The inception for Ride the Andes came in November of 2016. It was summer in Argentina and I was looking for a new project. At that time, I already knew Nicolas Cornejo (the protagonist). He was preparing for a cross-Andes cycling trip with a group of special-needs cyclists. The tour was to happen that following January. My wife Mariana suggested that I should shoot a documentary about the group and their adventure. Seeing an opportunity to unite my passions for extreme sports and filmmaking; I decided to seize the moment.
Normally, when a production company is planning to shoot a documentary, they are doing a lot of different things: looking at the logistics of shooting unscripted events, mulling over what the story could be, trying to fit that into some sort of list of “must-have shots”, making a budget, hiring & scheduling crews, etc… There is a lot that goes into a documentary before the cameras ever roll. Ride the Andes is not that kind of documentary. It was filmed with no budget and one crew member, me.
Luckily, I have worked many years in unscripted television and web series. I was already accustomed to long hours, very little sleep, and wild ever-changing conditions. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would have been able to film even half of what I did.
My pre-production process went like this:
I was told a few months in advance that “Bici Inclusivo”, a special-needs cycling group, was going to be doing this Andes crossing through Paso Peuhenche. I was in the US at the time but was already planning to go down to Mendoza, Argentina. My first thought was, “What is the story?” and second, “I wonder if I can find some crew members willing to work for meals and credits alone.”
I began to talk with Nico and gather as much information as possible.
The story quickly began to present itself to me. This was going to be an inspirational story about Nico, blind from birth, and his return to the world of extreme cycling after an 8-year hiatus. With that as my basis, I just had to hope we got some great material along the trip to add to this story.
After some searching, I was able to find a few people interested in helping me. Seriously, I thought, without a few extra camera people it was going to be very difficult to cover this event properly. There were 15 cyclists, 5 accompanying cyclists for support, and 2 vehicles. I would need a lot of coverage to be able to tell the story. You never know what is going to happen out there!
I finally arrived in Argentina in December. I then found out, that for insurance purposes, “Bici Inclusivo” would let me go on the trip but no one else. I immediately started to panic! “How am I going to do this?”, “Maybe I shouldn’t go at all!”, “This is going to be a disaster!” My wife, Mariana, is so great at times like these. She had to listen to those complaints, daily, for a month. And every time her response would be the same, “Luke, you know you are going to be able to do it.”, “Stop worrying, I believe in you.” That is one of the many reasons I love her. She is always supportive… After all, she was there with me when I made Don Padrillo in 2015, a 90-page scripted feature film with 30 cast members and 3 crew members. Mariana, myself, and a lighting person. Occasionally we had an extra hand to hold the boom mic… I think sometimes she understands my abilities better than I do.
So, there I was, no crew, a camera, and a GoPro. And I was arriving in Argentina just before the trip was about to take place, (Did I mention Mariana and I were planning and preparing for our DIY wedding at the same time? Yea, that was happening too…). So, I immediately started to attend the planning meetings with the cyclists; to get acquainted with the athletes and learn as much as I could about the upcoming trip. I was fortunate as well to have Mariana & Nico as my producing partners. Mariana helped line up meetings and Nico was my middle man for everything.
I tried to be at every meeting and conversation, taking notes whenever something grabbed my attention as interesting or a possible story point. You never know what is going to happen when you are filming unscripted content. You don’t know if you are going to even have a complete story. As much prepping as you put into it; you can only control so much in these types of environments.
During pre-production, every meeting I attended, I was also filming. I didn’t want to miss anything that could eventually help tell this story. I knew I was not going to use even half of it, but I kept filming anyway. I also keep good notes on what I film, so I do not have to go back through hours of footage. I just reference my notes and that informs me if I need to go back and look for something. I will tell you, I ended up not using any of what I shot from the meetings. But that’s ok! I had it just in case!
Overall, the most important part of this pre-production period for me was getting to know the group. Making them comfortable with me and the camera helped a lot. This is a luxury not always afforded on these types of productions. Many times, you are showing up on the day of and filming people. In return your subjects are turning their heads to hide from you, they aren’t acting natural or worse they are over-acting!
Lastly, I needed to make sure Nico was prepared and understood all that was going to be required of him, as well. Thankfully, Nico is a journalist and radio announcer, so he had a great instinct as to what we needed to capture, (we both connected over this). I told him that I would sporadically be filming interviews along the way, so he could recount what was happening. And, it was clear that I did not want any acting. I wanted everything to be as natural as possible. And that is what he gave me.
Thank you for reading this first installment of Inside Ride the Andes. Up next; Part 2: Production.