SEA TO SHINING SEA
A black and white buddy movie... in color.
A pre-apocalyptic road movie documenting the coast to coast journey across a tumultuous USA.
Hitch a ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic with a couple of consummate outsiders—
a chocolate-complected Dutchman and his palest of pale skinned American best friend.
25 years ago, at a halfpipe contest somewhere in Europe, two of skateboarding’s biggest loudmouths first met. They’ve been best friends ever since. Monihan, the palest of pink skinned pro-skaters from America, would later be crowned Thrasher Magazine’s “Most Hated Skateboarder of All Time”. Boerleider, the chocolate complected comedian from Amsterdam, would gain fame as the most uncoordinated class clown to ever be sponsored by a big skateboard brand.
Now the glory days of youth are in their rear view mirror, with only the responsibilities of adulthood on the road ahead. As sand slips through the hourglass, Boerleider wants nothing more than to fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing America - a land of mythic proportions for this European, who has gladly gulped down every bit of exceptionalism the USA has ever propagandized about itself. But Boerleider is also a Black European, so for as much as he romanticizes all things red, white and blue, he is also rightfully terrified by the thought of being shot by a trigger happy cop.
Born and raised on American soil, Monihan is a bit more jaded about his homeland, having witnessed its contradictions and shortcomings his entire life. Nevertheless, he’s about to make his best buddy’s dream come true, thanks to his mom giving him the keys to her old Subaru at precisely the same moment Boerleider can get time off from his job in Amsterdam.
Almost immediately upon arrival in California, the Dutchman finds himself in an extremely awkward situation. And it’s a precarious start to our coast to coast adventure with two aging, shit-talking skaters, driving across the great expanse of a fantastic and fantastically flawed United States of America.
In conceiving Sea to Shining Sea, I got to thinking about Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century French aristocrat famous for traipsing across the United States, analyzing and theorizing all the peculiarities the then young country had to offer. About how Americans have held him in high-esteem ever since, given the flattering things he wrote about the burgeoning nation in his landmark tome “Democracy in America”. While the French, who have been equally fond of Alexis, revere him for his private letters to his mother, only recently translated into English, where he lampooned the United States for its numerous shortcomings.
What would de Tocqueville think touring America today, taking travel notes on a nation no longer ascending, perhaps past its prime? Better yet, what would it mean if he were Dutch, Black, non-aristocratic, and gut-bustingly funny, like my best friend Boerleider, who got last place at every skateboard contest he ever entered because he always spent 35 seconds of his 45 second run nervously preparing to roll into the ramp, only to then try and convince everyone his slow start was actually a trick—the extended tail drop? The kind of guy known to crack unexpected one-liners when a dear friend dies, but somehow get away with it because of the twinkle in his eye, a sincerity unmistakable for anything other than wanting to lighten the mood. A kind-hearted class clown, full of opinionated optimism not dissimilar to the bright-eyed de Tocqueville that raved about American possibility.
But if Boerleider was the modern day America-loving Alexis, I would be the inverse. As someone raised in the US of A, well-versed in its deficiencies, I couldn’t help but be the de Tocqueville who wrote letters home to his mama, always ready to point out the star spangled flaws and blemishes. And now Boerleider and I would be hitting the road, stuck in a car together for 5000+ miles. The disparate de Tocquevilles united at last.
So yeah, my mother called me late last spring and told me I could have her car, if I was willing to come pick it up in California. The very same day Boerleider called me from Amsterdam and said he’d saved enough money to come visit America. Serendipity! “Boerleider, don’t book your flight to JFK, book it to SFO. I got a surprise!”
Could Boerleider and I, with our vastly differing opinions on damn near everything, survive each other’s company burnin’ rubber over endless hours of blacktop in my mother's dilapidated Subaru? If we could in fact make it from coast to coast, still on speaking terms, then perhaps there’s hope for everyone else in our increasingly polarized and ossified world. Whatever the case, it was clear that filming our tour was a must.
But how would we capture our little excursion and make it compelling? In my mind, given the degree of manipulation employed in all cinema, the conceit of documentary filmmaking has always felt deceptive. Like you’re putting one over on the audience, under a guise of truthfulness. At the same time, it would be impossible to script and stage our exploits, given our resources. And the fact that neither of us are actors (unless you count our ability to act like a couple of fools) would make something strictly scripted implausible as well. And then it dawned on me — if Coogan and Brydon can roam around England and Italy and get away with it, why can’t Boerleider and I do the same? Hawke and Delpy have been doing this type of thing for what... 5 movies? We can surely pull it off for at least one (even if Boerleider and I aren’t trying to fuck each other).
It was this realization that if the conversations and interactions were compelling, we could just roll with it and film our trip in a narrative fashion, never acknowledging the artifice of filmmaking, instead just capturing the things as they really happened, but in a seemingly staged/scripted style. Besides, narrative films try to approximate the feel of documentaries all the time, so why not invert that approach. It could be a whole new technique. “The Reverse Dardenne”.
Sure, viewers will initially assume that we performed the whole thing. But at some point, they'll start to wonder. My only hope is that, through the course of the film, they’ll start to realize that the two goofy guys on the screen are really just that; a couple of washed-up skateboarder nerds, who can’t agree on anything, but despite all their differences, are inescapably bonded by a lifelong friendship and genuine respect for each other’s uniqueness.
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