Photo courtesy of BAMcinématek/Photofest.
For this week's Mahal, I talked to director George Gage about his film Skateboard. Released in 1978 and starring Tony Alva and Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, the film tells the tale of a semi-bald loser who decides to manage a team of skateboarding teens to cover some unsettled debts with his bookie. Skateboard is the opening film for BAMcinématek's Skateboarding Is Not a Crime, a tribute to the best movies about skateboarding, which will be screening everything from Larry Clark's Kids to Spike Jonze's Yeah Right! I called George to talk about skateboard culture and whether or not Tony Alva busted his balls.
VICE: So, how did you end up with such a cool name, George Gage?
George Gage: [Laughs.] I don't know. I mean my family named me George, and our name Gage is the family name. My grandfather was named George, my uncle was named George, and my daughter kept the name Gage when she got married, so her kid is named Gage.
Do you have more experiences with skateboarding or disgruntled bookies?
That's a good one. I had no experience probably with either. I never skateboarded; I didn't skateboard during the movie, because I was afraid of getting hurt. One of my good friends had broken his ankle on a skateboard shortly before the movie. I never got on a skateboard, and I have never been a gambler.
How did you come up with the film and trailer's music?
Mark Snow was the composer and came up with the “Skate Out” song. When the skate team goes from being losers and not doing well to starting to do well, we have a big musical montage in the middle of the movie that was a take off on the song “Night Moves.” It's one of my favorite parts.
I think I am too young to have heard “Night Moves.” What was that all about?
Well, I think it was about getting in the back seat of the car in the 60s. How you move on a girl and all that kind of stuff. Bob Seger sang “Night Moves.”
What was it like on set with all those skaters—did Tony Alva bust your balls on set?
It was nerve-wracking for a couple of reasons. One reason was that Tony Alva would always have his headphones on. One time that comes to mind is giving Tony a five minute spiel on what I wanted him to do, and all of a sudden the headphones came off, and he said, "Huh?" because he had never heard a word that I said. Whenever you're trying to block shots, there were just skateboards going all over the place. Instead of really paying attention to the director some of the times, they would be doing wheelies or flipping on their skateboards and stuff like that. They never sat down. They would be skateboarding all day long in between takes and sometimes even when in wardrobe. That being said, I actually adored those kids. We lived on the beach in Malibu, and those guys would pop into my house years after the film—surfboards with them—to say hi or have a beer, and then they would hit the waves. I kept in touch with Tony. He's a 50-year-old guy now and still really cool. He's got that skateboard company in California.
Is he still into wearing headphones all day?
I don't know. I mean we did the DVD extras, and he didn't have headphones on. He's come out here to visit a few times and hasn't had headphones on. He's kept with it though. He's a hip guy.
What other skaters appear in the film?
Stacy Peralta, who went on to make amazing documentaries, was in it briefly. Chad McQueen, Steve McQueen's son, who went on to be an actor, was in it. Ellen O'Neil, who plays the pretty young girl, was a professional skateboarder at the time. The whole Leif Garrett story is interesting, because he was the teenage idol and could skateboard just a little bit and was a bit of an outsider amongst the skaters. But by the end of the film he had gained all of their respect. When it came down to the big race at the end of the film, he was able to do his own stunts. He became one of them.
How have you seen the skate scene change from when you made the film to how it is today?
I think that our film had a lot to do with the changing scene. Dick and I came up with some events that skateboarders were not doing back then. I don't think the big, mile-long race was done then, which is something that's done now. We did other things like high jumps, where you jump off your board and over things and land back on your board, and we had guys leaping over 14 or 15 barrels. A couple guys could jump over cars and land back on skateboards. A lot of these extreme tricks they were doing caught on with the skateboard scene. Tony was going back and fourth in the pool so many times—it was unheard of. We were definitely pushing the envelope and influencing surrounding skate scenes.
To watch Skateboard and ask George any questions I failed to address, check out the screening and Q&A at BAM in Brooklyn on Friday September 6th at 7PM.