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PRO - Cycling Documentary: Interview with the Filmmaker
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 11/13/2004
PRO - Cycling Documentary: Interview with the Filmmaker

PRO is the new, feature length documentary cycling film by retired pro Jamie Paolinetti, whose first cycling documentary was The Hard Road. The film is now on sale here at the Daily Peloton, so we had a long talk with Jamie about why he made it and why you might want to see it. Here is Part One of the interview.

Jamie, what inspired you to make PRO and how did The Hard Road influence the making of this film?

When I made The Hard Road, I shot 15 races and well over a hundred hours of footage, and then when I was finished, I had to make the decision of exactly from what perspective did I want to present pro cycling in America. That perspective was clear to me when we were shooting, and it was even more clear to me when we were done Ė I wanted to take a look at this first year team [NetZero], these guys trying to break into the sport, and to expose the sport through their eyes. That was a great story and one I had always wanted to tell, and I think it gave the viewer a pretty good feel for the sport, but...there are so many different, and larger, perspectives that I had experienced as a rider over my career when looking at a lot of these events and looking at the sport in general.

As you know, I spent the first half of the Ď90ís on one of the most dominant teams ever, and the way that we would go into events was dramatically different than the way NetZero would go into the events. I wonít say it was a different sport, but itís a different perspective, a different way of looking at the sport, and so when I decided to make PRO (during the final edit of The Hard Road) I knew that there was a completely different perspective, a different way of looking at the sport that was not going to be exposed through The Hard Road. And that was: Letís look at the biggest players and the biggest events, and see what goes into trying to dominate and trying to win these races.

That was really the motivation Ė I knew that there was at least one, and probably more than one, but at least one other major story to tell from a film standpoint, and I just thought that the US Pro Championship is the perfect place to do it Ė take the biggest, best event in the country, with the most pressure, the most excitement, and take the biggest, best riders and the best teams, and look at what goes into the sport through their eyes.

Courtesy PRO.

Yes. In fact, that was my second question Ė why you chose USPRO as a backdrop, and youíve† just answered that. I was also going to ask if your personal experiences at USPRO contributed to your idea to use this race as a backdrop.

Absolutely Ė it was really a no-brainer for me. I have so many memories of the sport Ė some of them have gone away, some of them have become blurred, but my memories of USPRO...every single one of them is so crystal clear, just because the event, ever since the first time I did it, which was 1989, was so big and there was just a different feeling in the air, a different excitement level, a different standard set for peoplesí performances Ė it was the Super Bowl, it really was. It was THE event. Youíve seen PRO, you know in the beginning, I really wanted to set the stage for that - all of the quotes that you get from the riders that you are going to meet throughout the film, just to explain how important the race is to the riders. Thatís really what this movie is.

Itís going inside the riderís head, the first time that the audience, the cycling fan, actually gets to go inside the head of Chris Horner and Fred Rodriguez and Henk Vogels and Bobby Julich, and hear what they think, how they approach this event, how important is it, and so when you see this film you will see how obvious it is, in the eyes of the riders, how important US PRO is, and the buildup. You know, Henk Vogels compares it directly to Paris-Roubaix, and heís completely serious.

Right! That was interesting to me Ė how does this race compare to some of the races overseas that people are probably more familiar with than US races, and thereís your comparison right there.

Yes, you have to go to the guys who have done them both, and when you have Freddie saying, in his interview in the film, that "no matter who I sign with, I donít care who they are, if they want me on the team I tell them Iím not getting on your team unless we can come to USPRO." Thatís Fred Rodriguez, thatís pretty good testimony there.

Bobby Julich saying that heís salivated for years wanting the jersey, has been on teams that wouldnít give him a chance to try to win it, and that itís killed him. Hereís a guy whoís been on the podium of the Tour de France, and he wants to wear the stars and stripes jersey. I think the riders speak to how important the race is all through the film.

Itís true, I mean the race is just incredible, and Trenton and Lancaster, theyíre great races in and of themselves Ė fantastic events, but US PRO is the crowning jewel.

Would you talk about the ridersí and teamsí willingness to be a part of this film?

Sure. This is sort of a multi-layered question, but the stage was set when almost everyone had seen The Hard Road and had enjoyed it, and I think that was a major help in getting these guys. But the other thing, and I think the biggest thing, is that every single guy in the film, these are all friends of mine. Theyíre guys that Iíve raced with for years and years and years, all of them, and if I didnít have a very personal friendship with them, we were acquaintances and raced against each other hundreds of times. So I think those two factors Ė this is me sitting down with my buddies, talking about something we love to talk about, which is racing, and thatís what we do anyway! (Laughs)

When youíre in the sport and youíre not riding, you sit down and talk about racing! You have to have that kind of dedication and insane commitment to the sport to be that good at it. And every guy I know at that level has that, and so those were the biggest factors Ė The Hard Road people enjoyed (thank God), and my relationship with the guys; I think people were able to say hey, this is a chance for us to do something good for the entire sport.

Exactly right. And as a followup to that Ė these guys trusted you to represent them properly.

I think so. Not only the personal relationships and my history as a racer, but because of my experience in the event and in the world, they knew I was going to portray it honestly - not pull any punches, but also not do some kind of smear job for press. Everyone knew that was not my interest, where so many times there are press people and people outside the sport, and thatís all theyíre interested in. Everyone knew that that was not what we were after here, and everyone knew that I was not trying to tell any story like that Ė I wanted to present the sport in the most honest way I could, and I think thatís why we got the trust that we did from everybody.

Iím certain they were sure there wouldnít a skewed picture of it, which you might get with someone who doesnít know about the sport, and particularly, there was probably a really high comfort level, because as you say, you live and breathe this. Itís not as though you would misunderstand what it was you were filming! (Laughs)

Yeah, I think you and I have talked about this before, but I have very strong opinions about this, and Iíve always pointed the finger at the people that have tried to cover this sport in this country, specifically on television Ė there havenít been any films, so we canít say that Ė but mostly on television, and they just donít understand the sport. They not only donít understand it, they have no feeling for it, no insight into it, and it comes off that way! It comes off every time as some cheesy movie of the week (interviewer laughing), at the best, and it just ruins the sport. Thatís been whatís missing in this country for this sport, I think, ever since Iíve been involved.

Well, I was going to ask you later on, what does this film accomplish for you, but a variation of that is, this obviously must be a very strong purpose of yours Ė to show it for real.

It was, because itís frustrating as a racer, and I spent so many years doing this, travelling around the country and the world, and meeting people and talking to them, and you can see and feel the interest in the sport so strongly from them, and yet they have no where to go. Thereís no where to go to really understand it.

Now, with the internet being what it is, yeah, you can spend the time and go through and read the sites and read all the articles and can start to get a pretty good feel for it, but letís face it, it doesnít live and breathe like film does. That was one thing while I was riding that was so frustrating to me Ė I would try Ė I'd sit down on a plane or sit down after a race or sit down in host housing and these people love the sport, they have this passion, they can feel it, thereís something about this sport that they are so intrigued by, and yet, to sit down with them and try to have a conversation and explain it, let alone to write about it (as you know I was the editor of a magazine and tried to do that for a while), it just doesnít come across and give them the type of experience that film or television can.

So film was my vehicle Ė and this film was my vehicle for exposing this world - and I feel that itís such a powerful medium that we do now, with this film, have the opportunity to say: "I know you have some feelings about this sport, and I know that you see something in it that intrigues you and I know you want more information and if you want to know more about it, here. Just sit down and enjoy the film, and through the watching of the film, if you can look at each of the teams and each of the riders, and then try to figure out why each of them is doing what theyíre doing when theyíre doing it, you will have such a great insight into what makes the sport tick," and in entertaining fashion. There it is Ė itís from their mouths, itís right in front of you, being played out on the screen. And so I have really high hopes for this movie in that aspect.

So in that way, this film will have appeal for any fan, international fans or quote-unquote just fans of US racing.

I hope so. You know, the whole US-European thing has been, in my mind, so overblown and itís so talked about to death, and it just doesnít matter. You have races like USPRO or San Francisco Grand Prix, where there is a quality, world-class field of the level of most any race in Europe, with the exception of maybe the ten greatest Classics and the Tour de France and the major tours, and even then, you have a handful, twenty guys, that are there from those races Ė it doesnít matter if youíre in Europe or in South America or in Mexico or New Zealand, these are great, world class athletes all coming together to compete in great races. It doesnít really matter what country it is Ė you know, John Lieswyn just won the Southland Tour in New Zealand again Ė thatís a quality race. Itís off season, but those guys are deadly serious, and those are world class riders. Nobody can ever convince me that a true pro, a true world class rider, comes to any big event and doesnít want to do well, no matter where it is.

At the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix I was talking to someone who said he follows racing in Europe, but that he didnít know who the US riders were at this race. I thought, "Isnít that interesting," as if thereís this artificial division between US racing and European racing or racing on other continents. Do you think this film will, I hate to say "bridge a gap," because then you have to agree thereís something different, but do you think it will be enlightening in that aspect?

I hope so, and we are looking very hard at mainstream distributors to find someone to hear the message. I have raced in Europe, I know do what itís like, I know a little bit about the fan base over there, and strictly from a fanís perspective, I completely agree in that they donít have exposure to the US guys as characters. They donít know them, they donít know anything about them, they donít know about the teams, and this film will do that for them in a way that lets them see the teams they do know, like CSC and Freddieís team and Saeco, Saunier Duval and some of the other big teams that are there, right next to Webcor and HealthNet and Postal and Ofoto and everybody else thatís in the movie, and expose the characters, I think, in a way thatís never been done before, even by the European market.

Courtesy PRO.

We go really in-depth with these guys and I think that can do it, I really think that can do it. If we can get the kind of exposure over there that we want, not only to the riders, but to let them see this great event, the US Pro Championships, I think it can help the fan base worldwide accept and start following these US riders and these great US races on a higher level. Thatís one of the big hopes for the film, is that we do that Ė that people get ahold of it and look at it and are intrigued by it. Weíll just have to wait and see if it happens or not.

You have how many millions and millions of people who watch the Tour every year, and letís face it, the majority of them are watching Lance because they know Lance as a character. They know Lanceís great story Ė Lance has done a tremendous job and his people have done a tremendous job at exposing him to the world so that people know him Ė they feel they know him Ė they feel they know his story so they can relate to him. Thatís what weíve tried to do here with all these other great athletes. Each has his own story. You know the diversity of characters within the peloton, and itís great! If we can get fans to understand that, and relate to each of these guys, and root for who they like and root against who they donít like, then we have something.

Thatís right Ė and thatís another thing I thought was really interesting about the film. In certain instances you were at ridersí houses, you maybe filmed their wives, and I thought that must have been difficult for some of these guys to do, so I assume their understanding of the importance of what you were trying to do overcame any of their misgivings, but Ė it was pretty personal.

It was, and there was a lot of stuff that didnít even make the movie that was really personal. What we tried to do Ė there were so many characters in the film, two or three from each team Ė twenty of the top guys you hear from in the movie, something like that, what we tried to do is expose the part of his character that, on a whole, when taken in their entirety, will represent the entire sport. There are so many aspects of being a professional racer, and all those parts of the world, we wanted to take each little bit, from each guy, that best represents that part of the world, and let him tell that part of the story.

Perfect example is Trent Klasna, and his exposure in the film. Trentís had a tremendous career and now is looking at retirement. I could have easily talked to Trent about all the great things about the sport, and we did talk about that somewhat, and talk about all his great victories, but Trent represents, at this point in his career, and in this film, the best opportunity to show what itís like when you do get to the end. What is it really like? Letís hear it from somebody who is feeling it and living it at that moment. So we chose Trent for that.

Courtesy PRO.

How hard is it to come here to this country and get on one of these teams? Well, we chose Ivan Dominguez to tell his story because his is so intriguing.

Whatís it like to carry the burden of the leadership of the team, solely, in a race of this stature? Well, letís let Freddie tell us about that. He really knows.

Whatís it like to go up the [Manayunk] Wall? Whatís it really like to go up the wall the tenth time when youíre trying to make the front group? Well, who can do that? John Lieswyn is there, so letís hear it from him. So thatís what we did with each guy, and you take the film as a whole, and, I hope, that you have this complete, overall picture of the sport at the highest level, from the horseís mouth, in every single instance.

I hadnít looked at the film in that way (I have to see it again), but basically youíve got all these characters who have a particular strength, or theyíre at a particular point in their career, or in a particular position and youíve put this together...

Read Part Two here.

Paolinetti's film PRO is available now on DVD!
For information on ordering this film, click here.

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PRO: Interview with the Filmmaker: Part Two

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