A Sentimental Chat with the Director of "Dragonslayer"

"Dragonslayer" is a coming-of age documentary set in the spread-open butthole of suburban Orange County that highlights the moments in your life when you had a choice to turn left or right.

Liz Armstrong

Dragonslayer is a coming-of age documentary set in the spread-open butthole of suburban Orange County that highlights those moments in your life when you didn’t realize it at the time, but you had a choice to turn left or right. And Skreech Sandoval, a pro skater known for his severe ups and downs and poetic weirdo take on everything, pretty much always turned left. Through him and the romance he starts with his girlfriend, Leslie, we see the lengths people go for their passions and the many ways in which unintentional self-sabotage can be charming, even freeing. Dragonslayer quickly turns from a skater movie into a young love story, with kids living in tents in backyards, drinking Cup o’ Noodles three times per day, and using laundry bags as backpacks. They live in a world where no one has anything to do but skate, drink their brains out, and light off fireworks. Or just start a bonfire and watch it toast all night.

We got a bit sentimental with director Tristan Patterson about all of this.

VICE: One thing I kept thinking about watching Dragonslayer is this: Funny how the simple life is also the very complicated life. How do-nothing freedom leads to its own set of problems.
Tristan Patterson:
That's kind of how it felt making the movie too. I wouldn't call what I experienced "do-nothing" freedom, because all I've done for the past two years is work, but I did have total creative freedom to make the exact movie I wanted to make, and it definitely leads to its own set of problems. You have to operate with almost zero resources and yet you have to this opportunity to turn basic survival into an artform all its own. I think Skreech did this quite well for the first 23 years of his life, and in this awesome way, he really did become the strangest of patron saints.

There’s a point where Skreech says, “I don’t know what I’m doing but I totally know that I’m doing it.” I can’t tell if that’s the mantra of a fuck-up, or if it’s totally spot on.
Yeah, that's a classic Skreech line. It's like, I don't always know what he's saying, but I totally know that he's saying it. He's got strange California poetry in him.

I like how you made it difficult to get a sense of timeline, or even time. This is a life lived more in scenes rather than a continuum leading up to a culmination of some sort. In a way, it’s typical of the LA area—the timelessness due to the lack of seasons—although it’s also how “wasted youth” likes to live.
That kind of timelessness is essential to the idea of California and you're right, it's also about youth. There was this voiceover I had of Skreech that I didn't end up using in the movie, but he'd just woken up in the tent in his friend Cholo's backyard, he was kind of rubbing his face awake, and he said, "Days just blend, months just blend, it's all just one big timeline." That's what that moment in his life felt like, but it's also the feeling you get as you drive through the sprawling suburbs of inland California. There's a monotonous quality to them that feels without end. It's like the settlers there got lazy and forgot to continue on to the beach and the ocean.

It just keeps going and going.
There's no conclusion. The thing is, though, every time I go back out to Fullerton, I always forget how beautiful it can be too--but that may just be because the traffic is so bad getting out there, I always seem to arrive right when the sun is setting. There's this amazing California light that turns everything into this kind of forgotten holy land. If I was trying to glorify anything in the movie, it was that.

You showed several moments where Skreech and/or Leslie had the choice to join “reality” and live a bit more like a “normal person” versus continuing to live in a bubble. Did you ever want to intervene?
I really think the movie is just a reflection of this one moment in their lives. Leslie was 19 when we were filming. Skreech was 23. They're not making permanent choices. Or maybe they're just starting to. Or maybe they already have. Only time will tell, but that's part of what is so interesting about the moment to me. All I cared about was authentically capturing the experience they were having right now. I felt really grateful that they were kind enough to let me film them and courageous enough to be nothing other than themselves. In terms of intervening, there was nothing I saw them do that I hadn't done myself or seen my friends do. It also don't think it was my place to intervene. Who am I to show up out of nowhere with a camera and start telling them how they should or shouldn't live?

I love what they chose to pack when they decided to hit the road! Did you go with them?
It's mindblowing what they managed to pack in that car. Stray library books. Dishwasher detergent. All the essentials! But no fucking way did I go on that road trip with them. To state the obvious: where would I have sat? Also, I like to think I know when it's time to make a graceful exit stage left.

In a certain way, this movie makes me want to start a romance with a fuck-up, despite my better judgment, who I know will distract me from everything I think I want and we’ll run off into the sunset and eat $2 chili cheese fries from a Styrofoam container forever. Is this what love really is?
I think to figure that out, you kind of do have to question all the things you think you want, and especially all the things you've been told to want. You have to be willing to throw them all away to discover what's actually sacred to you. It's never as simple as driving off into the sunset—Dragonslayer is definitely proof of that—but there's something awesome about that moment when you decide to throw it all away and do it anyway. It's youth and it's revolt and I say those are things are worthy of celebrating, always.

The premiere party for Dragonslayer is at Public Assembly on November 1 with Psychic Ills and Endless Boogie.
Dragonslayer opens at Cinema Village in New York on November 4, and screens in lots of cities after that. Full list here.