Cover stories: Issue 20.1 by Michael Blann

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Mathieu van der Poel does Zwift for our latest member cover. The story behind the film shoot

Photographs: Michael Blann
Mathieu van der Poel

 

 

One of the great things about being a photographer is that you don’t really know what you will be doing from week to week. There are jobs that pay the bills, jobs that take you to interesting places, jobs where you get to meet famous people and jobs that you love doing because they allow you creative freedom. 


From a photographer’s perspective, probably the most exciting and creative brand currently in cycling is Zwift. The futuristic gameplay world in last year’s campaign featuring Geraint Thomas was unique and hard to miss. It dominated the TV coverage during the Tour de France in the summer and certainly lifted the brand awareness of Zwift within cycling. 


What isn’t obvious to the viewer is the process and logistics of making an advertising campaign. I’ve worked with Zwift as a photographer shooting the print ads alongside the TV crew, including the most recent shoot with Mathieu van der Poel, and witnessed the scale and complexity of putting such a shoot together.


For starters, most of the creative team are based in LA, but all the shoots have to take place in mainland Europe – pros don’t like to take time out of their training schedule and really don’t like long haul flights. For this reason, an industrial estate in West London is more appealing than California. 


I’ve worked alongside TV crews before but it’s still impressive to see the scale of the Zwift production when I walk on set for the pre-light. As I push open a small door leading into Stage 1, it’s like entering Narnia. The view opens up into a 10,000sq ft studio with an enormously high ceiling. Centre stage is a three-sided room set which has been specially built for the shoot and suspended above are some very high-tech projectors beaming the Zwift gameplay onto the set. It’s quite mesmerising watching this animated futuristic world roll through the story board. 


There’s certainly a sense of hierarchy between the stills and TV crews. I’m aware my team will have to play second fiddle to TV over the next few days despite it being an important element of the overall campaign. This extends to the running order for the shoot, which probably favours TV 80 per cent of the time. This means, when it’s our turn, we have to run on set, set up lighting and shoot everything we need in 20-minute slots. This constant pressure of time means there are no second chances to go back and reshoot if something is missed or not quite right. 


I’m conscious of the limited time we have, so it’s important not to slip up, which is easily done under so much pressure. Everything goes smoothly and we retreat to wait for our next slot. This is the pattern of the day until the producer finally calls it a wrap. The house lights are switched back on and, is customary with all shoots, there is a race to pack everything up as fast as possible and head home.