Dogtown and Z-Boys

By John Virata

For virtually every grade school kid and teenager growing up in 1970s Southern California, a skateboard and Vans Off the Walls brought you the ultimate in cool. Not only were Off the Walls the shoes (and custom made Vans were Boss) to stick to your grip tape, the skateboard brought you freedom to go out and rip up the pavement. For a bunch of Venice, CA-based beach rats, those two tools along with raw talent and a little attitude brought them fame, fortune, and misfortune in a sport that these kids turned into a culture and a way of life. For skateboarders the world over, the area of Santa Monica/Venice, Calif. known as Dogtown and the team known as the Z-Boys were ground zero in the birth of a radical new skateboarding style.

Modeling their moves after Hawaiian local boy and surfer Larry Bertleman, the Z-Boys turned the sport of competitive skateboarding on its ear, carrying with them a style that at the time can best be described as a radical shift from the more “traditional” form of skateboarding. The Z-Boys brought the soul and attitude of Bertleman’s surfing to concrete, carving the same maneuvers seen in the surf, first to concrete waves inadvertently constructed at several schools within the Santa Monica/Venice, Calif. area, and later to empty swimming pools brought on by the drought that struck California during that decade.

Tony Alva led the charge to a radical new style of skateboarding.

Coming Full Circle

Today, we’ve seen a virtual shift in the surf/skate synthesis. Surfers today are pulling the same kinds of moves that the Z-Boys revolutionized in empty swimming pools during the 1970s. Unheard of in surfing during the 70s, today’s new generation of surfers are pulling aerial maneuvers not unlike those of the maneuvers that Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta and the rest of the Z-Boys crew pulled during their heyday.

Fortunately for the Z-Boys and current and future enthusiasts of the sport, a lot of material from that era was preserved to make a movie, from the numerous articles in SkateBoarder magazine by Craig Stecyk and his various pen names, to Stacy Peralta’s trove of footage, to the genius of Jeff Ho, (Co-Founder of the Jeff Ho and Zephyr surfshop, which sponsored the Z-Boys) who saved previously undeveloped and unseen footage all along the way.

The Z-Boys brought a new style to skateboarding.

Making it Happen

The material was there, and most of the players were there to make a movie out of Dogtown and the Z-Boys. Agi Orsi, the producer of the film had met Z-Boy Stacy Peralta at a social function and called him when she got wind from a Spin magazine article that Hollywood was going to do a fiction version of what transpired at Dogtown. She asked Peralta if he would like to direct his version and he said yes, she lined up Vans to fund it and nine months later they had a contract and were conducting interviews.

The film was released in May 2002, and the DVD was released during the first week of August 2002. Dogtown and Z-Boys won Best Director for Z-Boy Stacy Peralta, and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2001, the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Denver International Film Festival, and Best Documentary Independent Feature Project 2002.

Clay wheels were quickly tossed aside for new urethane wheel technology.

The Process

In this era of digital editing, the challenge for the filmmakers was to get all of the various formats into a unified format to get it ready for film and DVD. For this, Digital Media Net senior editor John B. Virata asked Paul Crowder, editor of Dogtown and Z-Boys, about some of the challenges in putting together a movie from footage originating from old super 8 and 16mm film, as well as the digital technology of today that enabled them to complete the film.

DMN: Whose idea was it to do a movie on Dogtown and Z-Boys?
PC: Agi Orsi, (Dogtown and Z-Boys producer) had the first idea after reading an article in SPIN Magazine, called the Lords of Dogtown and stating that a major studio were going to make the drama version. So Agi approached Stacy Peralta about making the Documentary, and seeing that Vans were Stacy’s first sponsor and vice versa, she put the team together.

From left, Stacy Peralta, director, Sean Penn, narrator, Agi Orsi, producer.

DMN: How was all the footage tracked down and cleaned up?
PC: Well Stacy did the research for most of the footage, already owning a fair amount of it himself. We then transfered all of it to NTSC, after much deliberation, as we knew at some stage we would be wanting to make a 35mm Print. But in the end we decided to make the film the way we wanted and we would worry about the 35mm print once we were happy with the finished product.

DMN: What editing system was used to put the film together and why?
PC: Avid Media Composer 9000 Version 7.2. Why because that’s the preferred medium, and the one which I prefer.

DMN: How were all the different formats handled to get everything in sync and ready for film?
PC: We took the NTSC finished version of the movie, mastered on DigiBeta, and transfered the film using BOTH Sonic Foundry’s C2 process and the 60|24 process. I then created a 24 frame project and imported the movie into an Avid Meridian. Using the C2 version for sync, I cut in the 60|24 process into it.
The 60|24 process, which is best for transferring NTSC to 24 frame, makes the end result 4% longer. The C2 process basically undoes the 3:2 pull down perfectly. So the film footage came from the C2 process and the video footage, ALL the photos and a few interviews, came from the 60|24 process. So it was a major recut to trim all the video footage to fit into its original space. The end result was pretty good I thought, and the blurring which occurs with such a process is minimal. The DVD version of the movie is the best looking as we are back to NTSC and 30 frames which was how the film was designed.

DMN: How long was the production and post production?
PC: I started cutting the movie properly in the middle of May 2001 and we delivered it to Sundance October 6. We then did another three weeks of fixes before the Sundance festival, and three more weeks of fixes to transfer to film. So six months is about the total length.

DMN: What were some of the challenges in putting the film together?
PC: The main challenge, apart from the transfer process, was capturing the culture of the period. Something that Stacy was very adamant about, and hopefully we succeeded. The way Stacy shot the interviews and the photos, the fact we let film roll out, and I left Sean Penn making a mistake in the narration, all added to keeping the film raw, warts and all.

DMN: Some of the footage had an old film look, was the quality of that footage really that old, or were filters applied to enhance the effect of some of the footage?
PC: There were NO “Film Look” effects except for two interview shots that were shot on video, for continuity. Everything else looks that way. As it is old and some had sat in lock up storage since it was shot. In fact the footage from Jeff Ho’s Zephyr Shop, which is Jeff’s own footage, had sat undeveloped in his mother’s garage since the mid seventies. We had it developed and telecined for the film, and had obviously never been seen until that time. It turned out to be a gold mine for that section of the film.

DMN: Were awards even on the minds of the filmmakers?
PC: Never for me. All we wanted was to get into the Sundance Festival. I didn’t care about anything else. I just wanted people to see it. The awards were an amazing surprise,and just pure gravy. It is more than I imagined would ever happen.

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