When discussing the Fremont Solstice Parade with a group of people, the conversation will eventually veer towards a specific question.
Would you get naked, slather yourself in paint, hop on a bike and ride publicly through town as thousands of onlookers cheered you on?
There’s a new documentary in the works right now that follows four intrepid individuals who answered “Yes.”
Beyond Naked explores what happens when four first-time participants accept a challenge to ride naked in the 2011 Fremont Solstice Parade, Seattle’s annual celebration of summer and self-expression. The film will also explore our deep-rooted fear (and awkward fascination with) nakedness and what we can learn about ourselves when we dare to drop trou.
I chatted with the film’s director, Dan McComb, about the project, how it’s being filmed and what he’s hoping to get out of the experience.
FremU: What is Beyond Naked about and where did the idea come from?
DM: If you ask someone on the street whether they’ve heard of the Fremont Solstice Parade, the frequent reply is: “You mean the naked bikers?” How is it that a rogue group of loosely organized, unpaid individuals have managed to become synonymous with the parade? And why here, when cities like San Diego have blocked rides from starting by threatening participants with arrest?
As the title implies, we hope this film (in addition to being a lighthearted adventure) can shift the conversation about artistic nudity from one focused on whether people should be allowed to be naked in public, to a deeper exploration of self-expression, artistic license and personal freedom.
I became fascinated with the Fremont Solstice Cyclists in 2003, when, after much arm-twisting from my friends, I accepted a challenge to ride naked in the parade with a group of about 60 other cyclists. It was a scary, exhilarating and transformative experience that made a lasting impression on me. Last year, an estimated 650 cyclists rode, and if the weather’s good this year, some organizers predict as many as 1,000 cyclists.
I attended Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School last year, where the legendary director told me: “if something fascinates you, you must do it.” I gave myself two additional requirements for finding an idea for my first feature-length film: It had to be about something I have a personal connection to. And it had to be reachable within walking distance of my house in Fremont. As I watched last year’s Solstice Parade with Herzog’s words ringing in my ears, I realized this was my story.
Jeff Hedgepeth is one of the brave souls featured in Beyond Naked.
FremU: Can you tell us a little bit about your history as a filmmaker and how you came to this project?
DM: Picking up a camera to make films is a return to my roots as a visual storyteller. During the 90s, I was a professional photojournalist (with publication credits that include Time and Newsweek). After a decade of covering everything from hate groups in the US to peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, I fell out of love with the “he said, she said” storytelling formula, put my cameras into storage and moved to Seattle where I opened a small web design shop in 2000. In 2005 my wife and I cofounded Biznik.com, and in 2008 we were named among Seattle’s most innovative entrepreneurs by Seattle Business Monthly.
I got involved with filmmaking at Biznik, when we decided to film the stories of entrepreneurs. The resulting film, Shine, was my first, a 24-minute short which I co-directed with Ben Medina. I left Biznik in 2009, and chose to pursue filmmaking full time. Still photography, it turns out, was a great foundation. Just at the time I picked up a camera again, a camera revolution began that today makes it possible for filmmakers like me to use inexpensive, DSLR cameras (such as my favorite, the Canon 60D) to shoot HD video that arguably rivals 35mm film in quality.
I cast James Beard award-winning chef Tiberio Simone as a major character in the film who helps us find four people willing to ride naked in the parade. And, I met producer Lisa Cooper less than two weeks before I was scheduled to begin filming. Within days of hearing about the film, she signed up as producer and we’ve been working together almost every day since then. It’s basically the two of us making the film, doing everything from sound recording to shooting to editing.
We are building a much larger team of 35 people to cover the Solstice Parade itself on June 18. We’re looking for volunteers with filmmaking experience – especially sound recordists and DSLR camera operators with their own gear, as well as production assistants. If you or someone you know wants to be part of this exciting project, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
FremU: How closely are you working with Fremont and the Solstice Parade? How easy or hard it it to film in Seattle?
DM: In addition to closely following the story of the riders, we’re including the story of how the neighborhood of Fremont, the Fremont Arts Council and some colorful local characters clashed over what to do about the naked cyclists when they first appeared, and how the situation was ultimately resolved.
With only one exception, everyone we’ve approached so far has agreed to be interviewed. So it’s been great in terms of access. Early in the filming we went on a series of quests in public places to try and find people to ride naked. We filmed in Pike Place Market, Fremont Sunday Market and even on the sidewalk in front of the Mars Hill Church. Of the locations, the church sidewalk was the most difficult. But we worked it out.
The weather has been mostly cooperative. I actually love the fact that clouds will be blanketing the city for most of our production. I detest filming in bright sunlight.
FremU: What’s the best way for Fremont residents to follow along with the film?
DM: We post regular updates at www.beyondnakedfilm.com, where you can connect to the film’s Facebook page, learn more about the characters we’re following on the film blog, and sign up for the film newsletter.
FremU: Once you’ve wrapped, any idea of when you expect the film to be screened? Plans for film festivals?
DM: My current plan is to edit the film myself in six months, which will allow us to submit it for consideration for next year’s SIFF festival. SIFF is a very prestigious festival, difficult to get into, but we think we’ve got a compelling story here with a good shot. We’d like nothing more than to debut the film in front of a local audience. Of course, we’ll be submitting to other festivals as well.
It’s an exciting time in the film industry with regard to distribution. New avenues are open to use that didn’t exist a few years ago. Our first choice at this time is to self-distribute by hiring a broker to negotiate quick availability of the film on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon.
Dan and his team have already selected two of the riders they’ll feature but continue looking for the final two. If you or someone you know is considering riding for the first time this year, and is perhaps on the fence or facing a challenge they need to overcome, and yet are willing to consider taking a film crew along on the journey, contact producer Lisa Cooper at email@example.com.