Interview: Director Ludvig Gür on filming Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story

The Tony Hawk skateboarding games have had a massive cultural impact in the games industry and the wider skateboarding community. However, before becoming the cultural icon it is now, the Tony Hawk skateboarding games had all sorts of ups and downs with success being far from guaranteed.

There is a fascinating story behind the game franchise, which is explored in the upcoming documentary Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story. We were fortunate enough to speak to director Ludvig Gür about the experience of filming the documentary, specific moments in the documentary, and stories that came up while shooting it.

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TSA: You start the documentary with a history of skateboarding and speaking to influential skaters from the 80s and 90s, who later made it into the games. Why did you believe it was important to give that background of the skateboarding scene?

Ludvig Gür: To understand the success of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, I think it is important to examine the rise and fall of skateboarding in the 80s. Towards the end of the decade, the art-form reached an all-time high in popularity and mainstream corporations wanted to be a part of this trend. The Bones Brigade were featured in commercials, films and more. However, shortly after the peak, skateboarding lost its place in the mainstream.

The very small team at Neversoft managed to make a video game which sent the sport into millions of homes where it has stayed ever since. One of the main reasons is that the people behind Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater had an understanding and respect for skateboarding that ultimately led to the game’s fantastic representation of the sport. Skateboarders loved it, and non-skateboarders were immediately thrown into the culture.

TSA: Before settling on the name Pretending I’m A Superman were there other titles being considered? Why go with Pretending I’m A Superman?

Ludvig: We didn’t have any other titles before Pretending I’m a Superman. The producer of the film, Ralph D’Amato (who also worked on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 – Tony Hawk’s Project 8) came up with the title before we started filming. I loved it because it not only references the fantastic song by Goldfinger, but also represents what many people felt like playing the game. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed us to do tricks that back then seemed impossible. In a way, we all pretended we were supermen.

TSA: When you approached the skateboarders involved about doing the documentary how did they initially react?

Ludvig: They were all aboard from the get-go (sort of). Ralph D’Amato went on to work for Tony Hawk Inc after he left Neversoft and kept in touch with a lot of the skaters from those days. As a result, most of them agreed to be a part of the project immediately, knowing that Ralph’s name meant this was a professional project.

TSA: Was there anyone you really wanted to speak to that was not involved with the documentary?

Ludvig: There were a couple people we couldn’t interview for various reasons. I won’t mention any names. No one specifically declined to be a part of the project but most of the time we were unable to match their schedules. Skaters lead busy lives.

TSA: Can you tell us of any stories that did not make the final edit?

Ludvig: There were a lot of fun stories from the developers at Neversoft and also from the skaters that did not make it. However, some of these will be released as extras on iTunes, so be on the lookout for that. My favorite story is Chad Muska’s experience working on Tony Hawk’s Underground. That might be my favorite game in the franchise, and his (acting) performance in the story made it so memorable.

TSA: Why did you want to make this documentary? Were you into skateboarding culture, fans of the games, or both?

Ludvig: I am a massive fan of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise and had a YouTube channel back in the day where I would cover the games in detail. I have also been a skater all my life, although I never became good at it. The influence that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater had on skateboarding itself can not be understated and I have wanted to make a film about this topic for a long time.

TSA: As you made the documentary were there any particular moments that really stood out to you?

Ludvig: The whole experience was surreal in many ways. One of the most “stand-out” moments was the second interview I did with Rodney Mullen. He is one of the most intelligent people on this planet.

TSA: As documentary makers what kind of challenges did you face while filming?

Ludvig: Ralph D’Amato was a terrific producer and managed to make the production work despite the tight schedules and limited budget. However, there were some other challenges along the way, especially when we went out filming some of the skaters around LA. I did not realize how hard it was filming skaters in Downtown until we were out there with our RED Dragon Cameras. Cops are always on duty and ready to catch you. Luckily, we were never caught (though we were close a couple of times).

TSA: What were the best parts of filming?

Ludvig: Talking to some of the most legendary skaters of all-time about the video-game and the skateboarding itself. That was a wonderful experience in every way. If someone had told me this all would have happened five years ago, I would have never believed them. Tony Hawk has been my biggest hero since childhood, and to have been able to make a film with him is something I still fail to grasp.

TSA: From a viewer’s perspective you can notice certain shots being used, like slow tracking shots for some of the skateboarding trick shots, and the interviewees all being off to the side instead of centred. Can you tell us your thought processes in what goes into picking the perfect shot for you?

Ludvig: My DOP (Director of Photography) Austin Droguett did a fantastic job. He had previously shot various documentaries and his experience shows. We put a lot of effort into each interviewee shot and in the end they turned out really great. The skaters were all at various locations so we had to keep some kind of consistency throughout, and Austin managed to pull that off.

TSA: There’s lots of footage from old skateboarding videos. How did you choose what to include?

Ludvig: I would watch skateboarding videos all the time growing up, and still do. While editing this film, I got in touch with several videographers who had been active in the 90s. Erik Hatch, one of the main filmers for Shorty’s (Chad Muska’s company) provided a lot of footage for us, some that I had never seen before. Iain Borden (author of “Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History”) was of huge help as well as he provided us with remastered versions of various skate videos. Jamie Mosberg (one of Tony Hawk’s filmers) was also very helpful in the process. I basically chose my favorite footage and the most essential parts from those legendary videos (such as Tony Hawk’s loop in “Birdhouse – The End” or Steve Caballero’s debut in “Skateboard Madness”) and whatever we could get the rights and access to we would use in the film (which ended up being most of it).

TSA: With the upcoming release of the remastered versions of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 do you think there could be a resurgence of the skateboarding scene?

Ludvig: Absolutely! I think the game could appeal to a younger crowd with its roster of new skaters (such as Leticia Bufoni, Nyjah Huston, Lizzie Armanto etc) whilst also being a satisfying experience for hardcore fans.  Vicarious Visions, the developers behind the game, have many years of experience with the franchise (they developed various handheld ports of the earlier games). xwI have no doubt that the game will become a massive hit!

We would like to thank Ludvig for taking the time to answer our questions. Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story will be available on August 18th from digital video stores. 

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From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.