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Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Eric Bugbee discusses "Heroes of Dirt"


In the fall of 2010, BMXer/producer Eric Bugbee began work on a BMX-themed movie starring former Terrible One rider Joel Moody, set against the backdrop of the Eastern Pennsylvania trails scene. Bugbee's hopes were to produce a modern day version of the cult classic '80s BMX movie "Rad," and he, along with a dedicated cast and crew have worked tirelessly over the past two years to bring the film to competition.

Along the way, there were some hang-ups. Bugbee changed the working title of the film, waited out an entire winter of bad East Coast weather and had to recast one of the main characters in the film. But they pulled it off, and are now in the final stages of releasing the film to the general public. Unfortunately, that's not as easy as it sounds. According to Bugbee, the film needs still needs to have the sound mixed and edited professionally, along with an MPAA rating, marketing and both U.S. and international distribution. All of which is not cheap.

To that effort, Bugbee and company have established a Kickstarter campaign, which launched today and hopes to raise $50,000 in funding for the film. Earlier this week, we spoke with Bugbee about the film, the production and what it's going to take see "Heroes of Dirt" in a movie theater by October of 2012.

ESPN.com: The delay on the release. I know it's probably down to funding, but could you get specific about what you've done to produce this movie and why it's taken longer than expected?
Bugbee: Well, I think I should first mention that Heroes of Dirt is not a "Hollywood" studio-produced movie by any means. From the beginning, it was produced independently by a small band of filmmakers -- many of whom have a strong background in BMX. We needed to attack this process with the mindset that we'd have to be resourceful, marshaling all our strengths and network of family and friends, to make our tiny little film look like a multi-million dollar Hollywood picture.

We came up with the initial story concept for "Heroes of Dirt" four years ago in June 2008. Jill (my wife/Producer) and I had been producing documentary and corporate videos for a number of years, and we felt that we needed to start the process of getting a feature film underway. I'd been wanting to write and direct a proper BMX movie since I was in film school in the late '90s. The recession hit in 2008, and I figured that if we could get at least $100,000, we could produce something cool. I mean, if Kevin Smith could do "Clerks" for $30,000, why couldn't we make a BMX movie for a hundred grand? I'd been friends and acquaintances with most of the good riders here on the East Coast and figured that since we couldn't afford major movie stars, we'd make the sport of BMX and my buddies the stars.

As we were raising funds from individual investors and business contacts, we were developing our screenplay, which had "Accelerate: The BMX Movie" as a working title. After 15 drafts or so, it was completed a year later and we brought in two additional writers (Kevyn Bashore of Harrisburg, Pa. and Bob Massey of Los Angeles, Calif.) who helped us craft the story and dialogue further. By May 2010, we started our pre-production work which included casting, crewing, location scouting, storyboarding and other logistics planning. The shooting script wasn't finished until two days before the first day of production.

If Kevin Smith could do "Clerks" for $30,000, why couldn't we make a BMX movie for a hundred grand?

--Eric Bugbee

Production was intense. We shot at about 50 different locations, blocked downtown streets of Allentown, rented police cars and filmed chase scenes with gunfire visual effects. The script also called for a Dew Tour style BMX dirt jumping course to be built from the ground up. Allentown gave us permission to bulldoze Canal Park, and construct a trails-style setup. Dave King led the build team, while Adam Aloise, Chris Janis and a bunch of Catty Woods Trails locals labored creatively over two weeks to build an amazing layout, including the world's first shark fin jump at our event. These guys did an amazing job, and gave us a next-to-nothing rates. In order to get as many pros out as possible, we held the event as a legit contest with a pro-purse. Over 45 pro and local rippers competed, and close to 1,000 extras were in attendance.

In general, the shoot days were constantly being shifted around due to unpredictable weather patterns. Kevyn Bashore (Co-Producer and Writer), Matt Roseman (Assistant Director) and Manny Ribau (Associate Producer) often stayed up late to help me and Jill after everyone else left at the end of the shoot nights. For Jill and I, our work days were typically 18 hours a day, six days a week for six weeks straight. Many times the seventh day of each week was a 10-12 hour logistics prep day for the upcoming week of shooting. The lack of rest was hellish. Unpredictable weather was another challenge. The autumn of 2010 was incredibly rainy in Eastern Pa. and we couldn't count on sunny days. We had to shift our logistics around each week, and days where we planned to shoot exteriors had to move inside, and vice versa. All the locations and people involved had to be on alert for sudden changes, which was a huge burden to bear for all involved.

Ultimately, we were forced to postpone a lot of our exterior scenes until after the wintertime -- when the leaves appeared back on the trees. For two more weeks in summer of 2011 beginning mid-July, we had to film pickup scenes, which included police chases and additional scenes we needed to make the story flow better. Those two nights of chase scene shoots alone took a solid month for me to storyboard and plan out the logistics. We even had to rebuild parts of the Heroes of Dirt contest course and bring back the lighting to film more stunts. Thousands more spent out of pocket on that day.

So working from the beginning with a micro budget, a small core crew, tight schedule, unpredictable weather, extra expenses and limited resources, our time and funds quickly evaporated. We had to rely on the faithfulness of our cast and crew, and the support of our community. We had 16 local and national restaurants around the Lehigh Valley area kick in with about $10,000 worth of catered food for our cast and crew during the principal 30 days of filming. Fast Signs of Allentown did all our contest banners as part of sponsorship as well, and Profile hooked us up with cranks. Holiday Inn of Allentown also helped out by giving overnight accommodations to our traveling cast and crew from out of town and Lehigh Valley Youth House let us film in their facilities free of charge.

At the beginning of our shoot in September 2010, we still thought we'd have enough to cover not just the shoot, but post-production as well. But that turned out to be a wrong assumption. Animal, Kink and Dan's Comp stepped in early on with some sponsorship money and product to help us out. Their funds, combined with those of investors, merely covered most of our production costs. During pre-production, we expected some other national sponsors would line up to cover the cost of post- production -- which didn't happen. As it was, we accomplished a heck of a lot with very little resources, but we still needed more.

It was tough not having much corporate sponsorship support. A lot of companies whom we initially contacted didn't take us seriously, or maybe they didn't think we had something that fit their marketing strategy. I understand that. Back then, nobody knew our names. It would have been a perfect opportunity for an energy drink company, but none of them responded to our requests. Not one. Can you believe it? I even had the idea to film some shots with our main actor Joel Moody and some of the other riders drinking cans of each of the major energy drinks as product placement -- just in case someone would still decide to come on board - so that we wouldn't have to do any reshoots down the road since we still have the footage!

Blue: Was he recast or am I crazy?
Yes, he was recast. When we shot the first teaser over Labor Day weekend of 2009, we used Devin Albino -- an Allentown local rider. He was 14 at the time and an inch or two shorter than Joel Moody. He worked then, because that role was for a 14-year-old kid from the rough part of town. When we did our main production filming, Devin was burly and three inches taller than Joel -- plus he had 5 o'clock shadow at noon. It wasn't going to work. We gave him the role of Spanky, a well-seasoned shredder.

Also, the Blue role called for a young scrappy kid who couldn't really ride, but who possessed the athletic ability to be mentored by Joel's character, Phin, and grow into a decent rider. Will Martinez (who played Blue) was a ripper. He learned how to bunnyhop a solid foot within a week -- as well as wallride and jump small roller doubles during the course of the shoot. Plus, Will is a highly talented actor. He had the acting chops to carry the second biggest role in our 100 minute movie. He wasn't afraid to do stunts that would get him hurt. He killed it, and all the Catty locals loved him.

The name change: what was the reason behind the name change?
"Accelerate: The BMX Movie" was just a temporary working title. We didn't really know what the proper fit was until we came up with the name for the contest series within the movie -- "Heroes of Dirt." We realized that it just felt right to name the movie after the contest series. It's more BMX-centric, and it's a good metaphor for Phin's character arc. If I say any more, it'll spoil the ending.

Your motivations behind this film: what made you want to create this movie?
I have loved riding BMX for over 25 years. Catty Woods Trails (Catasauqua, Pennsylvania) was my baby for the decade of 1991 to 2001. When I moved to Los Angeles in '01 to pursue my career, a new generation of kids (the guys who were just little in my heyday) took over and morphed the trails into a world-famous utopia for dirt jumpers. The place is mind-blowing. I grew up racing, riding street and ramp. "Rad" inspired me to get on the BMX and go for it! Back in '86/87 me and my buddies in town had a circuit around the Catty pool that we used to race and called it Helltrack - named after the racetrack at the end of Rad. I pretended that I was Cru Jones! Never did I think I'd be directing Bill Allen in my own BMX feature film -- shot right in my hometown. Another thing is that I just figured that a new generation of riders needed a new BMX movie that would represent the vibe of trail and street riders in Eastern Pa. We have a big scene here with Catty and Posh trails being fifteen minutes drive apart. Dudes from around the world fly in every summer to live and ride here. It was a perfect opportunity. Really though, think about this with reason: If "Rad" is still the BMX movie almost everyone talks about 26 years out from its release, imagine what this one has the potential to do? Immediately? The question really is: Will people like it? I believe they'll love it. We screened a rough cut in front of a 150 person test audience last November, and they certainly did. Since then, we took their feedback and made the edit even better.

Does the protagonist follow the "Hero's Journey" theme?
Yes. Again, I don't want to give the ending away, but, being a real hero isn't just about winning. There are weightier things to it than just the superficial, surface stuff which require a person to look deeper and act beyond oneself. Who loves people that are self-obsessed anyway?

Finally, what needs to happen for this film to reach the hands of viewers, from start to finish?
The most important thing is that we need to raise finishing funds as well as for marketing and distribution. We just launched a Kickstarter.com campaign, a fund- raising platform for creative projects, to help us accomplish this. We need to get the sound professionally mixed and edited, MPAA rating, marketing, as much press-coverage as possible, U.S./International theatrical distribution, and the building of a team of grassroots promoters in cities around the US and worldwide. We already have people who want to help from all over the world like the UK, Australia, South Africa, Philippines and Brazil.

"Heroes of Dirt," the first BMX-specific feature film since "Rad," is nearing completion.

The timing all hinges on the Kickstarter.com campaign. People interested in helping out can go to our campaign and back our project for as little as $5. In return they can get cool incentives like movie posters, clothing, their names in the credits, private lunch with the director or producer, movie premiere all-access passes and a bunch of other things -- depending on their level of support. We're also giving away our lead actor's BMX bike and the main stunt double bike!

We're doing it this way, because if we waited for a distributor to come on and do it, it would probably delay the release until after Christmas this year or maybe even longer. We don't want to delay any more. But for the past year it's only been Jill and I doing all of the work. We're exhausted, but we keep pushing forward. It's imperative for us to hire staff this summer to help us get things finished on time. Again, to do that we need additional funds.

If people come in and help us during our Kickstarter.com campaign, it'll help to ensure that we get the movie out to as many theaters in US cities as possible by the end of October-November. That's our goal this year. Ultimately, we want to see our movie translated and subtitled to at least nine different languages, and shown all over the world.

Also, if anyone wants to be a part of our grassroots promo teams to help get the word out about Heroes of Dirt, they can contact us at outreach (at) bluetrailentertainment.com and we'll try to make sure we get everyone into the database. They should include all of their contact info and full residential address. They can spread the word about the film in their network and/or community, and receive a special Outreach Partner credit on our website. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to share about what's been going on in our filmmaking process. It's been a challenging journey, but definitely worth it!