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Faces of Tribeca Film: Jeff Tremaine

Meet Jeff Tremaine, director of The Birth of Big Air, a documentary about "one of the gnarliest people that ever walked the planet."


 

Jackass director Jeff Tremaine has been embedded in the BMX scene since he was a kid, so it stands to reason that he turned his lens onto longtime friend and BMX boundary-breaker Mat Hoffman. The Birth of Big Air, which is playing at The Tribeca Film Festival 2010 and is also a Tribeca Film release (available On Demand starting April 21), follows Hoffman's career from an unknown teen taking the BMX world by storm to a grown man who continues to ride despite countless injuries.

 

Tremaine talked to TribecaFilm.com about his own unique background from BMX rider to director, scoring an interview with Evel Knievel, and why he's nervous to watch Hoffman perform at the Tribeca Film Festival Drive-In. Read more about Big Air, Hoffman, and being part of Tribeca Film from producer Johnny Knoxville.

 

TribecaFilm.com: You've pursued a pretty radical path as far as directors go, as far as BMX riding and fine arts. Can you give me a rundown on your background and how it led to where you're at now?

 

Jeff Tremaine:
BMX was something that I discovered probably when I was in fifth grade, and I really just latched onto it… I tried all the other sports, but that was the one that really sung to me. And that's the one that just set my life's path, as far as the music I got into, the type of characters I met riding—I'm still friends with a lot of them. It helped shape who I am. As far as getting into college, art was really my only way in, and while I was at school, Spike [Jonze] and a couple other friends… moved out to California, and he was riding and taking pictures for a BMX magazine. I would come out and visit him while I was at school, [and] thought, "This is what I want to do with my life. I want to get into publishing…" It was Freestylin' [magazine], and it turned out that right when I graduated they needed an art director, and I'd sort of geared my life up to become an art director so I was all set. It just [worked] out perfectly.

 

I moved straight out of school right to LA and started art directing for the magazine, and I did that for the first two years I lived out here and then the magazine folded, which led to a skateboard magazine called Big Brother, which was just starting up, and I just walked into that right at the beginning, and from that, that's what led to Jackass and here we are.

 

 

TribecaFilm.com: When did you meet Mat?

 

JT:
I met Mat all the way back in, I want to say it was 1986. Every summer the bike shop that I used to go to all the time—it was like one of the biggest shops on the East Coast, it was called Rockville BMX—and every summer they would have all the different freestyle teams come through, and they would put on big demos at the parking lot across the street from the bike store. You'd get thousands of people there, and I used to work those shows and work for the bike shop during those shows, and so I'd help set things up and just take care of the riders that would come in. One year, Skyway came through and they had this kid that no one had hardly even heard of, and he was just blasting higher than any of the other pros I'd ever seen. And that was Mat Hoffman at 15. So I met him way back then. [laughs]

 

TribecaFilm.com: I understand that you and Johnny Knoxville were already making a documentary about him when ESPN approached you.

 

JT:
Yeah, we were stumbling along. We've had the idea forever, and I got serious about it right as we were making the second Jackass movie. We started to do some interviews, and Mat told us that Evel Knievel was pretty sick and we should get on it… I wasn't able to do it because we were right in the middle of doing post on the movie [Jackass 2], but we got one of the last interviews with Evel Knievel. We started interviewing a few other people, but really, getting that Evel [interview] was a key piece.

 

TribecaFilm.com: What particularly inspired you to make a documentary about Mat?

 

JT:
Well, just Mat. Mat has inspired me forever [in] just how dominant he was in the sport. He dominated that sport more than almost anyone has dominated any sport, and he was really unbeatable for over 10 years, and the only time you could even come close was if he was injured… He was injured pretty frequently. [laughs] He's so humble, and he's just not from California, he breaks all the molds, you know? And Mat's just a true idealist, you know. He lives… the way you wanna live life, and I just love how humble he is… What he says, he does, and nothing's impossible to Mat. And I don't think like that, so I just like being around him to see that.

 

 

TribecaFilm.com: As someone who's done BMX biking yourself, what do you think attracts people to the kind of extreme stuff, especially someone like Mat who's had countless surgeries and flatlined and everything?

 

JT:
Well, I don't know… If I went through a couple of those, I'm pretty sure I'd be, "F*ck this." I've got my bumps and bruises riding, but I never went through anything close to what Mat went through… It goes back to Evel Knievel in a way. For me, it does, and I'm pretty sure Mat, too. When we were kids, Evel used to be an event. If he was gonna jump over something, we'd stay at home and watch, and as soon as he did it, I remember, it would be a Saturday afternoon on ABC, we'd see him do a big jump and then I'd be right outside on my bicycle setting up a board on a roadblock trying to jump. [laughs]

 

[WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT. Seriously, it's kind of gross.]

TribecaFilm.com: I feel like it's almost moot to ask what was the craziest or most intense thing that happened while you were filming…

 

JT:
It was through discovering footage that we didn't know even existed. For example, we were going through hours and hours of footage, and our assistant editor discovered this tape [where] Mat had been riding and he did some trick where he landed awkwardly, and he landed with all his weight down on his seat and he broke the seat. Seats are made of plastic, but they have a little metal undercarriage on them, and it came down so hard on his seat that he just shattered the seat, but the little metal undercarriage had two little spikes that pierced his scrotum on either side, all the way through, both sides of his scrotum. So, four holes total, because two little spikes came through and went in through one side and out the other. I didn't see footage of the actual accident, but… Mat filmed himself, just by himself, filmed the pierced balls, if you will, and we were very happy to discover that, and we definitely left it—we had it in the early cut that we sent to ESPN, to all the executives over there to make sure they got to see.

 

TribecaFilm.com: So what's your advice for aspiring filmmakers? I mean, am I right in saying that you didn't have any formal training?

 

JT:
No, I really snuck into the back door in this whole scene. You know, if you've got an idea, you've just gotta go for it. I know it's sort of generic advice, but it's true. You have to do it and not talk about it. Just be active.

 

TribecaFilm.com: What piece of media—book, film, music, whatever—have you been recommending to friends lately?

 

JT:
You know, for a while we were really hot on Windy City Heat… It's a movie that Jimmy Kimmel and his friends made. It's insane. It's just these big pranks that they pulled, and it's amazing.

 

TribecaFilm.com: What would your biopic be called?

 

JT:
[laughs] There's not gonna be a biopic about me!

 

 

TribecaFilm.com: What are your hopes for Tribeca Film and US distribution for The Birth of Big Air and The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, especially the On Demand aspect of it?

 

JT:
Well, especially with The Wild Whites, we're just thrilled that they're gonna distribute it and get it out there, because it's a pretty radical story [laughs]… Being part of the Festival, I think, the On Demand thing's amazing. It's a great way to take part in the Film Festival if you're not at the Film Festival. We had so much fun last year going there that we're really excited to get this Mat Hoffman movie in it.

 

TribecaFilm.com: Yeah, and he's going to be performing at the Tribeca Drive-In as well.

 

JT:
Yes. Which is unbelievable… There's more to Mat's story [than what's] in that movie. We had to be selective of the stories we told because he has a long career, and Mat [has] basically… been unable to ride for the last three years… A truck basically drove over his car and ripped his shoulder completely out, and his shoulder was already a problem, and then that just ended it. So when he shakes your hand, he has to lift his right hand with his left hand just to shake your hand. And yet he's started riding again. He's got this brace that connects his arm to his chest somehow, and he's been riding ramps again, and it just makes me completely nervous, to be honest.

 

TribecaFilm.com: So are you going to be there covering your eyes?

 

JT:
I'll be there covering my eyes and then, you know, hopefully it goes well.

 

TribecaFilm.com: So what makes your film a Tribeca must-see, both at the Festival and at home?

 

JT:
If you want to see a biography of someone who's truly inspiring that you didn't think you'd be inspired by, you know? I think it catches people off guard, the heart that Mat has and that people have toward [him]. Mat's an awesome story that really hasn't been told.

 

TribecaFilm.com: He shows a lot of warmth and character, besides how amazing his riding is.

 

JT:
Just to get people like Evel Knievel and Tony Hawk and Travis Pastrana and Danny Way to endorse you, you're pretty gnarly, you know? [laughs] He's one of the gnarliest people that ever walked the planet, and yet one of the humblest and sweetest guys, so it's a weird, strange mix.

 



Find out when and where you can catch The Birth of Big Air, as well as The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.

 

Learn more about Tribeca Film On Demand.

 

Find out where and when all films are playing in the 2010 Film Guide.

 

Meet more Faces of the Festival!

 

Become a fan of Tribeca on Facebook.

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