To say movies about skateboarding have a terrible track record gives them too much credit. More accurately, Stacy Peralta has made a couple of good documentaries about skating ("Dogtown and Z-Boys," "The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography"), the Gator one ("Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator") isn't terrible, and Jacob Rosenberg captured lightning with the Danny Way story ("Waiting for Lightning"). Beyond that it's a grim scene. "Thrashin'" and "The Grind?" -- only good for how comically awful they are, (although the Daggers still rule). Skaters have understandably become leery about spending their limited resources on the price of admission, and still more in this age of free access to everything --wasting their time.
Enter "The Motivation," a documentary film about eight skaters gearing up for the 2012 Street League Championships in Newark, N.J. A press release from the Tribeca Film Festival, where it's premiering April 25, calls it a "search for that elusive quality that separates winners from the pack."
There are reasons to believe that this movie not only will be a cut above "Gleaming the Cube," but might actually be downright radical. Of course the blessing from Tribeca, one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world, says a lot. Then there's the résumé of director Adam Bhala Lough, which includes acclaimed films like "Bomb The System" and "The Carter." But hearing him talk about making "The Motivation" offers our greatest cause for optimism.
Despite what the extra name suggests, Bhala Lough is not big on pretension. I could tell when he talked about his movie in lieu of insisting on calling it a film. And despite spending time on a skateboard growing up, he doesn't pretend to be a skater. Let's be honest: skaters know how to position a camera with an oversized lens into the optimal position for capturing a big flip trick down a handrail, but what have they offered in the way of getting the skater to spill his guts and admit on camera how bad he wants to make that trick in the finals of Street League?
"The one thing I learned about skaters is that they're so friendly around cameras, because the moment they start skating they have a camera in front of them. So it's this relationship. It's a great relationship, skateboarders and cameras. So it wasn't hard for them to open up at all, and that's what I do for a living, so it's generally not that difficult for me to get people to open up on camera," says Bhala Lough.
The circumstances leading to Bhala Lough making "The Motivation" are surprisingly simple. Flipping through channels one day he came across a Street League contest, and with his curiosity piqued he did some research and decided that a movie around it could offer the story lines he was looking for in a film project. Conveniently, he knew Steve Berra from traveling in the same entertainment circles. "[Steve] made a call and got me in the room with Rob [Dyrdek]. Rob had seen "The Carter" and was already a fan, and incredibly he gave me all access to both his contest and the skaters." Boom, dip.
But why a movie about Street League instead of X Games, Tampa Pro or the Rumble in Ramona for that matter?
"I wouldn't actually say that Street League is the subject of the documentary," Bhala Lough explained. "I'd say it's more of the backdrop. This movie is about people. It's about the skaters. It's about their individual stories, their trials and tribulations. So you could put them into any context and it would still be a fascinating movie, because it's about character, it's about them as skaters, and as human beings, which is something we can all connect to."
Ah yes, the skaters, another feather in "The Motivation's" cap. The line-up of featured shredders is the Dream Team of competition skateboarding: Nyjah Huston, Paul Rodriguez, Ryan Sheckler, Sean Malto, Bastien Salabanzi, Luan Oliveira, Chris Cole and Chaz Ortiz.
Some were harder to get face time with than others. Salabanzi played it cool at first, (he is French after all), while others were too busy, which might have been code for, "Not sure if I want to star in a movie about losing to Nyjah."
Chris Cole agreed to be involved because of his relationship to co-producer Tim Dowlin, who works for the Berrics and is a native of Philadelphia. "There was no hesitation. He's home turf so he's cool by me, he wants me to be a part of it I'll be a part of it." In the end Bhala Lough got all the skaters he was after.
The movie covers familiar territory for skateboarders, but is not necessarily geared towards skateboarders -- it's a film for everyone. In fact, in test screenings it scored well with both 8-year-old kids and their grandmothers. But skaters will still be able to watch and enjoy it despite already having seen Huston win the 2012 title on TV. Bhala Lough says you'll be on the edge of your seat at the end regardless. If you're lucky you'll be on the edge of your seat at the Tribeca premiere on April 25th, alongside some of the movie's stars. "I'm going to be there," Cole says. "I don't know how many times in my life I'll be asked to go to Tribeca, or be in one of the films that's featured. That's one of those bucket list things. You have to do it."