INT: Lords of Dogtown

Based on Stacy Peralta’s 2002 documentary DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS, the LORDS OF DOGTOWN had a turbulent ride to the big screen, going through three directors before Catherine Hardwicke arrived and saw the project to fruition. Like the documentary, it chronicles the exploits of a few kids from Venice Beach , California , who rose from humble beginnings to transform the sport of skateboarding and usher in its modern era. The film centers on three skaters in particular: Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams, three pioneers whose influence on the sport can still be seen today.

Last week Peralta, Alva and Skip Engblom (owner of the famous Zephyr Shop – that’s where the Z comes from) stopped by the Culver Studios in Los Angeles to talk about seeing their stories told on celluloid. The Lords of Dogtown opens on Friday. Check it out.

What do you hope audiences will get out of this?

Engblom: A good time. What more do you want?

Peralta: It would be nice if they walk away with a better understanding of where skateboarding came from. Like Spike Jonze, when he first saw the documentary, he said, “I had no idea that you guys had to figure out to ride a pool. I just took it for granted that you just did it.” Maybe if people look at it and go, jeez, it had humble beginnings.

Alva: And it shows how it evolved from surfing, especially in L.A. It came from surfing to the streets, to the back yards, people's private property. Pools.

What’s it like when you go back to Venice now?


Rodeo Drive
at the beach.

Alva: The streets and sidewalks are the same as when we were kids. We have better gear now.. (it’s) still something that keeps you in touch with your youth.

Engblom: There's not one street in Santa Monica that's exactly like what it was in 1970, not one. They researched it because they were trying to film at one point something in Santa Monica, and they were 100% unable to do that.

What do you guys miss the post about that era? What do you miss the least?

Alva: I miss the pier a lot. Especially because it was big and there were a lot of secret places. Just the parking lot there where they had the ballroom where all the rock bands used to play. Underneath the pier was like a gay brothel. I could map out the pier with my hand right now and show you — Skip knows what I'm talking about, and Stacy.

Engblom: I had a job on the pier in high school where I used to run the roller coaster in kiddyland, and they fired me and this other guy because we would close down kiddyland and practice surfing on the miniature rollercoaster, so I was fired for that.

Peralta: I just miss the freedom of that time. You could say things and do things that were not suddenly deemed political one way or the other. It was during the sexual revolution and the economy in the toilet. It was just that freedom there.

Did you ever think that you were starting something that would become such a sensation?

Peralta: Never. We were looked at as vandals too much to ever think that what we were doing was going to turn into something.

How would you react if your kids did the kinds of things you did?

Peralta: Funny thing you should say that. Last year my kid came into the house and he goes, “I gotta talk to you about something. We snuck into a backyard a couple of blocks down. There's a pool in the back and we skated it.” He looked at me and said, “You're not going to be mad at me, are you? You did the same thing.” And I looked at him and all I could say was, “Did you have a helmet on?” I can't say don't do it.

At the time, did you really consider yourselves vandals?

Peralta: No, because we weren't out to hurt anybody.

Alva: We were there to skate the pool. We got in and we got out.

Peralta: We weren't there to deliberately damage. We were there to do our art.

Alva: We used to get really pissed off and like blacklist guys, anybody who came in and really did stuff like that. Except that we did spray graffiti — not on the pools, more on the walls and fences around that area, because that was kind of a cliquey style where you warn other guys this is your territory. That's a different deal. But inside the pools, the property, we never robbed the house or broke the glass in the windows, we just skated the pool.

How much did the tone of the film change when David Fincher left the project and Catherine Hardwicke took over?

Peralta: I'll just repeat something Skip just said, because he spent a lot of time with Fincher as well, that David was very concerned about the hardware and when Catherine came in she was very concerned about the social dynamic between the people in the script, the characters. And I think it's just two different approaches.

Alva: She took the same approach with the actors. She gets really personal with everybody. Her vision combined with her work ethic and just her experience in the film industry…it all clicks. She's not like this tyrant type of director; she's part of like a massive creative process.

Engblom: I was looking at these kids and they felt so much like the original team. I know it's not the original team, but…

How did you feel about the decision to use actors instead of skaters to play your roles?

Peralta: It was the right thing to do. You can teach a kid to skate but I don't know if you can teach him to act.

Alva: You can't. It just makes the movie suck like all the other ones they've made about skateboarding because they try to take guys who were surfers and skaters and get them to act. It's stupid. The main thing you do right off the bat is to get good actors.

Peralta: Put it this way. These guys didn't have to learn to do aerials. They had to learn to just look comfortable on a board.

Alva: Go from point A to point B and then the stunt guys would come in.

Peralta: Yeah, but if you go back to the beginning, go back to Gidget. And if you look at Gidget and look at James Darren or one of the guys, they're smoking cigars on a surfboard, and they're talking to one another as they're riding this wave, all relaxed. This is the history that we have to rebel against. We didn't want to fall into that quicksand trap of all that nonsense.

How accurate was the film in depicting your individual personalities?

Peralta: That's the one thing Tony and I talked about. Jay wasn't as angry as he was in the film. Tony wasn't as strident as he was in the film. I wasn't as straight as I was in the film. But this being a film, we kind of had to delineate who these characters were.

Stacy, can you talk about going from the documentary to this? What was it like writing the screenplay?

Peralta: Hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I've been a professional athlete, I've directed films, I've run a company with 150 employees, and nothing compares to writing a screenplay. Just the second I think I know what I'm doing, the rug gets pulled out and I have no idea what I'm doing. Because there are so many problems to solve, and especially in a thing like this where there is an ensemble. Every character has to balance off each other, and every time you solve one problem, you knock that squirrel head down, and six more pop up.

Were you guys really that competitive?

Peralta: The thing is we were alpha males and we each wanted to be the best, and there only so many opportunities, so when we all broke up, we were still competing against each other and we saw each other at contests. We put on our game face against each other. I wanted to beat Tony and Tony wanted to beat me and it was a predatory situation.

Was there a certain innocence to the era?

Peralta: I think there was. There was a freedom to do things. Nowadays when something cool happens, the big corporations of America or the world swoop down and they want to be associated with it. They want to log on to it. They want to sponsor it. They want a piece of it. But then they wouldn't do that because they didn't want anything to do with us. And as a result we got to develop organically off the radar, because people weren't paying attention to what we were doing, but nowadays every time some little cool thing happens you see it a month later on a coke commercial or a McDonald's commercial because they all want to be associated with that stinking young demographic. There was an innocence because the innocence was allowed to happen. But as soon as adult hands reach in, the innocence is gone.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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