Interview by Will Harmon.When and how did you come up with the idea for the Cuatro Sueños Pequeños (Four Small Dreams)?
I was thinking about making this different skateboarding movie for a few years. First I was planning on making this other movie and I was actually planning on having Rick McCrank in it. One of the reasons I wanted to make this film was because Rick and I were talking about it, but he was hurt all the time. So it wasn’t working with him. Then Javier (Mendizabal) came in.
When Javi was 16, I shot his first photo that was in a skateboard magazine. I think it was a 180 nosegrind. When Javi was young he was on the junior team to be an Olympic ski jumper in Spain – which in Spain is kind of a joke; they weren’t really competitive. It was kind of a half-assed team. So anyways, he did that but at the same time he was fucking around and drinking and smoking weed with his friends and skating some. My friend Fernando Elvira who was living with me in a squat in the Basque country introduced me to him. I shot Javi ollieing down this monster-sized gap and up until this point I had never shot anyone doing such a huge gap even in America. He kind of half-heartedly skateboarded at that time and then these two pictures came out of him in Transworld and all of Spain took notice – after that he got sponsored and then I didn’t hear from him for about 15 years or so. But I still continued to follow his career. So one day he was in the states so I contacted him and told him to come by my house. We started talking and I told him I wasn’t going to do that one project with Rick anymore and then Javi said to me: ‘I know these guys at Quiksilver who are huge fans of your work and they would probably let us make a movie or something’. And I thought about it and yeah, ‘let’s start talking!’. So Javi and me were sitting at the table and honestly we came up with the idea in five minutes and just stuck to it. It just came to my brain; ‘I think it should be a dream’.
Can you explain the title?
I don’t want to talk about the number of dreams at all, but I spend a lot of time in Europe and I’m a fan of European cinema. This film is kind of homage to films of the sixties and seventies; like the feeling of a Truffaut or Bertolucci film. So I thought it would be really cool do something like you are not really sure what reality and dreaming is and shoot it on film. Shoot it on 16 millimetre and shoot it in a way that has that feeling of European cinema. It was shot primarily in Europe – Spain mostly, the Canary Islands, Mallorca, the Basque country primarily and a little bit of pick up stuff in California. And I think it feels very European you know?
What was difficult was having skaters wear all the same clothes all the times we were filming. They would have to come with multiple shirts all the same style. For Madars, the shoes started to become a problem because the styles weren’t available anymore so we’d have to get black spray paint – you know it’s like a film. It’s all about getting everything coordinated, but when you get down to editing it then it’s all there and it completely works. You have to have the right skaters to do something like that. Most skaters would be like: “Fuck off!”
So did you know Madars before? How was he chosen to co-star with Javier?
When Javier and I were sitting at my table that first time we decided that it should just be two people. When you are trying to do things like that it’s better to have a condensed crew. And so we were thinking it was going to be funded by Quiksilver so I asked Javi who else would be good who was on the team. Javi immediately said Madars. I didn’t know much about him at the time so Javi showed me some clips of him on the computer and I was like: “Whoa! He looks really good!” He has that tall guy that skates really good style – I’ve always really liked that. And I liked the fact that he was blonde so there would be a contrast between he and Javi. So we really figured it out quite quick – we asked him to do it and he was up for it. Then a few months later we went to the Canary Islands with Javi, Madars, French Fred, Sem Rubio and myself. That was our first trip and it was just awesome. It was a really good crew.
Was it always your intention to use French Fred to help with the cinematography?
It was something we thought about immediately. I think he’s incredible and I wanted to get someone else to help me shoot it. So I think we tried to get him initially, but he was like: “Ah, I don’t know I’m too busy.” And then I think his girlfriend was like: “ What are you doing? You love Javi, you really respect Thomas, it sounds like a really awesome thing….You should do it!” Then Fred was like: “You’re right. I think I can. Okay.” Then he came and as soon as we took that first trip he was on board.
So I worked for Transworld from 1987 to 1997 taking photos and writing. In 1997 and 1998 I was the photo editor of Skateboarder when it first came back and it was the large size. I was the photo editor and Tony Hawk was the editor. Then on the second year Tony’s career started taking off again so I became both the photo editor and the editor with him because he wasn’t around. So I think in 1996 I was living in New York, in Manhattan. And I was shooting for Transworld mainly then and I was shooting a lot of stuff with mainly the guys on the Supreme team at the time. Like Ryan Hickey, Peter Bici, Mike Hernandez and all those guys and then I was like: ‘ wanna make a film.’ Living in New York just as the soundtrack of the existence I really listened to a lot of Jazz. So I just had this idea and I proposed it to the guys at Supreme and I had never even used a film camera before. So the first day I made this short film called A love Supreme with John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme song they gave me a really small budget. The first day I started filming it was the first day I ever touched a 16mm camera.
How did you get the camera?
I borrowed it from Cheryl Dunn. Which was not really a reflex so you had to look through the viewfinder on the side and set it. I think from shooting fisheye photos I was used to gauging distance. I didn’t shoot the entire thing with that camera but the whole short is a 17 minute black and white film. So that was the beginning of when I started using film and making movies. Well wait, that’s not actually true. That was the first time I made a film totally. In 1992 I helped my friend Steve Keenan whom was TM of SMA make this video Debunker. But A Love Supreme was the first thing I shot on 16mm and got me really interested in making films.
Is this your first film featuring skateboarding since A Love Supreme?
Yes, well I think I filmed some little bits and pieces here and there and I made my first surf film after I stopped working for skateboarder. There was a little skating in the film; I filmed Rowley skating the Staples Centre – when he first 50-50 grinded the Staples Centre.
From the beginning, what made you decide to shoot the film on 16mm?
I’m glad you asked that question, because I just think that in this life there are so many dimensions and nuances and moods when you are anywhere when you are with people skating like the feeling of what’s happening. And I think that video really captures action, but it just lacks warmth and depth. You don’t really feel what it’s like to be in the place you know. I just think in general I’ve always hated video as it doesn’t really capture or represent life very well. I understand it’s purpose in documenting skating and people do a really good job of it, but I’ve really felt like if I’m going to spend the time to document things I want to express it on a deeper level and I think film still is way better for that than video – as far as expressing mood and tone. Who knows how long film is going to be around so I just think that while it is I’m going to continue to try and make things on film.
How was CSP funded?
Quiksilver paid for it in total and about three quarters of the way through making it they said – well because they got a new president or something and the president said because Quiksilver owns DC that all skateboarding stuff goes to DC and all surfing stuff goes to Quiksilver. So they said no more skateboarding with Quiksilver. And I was like: ‘Oh shit!’ because it was already a year working on it. So I said to the main guys I was working with: ‘Ok guys I know you want me to finish this so let’s just get all the invoices through and get it all dialled in.‘ And they were super-cool and supportive and in the end I signed up for one thing to make it for them and they were going to promote it and take care of all the publicity and that was going to be free and then I said: ‘well then you should give it to me’. So I’m taking care of all that stuff myself now. Quiksilver doesn’t own it anymore. In all honesty they were really cool and I appreciate them for being cool; I understand their position – it wasn’t their fault.
How will you release the film?
I’m going to release it digitally and at the same time in an 84 page hard-covered book that the DVD sits inside.
Yes it was completely composed for the movie. They are friends of Javi’s from when he was a kid. They’re called The Chiwoks. Basically I brought them some rough edits and then they just played to it. I would let them just jam out forever and then sometimes I would tell or suggest different things that they would play. We recorded in the South of France – Quiksilver has a studio there – and we recorded 12 hours of music. The film will also have a separate soundtrack that will come out on iTunes.
How did you select the locations for the film and how did you find them?
Javi was really instrumental in picking the locations for the film and really doing the research. We worked together, I asked him to get me different images and show me videos of different places and some I didn’t like, but some I thought were awesome and perfect for the film. Even like there is that part in the film where he is skating that really old quarter-pipe, it’s not the hardest trick, but you look at the wall and there is so much age and history there – it almost looks like a painting.