Skateboarding Canon

Stacy Peralta talks about his new documentary Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, which premiered at Sundance 2012

IN BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Stacy Peralta returns to his skateboarding roots to chronicle the young skate team he created in the 1980s. Combining archival footage and present-day interviews, Peralta tells the stories of the teens he groomed into skating legends: Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero and Mike McGill. We sat down with Peralta in Park City to talk about the film, which premiered this week at Sundance.

You mentioned at the Sundance premiere that you were hesitant to do this film at first. Why?
Because I play a dual role, director and subject, and I did that in Dogtown [and Z-Boys]. I was worried that I was going to be viewed as a narcissist. That’s why I put “autobiography” in the title, so if people have an issue they at least know I’m stating it from the top. It was my wife’s idea. She knew my worry. She said, “Look, people write autobiographies all the time, and they make films.”So you know what? It’s a good idea.

You found a wealth of archival footage. Was a lot of it yours?
A lot of it was ours. All these guys lived outside of Los Angeles, so whenever I would fly them in for a contest, I had to photograph them all the time—because I needed the photographs for ads. So they’d come in and shoot tons of stuff. They’d go to the contest, I’d put ’em on the plane, and they’d go home. So we had this archive of probably 1500 photos, 50 hours of footage, over a 10-year span. So I had to go through all this—sort through it—and try to make a story out of it.

Have you been in close touch with everyone in the original crew?
We see each other once in a while, but everyone’s very busy. Being up here [at Sundance], we’re staying in the same home. We’ve not been together like this in over 20 years. It’s so much fun. We stay up every night, drink wine, have the fire going, Tommy’s playing guitar. It’s been a blast.

When you do these movies that rely heavily on archival footage, are you itching to shoot action scenes?
You know, I’ve shot so much action in my life, what I’m interested in now is just telling stories. I just wanna tell a story. If the story requires me to go shoot action, I’ll do it, but so far it hasn’t required that because I’ve been telling stories from the past.

Some of the most suspenseful moments in the film are when the boys come up with never-before-seen moves. Are there as many new moves being invented today?
They are still being invented today, but from what I understand they’re more like variations. These guys came into the sport at a time when the canvas was still very blank. A lot of the maneuvers they developed became iconic, groundbreaking maneuvers that today every skateboarder incorporates. We were just talking about that. What if Rodney or Tony had been born now? They wouldn’t have had that opportunity because the groundwork has been laid. Not to get lofty, but I almost look at these guys as like Chopin. He wrote the etudes, which were the studies. They kind of laid down all the things for future musicians to study. Not to suggest that they’re on that level, but just to say that they had a chance to be architects.

You do get the sense that you’re watching history in the making.
Yeah, what’s interesting is that so much of that footage, when I was making the film, I couldn’t believe they were doing that at such young ages. And I was there. So that was a surprise.

It’s interesting to watch you produce the Bones Brigade skate videos, because it’s sort of the equivalent of YouTube today. How do you think YouTube and viral videos have affected skate culture?
I think it’s made the action sport video moot, because from what I understand, kids now go out and shoot a few tricks, post them on YouTube and that’s it. They don’t even do videos because it’s instantaneous. It happens right now. Whereas videos we shoot over a six-month period then release it, and then they play for two years.

Do you ever watch YouTube videos?
I’ve spent so much of my life doing this that I don’t typically [watch YouTube videos]. Once in a while someone sends me a link and says you’ve really gotta see this skateboarder, he’s really doing something different. And I did see a kid this past year from Spain that was doing things like, “Okay, this guy’s on a whole different plain.” Another kid from Japan was doing something so different and unique. Nothing where you go, “Oh my God.” But you could tell this guy was interpreting a different language.

Your films are always set in California, specifically on the coast. Would you like to move elsewhere at some point? Maybe focus on snowboarding, for example?
I’ve never been interested in snowboarding. I don’t know why. There’s something about the white mountain, it doesn’t have enough urban to it. I’ve been asked a lot of times. I don’t know what’s next, either. The things I want to do just require getting money and financing.

What do people approach you for these days?
I don’t get approached too often. I’m kind of on my own little planet. I don’t have an agent or manager. If I wanna make a film, I have to go out and get financing on my own. I’ve been a skateboarder my whole life and we’re kind of outsiders. I find myself like that in the film world, and I finally realized this is just the way it is for me. I’m never gonna be let in the front door, it’s always gonna be in the back. I’m gonna continue to climb over fences. But I realized maybe that’s the way I want it.

You have a knack for getting surfing and skateboarding legends to open up and even cry. How do you generate such intimacy?
Well, you wouldn’t know it from this conversation, but I don’t typically say much. I’m a very quiet person, but since you’re asking all these questions and you seem actively engaged, I’ll talk. Typically I’m the one asking questions. Typically I listen more than I speak, and if I’m at a party I’m glued to the wall, usually by myself. I’m just not comfortable, so I typically just try to engage people by asking them questions.

As you interviewed these men who you’ve known for 30 years, did you come to see sides of them that you hadn’t seen before?
Yes, it’s been really, really incredible getting to know these guys as adults. Really incredible. We were together at a very tender time in their lives and my life as well, and we developed a bond. It is as strong today as it was then, but now I’m getting to know them as fathers and husbands, and we talk about our problems and issues. It’s really, really funny to hear them talk about problems with their own kids.

Do you hear echoes of what you dealt with when they were kids and you were the adult?
Yes. [Laughs.] And to hear what they’re going through with their kids is really funny. It’s good material to share laughs with.

Any specific examples?
Steve Caballero was talking about one of his daughters growing up. She’s 15 and she won’t listen to him anymore, and he’s having to re-figure out how to be a father. He’s gotta back off a little bit. I was just thinking, “Too funny!”

There’s a touching moment in the film when Rodney and Tony buckle under the stress of competition. What role did you play in helping them through this phase?
Well, Rodney was different because when he left, he wasn’t there for me to be there for him. So he had to deal with that on his own. Tony at least was in San Diego, and I dealt with him and his brother. What Tony didn’t talk about was I wrote him a letter saying, look, whatever you need, you do. Because he loves competition—he just needed a break. He had had so much success so fast. He’s not an emotional kid, but when that happened to him—all those kids that spat on him, all those things people said about his dad—he was hurt. So I think he needed time to [tears up]. God, I get… it’s really weird, when we did these interviews I got so involved I became a crybaby. I had to continue to stop because I got so emotional. Anyway, he needed a three-month period to just get perspective on where he was at. What he realized is how much he loves [competing] but needed to figure out a way to come back with a different tack, a different relationship with it.

When you interview Rodney in the present, he’s incredibly insightful. Did you know that about him?
I did not know that he was as articulate as he is. It blew my mind. Before we started shooting we all got together to get any reservations out of the way, and when Rodney spoke, I thought, “Oh my god, we’ve got a film here. This guy is gonna be sensational.” But he was even better than I thought. I had a whole interview prepared for him and he took it somewhere else. Lance did the same thing, as well. He really came and took me a place I wasn’t expecting.

Are you still skateboarding?
I am. I skateboard and stand up paddle surf like a maniac. I’m addicted to it.

Where do you go?
Central California. I ride a small board performance board. I have to do a sport. It’s important for my head, it’s important for my spirit and chemical balance. If I don’t do that, I’ll go to the gym, but I have to keep physically active.

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