Thomas Vanderham - From The Collective to Return to Earth

Jun 14, 2019
by Rocky Mountain  
The Collective and Anthill Films have made seven full-length mountain bike movies over the last 15 years and Thomas Vanderham’s been in all of them. From the opening scene in The Collective to his moto-sized senders in Seasons, following Sam Hill at home on the North Shore to the release of Return to Earth. A lot of the major moments in Thomas’ riding career have been captured in these films.

We first signed Thomas 19 years ago when he was just a kid in high school and at that time the North Shore freeride scene was beginning to gain momentum. Local photographer, Sterling Lorence, had just gotten his first cover shot of BIKE magazine and shortly after him and Thomas began to work together on their home trails.

Sterling has been the main photographer for all three movie from The Collective, and stayed with the crew as they restructured for four more as Anthill Films. Being present for all seven films has given Sterling and Thomas a unique relationship. They’ve grown their careers in parallel with one another and documented some of the finer moments along the way.

The Collective

Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesThe Collective was just an amazing film to be a part of. The response that it received when it came out was beyond what I could have imagined, and I still hear from people about it to this day. I think the timing was just perfect for something a little different than the heavily action based films that had paved the way before The Collective. The fact that it had a singletrack segment, the music, the candid moments, all made it more relatable to a broader range of mountain bikers.

The opening shot set the stage for the whole film. It was a candid moment and it happened without me even knowing. We’d gotten up at the crack of dawn to shoot this drop at first light. I felt half asleep and was trying hard to focus on what I had to do. As I waited for the go-ahead from the team, I didn’t even know that the filmer, Jonathan Schramm, was behind me shooting.”


Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesOur trip to Morocco for Roam continues to sink into this day. It was a once in a lifetime experience with an incredible crew. Looking back, I can’t believe how remote we were, this road gap was in the middle of nowhere! I’ll never forget it because we found the gap, built it, and that afternoon I spent hours sitting at the top of the run in waiting for the wind. It never let up, and we decided to extend our stay in the area by one night to try to get it the next morning. I had a restless sleep knowing that I was going to tee that thing up early the following day. Luckily the wind cooperated and everything went smoothly that morning.”


Photo by Sterling Lorence

Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesTo this day this was one of the most involved projects I’ve ever worked on. I was working with ‘Big Red’ Ted Tempany on the build and we visited five or six ranches around BC before finding a place that had the right recipe.

The lines were very moto-inspired, with a bit of ski/snowboard inspiration mixed in as well. I wanted to push the limits of how high and far I could go on my mountain bike. After months of building, I remember it being a huge relief when I finally put tires to dirt. After the very first day of riding and knew that I’d never gone faster into a jump before and I put a computer on my bike to see what kind of speeds I was hitting. The highest number I saw during the shoot was coming off the big ski jump and into the longest step up, something like 84 or 85 km/h. It took four separate shoots to get the segment done because I took some big crashes but it was well worth the effort. I’m still really proud of that segment.”

Follow Me

Photo by Sterling Lorence

Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesI’ve lived in North Vancouver for the last 20 years, and the trails on Mount Seymour descend right to my house. The whole theme of Follow Me was to have riders paired up, and it was pretty cool to be able to show Sam Hill, fresh off a World Cup overall victory, around my backyard.

I’d spent some time building lines for the shoot and it was pretty cool to see Sam riding unfamiliar terrain and one-off features when he was known for smashing race tracks. It was amazing to watch his bike control on the slippery, technical, unforgiving North Shore trails. A lot of people struggle on The Shore the first few times they ride here…Sam didn’t.”

Strength in Numbers

Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesAggy and I went down a month early to scope and build for the Utah segment, which basically turned into the two of us rallying quads in the desert. We did get some work done though, and ended up uncovering a few of the sickest natural hits I’ve ridden to date. The big hip in particular was just amazing and we basically built it with only a rake.”

This shoot happened in November, and I ended up taking a massive crash and separating my shoulder quite badly. It forced us to delay the rest of the shoot until February, which was just 2 months before the world premiere. When Aggy and I went back to get the remaining shots, I ended up manning a camera for a shot that got used in the film. I’m pretty stoked to have ‘additional cinematography by’ credit to my name in closing titles!"


Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesConcept shoots are hard, and this was one was especially difficult. The idea of dirt falling from the sky was inspired by trail builder and longtime Whistler Bike Park rider, Adam Billinghurst. The Anthill crew had to ‘re-dress’ the frame after every take, which meant a ton of time was spent distributing fresh dirt, raking out our tracks, re-covering the trees, etc. For us as riders, it meant there was a lot of waiting around and then going from zero to a hundred when the crew was ready.”

The Whistler Bike Park has been an amazing place to have up the road for me. I’ve done countless laps over the years and it’s definitely helped shape my riding to where it is today. I’ve shot many videos in the park, but this one was especially cool as it featured the park in a different way.”

Return to Earth

Photo by Sterling Lorence

Photo by Sterling Lorence

bigquotesSimilar to unReal this was another concept shoot that was difficult to make happen. We were shooting the autumn colours in Quebec and needed to re-dress every scene. The major difference between this and the unReal segment was that we were fighting against nature’s clock. Everyday we’d wake up, and more leaves had fallen from the trees. Throughout the day big wind gusts would leave more branches bare. The whole shoot was a crazy balance of waiting long enough for the colours to be perfect, but not so long that the leaves left the trees bare."

I think the concept of the film really hit home for me in this segment. Growing up in Edmonton the leaves changing colour meant that snow was around the corner, and riding season would soon be over. Return to Earth is about making the most of your time and I think we certainly did that on our shoot!”

Thomas and Sterling have had an incredible ride together through the release of these films, and Return to Earth marks the latest chapter.

bigquotesIt’s quite a trip for me recall these stories and look back through 15 years of images. Every film has been distinctly different and I feel lucky to have worked with such talented riders, filmers and photographers on each one. Thanks for the chance to reflect on all of it!”

The world premiere for Return to Earth is tonight in Vancouver, B.C at the Vogue Theatre. Come by, meet Thomas, Sterling, and the rest of the Anthill crew. Tickets can be found HERE

The premiere world tour will take place across North America, USA, Europe and other international destinations. If you can’t make the world premiere, checkout premiere tickets in your city HERE

MENTIONS: @RockyMountainBicycles / @anthill


  • 19 0
 Even though it looked like a balloon animal made from scaffold poles and weighed more than 'yo mama' I wanted a RM Flatline so bad! based solely on his section in Seasons
  • 5 0
 the flatline in raw was one of the sickest looking bikes back then. even space for a water bottle!
  • 11 0
 Would love to see Sam back on the DH bike for a few more World Cup races.
  • 8 0
 I loved the Hill/Vanderham section in follow me, still one of my favs of any film, and still probably the best film made. Always liked the geek thing about it, one rides left foot forward, the other right, most right handers are with the right foot rider, most left with the left. Once you have noticed this you cant un-notice it.
  • 8 0
 The Stevie/Gee section was also phenomenal.
  • 1 0
 @betsie: I’m right handed and always have the left foot upfront. Not only in biking but snowboarding and wake boarding as well. Except for skateboarding. Which is really weird
  • 5 0
 Still to this day I wonder what would have been if Thomas committed to the racing WC. If your not from around these parts you probably would know but TV was fast as f*ck. Influenced by the shore, Shandro , Watson, Wade etc etc he sorta got pulled into an emerging “free” scene. The legacy of video and photo shoots he has put together will last forever. Remember this. Thomas went huge before anybody. The whip? Pfffft. We all know.

If you read this Thomas ... thanks.
  • 3 0
 His scene in Ride to the Hills on a Giant ATX Dh bike still gets me pumped. Ryan Leech doing a no footed nose stall on a picnic bench is also another highlight from that film
  • 3 0
 the whole film is a highlight.... Wade was the kingpin of that flick.
  • 1 0
 @jaydawg69: His brother says : "You're totally washed."
  • 1 0
 After The Collective blew my mind, I was lucky enough to make it to the premiere of Roam at the Sea Otter Classic in 2006. That's probably my fondest memory from that year. Needless to say I'm looking forward to Return to Earth!
  • 1 0
 Godfather Wade may have pioneered it, but Vanderham nearly perfected it. Thanks for swallowing all those butterflies and making some truly enduring art, Thomas!!
  • 1 0
 I remember the first pic on the magazine, and put it in my wall. good times roll...
  • 1 0
 to this day

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