We all know how to make a good bike film: mix some grinder spark close-ups with slow-mo shots of the rider gearing up, and you have a winner. But when regional off-road champion David Ellis grabs his bike—and his filmmaker brother, Michael, grabs his camera—none of that happens.
Instead, you get three minutes of pure adrenaline and incredible cinematography, set against the mystical backdrop of Namaqualand, South Africa.
Hold onto your seat and hit play. When you’re done (and you’ve exhaled again), find out a bit more about the project from the brothers themselves, below.
Where did you guys grow up?
Michael: We grew up in Springbok, a very small town in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Most people just know it as the town you pass on the way to Namibia.
Tell us about how you started riding…
M: Our father ignited the passion at a young age. He built us a really rad go-kart using an old petrol powered washing machine motor, I was two years old and my brother was only a few months old.
The moment the motor fired it had to be taken for a test drive. The motor started before the brakes were working and my dad reckoned I would take it easy, seeing as though it was my first go. He popped me in the seat, put my brother behind me and I apparently floored it, racing down the yard and crashing into a wall sending my baby brother flying, and a gutter collapsing onto me.
At ages seven and five, my father gave us each our own Honda 50cc. From there on, every Sunday, come rain or shine, would be spent in the veld trying to go faster and jump further.
What’s it like growing up riding in Namaqualand?
David: The fact that the majority of Home Ground was filmed less than 2km from our house gives you an idea. The riding possibilities are endless, and all of it can be accessed by opening a single garden gate to the mountains.
From when I started riding a 65cc I would spend most of my school holidays riding in the veld—that area must be one of the few places where a couple of ten-year-old kids on small motorbikes can race around the veld without adult supervision, while being safe from threats non-related to riding motorbikes—all without cellphones.
So filming there was a non-negotiable then…
M: Definitely! We know the area by heart and have burnt thousands of litres of fuel exploring the landscape. The film is a way of paying homage to a place that has given us both a lot to be thankful for.
I guess you could ride these trails blind by now…
D: It does remain off-road terrain, which means that it is constantly changing and requires one to adapt to the situation. A very important skill to have with off-road racing is one’s ability to read terrain and adjust accordingly. Further, as one increases the intensity and speed, obstacles that would previously pose a threat fall away, while the non-problematic features on the road tend to catch you unaware.
What sort of stuff do you normally film, Michael?
M: Well, I currently make films about whatever people will pay me to make. As long as I have a camera in hand I’ll be happy. I just want to make stuff, that’s the main goal. The work I currently do ranges a lot from shooting cars to filming medical procedures. A camera has an amazing ability to get you into interesting places no other tool can.
So why film your brother riding?
M: The idea has always been there, along with the desire to collaborate on a project together. But the main goal we had was to create a nice film with a zero budget.
There are no voiceovers, interviews or non-riding shots in the video. How intentional was that?
D: The vast majority of riding videos made in the last couple of years have all followed the same recipe, if you will. The first good quality videos were great, but the subsequent abuse thereof really killed the originality. Having your talented brother also as a best friend means you spend a lot of time discussing the details of such videos.
M: Right from the start the filming and riding was balls to the wall, we just wanted to get out there, shoot and ride. The idea to have a few extra sequences of David kitting up and a voice-over was there, but in the end I decided against it as it would break the momentum we wanted to set.
Did you guys expect the video to spread as far and as quickly as it has?
M: Not at all. We both had hoped to gain two thousand views or maybe a bit more. The night before I uploaded, I jokingly said to David we’re going to hit ten thousand—I really didn’t mean it in a serious way. The feedback on the film has been great and very motivating!
Video and still images by Michael Ellis.