CS Interview: Ludvig Gür & Ralph D’Amato on Pretending I’m a Superman
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Ludvig Gür (The Outsider) and producer Ralph D’Amato to discuss their work on the documentary Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story, which is now available on digital platforms. Click here to rent or purchase the documentary!
When it came to figuring out the concept or idea to explore the Tony Hawk’s franchise in a documentary, Gür explained that he has “always been a huge fan of the games,” having “played them a lot growing up” while also having skated his whole life, though joking “I’m not very good at it” while also expressing his admiration for “the art form.”
“I’m pretty much a skate nerd in every single aspect, and that all comes from playing the video games,” Gür opined. “You know, when Ralph and I started out this project, we kind of wanted to make a documentary purely on the video games themselves, but as we kept going and doing the interviews, we realized that the interesting story was really the skaters’ perspective of how their kind of thing, skateboarding turned into this massive, mainstream miracle. And we wanted to focus the documentary about them because it’s such an amazing story how it went from this, essentially underground activity just 10 years earlier before Tony Hawk Skater was released in the early 90s, and then to just go off like that.”
“I wanted to really tell the story of the video games and how the video games came to be and the team, and I was more along the lines of just more focusing on the video games itself,” D’Amato added. “When we started doing the interviews, and I think Ludvig as the director, his idea was more than just the video game. Thankfully, we went with his route, because I think it has a much bigger appeal to mass audiences to give you a taste of the history of skateboarding, and then we’d blend in the video game and the impact it had after the video game, as that has an impact. So that whole story and weaving that story was really all Ludvig. And you know, it gives the audience, if they have no clue what Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was, or they really have no knowledge of skateboarding at all, it gives them a real good, clear picture of what the industry, the ups and downs of skateboarding and how a video game publisher like Activision decided to send a bunch of money to put a new genre of video games.”
In reflecting on the three-year journey from first announcing the documentary to bringing it to screens, D’Amato noted the biggest challenges he and the team faced in developing and making the project was that “we never made a full-length feature film,” while Gür found his biggest challenge to be developing a good ending and finding the heart of “the great story in there” and “getting it all together.”
“I worked on the Tony Hawk’s vide ogames for eight years, so I produced video games, I worked for Sony for four years, so I produced a ton of action sports content,” D’Amato related. “But this is the first foray into a feature-length documentary. I’ve been a huge fan, sort of like the way I got into video games. I was a huge fan of video games and I’m a huge fan of documentaries. But it’s one thing being a fan of it, it’s another thing entirely of getting involved in creating something, and then you’re learning and making mistakes and learning along the way. So for me, that was just a big challenge. All of the unknowns of this industry and the process of making films.”
“As we kind of kept reworking the movie, as we hired other editors, eventually kind of found our own way,” Gür explained. “But you know, that was really challenging and it took a very long time to determine what the story should focus on, who should be in this, who should be most featured and stuff like that. So that was really challenging. But of course, you know, since this really was a passion project by me and Ralph, you know, that was obviously a big part of the whole producing aspect in the beginning of the film. And you know, all of that was really challenging, too, just making that Indiegogo. So much work. You know, it did pay off in the end, not financially, but it was very much worth it.
The roster of interviewees features everyone from the producers of the titular video game franchise to iconic promoters of the industry to legendary skaters and musicians involved in the series and in building up this list, Gür does note that there were a couple of people they were hoping to talk to that were unable to, mostly from “scheduling conflicts,” but still found he had a “perfect mix of people for the film” and is “real proud” of who he assembled. In looking to connect the film’s story to its present day, the filmmakers also sought out modern-day skaters and their search began with talking to their main star.
“This is kind of funny, it’s sort of a similar way that we got skaters for the video game,” D’Amato chuckled. “I kind of talked to Tony and asked him who’s really new, and I had seen, I think Ludvig had seen in interviews that Jaws, Aaron Homoki, was into playing the video game. I recalled when I worked at Tony Hawk Inc. that Elliott [Sloan] was also an influence. I knew Elliott. When I worked at THI, he used to come to the office, so I knew him. So that was an easy one. And then Tony, I believe it was Tony that forwarded me Aaron, Jaws’ info and he was on board from the get-go. The other two skaters, Keire and Jordan, again, those were suggestions of Tony’s, that he kind of connected us with those two skaters that the game had a pretty big impact for.”
Many of the names on the video game side of things came from D’Amato’s help, especially in the Neversoft realm, who stated he is “still friends with all these guys, they’ll be lifelong friends for me,” which made it easier for him to reach out and discuss their involvement in the documentary, as well as some of the skaters.
“I knew all of them either on Facebook or had their personal contact info, including the skaters, you know, I had been working with them for so many years and helping them, you know, develop their characters, their special tricks for the video games,” D’Amato recalled. “So it was a fairly straightforward process in contacting them and one-by-one they were all on board. I mean, they were all excited. You know, the video game had a big impact in the developers’ lives as well as the skaters, so they were gung-ho about this documentary for sure.”
One of the most notable subjects covered in the film is the coincidental timing of its titular athlete landing the challenging 900 just in time for the release of the first game in the long-running franchise and though the documentary is coming to audiences just in time for the release of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remaster, D’Amato assured they “had no idea” there would be another game on the way during their development.
“We kind of heard some rumblings, but you never know, or just like everybody saw things that were popping up on the internet through companies here and there,” D’Amato noted. “So we were kind of thinking this could be a potential, and it would be a cool like, perfect storm like back then. But yeah, there was no huge planning between us and them or anything like that. This is completely separate from Activision. But I can tell you, I’m stoked that that game, just from a gamer’s perspective, I’m stoked that that game is coming out. I’ve been wanting to play another core Tony Hawk game, like the early games, for quite a while. My nephew’s a pretty hardcore skater and I’ve wanted to play our video games and kind of show him what we made. So I’m stoked. I bought a couple of the collector’s editions of the digital version of it.”
Gür expressed extreme excitement about the forthcoming title, pointing out the fact it’s being developed by Vicarious Visions, who have been attached to the franchise since 2001’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, developing the Game Boy Advance port of the title and the handheld versions of all subsequent titles until 2008 when Robomodo took over as the series’ developer.
“Those ports were really good, too, I mean, Pro Skater 2 is usually ranked amongst the best Game Boy Advance games, so yeah, I’m definitely planning on picking it up,” Gür excitedly said. “I mean, it looks amazing. It’s probably going to be amazing. I love that they both have the old skaters in the game, who are not old, but you know, the Tony Hawk Skater 1 skaters as well as the new roster of skaters like Nyjah Huston, and stuff like that. They’re all awesome. I heard that Machine Gun Kelly’s going to be in the game, which is awesome. So they have the original games, and they’re adding all these awesome things to it. So I’m so looking forward to it. It’s going to be amazing.”
“I’m not looking forward to playing Ludvig because the last time we did that, he kicked my butt pretty handily,” D’Amato laughed.
The post-Neversoft era of the Tony Hawk’s series is one of the most debated amongst fans and critics alike and when it came time to discussing this time period for the franchise, D’Amato praised his director for his ability to tackle it with an honest lens and get the titular legend to open up about his true opinions on the subject.
“Tony tells us exactly how he felt and what happened there, and you know, it was an attempt to do something new,” D’Amato explained. “It was an attempt to kind of do something revolutionary. And you’re always at risk in those kind of things. But I really think that Ludvig, in bringing that whole story out, we couldn’t do better than that.”
“Honestly, I asked about Tony Hawk Ride and all of those games post-Neversoft, you know, he doesn’t talk about it in a bad way and really explains their original intentions and that he was the one who amongst the making of this video game,” Gür added. “I mean, they tried something new and they were brave to do so. It might not have been the greatest success, but it was still actually received well amongst some fans as well, and occasionally I will play Tony Hawk: Shred, but now what just came about, Tony Hawk acknowledges that he’s proud of, too, in film. So it’s a fun game for sure.”
When it came to interviewing Hawk himself, Gür noted he did not have to make any kind of effort to push his 52-year-old star to open up further, as he proved to be “a very open guy,” with the only problem arriving in the occasional memory lapse of Hawk from the myriad of games his name’s attached to.
“I will say from just on the outside looking in and watching Ludvig direct, he was a pro throughout,” D’Amato expressed. “I mean, this is an idol of his that he’s having to direct and ask questions of, and with no hesitation, Ludvig would be able to stop him and direct and ask questions or try to get him to answer in a specific area. But that was amazing along the way, just the professionalism the he showed and I think that went a long way, not only with Tony, but with all of the other skaters, for sure.”
Putting together a documentary with the title Pretending I’m a Superman does indicate the filmmakers exploring the ensemble soundtracks from the titles and using a number of the tracks throughout and when it came to putting that all together, Gür credited a lot of it to D’Amato, who worked to get the songs on their limited budget as well as alternatives for when they couldn’t land the desired track.
“I used to work on the music soundtrack for the video game, and I connected with Brandon Young, he works at Activision,” D’Amato explained. “He connected me with our music supervisor, Jonathan McHugh. Getting the interviews for the film, that was a little bit dicey. I didn’t have anything. I had no contacts there, so I went through a lot of these info asks of people’s Twitter. But licensing the music is fairly straightforward. You know, you are approaching the labels or the bands directly and asking them. That was all our music supervisor. I had a budget, a very low budget, and we were trying to get as many songs as we could. And fortunately, I think we knocked out pretty much all of them that we possibly could. There were a couple that just were not going to be possible at all. You’ve got bands that kind of disappear and labels that kind of go away. So in those instances, we had no choice. But I think we pretty much nailed I’d say 85 percent of the songs that we wanted for this from the get-go. And the collection of songs was on Ludvig. I mean, Ludvig kind of chose the songs based on the feeling he wanted in the film. And fortunately, I’m a huge fan of all the songs. So it was sort of an easy pick, too.”
The easiest choice of all came in looking at the titles and deciding on which was their favorite game in the series, with D’Amato saying his is “always going to be Tony Hawk 2” while Gür expresses he feels Tony Hawk 3 “played the best” but that Tony Hawk Underground will always be his favorite.
“I think at that point we’d finished the first game, we had started with the manual mechanics, but we realized soon enough that it was going to change up the game so much that we couldn’t get it in that first game,” D’Amato recalled. “So then we added it in the second game, we added Rodney Mullen, we added Eric Koston, we added Steve Caballero, three of my favorites as well. And we added the park editor and creative skater. Ludvig, correct me if I’m wrong on all of that, right? I think I’m right. Ludvig also is a breezing encyclopedia of Tony Hawk. If you tell him a song, he’ll tell you, you know, what game it was, and so, I always fact check stuff with him. I’m fairly certain all of those things were in the second one. And the other thing for me, I’m not as much a fan of the — and that’s what I hate about this. I’m not as much of a fan of the multi-million point combos. I was happy that after you got to a quarter pipe, you ended your combo, and it sort of made that more of a level playing field. And then 3, we added the revert and then later on they added shuffle grinds. Then, you guys were getting scores that I couldn’t even think about getting. So definitely for me, those two.”
“As a young kid playing that game, it was actually one of my first introductions to like, telling a really great story through the art of video games, which that game really does,” Gür opined. “I mean, when I was a kid, I always hated that guy, Eric Sparrow so much. I wanted to punch him in the face, so I was so glad when there’s an alternate ending, which I punch him out. So I mean, Tony Hawk Underground is so awesome and has so many big names on the team. It’s got an amazing soundtrack, amazing controls, and all around, it’s more of a cult hit for sure than Tony Hawk Skater 1, 2, 3, but I love it. I absolutely love it.”
Directed by Gür, the documentary explores the world of skateboarding from the early ’80s, when Hawk first became a pro, onward and looking at the scene as a whole as well as its transition into the world of video games at Activision with the long-running Tony Hawk’s series that began in 1999.
The film will feature archival footage from both the various games in the series and Hawk’s career, as well as interviews with a slew of skate legends and athletes including Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Chad Muska, Eric Koston, and Rodney Mullen, as well as key figures on the video game side such as former Neversoft producer Scott Pease, among others. The documentary comes just a month ahead of Activision and Vicarious Vision’s highly-anticipated next-gen remasters of the first two games in the Pro Skater series, originally developed by Neversoft.
Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story is now on digital platforms!