Helen Stickler might be the girl next door. She lives in a perfectly appointed vintage-modern cottage in Echo Park, complete with a beautiful view, charismatic neighbors and a visiting cat. The only thing missing is the white picket fence. But as they say, looks are deceiving.
Observe more closely, and you’ll notice that the art on her walls is mostly of the street-inspired ilk, paired with editions of her movie posters. That would be as-written-and-directed-by-her: Andre the Giant Has a Posse, a 1997 documentary on Shepard Fairey’s sticker campaign; and Stoked: the Rise and Fall of Gator, a 2003 Sundance Festival screener on the life and murderous times of ’80s vert-skater icon Mark “Gator” Rogowski. Get to talking and you’ll find out she’s just completed direction on an extreme-stunts show for the BBC (Smash Lab) and is about to dig into a hush-hush project with yet another skater, the subversive Jason Jessee.
In another feat not easily accomplished, Stickler got her start in the late ’90s as an on-air producer for MTV, where she garnered an Emmy nomination for a safe-sex campaign. How has she hurdled the stumbling blocks of boy-culture and the film industry in general? “I’ve never really played that ‘I’m a woman’ card,” she explains, “but I’d be lying to say that Stoked wasn’t a challenge. I was interested in the story not so much for the skating, but because it was about ’80s culture and the cult of celebrity. It was an investigative piece for me, an urban legend that no one was talking about at the time. I prefer to destroy myths. The movie was a pretty broad illustration of the dangers of taking yourself too seriously.”
Smash Lab was another matter entirely — lots and lots of sand. “My show was all about sinking things in 100 tons of fluidized sand. We hung out in the desert and sunk a moving van in a 60-foot-deep pit of sand, with all these air compressors rigged up to one little button. I learned that if you put air into sand at a fixed rate, it acts like a liquid … quicksand, but dry. It was really fun.”
What, you ask? This girl in a vintage wrap dress with perfectly upswept hair, who speaks with a Midwestern lilt, has never suffered from road rash or ridden a black diamond? Turns out, it doesn’t mean you can’t kick ass. “I think it’s really important to empower women. Sure, girls have to do it themselves, but you have to give them the opportunity and find people to respect that. But you’re going to get treated like shit in the film industry regardless if you’re a woman or a man.”
Stickler offers some sage advice: “Don’t do theatrical, and hold on to all the rights. And be prepared to get sued. If you haven’t been sued twice by the time you’re 40, you haven’t lived.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon