by Daniel Roodt
Thanks to the Half Time Oranges Podcast, I was recently given the opportunity to interview well-known sports documentary directors, Ben and Gabe Turner from Fulwell 73. We discussed the process of creating I Am Bolt, a documentary about Usain Bolt’s running career which culminated in him winning three gold medals at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
Daniel: Did you decide to make this documentary when you did because Bolt’s career was going to be coming to end shortly? Obviously, you made it before and during the 2016 Olympic Games.
There was definitely a sense that that was a good time to make it in what was going to be his final year going for those golds at the Olympics. At the time it definitely played into it. I think for him as well to have the film made at that time.
Do you think that he (Bolt) was more willing to do it because he knew that his career was going to be coming to an end?
I think so, you know he was going for a feat that no one had ever done. Three in a row (three Olympic golds in a row at three separate events), people had done two in a row, but never three in a row, particularly not at different events.
Because it was this big historical moment coupled with the fact that he definitely wasn’t going to go to another Olympics, so it was his last Olympics. He understood the scale and importance of it. From my point of view, he is the most magnetic Olympic star for god knows how long.
There is a kind of worry in my mind, because I love athletics and the Olympics, and I look at this and wonder what it is going to be like post Bolt. He became so synonymous with the glory of the Olympics, that you kind of fear for the future. I think that there was a lot of weight in his (Bolt’s) shoulders to go do great there. I think that he felt like marking this historical moment was a good idea and we were just very lucky to be the people that he decided to take there.
How do you go about making a documentary like this, because obviously Bolt and his entourage and the other sports stars featured here are not exactly accessible people?
Once you have worked at making sports documentaries for a long time like we have you start to know a lot of people, different agents and managers, so it is easier to move within these circles.
Predominantly those people like Pele, Neymar, Serena Williams (who all featured in the documentary), are doing it for Bolt. If you’re asking Serena Williams if she wants to comment on Usain Bolt, and she had been to the Olympics with him in Beijing, so he was a fan of hers, she was a fan of his, it is a much easier ask than asking if they want to comment on your film.
They’re not doing it because of you, they’re doing it because of Bolt.
I think that the sports world is big, but it’s actually quite small in a way. If you do good work and you get in there, generally you build a reputation and it opens doors for you. You can make any sports documentary and if it is well received and it does well, a lot of that sports community will have consumed it.
Then you have got a kind of case to start trying to pitch for bigger, better things. Prior to us doing Usain Bolt had been making sports documentaries for about 10 years. You start to gain contacts and people trust you and it starts to snowball and enable you to make bigger things about bigger people.
With a documentary of this nature, obviously, you’re spending a lot of time with Usain Bolt in his house. So, how do you get the balance between getting the footage you need to make the documentary interesting, and making sure he is living his natural life?
The way to get there is to just sort of push through it and have him get used to it rather than being too tip-toey around. He is a bit exceptional because he is really comfortable in front of the camera. But with all the people that you film with, it’s not that you need to be around them all the time, but you are kind of waiting for the moment’s to happen. You’ll shoot a lot and you’ll be around them a lot, but a lot of it won’t be used.
Sometimes in that scenario, you’re better off putting the camera away, but the sooner they get used to it the better. They’re more likely to get natural with it by getting used to you and you finding a way not to be a pain in the arse while you’re shooting.
So it’s more just like being there enough and making sure they’re fine with you being there and just pushing through it?
Yeah, you sort of learn to work in a way that is unobtrusive. Bolt told us to stop asking when we could come to his house. In the end, he told us to just set up our stuff in his house and not call him seven times a day and don’t keep asking whether we can have water or whatever, just make ourselves at home. That is what he was like, but he is more of an exception, rather than the rule.
Were either of you always with the film crew for the time you were on the ground filming Bolt?
One of us would almost always be there, but he filmed a lot of stuff himself. We gave him a camera, and of that stuff like the night before races where he couldn’t sleep, he is filming himself. He really took to that.
We tried to make the documentary feel different and stylistically like the film was his and that it should feel like it has got his stamp on it. So we gave him his own camera because we knew he was quite au fait with filming himself and getting his personality across. We encouraged him to shoot loads and he got some really good revealing stuff late at night when he was thinking about stuff you wouldn’t get when you go there for an interview.
That was really really helpful, and I think of all the documentaries we have done, we got the best stuff from him, from his own camera because he was so good at having a feeling and switching on the camera to tell us about it.
* You can listen to the full episode via the link below. My section of the interview starts at 34.27.
Listen via their LinkTree https://linktr.ee/HTOFootball