There are a handful of people in every sport or industry who truly change its path and have a huge impact on where and how things develop.
Gus Morton is that person in cycling and I have so much resepct for his views on people and understanding true human connection.
For those who follow cycling , you will already be aware of the exceptional work Gus has done in the sport of cycling in both racing and filmmaking. Rapha films, Albion films (one of my all time faves is the Coast to Coast which Gus rides in) but it is his work he has done with his company Thereabouts that absolutely blew my mind.
Film and photography are two of my big passions and growing up I loved Michael Mann, Stanley Kubrick filmaking along with the super minimal Lawrence of Arabia that was shot by David Lean. Filmmakers today like Denis Villeneuve with Sicario and Arrival and the beauty of Phantom Thread from Paul Thomas Anderson.
These are all creative minds who had a huge influence on me from an aesthetic perspective but also the angles they chose to shoot with.
There was also a feeling of raw beauty that came from this work.
I was in the cycling industry from 1993 til 2002 and this was an era of bad colours , overdone everything and manufactured authenticity - cycling apparel that looked like billboards and pretty bad advertising when advertising was a thing.
Authenticity, pure beauty and rawness just didn't seem to exist unless you looked at photographs from the 1960's which were grainy and raw.
I discovered Rapha in 2005 when someone gave me a very small brand book that was all photography with very little information about the brand. However the book really struck a chord with me because it was understated and seemed very pure to me. I watched Rapha grow and grow and visited clubhouses all over the world. They had phenomenal short films and then came the Lachlan Morton ALT calendar films that literally blew my mind. These were pure , transparent and exactly what cycling meant to me. Not so much about racing and more about the fr.eedom the sport feeds into your soul. I have been riding since the 1980s and seen it all. Inside tour teams , had an apparel brand and I designed the Open logo and branding for Gerard Vroomen.
Discovering new people who do it right is one of the most beautiful things in life. For me that was the photography of Todd Hido, The California Surf Project book by Chris Burkard (which I bought when it first came out a long time ago), Mickey Smith's Dark Side of the Lense film, Torren Martyn's Lost Track New Zealand, Shawn Stussy in the early 1990's, hearing A Tribe Called Quest for the first time when I worked for their record label, Losci's Strathcona Variations, the opening chord on the very first Black Sabbath Album and Andrew Kanaider's Beyond The Noise surf film. Sounds, visuals and a level of creative that is at a whole other level of personal and emotional connection. Easy to say but hard to do.
Dicovering Gus Morton's Thereabouts 3 - Columbia was one of those beautiful moments for me. Watching Outskirts 2 - The Big Land shot in Eastern Canada is the benchmark for pure, simple beauty. What cycling now means to me. Cycling is deep in my soul and now more than ever. Gus Morton played a huge part in my reconnection with cycling because he was producing films about riding - pure as fuck.
In this issue of fr. footprints, I had the opportunity to interview one of my absolute favourite filmmakers in the world. Period. In all aspects. Not just cycling.
Hope you enjoy it.
Ralph | fr.
Gus, for those who don't know you from cycling would you briefly take us through your history in cycling and where you grew up?
Sure thing, I grew up on the east coast of Australia in a place called Port Macquarie. Halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. It is a city that still feels like a small town. We lived on a farm about 20km inland.
I started cycling because my dad took my motorbike away from me. I'd started on motos at about 4yrs old and was obsessed with speed. At about 8, after a few pretty serious accidents, my parents decided I needed some time out. I was mad as hell and immediately began searching for the next fastest thing I could get my hands on. That's when I saw a commercial for the TDF on the SBS station and I remember thinking they looked like they were moving pretty fast. So I went downstairs and grabbed my old Malvern Star 24 inch mtb and sprinted down the road. I got close to the rush I did on my motorbike and so I decided thats what I'd do. A year later dad asked if I wanted a go kart or motorbike and I said I'd rather a road bike. That was it, I was a cyclist.
What was the real trigger point for you to become a filmmaker?
A few things if I really think about it. First my Padon (Grandfather) and Dad were both big story tellers. They would make up scary stories when we were little that would terrify and excite us, and I always loved that because they conjured such vivid images and emotions out of thin air. Then, my mum showed me 'The Shining' by Kubrick and because of that, I became enthralled with film in a pretty big way. Then as a family we would watch a lot of films and Dad would always figure out the story in the first act so it became a challenge for us to do the same. That was the first albeit un-intentional education about story structure I had and probably the start of my course towards becoming someone who makes films. That said at the time I never had the thought that it was possible to do that as a vocation.
Then, I signed my first pro contract at 18 and part of the conditions were that I continued my education through university. I didn't care much for school, I'd been kicked out in highschool for missing too many classes and had just homeschooled myself through my final years whilst on the road racing so I didn't have any desire to continue or a clue as to what I would study. But alas, I had to do something. I had managed to get into Notre Dame and they had a film program that mimicked one of the prestigious film school programs in Australia at the time. I thought that sounded fun and so I elected that as my major. My professor showed me the film 'A Thin Blue Line', by Errol Morris and explained how he used fiction (reenactment) to produce previously unknown fact. It blew my mind. It was like I was being taught the secret to magic. After that I became obsessed with documentaries. I was travelling around the world to race and became more interested in the stories of the people I'd meet at the start line of the bike race than the race itself so when it came time to sign with another team, I declined and began my pursuit of becoming a filmmaker. I worked on long form documentaries during University for the ABC, our national broadcaster. And after 18 months of that I wanted to move into scripted. So I went to work for The Chaser as a director in scripted sketch comedy. Then Lachy asked if I wanted to ride across the desert to Uluru and that got me back to cycling and interested in making films about sport.
That's what I'm still doing but my heart really lies in scripted drama and I want to get to that at some point, I just have a few more things I want to do in sport non-fiction first.
Are there filmmakers or photographers you have admired both growing up or who have had an influence on your work?
Absolutely. Too many to name. Stanley Kubrick and The Shining was the first film that captured me beyond just enjoyment. Errol Morris and his 'interrotron' contraption. His mastery of the interview is unrivalled and because of him for a long time I wanted to make films that were interview frame only (LOL).
Gaspar Noe, Romain Gavras, David Michod. These three, I see their influence directly in the work I do now. I also have to mention my friends Mike Covino and Kyle Marvin who recently made the film 'The Climb.' That film was insane, so technically brilliant and for a first feature, incredibly bold. They have been hugely supportive of Isaac (the other half of thereabouts) and I.
The photography of Anton Corbjn, his ability to shoot a subject who's been shot a billion times in a billion ways and just capture them differently. His work directly influences the style of thereabouts photography for sure. So does Larry Clark, his book Tulsa really shook me and opened me up to the power of a single frame. The other is Vivian Myer, where she placed the camera, seeing everyday life from that perspective, it was genius. So simple. It's as if you were a kid again watching all these strange adults going about 'normal' life and they had no idea you're even there.
Honorable mentions David Lynch, Denis Villeneuve, Vince Gilliam, Pedro Almovodar, David Fincher, George Miller, Jane Campion - the list goes on and on and on.
Rapha and Albion are two brands that have beautiful imagery and filmmaking - how did your relationships form with those two companies?
Rapha had seen some stills from the first thereabouts trip in 2014 and really began talking to me around then. We officially got together in 2018 after they were passed along a pitch-deck my friends and I had put together that concepted a cycling team which engaged in all facets of the sport, not just World Tour racing and the whole program was built around a series of films. We got laughed at by all the top teams and brands at the time, even folks within what became EF Pro Cycling but Rapha saw the potential. We joined up to make my series Outskirts as a precursor and the team concept went on to become the partnership with EF and the alternate calendar. I got booted from the project a few weeks before it kicked off though unfortunately and never got to actually make anything.
Charlie from Albion just messaged me one day out of the blue and we hit it off. We made a podcast and interview project together called 'Disc Breaks' which was about music and sport. Then a few years later I was hanging out in Spain, banned from the USA, with not much to do and he asked if I wanted to ride 500km in one hit. So I borrowed a bike and shoes and went for it.
In my opinion, you and Lachlan have forever changed the landscape of riding - where do you see it headed over the next 5 years?
I think Lachlan has for sure.
As to where its headed over the next five years? Well the writing is on the wall. Men's pro road cycling is where most of the marketing dollars in the industry have traditionally gone and it's no secret that Pro Cycling needed an overhaul years ago but those in power, the UCI and the ASO were less interested in giving up some of the slice in order to see that happen. As a result it has grown irrelevant to anybody under the age of 50. Now there are more people riding bikes than ever and the bike is only playing a larger role within a world searching for sustainability and so where are all these new bike riders looking to for inspiration? Enter Lachy and his Birkenstocks and the Legion of LA.
All of a sudden one guy riding on public roads can get nearly as much media attention as a billion dollar global sporting event. And the only black owned cycling team in the world can single handedly turn an all but dead crit scene in the USA into the sickest racing spectacle in the world right now. It's clear these two have both struck a nerve with the broader cycling community, one pro cycling has never been able to connect with. And that isn't going away.
Now the cat is out of the bag, sponsors are going to be looking at the tens of millions of dollars they are throwing at these big pro teams and questioning the value of the return when one guy can generate twice as much media attention for one percent of the cost. Over the next five years I think we will see more money being put behind teams like Legion and multi discipline athletes like Lachlan. The TDF will roll on, its dwindling fans an ever aging group of white dudes who pine for the days when Lance was around will slowly but surely die off whilst the next generation of cyclists will be watching the Williams brothers win a local Southern Cali crit on youtube, or Lachlan ride in his broken birkenstocks..
Your films have a feel to them similar to some of the imagery and visuals I am seeing from great surf filmmakers and musicians like Ben Howard. Being Australian, did you send anytime surfing when you were growing up or was it just riding for you?
I did not surf, despite growing up in a town obsessed with surfing. I was always focused on riding. I do regret that. I listen to people talk about surfing and it sounds like something I'd be into. I guess its never too late.
Surfing, cycling and moto are all about fr.eedom for people who are more into the soulful experience of it rather than race or competition results. Racing as we know at the level you guys compete at is at a level of intensity most people don't really quite understand - I spent a week at the Giro in 2009 with Gerard Vroomen and the Cervelo Test Team and the intensity just blew my mind day after day. How would you describe in a few words for the average person to understand what its like to race at that level?
Well to be frank, I never got to the level where I was racing an event like the Giro so I may not be the best to speak on that. But I know what I gave to get to the level I did and that was everything. Everything I had and did went towards being faster on the bike at the expense of everything else in my life.
The Kai Lenny film you did for Pinarello was such a breath of fresh air as you brought in one of the absolute coolest guys in the world who surfs at a whole other level in the the most dangerous conditions imaginable. Pinarello is obviously a brand with a steeped, rich heritage in cycling and you and Kai introduced a perspective to that company that was truly incredible. It's probably a brand I would have never considered even riding until I watched that film. How did that project come together?
Kai is a very special person. I am fascinated by the mind of someone whose job it is to do things that haven't been done before. We had been approached by Pinarello to do a pretty straight forward series of films documenting some of their athletes on the road to Unbound gravel and we were thinking, 'great, it'll be a team INEOS of gravel', but when Kim Rogers at Pinarello presented their athlete roster we looked down the list and thought, hang on a minute, this isn't your typical legacy brand roster, there's way more to this team than UNBOUND. So we asked if we could make films focused on the character, not their goal. We wanted Kai, Anthony and Amity, and they agreed. All credit to Kim for pulling together a team like that at a brand like Pinarello and then giving Isaac and I the freedom to tell a piece of their story in our own way.
The Coaching Mr. Carter film is also such a great piece of filmaking - you feel so connected to him and what he is doing in a short period of time which is incredibly hard to do. The dude is also big and doesn't look like a traditional thin build roadie which also brought a level of inclusivity that I think is incredibly important right now. You ride in stripe t-shirts, bandanas and break those rules that need to change - what was the inspiration for your views on bringing these elements into both riding and visuals? (Note - I am going to start doing rides in our fr. stripe t-shirt we have coming out and pull up to a pack with my t-shirt and bandana flapping in the wind)
Anthony represents so many of the thankless people that dedicate their lives to developing cycling in their home region, I never would have stayed in the sport if it weren't for dozens of individuals like him. So being able to centre a story around him and what he is doing was a real honor. He is what sport should be about. Giving back, paying it forward and just enjoying being out. I could make a hundred films about people like him.
As for the t-shirts. Its funny. We toil over how to make a positive change in sport, what programs, or events, or initiatives can we implement that will broaden its reach. Who do we have to convince to make policy changes? Who can we get to foot the bill? And then you realise all you had to do was wear a t-shirt and the whole fucken sport melts down. We saw it with the first thereabouts, we saw it with the Palace collab at the giro. Sometimes that's all it takes to create a seismic shift in how the world perceives riding a bike.
There was no motivation to wear t-shirts other than it was a change from the uniforms we always wore when racing. I have since come to learn that it broke down a barrier between us and the general public. You look ridiculous / intimidating in Lycra so from my perspective when making films like Outskirts, it's important because it creates some common ground between you and a stranger you're looking to connect with. And then I think for people interested in riding but who know nothing about it, knowing that you don't have to wear some stupid suit to participate goes a long way to getting them on the bike.
"I am an alcoholic" was a post you did on Instagram with a level of transparency rarely seen from people in the media, but especially in pro sports. That hit a chord with me as you know that was deep as I struggled with alcoholism from a young age. I stopped drinking completely on December 15, 2016 and its one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I kept it private and found at dinners etc, people were like come on man - have a drink. When I reposted your post and said the same words about myself the outreach was quite incredible from a lot of our fr. customers who didn't know me.
Two parts to this:
A) was there a defining moment for you that you are comfortable sharing that you admitted this to yourself?
B) Do you feel there is a stigma out there that is judgmental and negative towards addiction and alcoholism that needs to be changed and how do we better educate people?
A) I had recognised that I had a problem years ago and tried to get sober without help so many times, and failed. That's the thing with addiction, it's a disease and without proper help you are kinda powerless to do anything about it. And then one day I woke up after a bender and something had clicked. I knew I had to make a change otherwise I was going to do something that I couldn't take back and so I found a recovery centre and checked in. I can't really explain why at that point I did that but I am so lucky and thankful that it occurred then. Being in a treatment program is the only reason I stayed sober. They prepared me for all the changes my brain and body would be going through and still are going through. I went through relapse and all that and it was only because of the support and education the recovery program provided that I was able to get through all that.
B) I think there is a stigma out there for some, a double standard out there for others and even a kind of idolisation around addiction in other circles. So many influential people have suffered from addiction throughout history and it's often seen as aspirational in a way. I remember being around creatives and there was always this feeling that maybe if we got fucked up all the time we might do better work. I can tell you, my work definitely wasn't better, and I was left with a heck of a dependency as a result.
We need to address and change that type of thinking. We need to address the double standard. Addiction the disease doesn't discriminate but the way we as a society treat it does, wildly.
That has to stop.
And then stigma, at least where I grew up, addicts were seen as weak, and so we didn't talk about it, and because we didn't talk about it no one really understood it and that ignorance just perpetuates the generational cycles of addiction we see everywhere. People are dying and dying in shame because of this disease that we should be helping them find treatment for, not casting out. It's heartbreaking.
I think talking about it can only help. It's an uncomfortable topic so it's hard to approach for a lot of people and if we can make more people aware of it, more understanding of the pathology, then perhaps we can start to reduce some of the prejudice, stigma, and idolisation that surrounds the disease today.
Lachlan is currently riding the ALT Tour De France which is one of the most amazing athletic feats I have ever seen and dealing with harsh conditions and some serious feet issues. He has raised an incredible amount of money for the World Bicycle Relief which is incredible. He also was very visible when the fires were out of control in Australia and raised funds for that as well. I know he is your brother, but is there a cooler and more genuine dude in all of professional sports right now? I would say nobody is even close.
Yeah Lachy is a legend. And I think what he is doing honestly is really refreshing because he is just out there, doing what he loves, finding challenges that matter to him and devoting his life to them. And in that process leveraging his platform to help others. That is what sport is about.
Top 10 albums of all time?
Oh god. impossible.
Favourite place in the world to ride?
Iceland in the winter. I recently did an expedition there on fat bikes and it was insane.
Where should we shoot an fr. x thereabouts film? Gravel riding for both bikes and Moto...?