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Bruce Hendricks, 'Ultimate X' Director


Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

Written by: Press
Date: May 6, 2002

Hours before the worldwide premiere of 'Ultimate X' at Universal Studios, Hollywood, Director Bruce Hendricks sat down with the press to reveal the challenges and triumphs of capturing the X-Games for the Big, Big Screen.


Category: Interviews

Ultimate X Synopsis: A look into ESPN's massively popular Summer X Games, ULTIMATE X chronicles all the breathtaking highlights and dramatic stories behind the 2001 X Games in Philadelphia as it showcases the eye-popping skateboarding, biking, moto X, and street luge competitions on the giant screen for the first time.
Main Film Page: Trailer, Clips, Reviews, More Interviews, Production Notes

Q: Was filming in Imax different from regular filming?

Bruce Hendricks (Bio): Well, it’s definitely different than "regular" (35mm) photography. But, it’s like when you direct anything, you just hire really great people around you. And I had three cinematographers. Two of them are really experts in the field of large format photography and have done and extensive amount of large format movies. So, they helped me learn the ropes real quick. Because it is different. You frame different in large format than you do in normal photography. And you have to be kind of careful; how you think you would do it in 35, you can’t do in IMAX, although I tried. But sometimes the camera would just win.

Q: Such as?

BH: For example, in large format, it’ll strobe a little bit more because the object has to cover so much distance across the screen. So, you can get a lot of strobing. And, it’s a little bit more difficult to shoot high speed photography in large format, because in Large Format there are 15 perforations per frame, versus 4 per frame in 35. So, you’d hear this film going through the camera high speed. And when it would break, it sounded like an explosion. And we did a lot of high-speed photography. So, it’s a tricky, temperamental camera. But the end result is just beautiful. You just can’t get that end result in any other kind of format.

Q: Did your second unit work on Pearl Harbor prepare you for this?

BH: My second unit work in general definitely prepared me for this. As far as Pearl Harbor -- on a Michael Bay movie, he shoots pretty much every frame of film. But, certainly working with filmmakers like Kim and Jerry Bruckheimer helped. I’ve done, I don’t know, at least a dozen movies with Jerry and three movies with Michael. And you definitely learn from them. You learn a lot about camera, and event filmmaking. So, when I had my first cut of the movie, they were the first two people I called to get to come into the cutting room and take a look and give me notes.

Q: What notes did they give you?

BH: Uh, it was great. I mean, Michael was really about the big moment. And he loved it and said, you know, you gotta’ use sound as a big [factor]... sound in IMAX is so great, ‘cause it’s the only format with eight track digital sound. And Jerry helped me just with the story, making it real clear in each little segment of the film what the story is, what the message is that you’re trying to convey. So, it’s great working with those kind of filmmakers. Tony Scott, I had him come in. So, there was a wealth of really great successful filmmakers who were always there to lend a hand to me.

Q: You started out, you worked as a studio executive.

BH: Yes, but don’t hold that against me. [LAUGHS]

Q: Were you creatively frustrated and that’s why you went back to this.

BH: Oh, definitely. I don’t know of a single studio executive who isn’t creative frustrated.

Q: So, no desire to go back to being an executive again.

BH: Can I do a no comment on that one? [LAUGHS]

Q: Were you finished?

BH: I was just gonna’ say, directing is the ultimate sandbox, a big toy train. I mean, it’s a great job.

Q: How did you have to accommodate the performance to get the shots you need?

BH: Well, that was very tricky. Because in documenting actual sporting events as they happen, you’re restricted very much by the competition. But unlike the Olympics or even any kind of professional sport where you can’t really get the camera in, the kind of looseness of The X Games allowed us to really get it in much more so than you would on the typical sport. I mean, I would put the camera right in the center of the action.

And then the athletes would say, you know, that it’s dangerous there, or it’s in the way of my run now. Or it’s not safe for the camera crew. [We would] back it off to just the minimal amount that they would allow. And that way, I think it kind of helped make the audience feel that they were in the sport. So, I always wanted to stick the cameras close into the action as I could go.

Q: Was there any suggestion of making this a 3-D?

BH : No, I think in a documentary, uh, it would be very hard to do 3-D, because it requires a lot more set-up time, in calibration and all of that. And as much as you can run and gun on the fly with IMAX cameras, that’s what we were doing. So, I think it would have been pretty hard in sports photography to do it in 3-D.

Q: Did you only shoot in Large Format?

BH: I shot every format in the world on this movie from digital video to 35mm. I just shot it all and threw it in there and just saw how it all came out in the mix.

Q: So that it could be on video and DVD?

BH: Well, yeah. You think 99 percent about IMAX and large format and one percent about other things like DVD. But it’s basically designed for large format and IMAX theaters. And that’s really where the concentration was. But there were some shots you just simply couldn’t get with an IMAX camera. And I would shoot some of that stuff with 35.

Q: How did they ever expect to make their money back? There aren’t that many IMAX theaters across America.

BH: Well, that’s true. And typically, they have to play a while to make their money back. It’s not like a regular movie like Spiderman where you open to $114 million (I wish!). It has to play for a while before it can make its money back. But typically, you don’t spend a lot of money making these. The economics of the business just don’t allow you to.

Q: How did it come about to do the X-Games? Are you a fan of them?

BH: Well, I am now. Um, it was ESPN’s idea, uh, originally. They had the X Games. It was very popular. And they said, you know, these kind of sports are new. They’re cutting edge. They’re very popular with young people. What if we expanded the audience. And they came up with the idea. Then they brought it to Disney. And that’s how we got involved.

Q: Did Disney bring it to you? Or were you still working there?

BH: Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. I was at Disney. And they brought it to us. And actually Michael Bay was going to direct it. This was shortly after Pearl Harbor. And what happened was Michael was very busy with his commercial, because he’s one of the top commercial directors in the world. And his commercial slate was so big, he couldn’t move it around. We were all at a meeting. The studio knows I like to dabble in directing. And they said, "Oh, what are we gonna’ do? Michael can’t do it. We’re four weeks out."

And I raised my hand and said, "Oh, I’ll direct it." And everybody kind of chuckled, said "fine." An hour later, they called me and said, "Be careful what you wish for. You’re up." I was thrilled. And I just immersed myself in the world of it. And this is the end result.

Q: What about the message this has to kids though. They’re not saying, "Wear a helmet." Or, "You’re going to break 25 bones." And little kids like 10 or 12 are the ones who are going to see it. And these are like their gods.

BH: Yeah, that’s true. These are big superstars.

Q: Do you worry that little kids will go out and break every bone in their bodies?

BH: Well, sure. Sure. I mean, you always want positive role models when you’re dealing with young kids. But what I think that the film does say is that these are athletes. They train. If you talk to them, you say, "Oh, my God. That looks insane. That’s a huge risk." It’s not to them, because they practice it. Someone doesn’t do a Superman seat grab the first time they go off on a motorcycle. It’s taken months, if not years, of working up to tricks like that.

When you watch the athletes doing it, they’re very much in control. They train. They’re in shape. And yes, they do wear pads. You can get hurt in any one of these sports. But I would say with the exception of the big air moto jumps, the rest of the stuff is relatively safe. I mean, the skateboarders, you can, you know, always get hurt falling off your skateboard. But these guys don’t typically come away from competition with broken bones.

I mean, they fall – as you’ll see, they fall all the time. They know how to fall. It’s a sport that you fall in a lot. So I think kids, I hope at least, know enough and parents know enough that you don’t just buy an 11-year-old a motorcycle and say, "Off you go."

Q: Well, that’s their responsibility.

BH: Yeah. Exactly.

Q: The guys were wearing helmets though.

BH: Oh, oh, absolutely. Oh, everybody.

Q: There’s a section where everybody falls.

BH: Yes, you do have the crash section where everyone falls. That is a part of the sport. There’s no question about it. Injuries are a big part of the sport. And these guys can get really hurt.

Q: Was anyone hurt during the filming?

BH: Well, yeah. I mean, people would get hurt in the course of capturing them in competition. If you’ve seen the film, you know Carey’s back flip -- he broke eight bones. And we were there to capture it, unfortunately. And hopefully, he could have pulled it off. But he was actually a little bit too injured to pull the trick off. Because he had a plate in his shoulder. So, you see when he’s going over the G-force just yanks the motorcycle out of his hands. And I think it’s ‘cause he wasn’t healed here [in his shoulder], and he just didn’t have the chest strength to hold onto it.

Q: I imagine the cameras are rather unwieldy for this section.

BH: Yes, they were. They were very unwieldy. And the way I compensated is I could -- I just got a hold of every IMAX camera I could get. And I put it in positions that I thought would give the audience the best possible angle. Although we kind of ignored certain [people who said], "Oh, you can’t do this with an IMAX camera. I tried it anyway, and it worked a lot of times. We’d put them on frames and whip them around.

And, you know, some of the footage wouldn’t work because of the problems you’d have with IMAX cameras. But if you have enough cameras and you get enough angles, then you can make it work. I mean, at one point on Pearl Harbor, we had 22 cameras. So, there’s a little trick I learned from Michael, get enough cameras, you can capture everything.

Q: How much film did you use for this movie?

BH: Oh, gosh, you know what? The producer’s comin’ over here. He’ll know that. I honestly don’t know. I wouldn’t ask questions like that because I’m sure the answer would be, "You used too much."

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