Interview With ‘Pretending I’m a Superman’ Producer Ralph D’Amato
Ralph and Kara D’Amato
WORDS: Stu Gomez
Ralph D’Amato‘s documentary Pretending I’m a Superman—which chronicles the impact of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series—won the award for best Documentary Feature at this year’s Mammoth Film Festival. And if there was ever a series of games that deserved their own documentary, it’s the THPS series.
Pretending I’m a Superman, directed by Ludvig Gür, is a movie that tells the story of how skateboarding became a part of the mainstream by focusing on the success of the THPS franchise, starring Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, and many more. The Berrics was lucky enough to be involved in the production at the early stages, and we caught up with D’Amato (who played a key role in the first eight games in the series) to talk about the experience.
First of all, congrats on winning Mammoth Film Festival’s documentary prize! There was some stiff competition this year. Were you shocked?
Yeah, it was surreal hearing our name called twice! The film was received quite well and the compliments from the audience were awesome. I mean how can you go wrong when Tom Felton, aka Draco Malfoy, approaches you to tell you the film brought a tear to his eye… stoked!
Did you watch any other docs at the fest that made you think, ‘Oh they’re definitely gonna win.’
Absolutely, I’m always very cautiously optimistic. I really like our film but this being our director Ludvig Gür and my first time out with a feature-length film, you are sort of “testing the waters.” So we went to Mammoth Film Festival with no thought of getting an award.
It’s kinda sick that—with docs of the past few years dealing with heavy, political subject matter—a movie about video games and skateboarding is getting this recognition. What’s your history with games and skating?
I was a producer on the first eight Tony Hawk titles in the series… from THPS1 through Project 8. I did a little bit of everything on the games over the years, with a lot of emphasis in production of character art, animation, and the soundtracks. After that, I went to work for Tony as his Director of New Media for four years. I worked with Tony on social media projects as well as heading up efforts in his partnership with Funny or Die to create ShredOrDie.com which then evolved into The Ride Channel on YouTube.
As a kid I skated but that was the late ’70s-early ’80s, and for the most part I had a board similar to a Penny board. I never did tricks other than hopping off curbs or the occasional uphill tic tac; it was mostly pushing around when you didn’t want to bring your bike.
How long have you been working on this project, and when did the Birdman get involved?
Ludvig and I have been working on this film for three years. When we made our minds up to do the film, Tony was the first person I hit-up to ask if he would give me time for an interview. He agreed and I just had to get my schedule to jibe with his to make it happen. Tony has been awesome giving us a ton of his time and feedback, and even connecting up a few interviews. He’s always been awesome to work with!
How did it feel to reconnect with the OG THPS skaters?
It was great seeing all of them again… a day hearing Chad say, “Muska Chillin Chillin” is a good day! I was a bit more star-struck meeting Feldy from Goldfinger, Jay Bentley from Bad Religion, and Larry “Ler” LaLonde from Primus, who we also interviewed in the film. Thankfully, our Director/Interviewer Ludvig is cool as a cucumber which contributed to how comfortable our interviewees were.
Was there anything about the process of producing this documentary that surprised you?
Being a member of the development team, there weren’t a ton of surprises from the topic matter. Where I was mostly surprised was the outpouring of support once the word got out that we were doing a documentary. From our crew to others along the the way, that went the extra mile because they had fond memories of THPS and wanted to be involved in the project. We were blessed with a number of very kind and supportive emails/posts from fans of THPS all over the world!
The game series has a reputation for getting a generation of kids interested in skating. But the reverse is also true: skaters started picking up the controllers more than ever before. What’s your opinion of the new crop of skateboarding games on the horizon? Have you played any of them?
I have not played any of the current console or Steam games. Having worked on the THPS series for as long as I did, the control system is sort of embedded in my brain. Games that divert from those controls tend to lose my attention. It’s like skating switch: unless you’re Rodney Mullen, Koston, or P-Rod, etc. I do yearn for a new THPS controls style game like the early games in the series for my Xbox One, for sure!
We’re super stoked on the reception we got at the Mammoth Film Festival and we are planning additional screenings in the future… maybe one at The Berrics? Follow our social media for all announcements!