Los Angeles based documentary film-maker Doug Pray (Hype!, Scratch, Infamy)'s latest release is Big Rig, a documentary about the subculture of contemporary truck-drivers. The film premiered at Austin's SXSW fest in March. Pray's latest production, Surfwise, is a documentary about the dynamics of a unique surfing family. The filmmaker says that the distinct common thread between each of his documentaries is that each tells the story of misunderstood individuals. "They're all subcultures... groups (that) have been misperceived. I see their characters as underdogs," he said. His first film was the 1996 documentary Hype!, which was literally about the hype behind the North West's underground "grunge scene" and how exactly that music was transformed, neatly packaged, and sold to the gullible masses. His next and even better known film (which won numerous awards) was Scratch, about the the rise and history of the hip-hop DJ/turntablist. It was followed by Infamy, a documentary about six graffiti artists plus one anti-graffiti activist.
To director Pray there is an obvious common thread between each of the films' subjects. Speaking of Hype!, Scratch, and Infamy, he said, "They're all subcultures which I never set out to do but it is interesting how things turn out. All three groups were misperceived in general and I think that's what's in common with all three. Like the way people in Seattle felt that their movement had been packaged and kind of sold to the masses as something that it wasn't -- that was a reason to make a movie because I was there and I thought 'You know what?' What the world thinks about this music community is not what they're saying it really is!' Same thing with the deejays in Scratch. It was sort of like everybody, as in mainstream America, thought they knew what hip-hop was and what the hip-hop DJs were saying was really different from this perception...It's all the same thing -- same thing with Infamy about the graffiti artists."
Before he began shooting the director mistakenly thought that Infamy would turn out to be an upbeat celebration of bright, beautiful graffiti art. Instead, it turned out be an engrossing, dark portrayal of obsessed artists who commit felonies, constantly risking jail time just to create their art. "Graffiti artists are manic depressive," confesses graffiti artist Saber in one engaging scene. Infamy is unlike other graffiti films. "Most graf films are made in such earnest from a graffiti art fan's perspective that they often overlook the human element," said Pray, who deliberately limited the number of subjects profiled in his film. "I didn't want to have 30 artists in there and just get to know a little about (each of) them. I wanted to really focus on just six artists. I wanted to make a movie where you really got to know the person, their family, their peers, their crew...One of the differences with graffiti and others is that it is really demented...It is an obsession and it is both very stimulating and it leads to trouble...it is unlike any other art because it is a felony."