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Behind The Barriers Director’s Cut: Fish out of water

Fish out of Water

The first bike race I went to strictly for filming purposes was in 2002. It was the NORBA Nationals opener in Big Bear, California. I had been to the same race for the past two years, but as a racer. That January, I decided to quit bike racing, sold my bikes, and bought a Sony VX-2000 video camera.

I wanted to shoot video of the RPM/Yeti team, which was the team I’d been on. I remember shooting a lot of footage that weekend, but it was all horrible. I was really bad at tracking moving objects, zooming in and out erratically as riders went by. I shot a bunch of footage of Ross Milan preparing for his downhill and dual slalom races. He was funny and had an entertaining way of conducting himself. Watching the footage, years later, I realized some of it wasn’t much different from the way I shoot now.

At the end of the trip, I had a really hard time editing the footage into anything worthwhile. And I also found it awkward to be at a bike race without actually racing. I had that sort of fish-out-of-water feeling.

That September, my first semester of college started in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I decided I wanted to shoot that year’s New England Cyclocross Series. The first race in the series was in New Gloucester, Maine. I remember getting the same fish-out-of-water feeling during the elite men’s race, and I actually left and drove home before the race even ended. That was the end of me wanting to shoot the whole New England Series. I nixed plans to go to Gloucester the following weekend.

A few weeks later, I got the newest issue of VeloNews in the mail. It had a mud-splattered Todd Wells winning Gloucester on the cover. I immediately felt like I had missed out on something awesome. I didn’t go to any of the other races that year, but I did go and shoot every single one of them in 2003. I haven’t stopped shooting bike racing since.

I haven’t ever completely lost the fish-out-of-water feeling, but I think I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. I have the mentality of an observer and an outsider when I’m at a bike race. I think that reflects in my work and makes it unique. It’s a love/hate relationship that works for some reason.
—Sam Smith
Producer/director, Behind The Barriers

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