Prior to 2001, Stacy Peralta was “just” known as one of the young luminaries of skateboarding, a wunderkind skater who turned his sense of civil disobedience into some of the most influential tricks and techniques in the sport’s history. But after “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” Peralta became something of an official biographer for skateboarding as a whole, not just creating a riveting documentary but spawning the fictionalized version of his younger days, “Lords of Dogtown.” At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Peralta is back with another skating documentary, “Bones Brigade: An Autobiography,” in which he chronicles the rise of the Powell-Peralta skateboarding company, which he co-owned, and the transformation of the sport into an international industry. The Playlist caught up with Peralta recently via telephone to talk about 'Bones Brigade.' In addition to discussing the process of putting the film together, he talked about the sport’s intersection of fun, athleticism and commerce, and offered his thoughts about the enduring appeal of skateboarding even in a time when it’s been absorbed into a greater tapestry of other alternative sports.
Just to get started, talk about what in this film you wanted to explore that maybe didn’t get covered in “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”
Well the difference between this film and “Dogtown and Z-boys” is in 'Dogtown,' the Zephyr team came together and it was made up of a group of skateboarders from one single community, the best kids out of the community, the best skateboarders, but as soon as that particular team tasted success, it collapsed. It couldn’t hold together. And the difference with the Bones Brigade is the Bones Brigade wasn’t made up of a community of kids. It was made up of young kids from all over the country, and when the team got successful and when each of these guys became the best at what they did, they decided that instead of collapsing, instead of breaking apart, instead of going it alone, they made a decision to stay together as a team. And so that’s really what the film was about, why these guys stayed together as a team and what the concept of team brought to their lives.
How did you decide to initiate this, and how easily did it come together as a narrative?
I was approached to direct this close to ten years ago and it was a really obvious thing to do, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it because with 'Dogtown' I was both the director and the subject or one of the subjects, and in this film I was going to be facing that same dual role because I created the Bones Brigade and I wasn’t comfortable doing that again. But over the years I just assumed that some other director would latch onto this and get it made, but it just didn’t happen. And at the end of 2010, Lance Mountain, who is one of the individuals featured in the film, he called me and said, “We really believe we have a legacy here and we really we feel very strongly in wanting to get this film made, but we want you to do it. Would you reconsider?” And we talked a little bit and finally the thing that got me is he said, “I want you to understand something.” He goes, “We are now older than you were when you made ‘Dogtown.' The time is now to do it.” So that was really the reason I finally just said damn the torpedoes, I'll get this done, let’s do it. So what I did was I took my garage load of archival material, which was hundreds of magazines and videos and film, and I started looking through all that material and thinking back around that time during the '80s, during the decade of the '80s and started constructing the narrative.
There was quite a good eagerness to it. I had two challenges. One, I had to narrow down who I was really going to focus this film on, and I decided to focus it on the top six guys of the Bones Brigade who really put a dent in their world. I had a field of 40 people to choose from, but this six emerged, and one of the six guys in particular, Rodney Mullen, who really comes off unbelievable on film, was a little bit nervous in getting involved. He wanted to be involved and he was forthright about his involvement, but he was also forthright about basically telling me, “I have a very personal story to share with you.” And he goes, “I had issues with my father. He did not want me to skate. I am going to be honest with you in telling you my story, but if my story is handled improperly this is going to be very difficult for me.” And he goes, “I just want your assurance that you’re going to treat my story with respect.” So Rodney and I talked a lot about this, because he does in fact open his heart up in this film and is incredibly articulate and really talks about the difficulties he had in trying to develop as a skateboarder at the same time his father was telling him that what he was doing was a waste of time in his life.
How much do you examine the business aspect of skateboarding in the '80s, when it really exploded as an industry?
We talk about how I marketed and advertised these guys. We talk about the videos. We talk about the money they were making, how they dealt with the money they were making. I don’t know if you’re even aware of this because of the age you were at the time, but when these guys all got into skateboarding, which was in the late '70s, early '80s, skateboarding was experiencing a boom, and as soon as I put this team together and we started to become something, the sport died again. In 1982 Skateboarder Magazine went out of business, and it looked like the entire industry was going to collapse. And that’s one of the historical movements the film is explaining, and what we all did to resuscitate skateboarding at that time and how at that time nobody was making money. There is a joke in the film that at one point Tony Hawk received a royalty check from our company for 85 cents, true story. So you get to see that these guys were developing a sport that the mainstream of this country couldn’t have given a rat’s ass for, but it never stopped them from devoting themselves to it because they loved doing it.
What sort of musical context do you put this in, because this era is when hip-hop was sort of exploding, and especially now it seems like hip-hop and skateboarding are culturally enmeshed?
You’re absolutely right, but before hip-hop, skateboarding was enmeshed in punk rock music, especially in the early '80s, and so in the first half of the film there is quite a bit of punk rock music, and it’s the same exact punk rock music that was playing at the amateur and professional contests back in the early '80s. So the movie is quite a true reflection of what they were listening to. And towards the end of the movie, which is a reflection of like around 1989, 1990, hip-hop starts moving into the film, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and stuff like that.
I don’t know if it’s ever easy. It’s always difficult. It’s always a struggle and for me I had that dual role of being in it and being the one putting it together, and as a result of that I chose a very specific editor to work with, someone that I could trust, someone that could make a decision, in a sense, if I couldn’t or if I needed assistance. I worked with an editor named Josh Altman who was extremely skilled, but he was like a writing companion to me. He was very, very helpful in helping me navigate through some emotional areas that I probably couldn’t have done alone or it would have been very difficult.
As far as people recollecting, what you try to do is you try to get the closest interpretation from as many voices as possible. So if there are seven people in a room and one person says one thing and somebody says something else, you try to find the middle ground to what exactly might have happened, and if there is still no consensus then you provide the fact that there is no consensus and you present both sides. But what we did in this film though is it really became a personal story, and one thing that has been surprising is when I showed this to Tony Hawk and I showed it to Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain, Tony’s first reaction was “My God.” He goes, “I never expected this to be so personal and so emotional.” And I'm hearing that from a lot of skateboarders, that they didn’t expect the film to be as emotional. They’re saying it’s emotional and they didn’t expect that. I think they’re just expecting kind of a punk rock skateboarding tour through the '80s when in fact it’s more an interior portrait of these young teenagers who went from 13-year-old kind of like ne’er-do-wells to becoming world class professional athletes in their late 20s.
Do you have any interest in going into more fictional filmmaking, or is there a particular reason that you choose to focus on documentaries?
No, I have actually. The thing is I've written ten screenplays. I’ve been hired twice by Sony to write screenplays. I'm interested in going that way. It just hasn’t worked so far, but I also do love non-fiction. I read a lot and all I read is non-fiction. I'm very happy doing this. The thing I like about what I do is I'm able to control what I do. Even though I don’t get a lot of money for the projects I do, I'm at least in control and the film I deliver is the film I wanted to deliver, whereas if I'm making a feature and I'm under the kind of mechanism of a studio, you know, I give up a lot of freedom. So I certainly would like to, but I'm very particular about what I like to do, too.
How do you look at skateboarding now that it has been, fortunately or unfortunately, folded into this giant landscape of extreme sports?
I think I have mixed feelings. You know just like anything in a capitalistic society, when something gets popular, the money follows it, and it can have a tendency to become big and it can have a tendency to get away from its roots. So there is the X-Games aspect of it that’s kind of blown out of proportion, but the one thing that is unique about skateboarding, and that will always remain about skateboarding that is so special, is that it’s illegal, and that’s the best part about it. It will always be illegal in the street, on public spaces, and that’s really where it’s the funnest to skate, and so no matter how many skate parks they make, no matter how big skateboarding gets, kids are always going to want to do it where they’re not allowed to and for that reason there is always going to be a kernel of it that’s honest, and there is always going to be an aspect of it that’s going to remain un-caged. So I'm still proud that that’s probably the thing, I think, that’s the most attractive about it, because it allows kids to be a little bit subversive. It allows for a little bit of civil disobedience. It doesn’t hurt anybody, but it gives kids a sense of independence, which I think is really important and it un-cages them and it un-cages their own minds.
"Bones Brigade: An Autobiography" premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, January 21st. Here's a clip from the film below.