Stacy Peralta and the Bones Brigade: "I didn't want to make this film"
By Brent Griffin
Getting to interview Stacy Peralta was a huge deal for me.
One of the most important and recognisable names in skateboarding's relatively short history, Peralta's fledgling skatebording career blossomed into him being responsible for professionalising the sport at large. Along with George Powell, he created Powell Peralta, one of the biggest and most influential companies in skateboarding history. As well as manufacturing the things, Peralta played a huge part in creating and popularising home skateboarding videos: nowhere more so than in the construction of the most iconic and successful original skate team, The Bones Brigade (Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Rodney Mullen and Tommy Guerrero). Peralta has since gone on to be a successful director and film maker, so his latest effort, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, brings him full circle: to the team that revolutionised the sport and brought skateboarding to the masses.
L-R: Rodney Mullen, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain,
On the eve of the documentary's release (see below for details) I chatted to Peralta about the documentary, the rise and fall of Powell Peralta in the '80s, emotions in the team, burying the hatchet and his part in a lasting legacy. Basically, talking with Stacy was like chatting to the architect of your childhood.
Brent Griffin: As a guy who grew up with skateboarding through the '80s, the Bones Brigade always seemed like some untouchable force at the top of the industry. Did you ever consider handing over the reigns of the documentary to another filmmaker? Were you interested in the story that could have been told from an outside perspective?
Stacy: Well to be honest, no. I didn't want to make this film, and in fact I didn't feel that I was the right person to make the film. What happened is, in about 2002, Tony Hawk and the other guys asked me to dinner. At that dinner they said "we really loved what you did with Dogtown & Z-Boys [Peralta's 1997 documentary about the skaters of the '70s that birthed the sport]. Dogtown had a great legacy and you put that legacy in that film and we feel that we have a great legacy, so would you consider making the Bones Brigade Documentary?" I told them I don't feel comfortable doing another skateboarding story, and I really don't feel comfortable doing another story where I'm both director and character, so I declined. But I told them I will try to help you get the film made if I can. I did find a director, we got close to getting the money but it never came through. Every time we got close to something it would just fall through, so the project basically died.
They would call me up from time to time and say, look we really want to do this and I would say no. Then two years ago Lance (Mountain) called me up and said, "we really, really want to do this. You gotta understand something, we are now older than you were when you made Dogtown". So when he said that, I said alright, screw it, I'll deal with my issues, I'll deal with my fears and I'll deal with my insecurities about this and just step aboard and do it. And once I stepped aboard and the financiers knew it was me directing the film, I was able to get the money and go forward. So that's what happened.
But I was very concerned about that, the point you brought up [about being an insider's perspective]. I was very very concerned about that.
Well going in with those concerns would mean you didn't say 'Hey, look what I did, I'm incredible' and actually concentrate on projecting an objective story.
No, I was very concerned about that, and when it came down to cutting the film I was always telling my editor, "there's just certain passages that you're just going to have to make the decision as I'm too close to it and I cant look at it objectively." So he was very, very helpful in that regard.
Back in the early to mid '80s, there weren't that many pro skateboarders, so the level of how highly regarded these guys were to kids growing up was huge. The Bones Brigade was basically the invention of a team representing all the different styles of skating, and was so perfectly formed. Was it a conscious decision when you were putting it together, to form a diverse and charismatic team that would cover all forms of skating?
I was aware of both of those things, because skateboarding had died twice -- we were aware we had to be very careful not to box it in and declare that skateboarding is one thing. So we really tried to sponsor vert skateboarders and freestyle skateboarders, and we tried to develop street skating because we knew that if it took off, it could potentially be big. So we were very aware of that aspect of it.
I was also very aware of trying to sponsor guys that, not only were great skateboarders, but brought something in regards to personality; that there was some sort of a hook that I could develop them through marketing and what not to bring out whatever personality they had. I didn't always succeed, but with a good handful of them I did and was able to help build these guys strong and durable careers.
The Lance section in The Bones Brigade Video Show (1984) was one of the first real street sections ever released on film. I was quite obsessed with that because Lance is such a character and he's so relatable, where the other guys could feel a bit distant from a kids world.
S: Lance was the most accessible of all of them. He was the everyman, and watching him, people could imagine themselves doing the same thing. There was an inclusive way in which he skateboarded and I must say we stumbled upon that. Lance was the only one on the team that lived in L.A., so whenever I needed somebody for something I went to Lance. So he was the obvious choice to string that video together, and as we started shooting him skating in the street, we found he had this amazingly comfortable style. It wouldn't have worked with [vert skater, Mike McGill] or one of the other guys, it only worked with Lance. But I can't say that it was preconceived, it's just something that just unfolded and we discovered.
He's such an incredible character
He has a face that cameras really like.
True. It was great seeing Rodney Mullen open up in the doco, as he's always been quite elusive and you don't really get to see him talk much about that era. While he was an incredibly important member of the Bones Brigade, he was never one of the core characters of the team, always just doing his thing. He features quite heavily in the doco in some very emotional scenes, which I really loved. So was that a choice going in, or did he just sit down and open up?
What happened is, I told you about the first meeting over dinner when we got together with the guys asking me to make the film. Well, eight years later when Lance asked me again, we went back to the same restaurant, and this time Rodney was there with us. He wasn't there at the first meeting but was there at the second meeting. I was there to discuss the film with the guys. When Rodney began to speak, it was at that moment that I realised that he was going to own the film. He started speaking at the table, and was so articulate and passionate and so well spoken that I realised he was going to be the star of the film. So when I shot the film, I made sure to schedule him on the very first day, because I knew that his interview would give us the start that we needed to get this project off to the right start, and that's exactly what happened. He came on the set and gave an interview that was just amazing. The people working on the set were like "that was like going to a church and listening to a sermon".
He really opened up.
Yeah. What happened is that word got out that Rodney gave this explosive interview, so everyone else that followed him really stepped up and went "you know what, we gotta take this seriously". So he was the kind of spirit that was really propelling this forward. He was also very nervous to do it, because he kind of exposed himself, and you know, if I had misused his material, I could have taken it in a different direction and potentially compromised him. So I had to talk him through this process quite a few times and let him know that "I'm not going to leave you hanging here, I'm not going to expose you and hurt you", because he'd never done this before.
I'd think that with you directing it, everyone would have been much more comfortable in telling their stories as opposed to an outsider, knowing that you'd deal with it sensitively.
That's what they have said, that the don't feel that they would have opened up like this to someone else. Whether that's true or not I don't know, but they have certainly said that. I must tell you it was a very unusual experience sitting there asking them questions about a past that I shared with them. Even though I was there with them during the experiences, I was both filmmaker and participant whilst I was making this film, so it was a very unusual experience for me.
Around the late '80s when the small company boom came up and Powell Peralta started to get into financial trouble, it was good to see you were open to team wanting to leave and start small companies; that you could see it coming but George Powell wasn't so into it. There was even that direct attack ad from [rival company] World Industries, which Rodney co-founded, that really took Powell to task. Where did you feel like skating was headed at that point? Did you think it was going to wither and die again, or did you feel like it was a new birth?
I had left in '91 and all that stuff began to get a start just before I left. But I could see the sport was changing dramatically. It was going to be fine, it was just being reinvented and was going to be a street oriented sport and less a vertical oriented sport. I could tell that the larger companies were going to become dinosaurs and we were one of the largest companies. I could see that the companies that were going to succeed were going to operate more like record labels, where they have their jazz division and their punk division and their classical division. I remember having this conversation with George saying that we gotta do this, and he said "no it'll diminish the name of Powell Peralta". I said that there won't be a Powell Peralta unless we do this, but I couldn't convince him. He owned far more of the company than I did, and he had the ruling share, so it left me with no choice. It was time [for me] to move forward and that was it. When I left, the guys that were still there like Tony (Hawk) and Lance and (Steve) Caballero, they left right after and started their own things.
It all dissolved pretty quickly.
Yeah, very, very quickly. I could see it was going to go in that direction and I didn't want to be part of a sinking ship. But you know, if I could help it from sinking... But I couldn't, so there was nothing I could do.
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