I shot off some quick questions to director Jason Berry in advance of Thursday night's screening of Chasing Legends at Symphony Space (review here). Check in later, we'll give away free tickets to the screening. Jason will attend the screening and looks forward to some beers afterwards if you want to talk about the movie more.
Andy Shen: How'd you come to choose Columbia High Road's Tour as your subject? How did the project come together?
We first contacted JV and Slipstream but the vibe wasn't right so we reached out to High Road, they were on board from the first phone call and gave us the respect we needed to move forward. It never "came together" until the premiere in CA. The making of the film was not once easy, not once smooth, not once 'known' - it was a matter of sheer determination that we would not fail. To this day the struggle of making this film known without "connections" or an advertising budget is so bloody hard I cannot explain. Ben Stiller is in the film but we don't know if he's watched the copies we sent him (there's been no tweet love). Lance watched the film (handed to him personally by a helpful neighbor in Aspen) and evidently thought it was too focused on High Road to tweet about it. I guess that makes it a bad movie?
Ken Bell and I were talking about a possible 'sequel' to 24 Solo but we couldn't get any funding. I thought about my upcoming 40th birthday that year and realized I just had to get away from mountain biking (my passion but the industry didn't prove supportive of our work, maybe 20 shops around the world carry our movies) and go much bigger. There is nothing bigger in cycling than the Tour so I called Ken and said, "The Tour de France. Why not?"
AS: What kind of support did High Road give you through the process?
JB: High Road gave us the access we needed, they gave us food on the road during the Tour, the mechanics helped us with cameras and we'd slip them beers or pastries. The soigneurs let us in to film during massage and let us in the car as they drove to the feed zone. Everyone became supportive without knowing what I had in mind. They trusted us and that was huge. We asked very little of the riders knowing they simply were not interested in our movie - they are pros and had a job to do. Some guys like Bernie were super helpful letting us put cams on his bike even on the hardest mountain stages (one quote from him in the film illustrates what a favor it was - he isn't a climber, he's a sprinter).
We could not have made the film without the help of HTC Columbia High Road.
AS: One of my favorite moments was when Zabel seemed genuinely perplexed by the aggressive mentality of a sprinter, as if he was never a top level sprinter himself. How'd you find him as a character?
JB: Erik is very nice, humble and approachable. Hard to imagine him an aggro sprinter, a spotlight celebrity, he's so quiet and nice. But he's Erik Zabel. I wish I could have had more of him in the film but his English was a tad slow and I had to keep the pace of the film fast. He's very self conscious in front of a camera or so it seemed. Wonderful person though. To have beers with him was special. To have him joke around with me like a friend - priceless.
AS: I liked the compilation of Aldag yawns in the outtakes. Did you have to watch every minute of the team car footage yourself?
JB: Aldag is one of my favorites. Can be deadly serious about tactics and racing. But balances that by being a genuine, real and approachable human. He's very funny, would often joke with me and include me in jokes with others. With the stress of the Tour - there must be outlets and the guys joke a lot. But even their jokes are first class. Rolf yawned hundreds of times. I kept the shots of him picking his nose out. But that was also constant. Brian and I really got to be friends from days in the team car at Tour de Suisse. He's so nice yet commands such respect. He's a really tough looking character but when he jokes and smiles it's like "Whew, ok good, he's human" and now I keep in touch with him every week or two. He hates technology but is great about getting back to me.
AS: How many days were you shooting, and many days did it take to edit?
JB: Roughly 60 days of shooting from our crew. Add in ASO footage, Versus footage, dash-cam team car footage, bike/helmet/mini cam footage, historic footage and I had to sift through over 700 hours of footage to make one 93 minute film. Most production companies have many hands to help with such a task but I had to watch it all, take notes, formulate the scenes, write into interviews what I needed commentation on and hope I didn't make any mistakes.
I started shooting at Tour de Suisse for a week. For TDF we had Ken, Curtis, Jeremy and I shooting but I would tend to shoot 3-4x more than the guys as I was usually in the team car (2). They would get b-roll, brief action shots when the peloton would race past and curtis would try to interview spectators. None of those made the final as we had plenty to work with but it was scary trying to make sure we'd have enough commentary. Curtis was really good about approaching strangers and filming them, not to mention how good his shots were.
TDF was about 30 days of shooting. After the Tour I went to Europe to film Phil, Eddy and Pierre for 7 days. Each was a total adventure of stress that now looks smooth and planned. Then Ken joined me for filming in Canary Islands (5 days). I also set up the Georgetown shoot for the intro and outro of the film. That was another solid week of shooting after many weeks of planning, red tape (played by DC rules, shut down street, towed cars out of shot, paid off cops, the usual). The first shoot day it rained - we had to push it back 2 more weeks.
The door to Phil didn't open until October 2009 when I e-mailed him out of the blue (though I had briefly met him at the tour while filming in his commentating box, there's not much time for "Hi I'm Jason and I'm making a cool movie"). I cannot say enough good things about Phil - he heard I was traveling alone and invited me to stay at his house outside of London. We hung out, had dinners, went drinking at the pub - that was an experience I'll never forget. Phil is first class and to hell with anyone who doesn't like his commentary - he's a legend for 40 years of the finest TDF commentary.
AS: I'm torn between finding Cavendish refreshing and hilarious, or boorish and stupid. How'd you find him?
JB: Cav is far from stupid. He's got a very high iq, he's intellectual and insightful, brooding, thoughtful and kind. He is a hot-head and quite confident. But he's also 25 years old and has been in the world spotlight for the last 3 years. To be termed the "Best Sprinter who Lived" by many is a tough weight to bear. Sit with him, have a chat. He's a very likable guy and very sincere. After barely speaking to me during the Tour we sat and talked at the dinner party the last night. He apologized for not being more approachable, thanked me for the work I was doing and gave me 2 hugs when I left.
AS: Having spent so much time with top mtb'ers and roadies, what did you find was similar and different?
JB: Roadies at the top level were actually much like the mtb riders though Rolf did enjoy putting down "hippie cycling" while I was around. But I've got more attitude from a local cat 3 road race than from the Tour. Maybe because I had a big camera in my hands at the tour!