Tas Pappas' career has been punctuated by a series of significant events, beginning with his first trip to Prahran vert ramp with younger brother Ben in the late '80s to his breathtakingly perfect nailing of the elusive 900 air earlier this year. In between, there was an incredible, tenacious rise to the top of the international skate scene, followed by a dramatic, very public fall from grace, which resulted in Tas' incarceration for drug trafficking, and Ben's killing of his girlfriend and then himself.
It's a grim story that we've all been privy to over the past couple of decades, but always through sensationalised news reports or the Chinese whisperings of the skate grapevine. All This Mayhem finally tells the story from Tas' perspective, but this is no soft, sponsor-pandering bullshit like many of the skate docos that preceded it. Through a series of interviews (some done in jail) and a treasure trove of archival footage, Tas lays it all out for his old friend and film-maker Eddie Martin (Jisoe, Lionel) with brutal honesty, revealing himself as a flawed, abused, hot-headed asshole, but also as a lovable and entertaining skate rat. We got to speak with Tas and Eddie about the film.
VICE: When did it occur to you to make this film?
Tas Pappas: After I went to prison and Ben's life came to a horrible end, I started reflecting and realised this could be a good cautionary story for younger crew. Also I thought it would be a way for my kids in America to see my side of the story. Along came Eddie and I couldn't be happier.
Eddie, your films feel like real collaborations with your subjects. Do you think that closeness is necessary to achieve a good result as opposed to straight journalism?
Eddie Martin: That's how I want to tell stories, because I personally have a problem with films where people step in and use their own voice. I always knew we were going to do the right thing by Tas because I have been friends with the brothers since childhood and I wasn't going in to attack them. Also, part of the motivation for doing it and for Greg (Stewart, friend and videographer) to give us all his footage was that we wanted to see it done right. It was so raw for everyone after Ben's death, but after some time had passed it became apparent that this was something that we were all supposed to do. We've known each other since the early '90s, so it kind of brought us all back together.
Tas: It was kind of therapy in a way, to be honest.
How did you choose the people to be involved as interview subjects?
Eddie: I just wanted to get it down to the core people who were really there. I knew how close Greg, Dom (Kekich) and Ben were, so that was important. As far as speaking to guys from the States, it was really funny actually because I didn't realise how political and strategic the skate world is. Everyone is so protective of their little patch of turf and who they get paid by. It actually blew me away. Tas let me know that (Bill) Weiss was a guy who was around for a long time. We were stoked to get (Henry) Sanchez too because he doesn't do much stuff.
Are you still on good terms with Danny Way?
Tas: We've started talking. When I made the 900 he called me up and congratulated me, which I thought it was amazing. We're cool now.
Tony Hawk doesn't come across very well in the film...
Tas: He didn't come across very well when I was with him!
Well, it's an unfamiliar role for him, because he is always the nice guy. Was there any exaggeration for the sake of the narrative?
Tas: If anything I left stuff out. There is a ton of stuff I could have said, but for the sake of sticking true to the story I didn't turn it into a slagging match.
Eddie: You've got to remember he owns a 120 million dollar a year business that they do everything they can to protect.
The fact that they wouldn't let you enter the best trick contest where Hawk landed the first 900 was quite shocking. Were you being an asshole that day or were you just being normal?
Tas: No, I was just being myself like always. I was allowed in every best trick comp except for that one that year. It would have been great just going shot for shot you know. It would've made great television.
But you have landed the 900 recently and you did it bloody well. Do you wish you made it in time for the doco?
Tas: Oh yeah, I was killing myself trying to. But I'm happy it worked out that way because if I had done the 9 it would've been like, "I just did it Tony!" and I would've been coming down to his level.
Do you think Ben would be stoked on the film?
Tas: Oh he'd love it. He wouldn't like what happened towards the end, I mean he killed himself over it, but he'd be happy with the way it was done.
So how did you manage to get a skateboard into jail?
Tas: Basically I was making boards in jail out of two by fours, but this one screw would catch me with them. Because I was going to church and reading the bible, a verse came to me to that said if you seek first His kingdom and live the way He wants, He'll give you your heart's desires, so I was like, "Alright God, let's see if this is for real." I went up into the Head Governor's office and explained about the doco, and she goes, "Oh yeah, what do you actually want?" I said, "Well this is the funny part. I want a skateboard in my cell." and she goes, "And how is this going to help in all this?" I said, "Well if I get back on point with my skating I wont look like a washed up druggo who can't skate anymore saying, 'Don't do drugs guys!''' She approved it, she bloody approved it! Within a month I was sent a Jake Brown Blind board. I had to weld the bearings so it wouldn't roll.
Eddie: He had this special rig in his room. The board was padlocked to the wall so no one could come in and grab it to use as a weapon.
Tas: A skateboard in jail, I mean you are kidding me right? I got caught with bloody coke in my boards the last time I had a board. It just proved that God was working, man. He was answering my prayers.
Do you think becoming a Christian has given you a rulebook in a way?
Tas: Yeah that's what it is; it's a manual for life really. It has every scenario in there, it talks about everything that you feel, about love, anger, everything that you need. Everything that I went through was in there, just with different people doing it.
How old is Billy (Tas' son with partner Helen) now?
Tas: He's turning six in August.
He is already getting pretty damn good on the board. Do you think he is going to follow your footsteps?
Tas: He's sort of in a little rut at the moment. He keeps his skills, like he can fly down the streets, he can sort of slappie ollie up curbs, he can drop in and and do rock n' rolls, but he is not pushing his tricks.
Photo by Greg Stewart
It's still pretty early days though. Do you worry that you are putting too much pressure on him to perform?
Tas: Yeah I have definitely done that from time to time. If I push him too hard one day I just tell him, "Listen Billy, I don't care if you skate for a living and you know daddy loves you. I just believe you can do this." It's not really that bad. Everyone needs a little push from time to time.
Do you have a job?
Tas: Yeah I do window cleaning. I abseil off tall buildings.
Of course you do. Is that cool?
Tas: I'd rather be skating to be honest but it's a great job and I'm thankful for it. It is fun when you are on a 50-storey building and the wind picks up and blows you a mile off the building and you're hanging over the street, then you come flying back into the wall.
Are you pursuing the sponsorship thing again?
Tas: I'd love to be sponsored and do it the right way this time. I would use this doco as a tool to steer young crew in the right direction. If that comes, great, but if it doesn't, I will keep doing what I am doing.
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RSVP here for free sceenings of All This Mayhem featuring live Q&A with Tas Pappas.
30 June at Dendy Newtown in Sydney
9 July at Cinema Nova in Melbourne
All This Mayhem is also screening as part of Dark Mofo Festival, Friday June 20, including post film Q&A with the director.
In Cinemas July 10—exclusive to Cinema Nova, Melbourne and Dendy Newtown, Sydney.
Out on Digital HD September 10 and available to own on DVD September 17