Earlier this week we had the opportunity to have a small natter with J.J. Rolfe, the director of the upcoming Irish skateboarding documentary Hill Street. We here in entertainment.ie were quite the fans of his film (read the review here), and anyone with even a passing interest in skateboarding should be excited about this movie, too. Delving into the much-maligned sport, Rolfe put a new light and a different perspective on the skateboarding, showing just how much of a community and a family can be created by the sport, especially here in Dublin where the number of skateboarders were originally quite small.
Also, as a first time feature director, Rolfe was able to talk a little bit about his transition into that role, and anyone interested in getting into film-making will find what he has to say quite interesting and useful, too!
Entertainment.ie: Hill Street is your first time as a director. What was it about this project that made you want to take up residence in the director’s chair?
J.J. Rolfe: When I first started chatting to Dave Leahy (Hill Street’s producer) I had originally thought about it with the idea of shooting it but as we started talking more about it I became more and more excited about directing. The idea of telling the story of how something that can be regarded as very much counter culture and watching it grow to become mainstream was something I wanted to look at. I also wanted to make a film that would appeal to skaters while also being entertaining to a wider audience. As for taking up residence in the director’s chair; it’s more of a short holiday in it, I’m still very much planning on continuing with the day job of cinematography!!!
Entertainment.ie: Did you have an interest in skate-boarding when you were younger?
J.J. Rolfe: Unfortunately I've never been much of a skater, it usually ends in me falling off but I have always been interested in it. I surf and snowboard and enjoy the freedom of movement that they have, my brief skate sessions have always reminded me of that and I recently bought myself a cruiser board and have been loving rolling around town!
Entertainment.ie: It’s fair to say that skate-boarding is not the niche sub-culture that it once was, with people like Tony Hawk now a legitimate house-hold name. What was it like interviewing a legend like that?
J.J. Rolfe: They always say that you should never meet your heroes but it was a great experience getting the chance to sit down with Tony Hawk and ask him about his memories of visiting Dublin and to chat to him about skateboarding in the wider sense. He was an absolute gentleman and incredibly giving with his time.
Entertainment.ie: You’ve worked primarily as a cinematographer in your career to date, involved both in documentaries and short films, as well as TV shows like The Hardy Bucks and Brain Hacker. Did you find that skate-boarding lent itself well to cinematography?
J.J. Rolfe: I’m very lucky to of shot some things that I’m really proud of in my short career and I was excited to get a chance to look at shooting skating as it is incredibly visual. I was lucky enough to be able to recruit Arthur Mulhern & Deirdre O’Toole to shoot for me. It was great to ask friends to shoot as there was already a trust and short hand there which enabled them to take my ideas and improve on them.
Entertainment.ie: Who would be your favorite cinematographer, and why?
J.J. Rolfe: There are a few on that list but if I was to talk about an Irish one it would have to be Robbie Ryan. He always does something interesting and different with his images and has been a real inspiration to me.
Entertainment.ie: One of the stand-out elements of Hill Street was that awesome soundtrack. How involved in that were you, and where did the inspiration for it come from?
J.J. Rolfe: The soundtrack and hearing it come together was one of my favourite parts of finishing the project. It’s all original music bar the outro track which is by Redneck Manifesto who I’m also a huge fan of. The soundtrack was made by Gareth Averill under his Great Lakes Mystery name. He is great to work with and every visit to his synth laden studio was great fun. He really put in the effort over and above the call of duty and it was great to have him on board with the project.
Entertainment.ie: Did you have a particular favorite day or scene or interview during the filming of Hill Street?
J.J. Rolfe: I would have to say that the day meeting Tony Hawk would stand out. I was driving on the Freeway down to his office in San Diego when it hit me, this is really happening, it was exciting. It might sound cheesy but every interview was very exciting as you could see each answer coming together to form the finished film.
Entertainment.ie: Are you currently working on any new directorial projects?
J.J. Rolfe: I have a couple of ideas that myself and Dave are developing at the moment but I’m currently concentrating on a few interesting projects that I have coming up cinematography wise. The one thing that making Hill Street taught me is that making a film like this requires you to live with the project for quite some time which is something that I really enjoyed but for me to do it again it would have to be something that I am really invested in.
Entertainment.ie: Any advice for the young, up-and-coming Irish film-makers?
J.J. Rolfe: Another DP once told me before I started on a big project “When you watch the rushes with the Director, always, no matter what they look like, tell them you meant it to look like that.” He’s always been a hero and great help to me and that advice has always stuck with me!
Hill Street gets its Dublin premiere on Friday May 23rd