Bret Johnston Writes New Documentary “Waiting for Lightning” - 10. 15. 13

BJohnstonBret Johnston, Director of Creative Writing and Senior Lecturer on English wrote the recently released documentary film Waiting for Lightning, which is an intimate portrait of skateboarding icon Danny Way. The film chronicles Way’s turbulent childhood, rise to fame, innovative death defying stunts—injuries and all—including his greatest feat of jumping over the Great Wall of China.

The film was in various stages of production for over five years, and Bret was involved for most of that time. He’d written a long essay about Danny Way and in the process of researching the piece, met Jacob Rosenberg, the director of Waiting for Lightning. The two men shared a vision, and soon after, Bret was invited to work on the documentary. He recalls that moment before being asked… “I’m sure I accepted the offer before he’d finished the question.  I was, and remain, thrilled.”

Bret described the process as “alien and amazing” and as a fiction writer, he was used to working alone, but, as he states, “…When you’re working on a film, the whole enterprise is a team effort. Jacob Rosenberg, Carol Martori, and I collaborated on nearly every aspect of the project, and I found the collaboration inspiring and liberating for my imagination.” The film went through countless iterations and a good many narrative structures before landing on the one that was released.

He found interviewing the greatest skateboarders in the world to be exciting and revelatory, especially for someone who loves skating as much as he does, but his fondest memories are working with the Waiting for Lightning team, piecing together the movie they wanted to make. He remembers when they printed out the script, cut the interviews into strips, and then taped it back together in a different sequence. He goes on to say, “I loved the tactile aspect of that experience, how despite all of the amazing editing equipment at our disposal, we chose to lay everything out on the floor of the Bandito Brothers offices and move little pieces of paper around with our hands.  That version of the script is very close to the final one. Artistically speaking, I’ve never felt so much a part of team.  You don’t really get that when you’re alone in your office writing literary fiction.”

When asked about the focus of the film, Bret stated that “the perspective that bound us together was the desire not to make a documentary about skateboarding.  We wanted skating to be a character in the film, but not the main character. In many ways, I see skateboarding as a relatively minor character. The star of the show is an incredibly nuanced and deeply wounded boy, a kid who’s lost almost every important person in his life, who becomes a man longing for a home and a way to process his past. I love skateboarding, and I love its place in the film, but to my mind, this isn’t at all a story about skateboarding, not even close.”

Bret has been a fairly serious skateboarder for over 25 years, and the ways skateboarding and writing overlaps in his life are endless. Waiting for Lightning is, of course, the most profound convergence of these two tracks, and that’s one of the reasons he is so proud of the film and the incredible reception it’s received around the world. More practically, he thinks his history with skating has fostered a kind of important stubbornness, a relentlessness or resilience, in him as a writer. He tends not to quit on sentences and scenes, the same way he refuses to give up on learning new tricks. He sees the enterprises as processes, and has signed on for the ride regardless of its duration. He thinks nothing of working on a sentence for a day or more. He’s worked on stories for ten years before they were published, and he’s worked on tricks for longer than that and he’s yet to pull them off. Still, he presses on, trusting the work will satisfy him. And, to be fair, as he puts it,” failing on a sentence is a lot less physically taxing than doing the splits on a handrail.”

The film world premiered at the SXSW Festival in 2012, and then was purchased for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films.  There were premieres in Hollywood, London, Milan, Madrid, Toronto, and Australia, and the film was released in theaters around the world last fall making its way to the number one slot for a documentary in the country. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and available on DVD/Blu-Ray.

Watch the trailer: