Behind The Scenes
The Making Of “Reach For The Sky” A 2015 Mountain Bike Movie
“REACH FOR THE SKY” IS RYAN CLEEK’S SECOND FEATURE-LENGTH FILM – AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE THAT DIGS DEEPLY INTO THE ROOTS OF ZINK’S AMBITION AND THEN LAUNCHES FULL SPEED INTO A WELL-PACED AND EDITED DRAMA THAT FOLLOWS CAM FROM BOY TO MAN, THROUGH COMPETITIONS, INTO THE HOSPITAL, ON THE ROAD, AND AT HOME. THE STORY OF A CAREER THAT SPANS THE BIRTH AND RISE TO GLORY OF PROFESSIONAL MOUNTAIN BIKE FREERIDE COMPETITION IS TOLD FIRST-HAND, BY FRIENDS AND FAMILY, AND BY CLEEK, WHO FILMED ZINK FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS LEADING UP TO HIS MOST RECENT EXPLOITS AT THE RED BULL RAMPAGE AND CULMINATING WITH HIS ATTEMPT AT A WORLD-RECORD BACKFLIP. “REACH FOR THE SKY” IS A MUST SEE FOR CAM ZINK FANS – AND FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES MOUNTAIN BIKES. THIS MOUNTAIN BIKE DOCUMENTARY IS ONE HELL OF A STORY. – RICHARD CUNNINGHAM, EDITOR – PINKBIKE.COM
Where did the “Reach for the Sky” concept come from?
People understand Zink is gnarly guy on the bike, but knowing his injury filled backstory, and what he went through to get there, I thought this would be an engaging project for both fans of the sport and the casual viewer. If someone’s been into mountain biking for the last five or six years, they aren’t aware of his physical and sponsorship struggles early in his career. The movie was my concept, but I had a lot of great people helping me shoot it, primarily Dathan Graham, Taylor Sage, and Kent Johnson, and so many people were generous with archival footage. It really shows how badly people wanted to see this story be told.
Documentaries are tough to produce. Where did you begin?
The movie features both fly-on-the-wall-style coverage of two Rampages and his record-breaking Mammoth flip, but in between events, it goes into who Cam is and what has made him into the person he is today. In the middle of the movie, there’s a ton of footage from him growing up that almost no one has ever seen, which really shows his dedication to riding from a young age. After sorting through those tapes for about a year, if Hell were real, I’m convinced there’s a room there where souls are forced to watch teenagers’ home movies for eternity.
If a movie was being made today about John Tomac, Tony Hawk, or Ricky Carmichael, it would feature almost entirely archival footage. Well, Zink is obviously still on the forefront of freeride, so we captured a year in his life, bookended by Rampages, plus also dive into the archive stuff in between events. During the Mammoth flip coverage, I don’t use a single second of footage from ESPN. I feature what we shot, not only during that event, but also months before in preparation. Cam was so prepared and he executed it so perfectly, the risk, emotional weight, and severe consequences of the actual situation, in my opinion, were mostly lost in the live broadcast.
So, you are the writer, producer, filmer, editor…
I was working for Specialized when I had the idea for the Zink project and for 14 months, I spent my weekends and vacation days shooting, so it wouldn’t interfere with my work responsibilities. During this time my mom became extremely sick, and the situation didn’t have much hope, so I wanted to spend a time with my family in the fall and winter of 2014. Specialized was very good to me, and could not have been more supportive. They allowed me to take as much time away from work as I needed. However, her health situation, combined with all of the work and the looming responsibility for the Zink movie really left me with only one option. So, I left my job and put all of my time into making this project the best I could. I kept it under the radar for about two years, because I was literally making this movie on a table in my kitchen – editing day and night for over a year. I had already put enough pressure on myself with this project as it was, I didn’t need additional distractions. The 12 Terabyte drive full of footage wasn’t going to sort itself.
It’s been a few years since my last movie, but I’ve been a similar situation before and knew what was ahead of me. It’s like having a potter’s wheel, or a chunk of granite and chisel sitting in the corner of a room staring at you – 24 hours a day. It doesn’t look like anything for a very, very long time (other than what you imagine is inside of it), but as you chip away at it starts to reveal itself. I had a strong treatment (movie outline of concept), and that determined what I shot and when, but in a documentary, you never really know what you have until you analyze every second of footage.
Telling a story with this process is like having a dump truck drop a mountain of other peoples’ comments into your yard and having someone say: “Now go write a novel with those sentences.” It’s definitely a challenging puzzle. My kitchen wall looks like something from “A Beautiful Mind” – dozens of story notes, outlines of the three acts, markers to key themes and statements, and all with post-its in between linking it all together, detailing how I can connect the sections without narration.
Cam and I are both proud of the result, and are excited to show the world what we’ve been up to with our mountain bike documentary.