From Concept to Screen – Making The Bikeriders

The Filmmakers Podcast went behind the scenes on The Bikeriders with producer Sarah Green and writer-director Jeff Nichols. Hosted by Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir.

Building a Story from Photographs

Sarah recalled how the concept of the film came to them after viewing Danny Lyon’s book of photographs. “When we first looked at this book and a few snippets of interviews, I remember Jeff thinking, how do we make a story out of that? There’s no story here. There’s just these people and these characters and these moments,” she said. Jeff’s challenge was to transform these snapshots into a narrative, and when he did, it was exhilarating for Sarah. “When he came up with a story, I was thrilled. It surpassed my whole idea about what it could be as a story.”

Casting The Bikeriders

One of the film’s standout achievements is its cast. “The actors came in and they killed it,” Sarah noted. Tom Hardy, playing Johnny, “brought so much depth to the character. It’s incredible what he brought to Johnny,” she praised. Similarly, Jodie Comer’s portrayal of Kathy was “incredible because we have to see the world through her. She brought so much richness and authenticity.”

And Austin Butler’s performance also stood out. She shares that “Austin is the most lovely, gregarious, friendly human on the planet. And he’s playing the withholding one. He had to be the guy who doesn’t give you anything, emotionally; but boy, does he nail it. He’s so good.”

From Start to Script

The filmmaking journey is often fraught with challenges, and The Bikeriders was no different. 

Sarah detailed the first step was “convincing Danny Lyon that there should be a movie… Jeff had to spend time with him and he got to know Jeff and trusted his vision.”

Once Jeff had the basic story in place, it was about making it tangible. “Jeff would tell us the story over and over until it took shape. And then he’d put it down on paper,” Sarah explained. This process of storytelling and refinement was essential to move forward with production logistics.

Staying Safe on Set

Authenticity but also safety, especially in the riding scenes, were vital during filming. 

“Jeff and his cinematographer, Adam Stone, are interested in things being natural and real. So we tried everything, every motorcycle rig in the world, and we ended up mostly on a trike, being driven by an actor with a camera person facing back with a camera on,” Sarah shared.

Actors needed to have motorcycle training, and careful planning was necessary to avoid injuries. “We had tests to say which actors could free ride because there’s no helmets,” Sarah noted. 

She said that the last motorcycle shot, with Austin riding over a bridge, was particularly nerve-wracking but fortunately, it was completed without incident.

Authentic Locations

Capturing the essence of the era was another challenge, particularly with locations and budget constraints. Cincinnati, and its beautiful architecture, provided the perfect backdrop. 

“Period movies are challenging,” Sarah recalled. The production designer, Chad Keith, meticulously recreated sets to maintain historical accuracy.

The Budgeting Dance

Sarah explained that budgeting for a period film with extensive logistical needs is complex.

“It was hard. You could easily spend hundreds of millions of dollars on this movie.” Partnering with New Regency helped navigate these challenges to balance the budget with the film’s needs.

Jeff’s Inspiration to Become a Filmmaker

Dom and Jeff chatted about what initially drew Jeff to filmmaking. He explained his love of storytelling and how it impacts audiences. He is fascinated by the mechanics of making a story compelling and describes the influence that classic films like Lawrence of Arabia had on him.

The arrival of independent cinema was a pivotal moment that deepened his appreciation and understanding of film.

How Jeff Developed As A Filmmaker

Jeff shared insights from his experiences on films like Take Shelter and Midnight Special, highlighting the importance of experience and the learning curve in storytelling. 

Revealing his preference for minimal rehearsals, inspired by actor Michael Shannon, to capture organic performances.

The Bikeriders intertwines storytelling, collaboration, and craftsmanship. Listen to more from the episode with Sarah Green and Jeff Nichols here.

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