Hardwicke, Peralta and the 'Lords of Dogtown'

Catherine Hardwicke and Stacey Peralta at the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif.

Catherine Hardwicke and Stacey Peralta at the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif. Rob Sachs, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Rob Sachs, NPR

Alex Chadwick talks with filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke and documentarian and former star skateboarder Stacey Peralta about their new film Lords of Dogtown. The movie explores the origins of the skateboarding movement in the Los Angeles beach town of Venice in the 1970s, and the impact of instant fame on the skaters involved — including Peralta.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The new movie "Lords of Dogtown" opens tomorrow with a skateboarding theme and a '70s soundtrack. It begins 30 years ago in the streets of Venice, California. Three kids riding to the beach, going to surf and surfing the asphalt along the way.

(Soundbite of background street noise)

CHADWICK: Venice is wealthy now, but back then it was a slum with an ocean. For the kids who lived there, skateboards bestowed a kind of freedom, a kind of expression, like graffiti made physical and organic. "Lords of Dogtown" follows three of these kids, Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams, as all three fall under the sway of a local surf shop operator forming the Zephyr skateboard team.

(Soundbite of "Lords of Dogtown")

Mr. HEATH LEDGER: (As Skip Engblom) Yeah, this is Skip Engblom and the Zephyr skateboard team. Here's our entry fees. Now where's our trophies?

CHADWICK: They do win, and they start drawing attention. They become skateboard stars and then discover how complicated that can be. The coming-of-age story is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who had a short commute for most of this film. Venice is where she lives, and she knows these characters.

Ms. CATHERINE HARDWICKE (Director, "Lords of Dogtown"): They all did it their own way. That was what was so great. You know, Stacy has this incredible surf style: grace, fluidity and aggressive, you know, style of skating. Very competitive.

Tony had a supercompetitive style, you know. He embraced all the trappings of fame for a while. You know, he loved the rock-star image and the chicks and, you know, all that kind of fun stuff. And he was a hard, you know, really radical skater. Really brave, too.

And then Jay had his own, like, innovative, just crazy--almost like an animal instincts kind of style that couldn't really fit in and be tamed in contests. That just wasn't him.

(Soundbite of "Lords of Dogtown")

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, you guys made a mess of that contest today.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: A toast.

Unidentified Woman: A toast.

Unidentified Man #2: To the boy kings.

Ms. HARDWICKE: Emile Hirsch plays Jay Adams, and Emile Hirsch has done several interesting, like, indie films. But this is, I think, kind of a special performance because this is the first time--when you see him like such a fascinating character that's also sexy and just a bad boy and great. And Emile thought so much about his character. He'd call me like every night with another idea. `What if I had Jay do this?' And `How about if he acted this'--he's very, very thoughtful and, you know, kind of wonderful what he did.

CHADWICK: Was it a thrill for you, challenge for you, or scary to be making a film set in your neighborhood where you live now?

Ms. HARDWICKE: Well, it was a challenge because there are a lot of people in Venice that feel that this is their story. A lot of people, actually, all up and down the Southern California coast, that feel that this is their story, this is their time. They surfed, they skated, they lived this life. So there were many occasions that I walked out of my back door and somebody literally came up to me and said, `Hardwicke, if you don't get this right, you're going to have to move.' And I did feel that they were sincere about that. I was pretty threatened. But that's why I tried to make it right there in the neighborhood and use people in the neighborhood. And the actors that didn't live in Venice, we got them an apartment--tiny, little room that they could feel about the same income level as the boys had living in the same neighborhood. And, of course, we used a lot of the same guys that made the skateboards back in the '70s--Jim Muir, Skip Engblom, Tony Alva--made the skateboards for the movie; same with the surfboards. So we tried to make it, like, as real as we could.

CHADWICK: The real lead character in the film is Stacy Peralta, one of the young skaters who makes the Zephyr team. He is based on the real Stacy Peralta, who was a consultant on this film and is here with us now.

Stacy Peralta, you worked on the film?

Mr. STACY PERALTA ("Lords of Dogtown"): Yeah, I wrote one of the original drafts of the film and also did a little stunt doubling for the actor who played me. Momentarily, I did some stunt doubling in the film.

CHADWICK: You skated in the film?

Mr. PERALTA: Yeah, there was a scene in the film that Catherine had set up that represented a contest that we all participated in 30 years ago. And although the actors like John Robinson and Emile and Victor could skate quite well, they also had doubles that were quite amazing. But there were certain finesse moves and kind of antique-style moves that they couldn't quite grasp. So at one point, Tony Alva, who's, you know--who's in the film as well, his character. We got dressed up the way we looked 30 years ago, with wigs and the whole deal, and went out and doubled for ourselves 30 years ago. So talk about a surreal experience.

CHADWICK: And you could still do those moves and you couldn't teach those moves?

Mr. PERALTA: It's not a move. It's a technique. And that's why we had to do it ourselves. Because the type of skating that we did is no longer--it no longer exists. When we were skating in the '70s, this was before the age of extremism where everyone's doing everything to go big. Well, we certainly wanted to go big back then, but we also wanted to look beautiful doing it. And so, we put a tremendous amount of effort into looking stylish and beautiful. And as a result, we developed these really appealing styles.

(Soundbite of "Lords of Dogtown")

Crowd: (In unison) Stacy! Stacy! Stacy! Stacy!

CHADWICK: It is just skateboarding, but the kids from team Zephyr perform with an aggressive street attitude. And when a drought hits LA and homeowners drain their swimming pools, the bad boys from Venice turn them into playgrounds. And if they have to break into people's yards, all the better.

(Soundbite of "Lords of Dogtown")

Unidentified Man #3: Grab your skates, boys. Let's roll!

Unidentified Man #4: Shh. Shh.

(Soundbite of car doors opening and closing)

Unidentified Man #5: This wave breaks 24 hours a day, every day. And you know what, bros? We're going to be the first to ride it.

Dude, there's no way. This is way too gnarly.

(Soundbite of skating and of someone falling)

Unidentified Man #5: Oh.

CHADWICK: Stacy Peralta made this story as a documentary a few years ago, an award-winning film called "Dogtown and Z-Boys." Then he wrote the script for this one. For him, the "Lords of Dogtown" has a happy ending. But that's not so true for all of the characters.

Mr. PERALTA: You're not brought up with an understanding of how to deal with the success once it's given to you, and what happened is we were growing up, developing a sport illegally in people's back yards, totally illegally, always running from the cops, always running from people who own the homes whose pools we were riding without their permission. And it came to a point where one day someone said, `You know what? We really like what you guys are doing. We want to pay you to do this. We want to put your name on skateboards and sell hundreds of thousands of these.' And, of course, we can't turn that down. But what happened is we weren't necessarily prepared for the responsibilities of that. None of us were. And so even though I succeeded and Tony succeeded, we were still hanging on by the seat of our pants because we had no idea where this was going and what was going to be required of us and if this was going to last the rest of our lives, which in one sense it seemed like it was going to. I mean, we were sitting on top of the world at 17 years of age. I was getting--I had middle-class parents. I was getting paid more than they were making riding a skateboard.

(Soundbite of "Lords of Dogtown")

Unidentified Man #6: With your talent and my money I can make you a star.

Mr. PERALTA: It put a lot of stress on our friendships and it put a lot of stress on our--just on our life in general, you know. But at the same time we also had a fantastic road. You know, it provided all of us with an opportunity to discover so many aspects of ourselves, you know. It allowed us to be a part of an identity that was really, really important to us growing up as kids. We all wanted to have that surfing and skateboarding identity.

CHADWICK: Do you still skate?

Mr. PERALTA: Oh, yeah. I have a 14-year-old son. We skate, we surf together, we snowboard together. When I get on a skateboard, I'm more relaxed doing that than when I'm walking. My body just assumes a different posture when I skateboard. It's something that, no matter how old I get, it just--it's always there and, also, the older I get, it becomes a less-is-more proposition. A graceful turn, you know, I can feel deep within myself. It's just--it's a fantastic feeling. You know, I don't have to hit the coping of a pool anymore to get the same feeling I got when I was, you know, a 17-year-old kid.

CHADWICK: The new film "Lords of Dogtown" opens nationally tomorrow. Thanks to director Catherine Hardwicke and writer and skater Stacy Peralta.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #7: ...(Unintelligible).

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY continues in a moment.

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