The Search For Stacy Peralta

The Search For Stacy Peralta

We chat to the iconic Chelsea director about his documentary work and his impact on the action sports genre.


‘Action Sport Videos’ have come along way since 1984, when a young Stacy Peralta filmed alongside Craig Stecyk 'The Bones Brigade Video Show'. This was the first of several productions for the illustrious Powell Peralta company, which showcased recognisable members of the Bones Brigade skateboarding team, including Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, and Rodney Mullen. The rest, as they say, is history…

Throughout his career, Stacy has directed a number of iconic and thought-provoking films for the big screen,such as ‘Riding Giants’, ‘Dogtown and Z-Boys’, ‘Crips and Bloods: Made in America’, and ‘Bones Brigade: An Autobiography’, as well as numerous advertising spots for brands like 'Carhartt', 'The North Face', 'MassMutual', 'Bank of America', 'John Deere', 'Pepsi', and 'Burger King' to name a few.

We're massive fans of Stacy’s endeavours, so reached out to Chelsea's latest signing to have a chat about how he got started with filmmaking, the challenges he faces in the business and his body of work.

Congratulations on signing with Chelsea Pictures. Will you be working on short form content or documentary work?

I was attracted to Chelsea Pictures and very eager to become a part of their team for many reasons; first, they have such a great reputation for cutting edge/quality work, they have a deep bench of directing talent, many of them award winning film makers. It was a big deal to me to become a part of this team and they have a deep bench of smart competitive people behind the scenes running the company. They treat their directors very personally which was important to me. 

Most of the clients I do work for today have multiple needs. Frequently I find myself delivering 60s, 30s, 15s, and of course long forms that can range from 3 minutes to 20. Long form pieces are becoming more and more prevalent and important due to the nature of our changing viewing habits.

The biggest challenge in commercial work and the most important is how to make the brand “human”, how to put a human face on the brand. Yes we know many of the accolades of thesebranded products, we know they work well, we know they are of the highest quality, but what we don’t always know is how many of these branded products effect the lives of those using them.  And so I’m always looking for the story line of how a brand becomes a useful daily tool in a person’s life, how that person’s life has been positively affected by integrating the brand into their life. And so the brand becomes a part of the person’s story and it becomes an organic fit into their personal narrative, and when you achieve this it no longer becomes about advertising, it becomes about story telling.

Coming from a DIY background in the late 1980's how has your approach to film making evolved over the decades? 

I’m still very DIY and very hands on. I like being in the thick of it, I don’t like being removed from the process. I like operating camera, I like being involved in editorial and I like being in the heat of the battle while directing. Very little has changed other than I get to work with better equipment today.

Did you ever study film making?

No school. I learned by doing. In the beginning of my career I was doing everything; producing, directing, shooting and editing. And it was really editing that taught me how to be a film maker. There is no greater teacher than when you’re editing your own work and you realize you’re missing shots. Those missing shots really teach you what you need to do in the future in order to tell stories through pictures.

Where does your passion for filmmaking originate? 

I’m interested in people, I’m interested in cultures and I’m interested in movements and events.  I’m a naturally curious person, I’m always watching and I’m always asking questions so film making allows me to put this to good use.  I used to drive my parents nuts because I asked so many questions. When I was 17 I asked Skip Engblom, the co-owner of the Zephyr surf shop a question, he stopped me mid-sentence and said; “look Peralta you ask a lot of questions, so many in fact that I’m going to designate a 10 minute time period each day for you to ask your questions.  During that 10 minute time period you can ask me anything you want, but when that 10 minutes is up you can’t ask another question until tomorrow.”

 Who’s work in the film world do you admire?

In features I like the director Sidney Lumet for his great story telling and his ability to get incredible performances out of his actors and I like that his directing style never upstages the material. There are so many people working in doc films today that are doing great work.

Your work is widely respected within the skateboarding community, going as far back as the Bones Brigade's iconic 'The Search for Animal Chin'. Have people’s reactions to your work changed over the years?

I’m surprised that after making Animal Chin I’m even working!

Dogtown and Z-Boys’ is regarded as one of the best Skateboarding docs out there, what was your goal when creating the doc? 

My goal was to make the film I wanted to make, pure and simple. I had no expectations of success whatsoever. Never did I think anyone would care to watch a group of middle age guys talk about their early skateboarding experiences. I wasn’t even going to submit the film to the Sundance festival as I didn’t think it would have a snowball’s chance at getting in. The only reason I submitted the film is that a friend of mine who saw an early cut wouldn't get out of my face until I did. She herself was a film maker and was relentless to me.

Are there any particular eras, individuals or places important to skateboarding that you would like to make a documentary about?

I’m credited with inventing or creating what is called the 'action sports video' with the creation of the first hour long Bones Brigade Video in 1984. Since that time the traditional action sports video has morphed into essentially action porn. To me this is a sad state of affairs. Young people viewing this material need more than exclamation points, they need story and context and they are being denied that. So in my spare time I’m directing, shooting and editing short film profiles on skateboarders who I find interesting, skateboarders who have “issues.” I do these pieces on my own and they keep me sharp and inspired as a film maker because I get to play.  

Moving away from skateboarding, are there any topics you would want to cover in the future? Or perhaps something that doesn’t have much coverage that fascinates you?

I’m currently embarking on a feature doc film on the iconoclastic Gerry Lopez where will I find myself once again immersed in the world of surfing but also yoga. Some day I would like to make a film about the human importance of silence and stillness.  

Crips and Bloods: Made in America’ is a riveting look into LA gang culture, what intrigued you about this subject material? 

I made the film because I wanted to understand the problem. I didn’t believe the popular misconception that these young men are monsters, I felt there must be a context or story or history that led these black teenagers to arm themselves and begin shooting at each other. One of the benefits of being a doc film maker is that I get to explore stories and subjects that are important to me. I get to learn while doing.

And how well do you feel the project was received?

I received incredible feedback from those who live in the neighborhoods that are effected by gang violence, the feedback from gang members, mothers, outreach workers, and others in the community was very moving to me. On the other hand I think some critics were upset at me for what they perceived as my “changing of lanes” as a film maker.  

Is this world something you would like to revisit in the future? 

There is another film within this world I would like to make but I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future...

What inspires you to be a film maker?

My own interests and my own observations are ultimately what inspire me. And if in seeing “something” I can figure out how to puzzle it together into a coherent narrative then I will proceed. The only thing I have as a film maker that I can call my own, if I can call anything my own, is where I put my attention and how I perceive what it is in my field of attention.   

What content do you watch and take influence from?

I watch a lot of films both feature and doc but I’m also a voting member of the doc committee for the Academy so I end up watching about 70 doc films a year. Does watching all of these films help me as a film maker? Perhaps. If anything I think watching them all continues to relentlessly pound into me the importance of story, character and emotion.  

What projects do you have coming up next?

Great commercial projects with my team at Chelsea!

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