“Pedal-Driven” takes a balanced look into the escalating conflict between mountain bikers hungry to ride and the federal land managers charged with protecting the public lands that belong to us all. Winner of the award for “Best Cinematography” at DOCUTAH Film Festival, this beautifully shot documentary takes viewers on a thrilling and often contentious ride, covering issues of sustainability, public recreation and land stewardship from both sides of the divide, with the goal of uncovering a new path toward the future along the way.
Writer/director: Jamie Howell
Producer: Jeff Ostenson
Artistic director: Oly Mingo
Sound editor: Chad Yenney
Production assistants: Mitch Milner and Brian Abbey
“Woah, that’s INSAAANE!”
We stood around Oly’s computer monitor admiring some footage he had just shot in the hills around Leavenworth for a commercial we were making. Mountain bikers were literally flying through the trees, sailing off gargantuan jumps built into the trunks, hucking themselves off rock faces you wouldn’t dare walk down. The combination of gifted bikers and natural beauty was nothing shy of stunning.
“They made me promise not to tell anybody where we were shooting,” Oly Mingo, our top shooter and computer graphics whiz, told us.
“Why would they do that?”
“Because all those trails are completely illegal.”
Boom! Half a decade gone, just like that.
That conversation took place in our offices at Howell at the Moon Productions in the summer of 2008. This week, five years after the fact, the resulting documentary - “Pedal-Driven” - sees its official major label release on Cinedigm’s Docurama imprint. Barnes and Noble, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes - everywhere you would want your movie to be, we will be now. “Pedal-Driven” also made its national broadcast debut on Universal Sports this month.
These things make the difference between having a few thousand viewers and having millions of viewers. These things are the success we’ve been striving toward from the very beginning. But it’s a long, long road.
Love your idea
I laugh a little when people come through the doors with documentary ideas for me. Not to be rude and not because their ideas are bad, but because it’s a little like someone asking you on a Tuesday afternoon if you wouldn’t mind giving up your thirties. I’ve had and heard more documentary ideas than I could make in three lifetimes.
From what I’ve learned about the documentary process over the 15 years I’ve been at it, I know that you had better love your idea, because when you take one on, you are entering a multi-year gauntlet of doubt and uncertainty, one that can only be run with a blind commitment to “yes” when the answers are “no.”
Taking a documentary from concept to completion, and then from completion to the world is, at its core, simply a process of jumping hurdles, overcoming one adversity after another.
Turning ‘no’ into ‘yes’
We found adversity at every turn. When, with barely enough money in our checking account to cover the tickets, Producer Jeff Ostenson and I flew to Boulder, Colo., to meet with IMBA (The International Mountain Bicycling Association) in hopes of securing a critical partnership, we learned that they had been burned by another documentary partnership just months earlier. Still, we made our best pitch and, somewhere in there, they heard our excitement and believed in us enough to give it another try.
Nor did it seem we would ever break the ice with the big bike companies as we made countless, fruitless cold calls on them at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas in search of funding for the project. But then, sitting across from Shimano’s director of environmental affairs, we finally heard a “yes.” We had our first $40,000 and the dam was broken. Other sponsors - Specialized, Diamondback, ClifBar, Pyramid Brewing and Diamondback, to name just a few - began to follow suit.
There was no way we were going to get permission from the U.S. Forest Service to shoot on illegal trails, or to put cameras in one of their law enforcement vehicles. But I called, explained, called again, explained again, met, explained again and, slowly, “no” became “yes.” The U.S. Forest Service not only granted the permissions we needed, they came on board as an official project partner.
Over and over we did this.
When we couldn’t afford a helicopter to shoot a flyover from Seattle to Leavenworth, we hired artist Scott Bailey, of Wenatchee Valley College, and came up with an idea to create a CG flyover. When we didn’t have enough computing power to render the trees on his mountains, we borrowed more computers until we had nearly a dozen of them plugged into every outlet crunching graphics for weeks around the office and ultimately spit out something more beautiful than any flyover I’d ever seen.
When Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings refused to license their version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” that I wanted so badly for the movie’s opening, we shook it off and headed to sound editor Chad Yenney’s basement studio to record our own. Local musicians Nancy Zahn and Glenn Isaacson, and the band Poor Folks, Live Well, created new, and far more fascinating versions. Ostenson even recorded one with guitar and three-part harmony using only his iPhone that made the cut.
When, after two years of work, we were finally able to screen a cut for a focus group, the movie was no good. My attempt to create a balanced storyline had come out biased and unfair. But we listened, gaining valuable insight from people like Paul Hessburg of the Chelan Douglas Land Trust, and reworked it.
No to yes, can’t to can, problem after problem. We marched forward, tired and irritable. The movie got better.
There is little to compare with the pride, the raw elation I felt when, two years ago this month, we finally flew the entire team down to the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif., where we held our world premiere.
That kicked off the ensuing two years, which were spent on the second half of the job - getting the movie out to the world - setting up screenings, entering film festivals, cutting new versions for TV and for classrooms, working with media consultants, approaching distributors and then negotiating contracts with them. More hurdles, more things we had never done before. But instead of letting that get in the way, we learned how by doing them.
Behind every movie you see, every book you read, every masterful piece of art, are people who set out toward a vision and simply kept turning “no” into “yes.” It’s long and arduous, risky. But it’s the same for anybody, and somebody has to create the new work, the things that come next. So if that’s all there is to it, I’ve always figured, why couldn’t it be me? Or why shouldn’t it be you?
Today, with all those hurdles behind us, all those vanquished “no”s, I can finally sit down in my living room, punch up “Pedal-Driven” on my TV, and know that millions upon millions of Americans can and will do the same. And you know what I say as I watch it playing up there on that screen?