Salt Addiction: Brian Leckey

May 24, 2012
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

Brian and Vince Beeton arrive early to capture a sunrise shot on the Great White Dyno.
Brian and Vince Beeton arrive early to capture a sunrise shot on the Great White Dyno.

“Places everybody. Quiet on the set… Action!” This might be the norm when filming a documentary or reality show, where the director and camera crew have complete control of the set. Lighting, sound, makeup, wardrobe and, of course, the overpaid snooty actors are all part of the process.

Guys like filmmaker Brian Leckey and cameraman Vince Beeton don’t have it quite so easy with their day jobs. Brian has made five documentaries at Bonneville for heavy hitters like National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Two he produced himself, “Landspeed Shootout” and “Ack Attack: The Fastest Bike in the World.” He secured funding for both of these from Top 1 Oil and Loctite. I’ve worked with Brian and Vince on a few of these projects and can attest to the patience and determination required to get that perfect shot, or capture that precise moment in time when the history books would have to be rewritten.

Brian worked for the BBC at 19 as a trainee in the videotape department: “It was all reel to reel, 1-inch and 2-inch tape back then. I wanted to be out in the field rather than stuck in a basement so I worked to get a break in a production department. I started working on live outside broadcasts and then making short insert films. I then left the BBC and went freelance. A lot of Discovery Channel shows were made by British companies back then.”

During a break in the competition  Brian and crew interview Rocky and his wife Tricia about the journey ahead.
During a break in the competition, Brian and crew interview Rocky and his wife, Tricia, about the journey ahead.

I asked Brian what persuaded him to make that first journey to the Bonneville Salt Flats. “It was while working on ‘Extreme Machines’ that I first got exposed to Bonne-ville. I directed one episode about the history of the landspeed record, and was very fortunate to meet and interview Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons and Tom Green. I also set up a race between Don Vesco and a Dodge Viper at El Mirage. The first time I actually went to Bonneville was in ’98 for the first BUB meet.”

Other shows to Brian’s credit include directing “Junkyard Wars” and “Digging for the Truth,” an adventure archeology show for History Channel. “In the last couple of years I’ve found myself being dropped by helicopter onto the rim of an erupting Icelandic Volcano as well as working on fast turn-around documentaries about the Japanese Tsunami and Steve jobs for PBS. In 2009 I directed 10 Episodes of ‘Mythbusters.’ It was great fun of course but planning, building and filming a full size radio-controlled bus jumping off a huge ramp all within two weeks is quite a challenge! They’ve actually just invited me back to direct some episodes with Adam & Jamie starting in June.”

Coming back to landspeed racing, I asked about some of the challenges associated with creating documentaries on location at The Great White Dyno: “The very fact that the course is 12 miles long means you can’t cover it adequately with one camera, you need several and you have to know how and where to deploy them. Aside from the technical challenges the most important factor is gaining the trust of the teams. They aren’t there to make TV… they’ve been striving for years to achieve their goals so we can’t get in their way. We try our best to be unobtrusive. The teams are all very helpful and accommodating. I hope they feel we serve a useful purpose in getting the word out about their unique endeavors”

Brian and his film crew pose next to their rented helicopter.
Brian and his film crew pose next to their rented helicopter.

Aerial photography is a challenge all its own. In 2008 at the Top 1 Shoot-Out, the Ack Attack streamliner was blown off course by a gust of wind created from the prop wash of a helicopter hovering too close to the race course. I remember the pilot denying that this could happen, but after he was asked to move farther away, the problem disappeared. I asked Brian about some of the challenges of taking aerial shots when filming high speed runs.

“To portray the enormity of the salt flats you really need that aerial perspective. Helicopters aren’t much use following landspeed machines since they can’t go much faster than 100 mph. So you have to position it somewhere to catch the machines passing. With the cars it’s not much of an issue but two-wheel streamliners can be blown off course by a side wind of only 4-5 mph. We found this out the hard way that a helicopter hovering almost a mile from the course produces a wind that can affect the bikes!”

Brian also recently started creating Apps such as the Top 1 Ack Attack simulation game. I was curious how this particular app/game came to be, so asked if he could talk about some of his partners on the project as far as the game developers, animators, etc. (If you notice, yours truly did have a small hand in the development). Brian was happy to give me a little “behind the scenes” look into the game.

Coming soon  the new Top 1 Ack Attack game!
Coming soon, the new Top 1 Ack Attack game!

“I’ve developed a good relationship with Top 1 Oil, they sponsor the Ack Attack and co-financed the documentary I made about the team. I’ve branched out into iPad app production and proposed a corporate app for their company. I then proposed making the app into a simulator app, so you could actually experience some of what it’s like to drive the Ack Attack at Bonneville. I designed and produced the app and hired some programmers to make it happen. We worked with you (Rocky) to make it as realistic as we could… hopefully we succeeded! In the next couple of months we’re producing a Bonneville App so you’ll be able to drive other vehicles as well as the Ack Attack. Watch this space for updates…”

Brian recently developed his own film company, Content Canning Company. I asked if he’d share a little about his new business. “I still do freelance TV work like directing stints on Mythbusters, but really wanted to work on my own projects. Vince Beeton is working with me and we’re developing some TV projects and are sub-contracted by UK production companies. We’ve recently shot segments for NOVA and Discovery Channel shows. What interests me most though is bringing documentary production to tablets. We’re currently in pre-production on science education apps as well as one about a vineyard…”

All in a days work. Enjoy the ride…