Danny is a friend first. We’ve ridden together over a number of years, and he witnessed my transition from pro-level mountain biker to fledgling filmmaker firsthand. When we set out to make this film he’d already gained internet fame with an incredible viral video (remember them ;)) shot with flatmate Dave Sowerby in the streets of Edinburgh.
We’d filmed together a handful of times, for a DVD (remember them too!) project I created in 2008 and also a local tourism campaign I shot too. We were friends, understood how each other worked and importantly there was a lot of honesty between us in how we worked.
Danny was approached to appear in a Channel 4 documentary ‘Concrete Circus’ that was a feature-length documentary following a new generation of athletes as they each created an online film project. Danny asked if I was up for it and (nervously) off we went.
We’d had this vision of using an abandoned location, dived into research and found this old Ironworks just south of Glasgow. Now, in hindsight, we realise how much we lucked out on this as since then we’ve spent days and weeks searching for locations and nothing has come so easy, but hey ignorance is bliss eh!
I was introduced to Mike Christie, the director of the documentary and someone who became a friend and mentor over the years. Now, in the loveliest way, Mike is an imposing personality. He is a director who owns the room, is clear on his vision and has years of experience. At the time I had filmed a few mates riding bikes and my approach was always just around how to work with them and capture the action in a way that I felt represented the sport the best. Mike is often more theatrical in much of his work compared to mine, he’s produced some incredible films but his input then and over the years really helped me shape my work to capture more personality and emotion in the work too. I genuinely think the combination of capturing brilliant, authentic action in sports, combined with the emotional and inspiring tone and storytelling has helped shape a decade of growth and work at Cut Media.
Anyway… back to the project. When I say fledgling filmmaker that couldn’t be truer. The film was shot on a Canon 5D camera with three prime lenses, a tripod, mini jib and slider. It seems absolutely wild looking back now at how the technology has moved on, yet the film has become a reference point for me over the years as to how something simple can be beautiful, effective and connect with an audience too.
We secured the location permission, booked a week in a local Travelodge and found a music track through a friend of mine who worked at Universal music. He’d sent me a shortlist and we quickly identified it as a potential. The music was so important to this and I love that we found it so early. We literally listened to it playing from the van stereo as we shot the film and to this day I can still listen to The Wolves by Ben Howard and love every second of it. There was an added charm about the fact that shortly after the film came out he exploded to become one of the UK’s best selling artists (unrelated to the film).
My vision for the film was basically around Danny exploring the location, there is something simple yet beautiful about portraying how a derelict, abandoned location can be interpreted through the eyes of Danny. The location was a visual feast for the eyes so I wanted to pick up on some detail shots too, the textures of the rusty metal, bricks and even the dust added a change from the usual wide-angle action sports filming style. I rolled on the camera and captured Danny building, shaping or clearing the lines. It seems so basic but I really think it’s these aspects that make the film special to me. I think the intimacy of it and the idea that Danny is alone in the adventure elevates the film.
Then there is Danny, in the last decade we’ve done a lot together and each grown in our own way. He is an absolutely unique talent, which is equally matched by an embarrassment of anyone talking up his talents. Undoubtedly a phenomenal athlete on his bike but I have never known anyone with such a dedication to perfecting their performance for the camera. The honesty I referred to earlier is so important to the process, works both ways and neither of us have ever had an issue calling out something if we didn’t feel it was up to scratch. There is no ego involved, just a desire to make the best project we can and live up to the bar we set on the last one. I’ve always seen our job with Danny is to portray the best performance possible but also inject a narrative or concept into it in a way that elevates the film without compromising the riding. Those ingredients are what let the films transcend the usual action sports audience. It’s a hard line to tread sometimes but I think broadly speaking we have achieved it.
For Industrial Revolutions we shot for a week, mostly just myself, Danny and our friend Nash there as a helping hand. On the day of the backflip a friend Aaron Bartlett came in to capture a second angle. I edited the film on a desk in my bedroom (one bed rented flat back then).
Now the aspect I haven’t really touched on was the wider documentary. The thing was there were either athletes and three other filmmakers making projects, and I was terrified I was about to be completely shown up as a charlatan. I’d heard the freerunning crew in London had fire, special effects and steadicams, and here was me flying solo with my one camera and three lenses. So when I forwarded on the edit to Mike to review for the documentary I was genuinely s**ting myself. At the time I didn’t have the experience or confidence to believe in my own work. About 30 minutes later he called and to this day I remember standing at the window of my flat as he said ‘what a beautiful film’. I think I felt relief as much as anything.
Mike created a truly brilliant, ground-breaking documentary for its time (Google concrete circus if you want to see it, together with a youthful me and Danny!), it was a huge success and when I released the film on YouTube (on the Cut Media channel, before Cut Media was really a thing) it was a wild experience watching Danny’s skills travel.
Over the decade since the release we have created Imaginate (which incidentally I worked with Mike on), The Ridge, Wee Day Out and now many more at Cut Media (where I often now am Exec Producer) that have achieved bigger numbers, yet it is Industrial Revolutions that is closest to my heart, and the one I love the most. While the charm of the simplicity is special to me it is actually the way it shaped me personally, the confidence I gained, the lessons that I learned and the path it set me on with Cut Media is something I’m forever grateful for.