As evidenced by her previous effort, 2003s Sundance fave THIRTEEN, filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke is adept at chronicling the lives of rebellious teenagers. So it seemed natural to see her at the helm of LORDS OF DOGTOWN, the story of a handful of rambunctious kids whose skateboarding exploits forever changed the sport. Whats odd is that Hardwicke wasnt even the first choice to direct the film. In fact, she wasnt the second, either.
At first Sean Penn was slated direct, then Fred Durst (yes, the Limp Bizkit frontman). After that, David Fincher came on board. Of all three, it was Fincher who spent the most time developing the project, but he eventually bailed, too. The project finally landed in the lap of Hardwicke, who took the reigns and never looked back.
Last week Hardwicke stopped by to talk about her experience making the the LORDS OF DOGTOWN. At her side was actress Nikki Reed, who stars in the film as Tony Alvas sister, Kathy. The LORDS OF DOGTOWN opens this Friday. Check it out.
Is it strange to pick up where a documentary has already gone?
Hardwicke: When I saw the documentary, I was excited by the story that these 40-somethings told. And they talked about what happened at the time. I thought, That sounds fun. It made me want to see people doing that and wanted to see it and thats what I think the movie does. It takes you right in, a more intimate look. Youre in the moment. Youre there with Jay skating down the street. Youre there with him having his conflict with his mom or stepfather. You see all kinds of things that the documentary couldnt show us, that you only heard people talking about.
So I thought that was kind of an exciting opportunity. And for all the haters and critics and people that are going to watch it and try to nit pick it, what we tried to do was just have the real people involved and tried to make it as real as we could and the real people, same guys that made the skateboards then made the skateboards in our movie. Same guys that made the surfboards made our surfboards and theyre on the set every single day and they act in it and they consult and they trained the skaters. So I thought well, thats one way to get it as real as it can be. Use the real people.
Exactly how many directors were attached to this film?
Hardwicke: I think I was the fourth. I was the last choice. (Laughs) No, they had Sean Penn at one point, Fred Durst and then David Fincher. [Durst] directed some of his own videos I think. But anyway, David Finchers version got the farthest. He had started casting and location scouting and art department and costume department.
Did you ever think of teaching skaters to act or did you always know it had to be actors?
Hardwicke: David Fincher did that. Thats what his theory was and I guess it didnt work out perfectly well. Things didnt quite work out. That was one of the reasons. I mean, theres many and I wasnt even there so I shouldnt say, but thats one of the ones I heard was one of the reasons. But I thought, like I said, I was very fascinated since Id known two out of three of the characters for a long time personally. I was fascinated with the characters themselves and I just never thought anything but an actor that can bring those emotions, let us see those emotions was necessary. I just thought it was essential. And also, those kids skateboard now. So I thought probably any actor we cast skateboarded some. You know, who doesnt skateboard?
Did you do work on the script?
Hardwicke: I did a lot of writing on it. 40 scenes or whatever. But the writers guild is very anti giving a director credit as a writer and you can probably read about this from a zillion other directors. Its an ongoing battle in legal courts and everything why they dont like to do it. And Stacy did a huge amount of work and fantastic stuff. I celebrate everything he did and thats cool.
Do you have a particular interest in portraying teen subculture?
Hardwicke: Well, I think if the storys strong I mean, I didnt really have a choice on Thirteen. It just kind of came to me and I kind of had to do that movie because of this one [points to Nikki]. And it was fascinating, just the dynamics. And then this one is something that Ive loved all along since I live in Venice and surf and all that. So I guess.
As a female director, whats it like working with all of these actors playing alpha males?
Hardwicke: Well, I think they believed in me I guess. Im sure each person, each case is different. But in my case, I kind of knew this world in a way. Even though Thirteen was a chick flick or whatever; its kind of got an attitude too. So I think they had confidence that I wasnt going to make it too mushy.
Reed: Shes not really a pushover, this one.
Nikki, the characters you play in Dogtown and Thirteen can both be characterized as bad girls. How would you compare the two?
Reed: I dont really compare the characters at all between those two films. Ive done other films that are actually easier to compare to Thirteen but I actually like to look at this role as being the furthest that you could possibly go from the character that I played in Thirteen, Evie Zamora. You know, it was obviously aside from being a completely different time period, I just felt like the energy and priorities and the things that they did were so completely different and the real Kathy Alva herself, of course shes a wild child and of course a daredevil in her own way. And especially with her relationship of course, you see with Stacy, it was just more sweet and innocent, and even with Jay, you just dont cross the line that we crossed in Thirteen I don't think.
Hardwicke: When I got on the project, Kathy Alva wasnt the character in the film, so what I started going and researching and meeting Tony, he introduced me to his sister and they started pulling out scrapbooks and photos and she started telling me her perspective, thats how Kathy got into the movie.
Is Heath Ledger attempting to channel Val Kilmer?
Hardwicke: Well, you know, we never thought anything like that. I mean, the way that Val- - the way that Heath worked and the way I worked, we talked about the character was to hang out with the real Skip. The real Skip and talk about how he was at the time and how he spoke and his cadences now, and looking at old photos of Skip and how his hair was and everything. What I think is that Val Kilmer was imitating Skip Engblom. Because the Zephyr shop was there and he must have walked in and seen Skip. So thats the real story, lady. Of course, Jim Morrison was in Venice somewhat, a little bit earlier but a similar time period, that whole Venice vibe and everything.
Catherine, did you use any dollies or tripods when you shot this film?
Hardwicke: No dollies, no tripod. We didnt use any. Its all handheld. Every bit. In Thirteen there are two shots, the first and last shot have a tripod in them. And in this one, we did the cameraman held, handheld while he was riding the back of a motorcycle. And when the cameramen in the water were handheld. Its all handheld.
Nikki, whats your life like now?
Reed: After Thirteen I went back to school and then I actually took a test so that I could home school myself. And I moved out fairly young. I moved out two years ago and Im 17 now. I home schooled myself but it didnt really work out because you tell a kid who lives by themselves to go to school and teach themselves no, so what I did was actually I graduated and I took my GED and then I actually went back to school and got my high school diploma. I quit while I was ahead.
No, Im not really good at multitasking and I really want to focus on what Im focusing on now, and then when I do want to go back to school- - like this new generation thinks that like if they feel like directing they can. And I do want to direct one day and I think Catherine believes in me and she thinks that I can and I want to do a lot of things, maybe produce, maybe act, maybe write, maybe do it all and I want to go to school for those things and I really want to learn how to actually improve and not just do because I feel like I can do it. And so Im going to take a few years off and go to school and study those things.
What other projects are you working on?
Reed: I have three other films coming out this year and I dont want to say unfortunately, because its not unfortunate, but I happen to be attracted to more indie films and so I have a bunch of films this ear that Im actually attached to and Im ready to do, but people arent ready to have all the money there. So when those have start dates, Ill be continuing to work and until then Ill just be traveling all over for everything else that Im trying to work on and promote.
Did you get to go to skate camp?
Reed: Catherine had me in there learning how to skate and I did go to skate camp and board camp. And I think, this is just my take on it, but with Catherine, when youre focusing on the set and youve got your hands full with a bunch of crazy guys and theyre all skating and Tony Alva off doing God knows what, I never knew if Catherine was going to say, like, All right, Nikki. In the background, I want you surfing with Stacy or, I want you skating here. And I didnt want to be like, I cant.
Hardwicke: Nikki does get on the board and do that one little skate trick.
Nikki, do you still have a social life? Do you go to parties?
Hardwicke: She did that when she was 11. (Laughs)
Reed: Yeah, right. I was in diapers when I went to parties and now (laughs) I pressed fast forward a little too much. I chose to have these responsibilities and to be an adult and to live by myself and I was in over my head and it was very overwhelming at times and I lived by myself before I could drive a car. But I did it and have pulled through and so Im surrounded, most of my friends are a bit older than me. Most of the guys I ended up being with were a bit older than me, but you know, we learn from our mistakes. Were moving on.
Catherine, do you intend to cast Nikki in every film you make?
Reed: The misunderstanding is that Catherine- - you know, shes only done two films and people are like, Oh my God, in every film now, Nikkis going to be in it? But I happen to have been right for the two roles and Thirteen was just as much my film as hers and thats why I ended up a part of that and Dogtown, I happened to fall into that. It wasnt like Catherine wrote that saying, Im writing this part because I want Nikki in my film. I just happened to be right for Kathy Alva. And in her next film, if theres a part thats right for me, maybe Ill fight for it. And if not, maybe the next one.
Hardwicke: Nikki, from the very first scene she ever did in Thirteen, which her very first scene was one of the most difficult ones in Thirteen with Holly Hunter, Academy Award winning actress, shes 14, never been in a movie. She nailed it on the first take of the scene. Shes pretty solid and you cant say that about all actresses.
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