Interview: A look at the new Tony Hawk's Pro Skater documentary with director Ludvig Gür and producer Ralph D’Amato
I never truly understood how huge of an impact Tony Hawk's Pro Skater had until I watched Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story. It tells the story of how THPS influenced a generation of gamers to become skaters, and helped elevate skating culture in mainstream consciousness. You can read GameCrate's review for more.
The film lives at the fascinating intersection of skate culture, video game history, and cultural analysis. So it makes sense that director Ludvig Gür and producer Ralph D’Amato’s friendship started on YouTube.
D’Amato was the producer on the first eight Tony Hawk franchise entries, which included work on character art, animation, and licensing, including working on the memorable and award-winning soundtracks. He went on to work for Hawk directly as Director of New Media, building the Tony Hawk Ride channel. He stumbled upon Gür’s YouTube fan video about the history the THPS series. After some encouragement from his wife, D’Amato reached out to Gür and the two became friends.
Gür, 16 at the time of their first meeting, picked up a skateboard as a kid because of THPS. He continued chasing his passion for filmmaking and went on to create short and long-form documentaries as well short horror films that were picked up for online distribution through ALTER.
The second time they met, they talked documentary, launched an IndieGoGo, and made the film over the course of two years. Impressed with the film, we jumped at the chance for a quick interview with the two of them.
GameCrate: When did you first play Tony Hawk's Pro Skater? Did it influence your decision to pick up a skateboard?
Ludvig Gür: I started playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater around the time the third game came out. It was definitely the biggest reason I picked up a skateboard at the age of six.
GC: What inspired you to make a film about THPS?
LG: I have always been a fan of the series. Back in the day, I had a YouTube channel where I would cover the games in detail. The story behind the franchise is amazing. Specifically how it helped push skateboarding to the mainstream. I have always wanted to make a film that documented this rise of the sport, but never had the resources.
However, that was about to change as I was introduced to Ralph D’Amato, the producer of the film and also the producer of the first eight Tony Hawk games. He found my YouTube channel a long time ago and the rest is history.
GC: What ended up on the cutting room floor? Was there anything you really wanted to include, but couldn’t?
LG: There were a lot of fun stories that ended up on the cutting room floor. My favorite story has to be Chad Muska’s experience working on Tony Hawk’s Underground. His acting performance in the game makes it so memorable. Although this is not featured in the film, it will be released, among other clips, as extras on iTunes so be on the lookout for that.
GC: Was there anyone you really wanted to interview, but weren’t able to? I was hoping to see Elissa Steamer in there, but she didn’t appear.
LG: There were a couple skaters we weren’t able to get, mainly due to scheduling conflicts. One of them was Elissa Steamer. Skaters lead busy lives.
GC: It seems like Jamie Thomas was deeply skeptical about THPS in the beginning, and critical about mainstream portrayals of skateboarding in general. Did you speak to anyone else who was more critical about THPS’ impact on skateboarding culture?
LG: Jamie Thomas is a hardcore skater from the ground up. He has never competed in the sport and brought street skateboarding to a whole other level with his legendary video parts in the Zero videos. His original concern about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater being cheesy did not surprise me. After all, skateboarding had been featured in the mainstream before, but not in a way that skaters themselves were happy with. A lot of the skaters we interviewed for the film had similar concerns with the game at first, as well. According to Tony Hawk himself, Eric Koston declined to be in the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game for this reason.
However, once the game was released, it quickly became apparent that it was a fantastic representation of skateboarding that respected the art-form and the culture associated with it.
GC: Would you ever do a documentary about a different video game?
LG: Probably not, I haven’t played any other classic franchises as much as I’ve played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, so I wouldn’t be right to make anything about Halo etc. However, if I was ever offered to make a documentary about Harvester (1996) or Eternal Darkness, then count me in!
GC: What's your next project?
LG: I’m working on various projects all at once. Currently, I’m mainly preparing my next short, which will be a sci-fi / horror film. When it comes to my next documentary, we are in the early talks of an amazing new project which I can not disclose publicly just yet.
GC: Do you have any new video game projects in the works?
Ralph D’Amato: No, no video game projects in the works at the moment. The last one I did was a mobile skate game on iOS and Android called Endless Skater. I worked on that with a couple of the Neversoft crew.
I do have a couple film ideas in the works but nothing I can really discuss at the moment.
GC: Were you involved in the THPS remake at all? Are you excited for it?
RD: I was not involved in the remake but I’m extremely excited for its release. I bought the collectors edition and the digital so I can check out The Warehouse level when it’s released. Vicarious Visions was great to work with back in the day when they developed THPS ports so I’m sure they’ll knock this out of the park!
GC: I noticed that the release of this film coincides with the release the THPS 1+2 remake. Was this timing purposeful?
It was really serendipity. We had no idea there would be remake 3 years ago when this project started.
GC: Are there any contemporary video games out now that you feel like might have as big of an impact as THPS did?
Considering I played nothing but GTA5 for about 5 years straight, I would have to say it had quite the impact! Red Dead Redemption 2 was also the most epic story I’ve ever experienced in a video game. I thoroughly enjoyed the depth of the story and the hours of gameplay it provided me from beginning to end...yes I played it all the way through, even the Prologue.