Forty-nine years. Vans, arguably the oldest name in skating, hasn’t made a skate film in its 49 years. Director Greg Hunt embraced the challenge of being the first.
“The potential to make a skate film and to have every generation of skateboarding in one film is something I thought could be really special,” he tells SI.com. “I’m not trying to plug Vans, I’m just saying it because I’m a skateboarder. It is a mix of younger guys that I’m a fan of their skating and older guys I grew up with as heroes. That was sort of my motivation to take this as far as it has gone.”
But making Vans’ first film in 49 years puts the pressure on Hunt. And it takes time. Plenty of that.
The final 60-minute cut of Propeller, which is going through premiers across the world, including Los Angeles, Shanghai, London and New York hits the public via iTunes on May 5 after four years of shooting.
For Propeller, Hunt strings together trick after trick. The four-year project took skaters all over the world, including Eastern Europe, Paris, England, Spain, Australia (a few times), Tanzania, New Zealand and China. Sure, a common practice for skate films, but Hunt says multiple trips in the U.S., from Los Angeles and the Bay Area to the Midwest, the East Coast and Atlanta gives it both a worldly feel, but its “own look” with so many varied U.S.-based shots.
With the multigenerational heritage at his disposal—“Tony Alva is still on their team,” Hunt points out about the 57-year-old pioneer—Hunt wanted to get everyone together. “Despite the 40-year age difference between some of these guys, it doesn’t matter with skateboarding,” he says. “The younger is looking up to the older and respecting them and are fans of them. I thought getting these guys together was a no-brainer. All of them, on both ends, were really stoked and honored to skate together. They thought this could be something really special.”
The biggest challenge for the project was simply the scale, Hunt says. With 22 skaters on the team, some of them—the “legends”—weren’t out every day. But the younger guys, up to 15 of them, were shooting daily near the end. And with every take shot with multiple cameras, it took Hunt four months just to edit, an overwhelming experience.
The end result packs together the thousands of hours of footage—Hunt says he doesn’t even want to know what the final hour count was—so Propeller isn’t some long-form, slow-moving film. “It is pretty intense,” he says. “Trick. Trick. Trick. It is overwhelming, even if you do skate.”
While Hunt technically carries the director title, he says he doesn’t feel like just a director. “The guys are almost doing what they want to do, something they found they want to skate or something they want to take to a new terrain and push themselves with,” he says. “When I get to the editing process, they are very selective of what goes into their segment and what music goes along. I am more like an orchestrator or conductor. When I’m out shooting, yeah, maybe a bit director, but part cameraman, part team manager, park friend. Just someone.”
Four years, though, that is a long time. Things change. Even for Hunt, who was single and fresh off a project when he started. Now he has a 1-year-old son, a family, even two dogs. “Creatively I’m in a different place, I’m a different person,” he says. “It is challenging persevering through one singular project through that long span of time with so many things changing personally.”
But he does it—the filming, editing and even dealing with police to get permission to skate—for the guys in the film. “I do it because I love skateboarding. I wouldn't do these projects unless I really like the guys in the projects,” he says. “It is such a long process you get to be friends and get to know each other really well. That is really why I make the film.”
As Propeller hits the skate world, Hunt hopes the guys in the film can be proud of it, get excited about their work. He hopes the 49-year wait was worth it.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.