Bryan Carroll/James Walker Talk ‘I Am Sturgis’

MotorcycleUSA Staff | April 7, 2015

From Bear Butte to the Badlands, Sturgis is mystical. Its voice whispers in the winds whistling around Devils Tower. It burbles in the brooks of Spearfish Canyon. Close your eyes and you can feel the spirits of Pearl and Pappy Hoel, from Main Street to the campgrounds east of town. It sings in the Jackpine Gypsies short track races and for the past 74 years has become a summer pilgrimage for bikers from the four corners and beyond.

The Black Hills Sturgis Rally celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and an estimated one million people are expected to roll into town. Could there be a better time to shoot a documentary on the world famous motorcycle rally? Producers Bryan H. Carroll and James Walker don’t think so. The team that brought us the award-winning film “Why We Ride” are tackling the rally head-first for their next documentary, “I Am Sturgis.” They’ve started a crowd-funding campaign to make it happen, choosing the approach for many different reasons, which they discuss in our interview. And while the 75th will serve as the background for the film, their goals are much deeper than that. Carroll and James talked about their objectives during our recent conversation.

“What’s cool about this is taking it to the fans,” said Carroll. “Doing a Kickstarter campaign, it’s the way to do it because we’re seeing if they even want the movie made and the only way we really can get the movie made is to have everybody join in. We’ve had people involved right from the beginning. And like everything we do, it’s not just about the rally, it’s about so much more.”

“Yeah, we’re also not just selling the rally, we’re filming people coming in from all over the world, the four corners of the country, and then we’re hoping to get people crating their bikes out of Sydney, South Africa, Ireland and elsewhere to show how Sturgis has become this mecca of a motorcycle pilgrimage for so many,” said Walker. “I think it’s really going to change perspective, not only for riders who’ve visited in past years but mainly the general public who just get their definition of Sturgis from reality TV and tabloids.”

“It’s not only about Sturgis. Sturgis is a part of it of course. But when you say “I Am Sturgis” in effect it’s like “Why We Ride.” “Why We Ride” wasn’t about the motorcycles or the builders, it was about an internal thing inside of us, it’s why we ride, it’s why we love it, this passion. “I Am Sturgis” is very much the same thing. Yes, Sturgis is the destination, but again, we make movies about the riders rather than about the location. This is about that internal thing and what it means. What kind of person is that who will go and ride every year and put on those thousands of miles to go be around other like-minded people there,” added Carroll.

We teamed up with Why We Ride producers Bryan Carroll and James Walker in addition to Ron Benfield from Acorn Woods Communications during our journey to the Quail.
Our British Customs group of riders met up with ‘Why We Ride’ producers Bryan Carroll and James Walker in addition to Ron Benfield from Acorn Woods Communications during our journey to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering last year.
Our entourage stopped for a photo op at the turnoff to historic Hearst Castle.

“It’s also going to be an extremely patriotic movie, because it really is. When you say “I Am Sturgis” it’s like saying “I’m an American.” There’s so much more going on there for the other 50 weeks of the year,” said Carroll.

“Bryan had the seed planted into him when we were in Sturgis filming in 2012. We had a talk in November and started kind of beating our heads together about the size, scope and plans for this project. In early February we were able to get some free time from the governor’s office (South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard) and Department of Tourism of South Dakota, and the mayor’s office (Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen), Woody at The Chip, and the museum. So we took a flight out there in early February and met with the hometown crowd, the state and the cities, and said “Guys, if ever there was a time for an epic, cinematic documentary about Sturgis – now what do you guys think of this.” And they all just responded with a lot of support, a huge buy-in, and that’s where we decided to take it to the fans and do this crowd-funding strategy with this Kickstarter page. One, it’s the only physical way in time to raise the seed money we’d need, and second, it definitely involves our fans this time rather than make it under the radar like we did with “Why We Ride.” Let’s get them involved at the beginning, let’s let them have a piece of the picture and buy-in now and be a part of it and come along for the journey. It came together really, really quick over the last couple of months,” said Walker. 

“They’ve been very supportive. We wanted to make sure if we were going to do this because again, it’s about perspective. It’s about telling people what the real Sturgis is and what it is about the riders who ride to Sturgis. For us, it’s always about family and really it’s about the next generation. Even though we’re shooting this at the 75th it doesn’t necessarily mean this movie’s about the 75th. It’s about getting people to the 76th and the 77th and the 80th. It’s always about getting the next generation involved. Because it may not be there 20 years from now if we don’t. Even my generation, those guys in their 30s and 40s, we’ve got to get people to understand it’s not just what you see on reality TV. It’s about this amazing group of people who all come together, and friends who all look forward to this meet up. We wanted to make sure we had the state and the city and the rally itself onboard with what we’re doing. By going out there and having these conversations they understand our mission and their mission is the same. We met with the Chief of Police and met with all the people to make sure the story we wanted to tell is the story they wanted told,” continued Carroll.

MotoUSA: Looks liked Brian Klock had a big hand in trying to help you guys out, too.

“Brian’s been big. He loved “Why We Ride,” he always helped us out and he’s working hard on all these interviews. He’s a big figure up there in South Dakota. So we kind of brought him on as well as others like Gloria Struck as a consulting producer, Don Emde’s been very helpful, Jay Allen. There’s a lot of people that we met from “Why We Ride” who want to see us succeed, so we brought them on this time again to be more of a part of it than just interviewing them, where they can actually consult and teach us and tell us stories about what they know about South Dakota and Sturgis and about riding and about their lives. Especially Gloria Struck, we’re so excited to have her on to kind of help us. She’s going to be 90 this year and she still rides to Sturgis,” said Carroll.

Director Bryan Carroll proudly holds the trophy awarded to the British Customs Triumph Scrambler Dirt Bike after riding it all day during the 2014 Quail Ride.
Director Bryan Carroll proudly holds the trophy awarded to the British Customs Triumph Scrambler Dirt Bike after riding it all day during the 2014 Quail Ride.

“So it’s important again for us why we went with the crowd funding campaign because we want everybody involved in the making of this one. From them helping us out to our fans coming in and pledge money so we can actually make the film. It’s really like all of us coming together to make this movie. “Why We Ride” was about a community, “I Am Sturgis” is going to be made by that community.”

MotoUSA: With so many people in town, with almost a million people there, I’m sure logistics are going to be crazy. Is that going to be one of your biggest challenges?

“I think it will make some great cinematography, to see that many people there. But downtown Sturgis and Sturgis is only a part of the story. Again, it’s about the riders and getting out in the Black Hills. A lot of it is about people going to Sturgis, what are they doing before they go there, what are they doing while traveling to Sturgis. So in a documentary, you just kind of have to be there and let it speak to you and the images will tell you what they mean in the end. It’ll be a challenge but I think anything great in life is going to have its challenges and I don’t know any better time to capture Sturgis than the 75th. So just the opportunity to be there to capture that it’s going to be well worth the challenge,” said Carroll.

MotoUSA: You guys have set the bar high with your first attempt with “Why We Ride.” Do you feel any pressure to meet any certain expectations with the new project?

“Of course, there’s always pressure from one project to the next. But “Why We Ride” was a movie about why we ride. We put everything we could into it, we left completely exhausted but we felt we left everything on the film. We did the best we could and our intention is to do that with everything in life. And our intentions with “I Am Sturgis” is to do the same. That’s all we want to do is give it everything we can and put it all in there and build the best story we can. I’ve been in this business for 28 years and I’ve done that for every movie and how that ends up will be the best that we can make it as a team here. Hopefully we succeed and capture what the essence is and what it is to be “I Am Sturgis,” added Carroll.

“Sturgis is the one place we could not stop talking about. It always ended up in our conversations. It was one of the first places we filmed for “Why We Ride.” We knew we were going to get back there at some time to tell the internal story, what it is to be a rider making that journey. We knew it would happen at some point and now just seems like the right time so now we’re going to see if we can do it,” Carroll.

Producers James Walker and Bryan Carroll
James Walker (L) and Bryan H. Carroll (R) were recognized by the AMA as ‘Motorcyclists of the Year’ in 2014 for their documentary “Why We Ride.” Hopefully the duo will get a shot to capture the essence of the Sturgis Rally with their latest endeavor, “I Am Sturgis.”

The saying goes “It takes a village.” This adage is most apropos when talking about Carroll and Walker’s latest movie adventure. It’s going to take a village of support to make “I Am Sturgis” happen. It’s also going to take a village’s worth of stories to accurately convey what Sturgis symbolizes beyond the images people see on reality TV.

Donations to “I Am Sturgis” come along with different perks. At the $750 level, the contributor’s name will appear in the end credits of the film. At the “Full Custom: $10,000” level, you get to join the filmmakers “for a day on the set during the filming at this year’s Sturgis Rally for real behind-the-scene experience.” Contributors at this level also get a private theatrical screening of the film in their hometown to share the experience with all their friends.

It’s going to take a ton of monetary support to reach their goal of $350,000. Hopefully, en masse, we can make it happen. Anyone who’s seen “Why We Ride” knows the high levels of artistry the team captures with their cinematography and how the stories shared in their work adds to the depth of their documentaries, and if anyone can do justice to the rally, it’s Carroll and Walker. All they need is a chance.