• It Started at Hill Street

    Hill Street screens in Galway Film Fleadh Friday 12 July 2013.

    Producer Dave Leahy gives a personal insight into the making of the feature documentary "Hill Street" about the evolution of skateboarding culture in Dublin since the late 1980s, directed by JJ Rolfe.


    When I was 13 years old I went to the States with my parents. While I was there I picked up an extremely lame skateboard from a Walmart type place. It was black and very heavy. When I came back I skated it daily on my road eventually getting more and more pissed off as the wheels gradually ground to a halt. My older brothers had a mate from the end of the street. I got chatting to him one day about skating and he went and got his old board, a serious 1970's wooden skinny old school setup. It did have proper trucks and massive green Kryptonik wheels. I was looking at this relic like "yeah right" until I actually rolled on it. Despite years of sitting there it was still smooth, *so* different to my heavy crap board I was riding, I was hooked. He agreed to loan me the board but told me to go in to a skateshop, Clive's up in Hill Street. I had never heard of the place. That started my skating career and I skated for well over a decade after that.

    About two years ago JJ Rolfe and myself got chatting and decided we would make a documentary to look at the evolution of the skate scene since the shop opened at "Hill Street". I, naively, had a too linear 'step by step' approach to it which JJ quickly (and quite rightly) discarded. He documented his particular view of the film, starting with "Hill Street", the people, the scene, the core elements of the sub-culture and how they grew from this shop. It had more of a heart to it now.

    We shot one interview with Clive who owned "Hill Street" and used it as a device to pitch the project. I won't go down the road of bitter and twisted rejection stories but essentially there was nobody willing to fund it despite the fact it was (and is) a decent pitch. We knew however there was something in this and it was clear to us both it was a passion project that needed completing. We shot interviews over about a year with the support of Cine Electric and The Production Depot. People agreed to help such as DP's Deirdre O Toole, Arthur Mulhern and Evan Barry. The whole skate scene gave the project their support and before long photos and video's started to become available and we knew we had the makings of a decent film.

    We eventually finished shooting with a multi camera skate session in an indoor skatepark in Santry. With hard drives full of footage we then faced the inevitable challenge of post production. We assembled the story ourselves in a very raw state and then handed it to an editor to Offline (Philip Kelly). He did a great job and we then handed it to Eamonn Cleary to Online who pulled it together very quickly. Key to this is these guys understood the story / scene and were into it. What we had then was a one hour doco with a temp score and in need of a grade.

    Gareth Averill, a friend of JJ's, came on board and mixed and scored the film. Having one person to do this mammoth task was a relief. Just on the music point I was so attached to the original temp music I was resistant to many of the ideas Gareth and JJ came up with. Having just screened the film the music is all anyone can talk about and it shows how wrong I was. The final challenge was grade and we managed to get Eugene McCrystal to grade the film which adds to much to the film it's unreal. We screened the film in Filmbase to Cast and Crew. They loved it I am happy to say.

    We need to go back and make some final tweaks and then it is off to the broadcasters and film festival circuit.

    Dave Leahy - Producer

    (Q) The film has some great old school footage. How did you get all this old material?

    Dave Leahy (A) I put word out we were looking for all and any material. The key video we got was old Hi-8 tapes which had footage of Tony Hawk skating the Top Hat in 1989 as a highlight. There was also a huge amount of other material to mine from these tapes. Most interviewees also provided photos. As we edited the film it was clear we needed more modern footage and secured excellent footage from an Irish skate filmer now based in the UK.

    (Q) How supportive were the skate community past and present?

    JJ Rolfe (A) It's always a worry when you try and enter a subject that has a strong community and perhaps one that has a pre-conceived notion of what they are themselves so it was something we were wary of. It was a case of treading a fine line between making a film that the skaters themselves could both identify with and enjoy whilst also creating something that wasn't too "niche" for the wider market. I think that having the perspective of an outsider helper with this. Thankfully those from the community who have seen it were full of praise and enjoyed it

    (Q) There is an established skate video aesthetic. How did this influence the shooting of the doc?

    [B]JJ Rolfe[/B ](A)I think that most audiences are savvy enough to understand and appreciate established aesthetics of anything be it sport, drama or documentary. If you were to try shoot a football match in a completely different way people would simply know that it was wrong and reject it very quickly therefore we decided from an early point in the documentary that this was a strength to play with as opposed to try and hide from. In this way there are three different distinctive layer in the film, the archive, the talking heads interviews and the bespoke stake footage. The archive footage works so well because the look and feel of it reminds people of both their youth and also a different time to now. We wanted to try make the talking heads as interesting as possibly without relying on "arty" frames just for the sake of it. Lastly the skate footage does, I believe, use that skate video aesthetic to good effect which keeps it authentic to the subject matter

    (Q) From the sounds of the funders reactions, skating is still quite anti-establishment. What are your plans and hopes for the film now it's finished?

    JJ Rolfe (A) On the contrary skating has gone from a place of being a counter culture underground thing to a very open and mainstream thing, its one of the core arc's of the film, documentary film-making however is still a very subjective thing and the difficulty is trying to sell, for want of a better term, your idea to the funders. It's different to drama funding as with this project there was no clear road map of where it would go just a destination and points we wanted to hit. I understand funding bodies reluctance to buy into it but this is the way of film-making, you have to move on and if you believe in the project keep going for it! We're very proud of the film we did make and the process we had to go to make it and if there was funding behind it it is highly possible a different film would of been made, the question I ask myself is would it of been better?

    For more on "Hill Street" go to www.hillstreetdocumentary.com
    (or on Facebook / Twitter)
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Huey's Avatar
      Huey -
      Like the look of this. Nice art on the cover. Good track used for the trailer too.

    1. warrior's Avatar
      warrior -
      A great result from this post was an email from a forum user who has now provided me with some super8 footage for the film! filmmakers networkin'!! Stoked
    1. Jason Butler's Avatar
      Jason Butler -
      Great stuff. Go on the network!
    1. Ivan McCullough's Avatar
      Ivan McCullough -
      Really looking forward to seeing this
    1. Edmund Patrick S Buckley's Avatar
      Really good footage, I remember those days myself! Will be looking out for the release.
    1. karlargue's Avatar
      karlargue -
      i was there. this looks great.
    1. warrior's Avatar
      warrior -
      Article on Hill Street in the Indo today, you can see actual article on our facebook group (with purdy pictures)


    1. warrior's Avatar
      warrior -
      Hill Street" will premiere at The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012 - Tickets on Sale from midnight tonight at http://www.jdiff.com/

FilmmakersNetwork.ie is Ireland's largest filmmaking community, an Irish networking space for people who want to make films. For everyone from novices to busy professionals, it's a place to make contacts, share opinions, discuss movies, contribute ideas, discover talent, build creative relationships and make films.