Filmmakers Ben and Gabe Turner tell us what they learned from a year in Usain Bolt’s shadow filming all-access documentary I Am Bolt.
Is Usain Bolt really as ice cool as he portrays himself to be when he’s strutting around the Olympic track celebrating his gazillionth gold medal? Is his training incredibly intense to get those results? Is there anything he can’t do? To find out, we sat down with Ben and Gabe Turner of Class of 92 fame. They spent a year following Bolt’s every move, while making the remarkable new feature-length documentary I Am Bolt.
1. BOLT IS BOSS
“He’s exactly the same on or off camera,” says Gabe. “He’s a total boss. It didn’t make it into the film, but Serena [Williams] said to us ‘He’s exactly who he says he is. There’s no edge, no nothing. That’s who he is.’ I think that’s why the film works because for an hour and a half, you’re getting a curated piece of content from him. It’s his story told by him. And that’s what makes it so enjoyable. That’s why you lose yourself in it because you feel part of his world.”
2. BOLT CAN’T SING
“The only thing he was worried about was whether people would think he’s a really bad singer,” says Ben, about a scene in the film in which Bolt sings R Kelly’s Bump ’n’ Grind. “Which he is. He asked if people would think he’s an idiot, and we said ‘No, people are gonna love you because it’s hilarious.’”
3. BELIEVE IN THE GOAT
“There was a film to be made if he didn’t win, but not the one we wanted to make,” says Ben. “I knew nothing but doubt,” confesses Sunderland fan Gabe. “I’ve been disappointed at every turn in a sporting sense – England football, Sunderland. He used to wind me up because I’d say ‘see you on the other side’ before a race. He’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So I’d say, ‘It’s just a turn of phrase.’ And he’d be like ‘Alright, see you later.’ I’m like ‘[breathes out heavily] OK, see you’, and he’s like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I was carrying all the tension!”
4. WEAR THE GEAR
“After the heats in Rio, I thought ‘he’s gonna be winning this’,” says Ben. “We need to roll around like we know he’s winning this.
“PUMA gave us Jamaica tracksuits, because they didn’t want us in anything else. We’d be around the Olympic village and people were asking, ‘How come you’re in a Jamaica tracksuit?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You don’t look or sound Jamaican?’
‘What do you mean?’
5. THE VICTORY LAP
“It was me on the camera in the stadium waiting for Bolt on his victory lap after winning the 100m in Rio,” says Gabe. “I finally get his attention, so he comes up and does a piece to camera ‘I’m number one’ and then he points at us, so just having a moment with him on his celebratory lap is amazing. About four hours later, I checked my phone and someone had sent me
a picture. On NBC, they’d been filming the other way, so there’s a moment on camera of me pointing at him, over excited, and him pointing at me like Jerry Maguire.
I literally couldn’t believe it. That is the single greatest photo. There’s actually footage of me celebrating Bolt’s 100m title with him.”
“It was very exciting for him but literally, I felt sick at that photo,” says Ben. “I was schlepping a tripod in the background trying to get in position for the next shot!”
6. TRAIN LIKE ROCKY
“I couldn’t quite believe the set-up he trains in,” says Ben. “He trains on the cricket pitch at the University of the West Indies. There’s a track next door, and he runs on the grass so he doesn’t get shin splints. When I first saw it, I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was like Rocky IV, where Gatlin’s like Dolph Lundgren in the lab, and Bolt’s chasing chickens around.
I remember Bolt, [Yohan] Blake and someone else coming around the track and their footsteps are so light – the sound of how light they were on their feet was like seeing a wonder of the world.”
7. TENSION IS FOR LOSERS
“It was kind of problematic for us actually because at that point in the film [the 100m final in Rio], you want to be building up the great tension, yet every time we filmed with them, they’re all just pissing around and laughing,” says Ben. “It’s intentional because they don’t want that England football thing – they’re just having a great time and if it ever got too serious, someone would just start ripping the piss.”
8. YOU CAN WIND HIM UP
“The moment we started ripping into him was a gamechanger,” reveals Ben. “People tip-toe around him in their camp, but all we wanted to do is take the piss – the quicker we stopped being stiff around him, the better it got.”
9. DON'T FACETIME ON THE TOILET
“I came back from Rio a little bit early as we had to deliver the film in five weeks,” says Ben, explaining that Gabe had stayed on in Brazil because the production company was also making a film about Mo Farah. “One morning after I came back, I was sitting on the loo and my FaceTime goes off and it was him [Gabe] so I was like, ‘OK, it’s my brother, I’ll chat to him on the loo.’
“I answered the FaceTime and did this [moves phone to show it’s obvious he’s on the loo] and it was Mo! They were all on the lash – well they were, Mo wasn’t – after he’d won his second gold medal.”
10. BOSS OF THE BOSS
“He’s as intimidating as Sir Alex Ferguson,” Gabe says of Bolt’s coach Glenn Mills. “He’s brilliantly funny. He just brings the house down. Always. He’s just got a way. He’s created an atmosphere that’s custom-made for Usain to be great.”
“There’s a scene at the Air Force club which is just outside of Rio where Usain was training,” says Ben. “They tried to keep it on the downlow, but everybody started noticing. There’s a scene in the film where this journalist is really pushing in to get closer and closer. He kept pointing at us, saying ‘but they’re with him…’ and eventually Coach went up to him and said ‘But they’re making a movie.’ He stuck up for us! We were so happy to be on the inside.”