Interview: Tom Caldwell - Mountain Biking's Old School Film Maker

Apr 2, 2020
by Ed Spratt  

Tom Caldwell

Tom Caldwell has become famous over the past few years for his fast, raw and wild edits with highlights including the Jank Files and the British Pie series. After the launch of his latest film, Tea & Biscuits, we caught up with Tom to talk about the project, how he got started as a filmmaker and his filming process.

Who are you and what work are you best known for?

My name is Tom Caldwell and I'd like to think people know me for fast, wild, to the point videos that will make you eager to ride. Real, core, completely unstaged entertainment. I think the British Pie series is the best-known work, alongside a few special web projects and the video that kicked everything off, 'F*ck You, Get Pumped'.

How did you start making films/edits?

I've always tried to capture and record things for as long as I can remember. Be that on a camera or in a diary etc. But it really started when I'd steal my dad's camera in high school and go and film my mates on a weekend, all while trying to ride and develop skills myself. Then at about 16 I got my first DSLR and started to really get into MTB. I must have got my first pan n' zoom about 18/19 and then that was it.

Photo: Chris Greenwood

What are your filming influences?

At the moment, mostly street BMX/skate videos. I've always looked up to Joe Bowman (Steel City Media) and Mono (Creative Concept) too. A lot of people think I'm a Rankin superfan, and while I love his work, I didn't watch any of that until a few years ago at Joel Anderson's house. The first stuff I looked up to was around the time of Follow Me by Anthill.

What are your favourite films?

In bikes - Follow Me (like your first girlfriend or your first car, it can never be forgotten), Gamble, which let's be honest is the new standard in MTB films. Big fan of Three Minute Gaps too. Out of bikes, I'm a big Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fan. I watched The Revenant the other week too. Have you seen it? Frickin' brutal. But a good watch.

How would you describe your filming style?

Fast, handheld, mostly pan and zoom, and currently mixed with a bit of dadcam for the old school vibes. No bullsh*t, to the point and nothing pretentious. I try to weave in as much humour as I can as well and try to build personalities via video. The whole style is based on what I would like to see. And if other people like it, then awesome. My mind and my workflow is fast-paced and I like fast music. I'm always looking to create an absolute assault on your senses.

When did you start work on Tea & Biscuits and how did you decide on the title?

Well, once the EWS was drawing to a close I was getting an urge to make another film again, just for myself more than anything, because I really bloody enjoy it. I put some plans together in Zermatt at the EWS and then as soon as I got home from I think Trophy of Nations, we started filming. Filming was 5 1/2 months-ish end to end.

Ha, well, I just really like Tea & Biscuits. It's a borderline addiction. I wanted another funny food-related title that people would question and something that would stick out like a sore thumb.

Which is your favorite segment from Tea & Biscuits and which was the most fun to film?

All of the sections we shot were a really good time, I enjoyed time with everyone. But the standouts for me were filming with Dan Atherton for the first time - pretty surreal but absolutely loved it. The whole Brayton/Elliott trip was the most I think I've ever laughed. The top spot, however, was the Merseyside segment. Absolute crowd favorite, my home segment (as those trails are 10 mins from my house, certainly not biased) and I think the whole vibe came across really well and brought out some really funny characters.

Photo: Isac Paddock

What is your process for filming?

I usually start with a selected soundtrack in my head, so I can envision it as I'm filming and try to piece it all together before going anywhere near my computer. So when I do sit down to edit I know exactly where most clips will sit, how they might work with the music etc.

When I'm filming though I just let the rider push themselves to where they feel the line is. I'll sometimes give a bit of encouragement but I'd never ask anyone to do anything really stupid. Good stuff happens outside of your comfort zone, and most of the time you usually come out the other side unscathed. Or, if there is a group of riders, they all tend to 1 up each other anyway, so I just let their alpha male instincts kick in and capture it all, it usually turns out well! I also like to do a lot of trail clearing/building/modification beforehand as I enjoy it and I know how I can make a track better in order for the rider to go faster.

Were there any ideas or plans that didn’t make it into the final film?

A few ideas yeah. Some that can't be mentioned, yet. But most of the time I just focussed on my original ideas and brought them to life, and I'd like to think most of it worked out.

How do you feel about the film’s reception?

I was over the moon with it, I still am. It came pretty much out of nowhere, on a platform that not everyone has heard of yet, Misspent Summers. Collaborating with those guys on production ideas and marketing etc made it what it was, for sure. So for 130,000 people to have checked it out in just over a week is insane – thanks everyone, much appreciated. And hopefully, most of them enjoyed it and had a bit of a giggle at it at least. This was always the reception we wanted, but also a test to see if T&B could hold it's own or actually become something. That then gives us the opportunity to build on it.

Photo: Isac Paddock

What was the editing process like? How do you like to edit your work?

Fairly quick and straight forward, usually. Like I mentioned before, I'll have the soundtrack in my head prior to shooting so I can see it all in my mind whilst filming and put together the whole jigsaw prior to going anywhere near my computer. Then either once I'm home or the day after, I'll sit down with it fresh in my mind and I can piece it all together from memory. I'll then make further stylistic tweaks here and there as needed. The difficult part is always cutting down lots of good footage from a big segment. You have to be a bit ruthless with it all, or each section will end up 7 minutes long.

I also really love making my own titles and graphics. Most of what I've done the past few years is all handwritten or drawn and then manipulated a bit. Like all The Jank Files and most Tea & Biscuits titles/graphics are all hand-drawn by me and then scanned in. I just feel like it suits rather than some lovely clean font. I want it to look messy and a bit rough sometimes.

What equipment do you use? Is there anything particularly interesting or unique to you?

Currently, the main cam is a Panasonic HC X1000 that I had to panic-buy in Perth last year after my old Sony EX1R fully sh*t itself at Crankworx Rotorua. I have a Sony A7sii that I tend to use on a Ronin or for the limited cinematics I do. I guess the dadcam is pretty interesting, it's an old (like pushing 20 years old) Sony Handycam, like the most basic thing you've ever seen. £25 from Facebook marketplace from some old dude. It's amazing though, I love it. My cablecam setup is really old and ropey, but it works a treat. Think that covers it?

Equipment or technique? Which do you think is more important?

Technique for sure, no question. It's all in the method and the thought process. Although I know sometimes the right tool for the job helps.

On a separate note, I'd love to give the best in the business a really cheap camera and see what they could do with it.

Photo: Chris Greenwood

Is it hard to build upon the success of the British Pie series and your other work? Do you feel like people expect a certain style of video from you?

I thought it would be hard to build upon it yes, and especially differentiate from it. I was worried people would think it was a rebranded British Pie. But thankfully the project built itself into something quite different and while the style is the same, the way it's put together, the pace and the vibes are different. I feel like people do expect a certain style, and that's good, they know what they're getting into and hopefully, they feel excited to watch videos, and then want to ride their bikes in the aftermath. I know my niche, my style and what I do best. If I changed that now I don't think it'd work out.

What advice do you have for people wanting to make their own films?

The subjects and topics make the video what it is, not the equipment or how much money is being poured into production (usually anyway). I'd say try and figure out your own style or niche and work at that. Don't be too much of a carbon copy. Work on developing contacts, networking with riders and relationships with brands. Be friendly. Be open-minded. It takes people skills to pull it all together.

Photo: Innes Graham

What are your plans for the future?

Well, I'm meant to be at the first round of the EWS currently filming the next season of The Jank Files with Rocky so that was my season plan! But like with everything else, it's completely out the window. On from that, I'd like to make another film or two, perhaps build upon Tea & Biscuits like we did with British Pie. I'd love to stay on the EWS scene as well because it's SO much fun. Oh, and do lots of bike riding.

Author Info:
edspratt avatar

Member since Mar 16, 2017
2,747 articles

  • 34 0
 thank you mr caldwell for bringing the fun back to mtb movies! british pie series is my alltime faves. they capture whats all about...having fun times with your mates and party in the woods. i salute you
  • 10 0
 Top of the pack for mtb films at the moment for me, proper nonsense & ridiculous riding. Captures perfectly what UK riding is about...just getting out on your bike and having a laugh
  • 7 0
 One of the best film / editors out there IMO, really gives a feel of the UK scene perfectly, messing about in the woods with ya mates and no pretentious shit
  • 6 0
 Farmer on Patrol remains one of the best edits I've ever seen. And The Jank Files are such a great antidote for the overly produced race weekend videos that some teams put out. Respect!
  • 7 0
 This dude is an absolute legend. My favorite mtb film maker. Ever since I saw F*ck you, Get Pumped he's had my undivided attention.
  • 4 0
 Getting into cameras and MTB at the same time? I mean, if you really hate money, that's the way to keep it out of your life.

Your work is class though. Really enjoy the stuff you've done with Nukeproof.
  • 3 0
 Every Caldwell shot is banger, he really captures just going out and messing around with friends on bikes, feels super BMX/skate video and in a industry so plagued with huge production budgets it's cool to be reminded of why we all like to ride in the first place, because its a blast
  • 2 0
 WHAT A BEAST. Please come out with another movie!!! I love all of them! It has become a Dartmouth Rowing tradition to watch your films, and most of my teammates have never seen a mountain bike before! And screaming quotes from riders you film in practice! F*CKIN MASSIVE
  • 4 0
 No bullshit and to the point. The Jank Files made me remember why I started filming people riding bikes.
  • 3 0
 I've never seen a Tommy C edit I didn't love, the filming style is superb, the music always fits really well and most importantly no slo-mo! Keep up the good work Tommy.
  • 4 0
 Yes Tommy! Can't wait to be back at the races finding the jank! T&B was a solid watch, had me grinning the whole time!
  • 2 0
 Really rad to learn that he has a soundtrack in mind forst and then lays out the filming and vibe of the movie second. It works well TommyC!
  • 3 0
 "... No bullshit, to the point and noting pretentious." Tom Caldwell for Presidente. Now.
  • 4 0
 Total hero.
  • 2 0
 Tommy Caldwell rides bikes too!?

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