‘The Sprint King’ shows a side to horse racing that many of us aren’t aware of. The short film, which is inspired by the life events of friends and family of debut director Ben Ducker (who plies his trade as a creative at Fold7), tells the remarkable story of Dandy Nicholls, a runaway boy turned jockey, who punches, kicks and starves his way through the dark underworld of horse racing. With fierce, gritty ‘stable boxing’ fight scenes inspired by Guy Ritchie’s ‘Snatch’, it is to horse racing what Black Swan was to ballet.
On top of being inspired by family events, the film itself was also a family project – Ben’s cinematographer was his brother James, this marking their first proper collaborative job.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Ben to find out more.
Check out a teaser trailer for ‘The Sprint King’ below and the full film at the bottom of the page.
LBB> What inspired the narrative for The Sprint King? Tell us a bit about what’s going on.
BD> This rags to riches story is close to me as it comes from the life events of friends and family. My great uncle was the legendary horse trainer David Chapman and his sister, my grandma, was the owner of the racehorse SOBA that rose to fame in the 1980s. The film tells the remarkable struggle of a runaway boy (Dandy Nicholls) who became The Sprint King riding SOBA. I worked with Dandy to write his life story into a feature synopsis and from that created a short film.
LBB> Why was it a project you were keen to make your debut short film?
BD> Firstly I love true stories; to watch something inspiring and to know it's based on real events makes the experience more gripping. My taste in film has always been dark and brutally honest. This story not only had all those ingredients but I was able to bring them to a surprising setting and use this dark style to surprise people about an industry they perhaps thought they knew.
LBB> What were you aiming for with the overall aesthetic of the film?
BD> Something that felt raw yet cinematic. The stable boxing fight scene was heavily influenced by Guy Ritchie's 'Snatch'.
LBB> How long was the production and what are your most memorable moments? Where did you shoot?
BD> We shot the race montage (mid-film) about a month earlier than everything else at York racecourse. On a tiny budget we had little control so it was a matter of point and shoot. As the racing start gates move position with each race we found it somewhat of a logistical nightmare trying to plan where our setups would be.
The rest of the film was shot over four days back-to-back in September. My fondest memories were the first two when we shot our fight scene in a chilled potato barn and used a forklift truck to suspend our lights. The hay bale boxing ring and towering wood pallets used as viewing boxes for the fight spectators created an atmospheric set. I'm sure the two actors who spent their days in bare feet and shorts, mid-September, in a chilled barn were less keen.
LBB> You made this for £3,000 - how did you pull it off?
BD> After taking the idea around most of the London production companies in the hope of support and funding I was told to make it on my own or to sacrifice the directing credits to one of their own directors. So with my brother as DOP and £3,000 (of his money), that’s what we did.
Thanks to my years as an advertising creative I had a number of favours to call in. The Oscar-winning Framestore provided an edit, grade and titles. 750MPH did an incredible job on the sound design (and even threw in a 5.1 dolby mix for cinema!). Then The Sound Works created the score and Brownian Motion provided the cameras and kit.
LBB> You’re a creative by trade - can you see yourself directing ads in the future?
BD> Plenty of advertising creatives go on to direct later in life, Ridley Scott being one of them. Maybe one day that will be me but for now it remains a passion and a hobby. I've always loved being on set, working with a team and ultimately making beautiful stuff. Thankfully my career in advertising allows me to do that too so it's the best of both worlds.
LBB> Your brother was the cinematographer on this project - how was it working with him? How do you work as a duo?
BD> He's my little bro so he's always great at taking direction, haha. We work well together. Having different skillsets ensures we never step on each other’s toes and get the job done. Growing up with the same experiences and influences means we often have the same thought in mind when it comes to the visual of a scene.
LBB> For how long have you been making films together?
BD> We grew up with the camcorder glued to our hand, directing our friends and family, often making spoofs of Bond films. It was only in the last couple of years when my bro took a masters in cinematography at Ealing Film Studios that we started working professionally together. At first we shot two small test films for less than £100 each. The Sprint King is the first significant production we have worked on together.
LBB> How did it come to be that you both work within film / advertising?
BD> Growing up in the sticks of North Yorkshire, there wasn't much to do. We had to be inventive and film was a great way to do that. We both started with photography and fine art at college. The following years I moved to London for a career in advertising and Jamie (my bro) moved from photography into cinematography.
LBB> The short film tells a snippet of Dandy’s life - would you like to tell more in the future?
BD> The film is doing well, it won 'Best London Filmmaker' at the Wimbledon International Short Film Festival (a Metro top 10 film fest) this weekend. It's also an official selection at the BAFTA and Academy Award-qualifying Leeds International this year, so fingers crossed for that. Hopefully the success continues and the stars align for a feature to tell the rest of this man's remarkable story. Of course the film doesn't rely on Dandy's life specifically as many jockeys experience this brutal lifestyle. A TV drama on Channel 4 could be an exciting fit with their support of the racing industry and film.
Check out 'The Sprint King' below.