Bicycles. We go on adventures with them, we race on them, we commute on them. We take joy from them and sometimes get frustrated by them. We build up all these sentimental memories, and they’re a bit of metal with wheels.
What about when you outgrow a bicycle? What if it becomes less than the shiny-freedom-machine that it once was? Getting rid of a bike can be sad. But have you ever considered what it’s like for the bicycle?
Fire it up in full-screen and watch the brilliant short film above to find out.
What a corker. Recently I caught up with the filmmakers, Adam Neustadter and Chris McCoy, to chat about how it happened.
First up is the intro round. What’s your backgrounds & how have you ended up doing what you’re doing?
Chris: I grew up on Cape Cod, which is about an hour outside of Boston, on the ocean. I’m a screenwriter by trade – I’ve written for Dreamworks, Paramount, Disney, and a bunch of other companies. It took a bit to break in – I went to NYU film school, worked a bunch of internships, then moved first to San Francisco to work for a magazine and eventually to Los Angeles, where I worked at an agency while working on my own material at the same time. Eventually I was lucky enough that it started to sell.
Adam: I grew up on the Jersey Shore, in a small beach town near Atlantic City. I also went to NYU film school, but didn’t know Chris at the time. I stayed in New York for ten years after graduating and then moved to Los Angeles about two years ago. I got into directing by shooting videos for my friends’ bands, and eventually that turned into a job. I’ve done mostly short form work (music videos, commercials, etc), plus one micro-budget indie feature that I shot in France over 10 days.
How did The Bicycle film come to be?
C: The Bicycle came out of my bicycle getting stolen a couple of times, and me wondering what the hell happened to it after it was gone. I have lived in Santa Monica and Venice for the past eight or so years, both of which are very bike-friendly towns because of the Boardwalk. I use my bike to get around everywhere, so when it gets stolen, it’s very emotionally jarring. We wrote about what a bike that has been lost – in this case, abandoned – might be thinking about in the wake of it being separated from its owner.
Are you riders? It’s something that I’d not thought about for years, but getting rid of a bicycle or having it stolen can be this weird kind of poignant experience.
C: I use my bike for errands all the time, though I’m more of a beach cruiser kind of bicyclist rather than a ‘head into the mountains’ biker. Venice is pretty flat, and everyone is on a bike. It’s definitely an emotional experience to get rid of this object that you have such an intimate connection with – you’re touching it, you’re sitting on it, you feel it, you need it to do its job to keep you safe. And then it’s gone.
A: Back in New York I used to ride my bike all the time. It’s such an exhilarating way to get around the city. Manhattan is pretty small when you think about it, and you can really navigate you way through it quickly on a bike. When I moved out to LA – where I drive a whole lot – I actually left a bike behind. I gave it to the son of a woman who worked in my apartment building. Hopefully that kid is still cruising around New York City on my ugly lime green BMX bike.
Tell me about the production process – where did you shoot and why, how long did it take?
C: It took three days to shoot, and we went all over Los Angeles, from Venice up into the hills of Echo Park, which is the only place where we could get the kind of steep hills that we needed for the sequence where the Bicycle breaks free on its own. Plus, it gave us a nice arc to the story – the bike goes from the ocean to the inland, and then comes back totally changed to a place that in truth is not very far physically from where it originally started.
Did anything go wrong during the filming? Looks like when the bike breaks free it’s on target for a car at one point.
C: Yeah, when we were throwing the bike down the steps, I almost ripped Adam’s head off by releasing the bike too close to where he was standing. I pretty much almost killed him on camera.
A: Yep. That was awesome.
Why’s The Bicycle an Englishman?
A: We gave the bicycle an accent because he’s a Raleigh. He’s a Brit, from Nottingham. We also liked the implied back-story that came with it. How did this old English bicycle get all the way to Venice Beach? He must have had some hard miles.
There’s this cool juxtaposition of hilarious (“…after I was painted a fucking horrible colour”) and deep (“…I suppose that the best we can hope for is that when our end comes, fate allows us a moment to reflect on the memories that will guide us into the night.”) You guys write comedy, so did you intend when penning this that the bicycle had a funny dry-wit, and a ‘depressed-man-turns-insightful’ side?
C: The bike itself is so decrepit looking that you can’t help but feel sympathy for it. Originally, we thought about it as a kind of Tom Waits character – super grizzled, but with a wisdom and a humor to the way that it thinks.
A: We worked hard at finding that balance and nailing the right tone. We definitely intended for some of the more philosophical narration to carry a bit of weight. We’ve been lucky enough to screen the film in some big theaters, and it’s always cool to watch how the audience responds. People aren’t sure how to react at first. When the bike falls out of the truck the whole room usually gasps. But when we hit the “fucking horrible color…” part, the room erupts. They finally realize it’s okay to laugh and you can feel their relief. The same people have cried and cracked up while watching our little short, and we’re very proud of that.
Speaking of which, how’s the response been?
C: The response has been kinda amazing. We played a bunch of festivals, but when we put it up on Vimeo and it was chosen as a Staff Pick, we were getting viewers from literally almost every country in the world. We’re well over 100K views at this point and growing. In particular, we have bicyclists reach out to us in the comments section all the time – it really struck a nerve with people who love bikes, it seems.
A: The Vimeo Staff Pick was huge for us. And it’s true, the cycling community has really embraced the film. It’s part of The Bicycle Film Festival which is a touring festival that screens in a bunch of cities all over the world. And now there are even more film festivals starting up that only curate bike-centric stories. We didn’t even realize this audience existed when we made the film, but it’s cool that we have a way to reach them.
The bike has philosophical thoughts that we probably all ponder on in some way or another. Do you guys ever question what you’re doing? Ever have self-doubt that your on the right path or your creativity isn’t good enough?
C: All the time. But all you can do is be honest to what you’re feeling and the kind of stories you want to tell, and make sure that you have a group of people who you trust to whom you can show your work who can call you out if you’re getting too precious or too generic in what you’re doing.
A: Absolutely. I think any creative who says otherwise is lying. If you don’t ever question your work or your process, you won’t ever improve your craft.
Screenwriters often fully build a character way beyond the immediate story. So what’s The Bicycle up to now? Still going strong with the tassels? Has it written a self-help book yet?
C: I think the Bicycle is pleased with its new life and is still going strong with the tassels. Though I suppose the girl who owns it at the end will end up going off to college and it’ll get stuck in a garage or something, so maybe that’s when it’ll write its self-help book.
A: Men are from Mars, Bicycles are from Venice.
Any exciting future plans in the works?
C: Adam and I would love to work on another short together. I’m continuing to write scripts and do rewrites, but am working on putting together a feature film to shoot this year.
A: I’m still shooting short form stuff, writing a feature script I’m hoping to direct, and have a few other irons in the fire.
Awesome, thanks guys, good luck with those irons.