Interview: Richard De Aragues (director of TT3D: Closer to the Edge)

Interview: Richard De Aragues (director of TT3D: Closer to the Edge). By Simon Miraudo.

“It’s better to burn out, than to fade away,” sang Neil Young, and the stars of the new documentary TT3D: Closer to the Edge have taken his advice to heart. The film details the outrageously dangerous TT-Zero motorbike races on the Isle of Man that makes sporting heroes (and also claims lives). We spoke to director Richard De Aragues about the allure of the TT, his protagonist Guy Martin, and the psychology of a rider who’s willing to put their life on the line.

Pictured: Richard De Aragues

SM: Were there any movies growing up that inspired you to get into filmmaking?

RDA: Oh gosh, yeah, many actually. I was always inspired by some of the typical ones. I always loved Kubrick movies; I loved the way he reinvented himself with each movie. Again, I love the big epic movies; I love David Lean and Dr. Zhivago. I remember seeing Dr. Zhivago when I was very young, and it had a huge impression on me. I know some of great moviemakers inspired me.

SM: Have you always been a fan of racing?

RDA: Yes, most definitely. I was very lucky in the sense that when I was approached for this, it was my two passions: filmmaking and racing. I’d kind of covered a lot of racing over the years, with World Superbike and GP racing. I’ve done quite a bit on Formula 1, and I’m a very keen racer myself. I love being on bikes, from a young age. I enjoyed my track days with my friends. I do enjoy throwing myself on the saddle and having a blast around the track.

SM: Tell me a bit about the TT and what it was that specifically drew you to it?

RDA: I’ve known a bit about the TT, and it’s one of those great races that we’ve known about here. I think all great biking fans know about it. For me, there were quite a few things that attracted me to it. I mean, first of all, historically it’s this legendary race; so many of the greats have raced there, and up until the 1970s it was the home of the British Grand Prix. So, you know, if you were a current day Lorenzo or Valentino Rossi, you had to go race that race to win the championships. It’s steeped in history. It’s amazing how many great legends [it] manufactured. The birth of Honda happened on the island as well. Mr. Honda decided in the ‘50s, you know, ‘How do I become this big name?’ And he decided to go out there and win those races; and that’s what he did, he literally launched the Honda motorcar company there. It’s steeped in history, but also, as a biker, it’s the ultimate challenge. You’re racing at these incredible speeds, but also on these tiny country lanes. Being 37 and ¾ miles, it’s a hugely challenging course to learn. They say it takes three years to learn, and of course every year the track changes. It’s a living road; you get lorries travelling over it, you get cold winters where it freezes and the tarmac kicks up little bumps, the routes pull up parts of the road. It’s this ever-evolving … it’s almost like the track is an entity to itself. They say it’s almost like the beast comes to life; those who come to try and tame the beast come, and some survive and some don’t, but it has this big allure to it. It’s a huge expression of freedom, where you can come, have a go and if you get it wrong you could be coming back in a box.

SM: One of those characters who tackle it is Guy Martin, and he turns out to be a great screen character. He’s not exactly forthcoming with journalists in the film, even though he is very opinionated. Tell me about approaching him to be in the movie, and essentially, to be the central character. I can see him both loving and hating that idea.

RDA: Very much so. We obviously met with a lot of the top riders and a variety of characters, and as we got to know Guy we saw we were very lucky, because he’s this fantastically charismatic guy, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he is what he is what he is. We knew from the beginning when I sat down with Guy, he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I love the TT and I’m passionate about it and I love that you’re looking back into legendary past’; he’s got these many different passions, as you know, for these stationary steam engines and all these strange wonderful passions he has. But he was obviously a bit concerned that, in a way, what we could do is destroy the very soul and essence of what it is and it does have this uniqueness to it, as it isn’t one of these massive big corporate sports, where almost ordinary men can come along and do these extraordinary things. That was one slight worry for him I think. Also, I had to promise him, ‘Look mate, we’re here to observe you. And we’re just gonna observe you and not get in your way, because I know you’re main goal – the biggest passion you have – is to win that race. There’s no way we can get in the way of you making that race’. Often we had to sit around him and back off, but in the end it all came together with mutual respect on both sides. He realised how hard we grafted; we worked very very hard. During those intense couple of weeks, my guys would be doing 18/20 hour days, and he was like, ‘You guys just don’t stop’. That’s filmmaking for you.

Pictured: Guy Martin

SM: When you’re making a documentary, you can’t dictate where the story will take you, and you didn’t know how Guy was going to perform in the actual race. Can you tell me how the story evolved as you filmed it, and how it differed from the film you had in your head going in?

RDA: Well, to be honest with you, we kind of knew the island would give us the story, and we kind of knew just because there’s this wonderful cyclical nature. The TT is epic; it’s larger than any man who comes to race it. We knew that if we follow all these strong storylines, we’d be looking at rivalries, we’d be looking at what it’s like to challenge the track, we’d be looking at the psychology of the racers. There are all these themes that we knew would happen, but to be honest with you, of course we were very lucky. We had no idea there would be these two huge events and these two miraculous escapes. And this very tragic death with an amazing woman, Bridget [the late rider’s wife], who was just inspirational. All these things, I think we were very fortunate filmmakers at the right place at the right time. But you also have to put down the structure and the strands to put it all together as it happens. And that’s quite an undertaking in itself. So, we had to make sure we covered the storylines of multiple strands. In a way, we had a huge challenge in the edit; we had over 500 hours of footage and my editor Beverley Mills did a wonderful job of helping us distill this down. We had to leave a lot out; we just had to, because you can only tell so much of a story, and you don’t want to lose your audience with each strand.

SM: You mentioned the death in the film and one of the most interesting things is how cavalier everyone is about their lives. Do you buy their excuse that it’s better to live fast and die young, or do you think it’s masking something?

RDA: No, I think they’re genuine. There are certain people who let life gallop past them, and don’t do anything with their life, and before they know it they’re 70 and they’re curled up in the corner with a stick. They’re looking at their life and thinking, ‘God, what did I do with my life?’ and they’re full of regrets. Whereas these guys grab life with two hands, and as they say, it’s better to burn very brightly and shortly than to not burn at all. I think that’s their philosophy in life. They certainly don’t want to throw their lives away, but they want to taste life at the ultimate level. And I think the challenge of ‘Why do you feel so alive when you’re close to death?’ is in these amazing extreme sports; the adrenaline is so high, it’s like a drug. There’s definitely an addictive side to it. You’re doing something at such an extreme level that your body releases chemicals that you can never experience. The adrenaline rush is so high and the level of control that you have to calm yourself – to make sure everything is absolutely precise – it might look like madness to us, but to them everything’s very exciting and very controlled, and they’re doing something in such a meticulous way to make sure they get to the other end of it.

TT3D: Closer to the Edge arrives in Australian cinemas October 20, 2011.

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