Q&A: Emiland Guillerme, Following the Amateurs’ Tour de France
Emiland Guillerme is originally from Paris and is surrounded every summer by TV screens showing the Tour de France, arguably the world’s biggest cycling race. But this year he wanted to pitch a different story about the Tour.
He was commissioned on Storyhunter to do a piece for shift by MSNBC about two cycling enthusiasts, buddies since high school, who were about to participate for the first time in the “Etape du Tour”, a real-life stage of the Tour de France.
Storyhunter: When you pitched this story to MSNBC, what did you have in mind?
Emiland Guillerme: My initial idea was to talk about the Tour de France, the most famous cycling race in the world, but from a different angle. The Tour de France is the stuff that all amateur cyclists dream of. At the “Etape du Tour”, a race for amateurs, they can make that dream come true. The “Etape” follows the exact same route as one of the real stages on the Tour, so they can compare their performance with the professionals. It is also a race followed by many people along the road, so they have the same support as the professionals. It’s really important when you challenge yourself. Many amateur cyclists told me after the race that without the support of the people on the road, they would have given up.
SH: Did the story evolve a lot from how you originally pitched it?
EG: The story in itself did not evolve a lot. But the pre-production process made me realize that shooting this would be more difficult than I thought — I hadn’t realized how huge this event was. The Etape du Tour is getting more and more popular and the 2015 edition broke their previous record, in total 15.000 cyclists participated. So it was a huge event, which meant we ran into a fair share of problems. First, it was impossible to film the race because all the roads were closed for cars. I could have rented a bike but it was not in my budget. So I chose to use some of the royalty free footage provided by the organizers. It turned out nice because they had amazing helicopter shots.
SH: The characters in your story really take us on their journey. What was your connection to them?
EG: I was lucky because the main character, Alexandre, is a friend of a friend, so I had a direct connection with him. So it was really easy to convince him to do the video. He was a good character because he had only started to bike seriously a few month before the race. So the Etape was a real challenge for him, he wasn’t sure he could do it. He had to push his limits. But what I liked the most with this character was that he was doing the race with a friend from high school. Participating in the race with a long-time friend gave another dimension to the story.
SH: Did you shoot this alone, or did you have help? Do you think you would have been able to shoot it if you were alone?
EG: I shot the story with a friend. We usually work together and we help each other when it is needed. And for this story, it would have been impossible to shoot alone in some situation. For example when my character rides his bike, we had to shoot from a car, so one of us had to drive, while the other was shooting. It is always better to have a friend you can count on when needed. We often help each other. We work with the same gear (Canon 5D Mark III) and we edit with FCPX so it’s easy for us to exchange footage and help each other.
SH: What are the challenges of shooting a cycling race?
EG: It’s not an easy thing to shoot a race because cyclists are always moving. So we had to find the best spot, ask the character to wait for us and only then could he go. When we shot our character in one of his training sessions, he couldn’t really train. The other challenge is that the race paths are blocked for cars. On the day of the race, we had to drive for hours, hoping we’d make it to the finish line before the race was over so we could shoot our cyclists for the piece.
SH: Are you a big cycling fan yourself?
EG: Not really, I started to work with cycling this year because I also work for a car brand which is a partner of many cycling events. I wasn’t very interested at the beginning, but now I like it more and more. I understood the personal adventure it could be and what it means for many people to push their limits so much. Cycling sometimes has a bad reputation because of all the doping stories. But it is still very popular among people in France.
Emiland Guillerme spends his time between Paris and Rome, where he shoots stories for The New York Times, shift by MSNBC and various French TV channels.