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Director Stacy Peralta Discusses ‘Bones Brigade: An Autobiography’

Today skateboarding is omnipresent. Take a walk down any street in any town, and you are destined to see someone riding a skateboard. Well, it wasn’t always like that. In the early ’80s, skateboarding was fading away until Stacy Peralta brought a profoundly talented group of outsiders together and dubbed them the Bones Brigade. Now an accomplished director, Stacy Peralta has come full circle and has brought his dynamic and captivating style of documentary filmmaking back to the place were it all began. His critically acclaimed documentary film, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, chronicles the epic rise of the team, using awesome archival footage and moving first-person accounts from Brigade members Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, and Rodney Mullen, among others. The film also encapsulates the story of modern skateboarding, the formative years of the legends behind the sport and the struggles they encountered along the way. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Stacy Peralta to discuss his journey as a filmmaker, the making of his amazing Bones Brigade documentary and much more!  

How did you first get turned onto the sport of skateboarding, which has ultimately lead to this very unique life of yours? 

Stacy Peralta In His Youth

The thing is, when I got turned onto it, it wasn’t even a sport. It basically didn’t even exist. I had found a leftover skateboard from the 60s in a friend of mine’s garage. His brothers had skateboarded during the 60s. When I got on it, there was something so magical that happened, ya know? It wasn’t like a bicycle. When you are on a bicycle, you are sitting down and in a really sedate position and holding onto handle bars, so there is a feeling of security. When you are standing on a skateboard, you can’t hold on to anything and you feel the rumble of the sidewalk under your feet, it’s loud and you feel like you are being swept along on a little piece of magic carpet! The sensation I got within myself made me say “Wow! This is what I have been looking for!” No remember, this was a long time ago and there was no such thing as skateboard shops, skate parks or contests. As far as I was concerned, the only people who skateboarded on Planet Earth where the few friends I had in my neighborhood. We didn’t know if anyone else on Earth skateboarded.

It’s obviously come a very long way since that point! 

Yeah! Absolutely, it has come a very long way. It was the urethane wheel that changed it all because suddenly it made it accessible and a lot less dangerous. The wheels that we had previously ridden on were called clay wheels and they were like riding on rocks. It changed everything very dramatically!

Stacy Peralta

How did you make the transition from skateboarding to filmmaking?Ya know, I had been one of the very first professional skateboarders on Earth during the 70s. When my career was starting to slow down and I could see it starting to slow down, I wanted to stay in the business. I met a business partner and we started Powell Peralta. A couple of years into our business, we realized that we had this fantastic skateboarding team but no one was seeing this team and we really needed to show this team to the world! We dreamt up this idea of making a skateboard film but the problem was that we couldn’t afford to hire a production company to make it. The job of making it fell on me and I just took it! I started shooting, directing and editing. Within a year’s time, we had our first film. That is really how I started to become a filmmaker.

Who stands out as some of your influences as a director? Was there anything happening around your formative years which caught your eye?

If I had any influences, it was what I didn’t want to be! People always ask me documentary-wise who my influences are from that world. To be honest, my influences were basically not to be like any of them! I don’t really have anyone that I follow. I try  to make my films a little more spirited than most documentaries you see because I think so many documentaries we see are about great stories but they are told in a very boring way. I have really tried to stay away from that style.

I think you have succeeded in that approach! That leads us to your latest project, “Bones Brigade: An Autobiography”. I am sure you have been kicking around the idea of documenting that very influential time period in skateboarding for quite some time. What was the catalyst which made your throw it into gear and get things underway?

Originally, I didn’t want to do it! Tony Hawk and the other guys asked me to do it about 8 years ago and I declined. I declined because I didn’t want to make another skateboarding film and I didn’t want to make another film where I was both the director and a character in it. They kept after me over the years and a few years back they called again and said “Look, we really want you to reconsider this and please realize that we are now older than you when you made the “Dogtown” film.” That was really what did it for me and I said “I’ll do it!” I stepped up and put the financing together and we made the film in 2011. We premiered it at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2012.

It really is an impressive piece of work. What do you consider the biggest challenge of the project?

It is the lowest budget I have ever worked on. I didn’t have an office to work out of or a crew to work with. It was myself, another producer/editorial assistant and an editor. That was it! Just the three of us! We each worked out of our own homes. It was the most base bones production I have ever worked on before, yet I got the film done faster than any other film I have ever made. It was probably because I didn’t have the money to go any longer. I made no money doing this film. I did it for free because there wasn’t any money to pay me a salary, so it was a real passion project.

Did this project awaken any memories from that period in your life that you had long since forgotten?

I will tell you the thing that surprised me the most. There was a tremendous amount of stock footage to choose from in making this film. A tremendous amount! And I probably shoot 80% of it! I hadn’t seen this footage in close to 30 years. As I was going through this footage, I was looking at footage I actually shot and I couldn’t even remember it. I was noticing how advanced those guys were skateboarding 30 years ago. It absolutely floored me how good they were back then and how many modern maneuverers they invented in the 1980s when skateboarding was really at a low point. That really shocked me, to see what they had done and to see how much of it I had forgotten.
What can you tell us about the interviews for this documentary. What went into what we see on screen from the skaters we see on screen?

A Must See Documentary!

There was three months of preparation because, if you remember, there are six principals in the film. However, there are about twenty other people that surround them, so that is 26 to 30 people on camera. It took me three months to write all of the questions. I was writing questions specifically for each person. I wrote the questions in a series that would build the momentum of an interview. It took me about three months to get all of those questions down and make them very personal for each guy. From there, we built out. We built a set and had every single person come to us. We did about six interview per day and it was a very tough schedule — very emotional and very intense. I couldn’t afford to go to everyone, they all had to come to me and that way I saved a lot of money. We basically shot the film in one week. Out of that week, not one person showed up late. Every single person showed up on time and most people that came stayed. There was kind of energy that filled the room. People really wanted this film to happen, so everyone who arrived just didn’t want to leave! They didn’t want to leave the studio and it was quite amazing. You could just sense there was something special going on and there was a really great vibe attached to the film.

When you started out, I am sure you had a vision on what the finished product would be. How different is what you ultimately achieved versus that original vision?

I thought the film was going to be a little bit more about 1980s skateboarding history. I got all of that material but what happened was the guys brought a much more emotional story to the table. Rodney Mullen brought a much more emotional story than I had anticipated, as did Tony Hawk, as did Lance Mountain. I wasn’t expecting those guys to be as vulnerable, articulate and willing to share that kind of emotion and feeling about their struggles and the obstacles they overcame. Right there is what completely redefined and changed the film. I never thought it was going to go that direction and once we got done shooting, I realized I was walking away with a much different film than I had anticipated. It was much different, much more emotional, much more personal and much, much less about history.

You are tied to this story and film as both a character and a director. As you mentioned, you became a filmmaker as a direct result of you life in skateboarding. How do you feel you have evolved as a filmmaker since those early years when you were blazing your own trail?

Stacy Peralta: Skate Legend

I think I have learned how to tell stories. I have learned to become a very good listener in interviews. You know, when I used to make skateboarding videos, they didn’t have a story behind them. They were just a mish-mash of action, jokes and observations. Now in making films, I have to take something and make sense out of it and make a story out of it. I have to find the compelling, interesting and problematic aspects of it, so that it becomes and interesting story. That is what I have been working on for many, many years — to get better at that.

Is there a particular story out there right now that you feel compelled to tell in film form?

I just finished another film, not directing but producing it. It is the Eddie Aikau film. He is a very famous, mythological Hawaiian figure that died in 1978. That was a story that I was really glad to be a part of. There are many, many more that I would like to do but it just comes down to being able to find the financing and the ability to do it. It is not easy getting financing for these films. It is pretty tough because they are not big money makers. Being an independent filmmaker, especially a documentary filmmaker is challenging to say the least!

Congratulations on a fantastic piece of filmmaking, Stacy. We look forward to spreading the word and talking with you in the future! 
Thank so much! I appreciate it! Take care!