Yeah, we love Conner. He’s a smart kid.

He’s so down! He took me out at the Ranch to surf and it was me, him and Chris Malloy. Chris and I were talking while he was surfing and we were like, ‘you know, he could be the king of his group of friends, but instead he wanted to hang with me and Chris and learn.’ He’s interested in things outside of surfing. And you’re like, ‘Wow, he’s what, 20 and he’s pumped on things outside of surfing. Which I think is exciting. Because the kids I knew in high school were only into surfing and wearing cheesy shorts. Wow, I’m surf gossiping.

Coffee talk.

But I think this has to do with my work. I’m very interested in this, and I have a series on my site called Accident Prone about it. I’m fascinated by youth culture and what dictates where things go. I’m in the midst of starting a film about youth culture and sexuality and where there’s a tipping point and how interesting it is. I mean, kids have porn on their iPhones at 14 and younger and I’m worried and curious about what’s that going to mean to the next generation? “Pornification” is happening. There’s all the cool work Ed Templeton is doing in Huntington Beach and there’s this weird tipping point that I’m really fascinated in documenting.

Yeah, there is no filter process. Shit aint even scrambled anymore like when I was a kid. It’s right there.

It’s going to lead to chicks thinking it’s OK to do things. Pretty gnarly. We need people to say you don’t need to do that. That’s not what that means.

What are you most excited about right now, creatively?

I say yes to a lot of jobs that my peers wouldn’t because I heard someone say something once, I think it was Anthony Hopkins and he said that if he’s not working he’ll take anything. Because you don’t know what you’re going to learn. Could be the worst script ever and he could meet some camera operator who could be a great talent. If you’re not doing anything you’re not learning…and I just want to be busy. But that said in 5 years it’d be great to shoot photography to make book, films, and docs. But I don’t ever want to not shoot photos. Ideally my career in 10 to 15 years is I only shoot photography for my personal books and to meet interesting people.

And you do have a book coming out, right?

It’s not out yet, but it’s loosely titled: She loved me so much that she married her boyfriend…which might change, I think…

Is it a photo book?

It’s a photo book but it’s a narrative as well. There’s a lot of text. It’s basically about me and a girl I fall in love with who lives with her boyfriend and…well, about the dysfunction that comes with falling in love with a girl who lives with her boyfriend. It’s told through journals and text messages and within that there are photos that show the relationship. Some are photos of me. In a sense it’s a very loose, non-linear story. It’s a film in a book really — with a very attractive girl in it. And you get to read about me fail.

Are you single?

I’m not married…but I’m very into this Australian girl right now. And the book is rooted in reality, but it took on a life of it’s own. It started as a way for me to get back at a girl who left me to marry her boyfriend. There’s nothing vindictive, but it’s rooted around a character in the book called Carly. She started as a real life person and then become a mixture of women in my life. Not all of them, but the keepers. I’m currently dating a new girl after taking an 8-month sabbatical from women.

So your life is your art. And vice versa.

The other thing I’m really into right now is personal growth in the sense of the idea that if you’re a better person, in life, does that leave you open to be a better person creatively with work and shit? If you’re more present in the moment with people around you and your surroundings, will that in turn translate into you having a better understanding of being better. I don’t know the answer, more of a question.

I have observed some people recently who have recently become sober and become very creatively inspired.

Oh good, another one.

It’s like they’ve replaced it with something positive, or well, less negative I should say. It’s been pretty inspiring to see.

I think something happens around age 30 where cool stops being as important as doing good work. I spent until I was 30 trying to figure out how to be cool, then you become 30 or so and you’re too old to be cool anymore, so now what?

You have to begin contributing to the world in a way. Or making it or yourself better.

Its not like life’s over, it’s better really. But up until then you’re focused on being cool. And it’s hard to be “cool” post-30. You focus more on the quality of work, as opposed to being fast and agile…it’s over. The life’s not over, but the “cool” part is. And you take all this shit that happens from birth to 30 and you have all this shit now, experience and shit and you’re like, ‘What do I do with it?’ I’m hoping that’s what my next 15 years are about. What happened up to 30, influences and what I had and turning it into something that makes sense into my own thing.

Your work and doing it well become important.

I feel like I’m just figuring out how to take good photos. And I mean, I don’t even know if I can do it. I’ve learned so much and I’m just begun to feel…almost confident. Almost.

Have you ever felt like you were in over your head in the past?

Yeah. So much of my inspiration was fear based, because I feel like I scammed my way into this career. I used to puke, when I first started doing videos. I’d be like, what the fuck! I scammed myself into this mess and now someone is giving me a $200,000 music video budget. What the fuck am I doing! And now, I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve done some shit. I’ve had a film at Tribeca. I mean, I’m nobody, but I’m confident in myself more now. I’ve taken ownership of what I’ve learned along the way — and in no way am I saying I’m good yet, I just don’t feel as guilty when people hire me. I know how to problem solve. My client will get what they want. I can deliver what I get hired for. It’s cool. I used to really live in fear. I remember being at jobs and [Jason] Dill would be like, ‘You’re so fucked man!’ I mean, I knew what he meant. He saw it in me. It was a transition. How do you go from one day being a skate kid trying to go to model parties to the next day literally having a techno crane and 400 extras waiting to be directed by you.

But you’ve got a body of work and experience now.

It would give me the worst anxiety. But it’s life, you just go with it, learn, and one day you do know something.

 

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