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5 Questions with Jeff Tremaine of Angry Sky

The 30 for 30 documentary Angry Sky by Jeff Tremaine debuts on Netflix Canada today. If you have not heard of Tremaine, you are certainly familiar with his work, as he is one of the creators of the Jackass and directed all of the movies. But Tremaine is trying something completely different in the story of Nick Piantanida, who was the Felix Baumgartner of his time, but with far less training and a hell of a story.

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Perhaps it’s reductive to call Piantanida one of the original Jackasses. The story is full of heart, is entertaining to watch, and is educational to boot. You’ll want to freefall for this epic story of the ages. We spoke to Tremaine by phone in Los Angeles, prior to the film’s world premiere at Tribeca.

Scene Creek: Did you watch Felix Baumgartner’s freefall?

Jeff Tremaine: They mentioned Nick a little bit, but that was kind of Nick’s one last chance (laughs) at getting out. And when it passed, it was a history that was easily lost. The whole thing started with Mat Hoffman, who I did my last 30 for 30 on, the BMX guy. He’s always wanted to do that stunt. He probably told me about it years and years ago, probably fifteen years ago and then one day he sent me this book that was about Nick Piantanida’s attempt and then I had my friend Priya (Swaminathan), who’s a producer on this movie, read it and was like “let’s see if we can find any of this footage”. That was the way that we discovered it.

Scene Creek: How did you get the interviews started?

Jeff Tremaine: I went out of pocket, before we had a deal with ESPN to do these interviews. I was a little nervous because everyone is getting up there in age.

Scene Creek: It feels like a very contemporary movie…

Jeff Tremaine: Well, one it feels very relevant because Felix brought a lot of attention to it. And secondly, there was this Google executive (Alan Eustace) who broke Felix’s record. He did it very differently, he went up with no gondola, with basically a spacesuit tied to a balloon. Felix’s jump, I mean, I watched that thing for five hours on a Saturday, and we were shooting Bad Grandpa. I was at a hotel in North Carolina, and luckily it was our day off, and I was just locked in to the activity on the screen, I mean, you couldn’t take your eyes off it. We were already deep into our movie, and I was aware of how dangerous that stunt was. You can throw as much money as you want into that stunt, and it’s never safe. It helps to have the resources, but it’s still quite a feat to pull it off.

When you’re riding a BMX bike, you’re in charge of your fate, and if you screw up, so be it. But when you’re doing something like that, there are so many factors, the atmosphere up there is really not wanting you to be there. You’ve got so many dangers. You can screw up, but you can do everything right, and they still don’t want you up there. It’s such a miracle that someone like Nick, with no resources and just his silver tongue was able to do this.

If you ever get the chance, you should go to the Air and Space Museum in Virginia, near Dulles Airport. Nick’s gondola is there and Felix’s is there as well now. When you see the two side by side, it’s pretty hilarious.

Scene Creek: Would you ever want to do something like this?

Jeff Tremaine: No! Not at all. I have no desire to jump out of an airplane. I tried to steer Mat Hoffman away from attempting it as well. Mainly that’s because now his wife really wants doesn’t him to do it.

Scene Creek: What is next for you?

Jeff Tremaine: The thing into the deepest right now is a biopic of Motley Crüe based on the book The Dirt.

Angry Sky streams exclusively on Netflix Canada