One of the most important things you can do for any project is to decide what style and tone you want to achieve. In pre-production, I knew I was shooting a documentary and I wanted it to be about the length of an episode of docu-television (30mins). That meant that it needed to be dynamic, precise, and compelling with well-composed shots. (I will elaborate more on this in the third part of this series, ‘Post-Production”).
Batteries charged and camera ready, I set off to shoot this thing!
We arrived at the jumping-off point early in the morning on the first day. Family and friends came to see the athletes off. As well, many media outlets came to film interviews with the athletes. It was a buzz of activity, which you will see in the film. Everyone was alive with anticipation for what was to come. I was spinning in circles trying to capture it all. As soon as possible, I pulled Nico aside so we could film a quick interview to give context to what was happening.
With everything loaded and ready to go, we took off.
The trip to Chile was going to take all day, so I decided to put the camera down and just spend time with the other athletes. They were more than willing to talk to me about their expectations for the trip and give me some details about their lives. All of this helped to give me a better idea of who the team was. The rest of the ride to the border was uneventful. Although, when we arrived at the border crossing, we realized that one of the athletes had come without his passport or ID. That meant we had to stay the night and wait for it to arrive by bus the next day. I quickly grabbed the camera and started filming…
Even though I had chosen a style for the documentary, I still didn’t have a clear idea of how the story was going to come together. I knew I wanted to contrast the power of nature, (the Andes Mountains), with the will-power of man. So, shooting this little sequence at the border could or could not add something to the story. But, as a rule, whenever you are in a situation and you ask yourself, “Should I be shooting this?”, chances are you probably should.
Thankfully, the rest of the trip was easy going. The next day, as we passed through the Andes Paso Peuhenche, I was studying the road looking for interesting scenery, difficult places along the route, (all things that would become part of the story as we later passed over it on bikes). I was also listening to the group discussing the challenge ahead. They were giving me clues as to how the story might take shape later. Meanwhile, I filmed beauty shots through the window. I knew later I wouldn’t have time for that.
Once in Chile, we spent a relaxing day in preparation for what was to come.
Finally, the day came. I was nervous. I was praying that I would be able to shoot enough to tell a compelling story or at least a coherent one. I was going to be riding in one of the support vehicles so, I strapped a Go-Pro to Nico’s bike. I framed a shot looking up at him to give the audience a more intimate view of his experience. This was also meant to be a back up if we lost track of each other on the road. Which, after the first mile, we did.
The tour started smoothly, but my driver did not understand what I was trying to achieve. I get the feeling that he had never been around anyone like me before. We had a long talk before the trip began and I told him everything that I was going to require to execute this production. But still, he was not prepared. The car lagged as the bikes went on ahead. We would wait for a straight section of the road to do a drive-by, getting profile shots of the riders and close-ups. But it wasn’t enough. When you have a timid driver and an overachieving filmmaker, the marriage is bound to fail.
Once we started the second section, which was all uphill, I pressed him forward. After some back and forth about how close he should be, whether he should pass them or not, I decided to jump out of the car! Without warning, while it was moving… The scenery outside was just too beautiful. And, with little choice and no time to think, I jumped, (luckily, we were only going about 5-10 miles an hour). Now free, I started to run uphill with the camera to get ahead of the cyclists. They were also moving slow. I got ahead of them, set-up a nice shot, and then let them pass. Then I would repeat that, as many times as needed. The documentary needed variety, just like any movie. So, if it meant me running with my camera all through the Andes, chasing cyclists, that’s what I was going to do.
That is not the only incident of me jumping out of the car. I was finally forbidden by the leader of the group to do that anymore. I also apologized to my driver for scaring him so many times.
That afternoon we arrived at the Chilean border. The cyclists did 30 km, (18 miles), that day. When we arrived at the crossing, the plan was to go on a little further and camp at Laguna del Maule. But the border guards said a storm was coming and that we should camp in their garage for the night. They pulled out all the road-clearers and gear and gave us free-reign of the place. It even had a shower and a small kitchen! What a great group of people. Chileans are always hospitable.
The next morning, after a night of howling winds and rain, we awoke to a very wet, dangerous road. Rocks had fallen and there was no way the coaches were going to let the athletes ride. What did I do? I started filming the conditions outside, the conditions of the group inside plus, I interviewed Nico letting him explain the situation and share his feelings with me. If this was going to be the story, then so be it.
The coaches decided to take the bus over the mountain. At the top, it was snowing! We were amazed and feeling defeated all at the same time. Thankfully, after crossing the highest point of the mountain pass; the sun came out. The group was ecstatic! I was getting emotional too because I could see the story taking shape in my mind.
For the rest of the trip, I was teamed up with another driver who understood my vision. Nothing against the first driver, it’s just that sometimes crew members, (or momentary volunteers in this case), are not always going to gel with your vision. They have a different way of seeing things and that’s ok. Sometimes you need those people to show you where you are going wrong. But sometimes, you need that person who is willing to go out on a limb with you to get that killer shot! That’s what this new driver did. The whole day we were doing drive-bys of the team. He would suggest a scenic view along the route, we would race up ahead, I would hop out and set-up to let the bikes pass. We were really in tune. The athletes did 60 km, (37miles), in that leg of the trip and I didn’t have to jump out of a moving car once. Although, I did spend most of my time dangling from the side of the car with one hand on the camera and the other hanging on for dear life!
The last day of the trip seemed like the worst for the cyclists. They had a straight uphill ride for about 37 km, (22 miles) and we stayed right with them. I don’t know if I was more worn out from filming or watching them sweat and fight their way through it. I must say how proud I was of Nico throughout this whole thing. No matter how tired he was, he was always ready to jump off the bike anytime we stopped and do a quick interview. It amazed me.
Upon arriving at the finish line, we all hugged each other, laughed, cried, and caught our breath. We still had a 3-hour trip home on the bus, and we were all ready to collapse.
After the much-needed rest, we were in San Rafael. We stopped about 5 miles outside of town and prepared for what would be the most emotional part of the whole trip. Once the police escort arrived and the athletes all lined up on their bikes, we started our approach to the city center. While filming from the back of a truck I witnessed the joy on their faces as business owners, pedestrians, and drivers all stopped to cheer them on. When we arrived at our destination, we were greeted by family members, friends, and more media outlets. There were lots of hugs, cheers, and tears all around. The families all hugged me too as weaved through them trying to film! I was now an honorary member of Bici Inclusivo.
Throughout the trip, these athletes taught me something important about courage and determination. They have a sense of what they are capable of, that many of us have not yet grasped. They do not count their disabilities when they are going for their goals. They mark the path in their minds and go after it. I was utterly changed by my time with these amazing athletes and I know you will be too.
Thank you for becoming a part of their story. Stay tuned for Inside Ride the Andes, Part 3: Post-Production.