As many of you know, independent filmmaker Mike Ratel has been filming us for five years – 5 YEARS! – for his film project “On Your Mark, Get Set, Mow: A Tale of Hope, Redemption and Lawn Mower Racing.” As many of you also know, there is ongoing chatter questioning if Mike will ever finish his film! Mike is going to finish his film, and we the racing community, are going to help him!
Mike is launching a fundraising campaign via “Kickstarter” to help him achieve his goal of $2,500 to get the film completed.
As many of us also know, Mike has demonstrated his love for what we do by taking some really great photos of the racers and always offering them to the racers for free. Let him take you on a journey of the past five years of filming:
I really thought it was going to be a lot easier than this…
Several years ago a friend and I were returning from a Richmond Braves baseball game in Richmond, VA. My friend Will Clark, who I like to say lives in the “real Virginia”, told me that people raced lawn mowers. I immediately insisted that no one would do such a foolish thing and accused him of making up stories. I do not know if it was a year or two later but at some point I was at my desk while working for Verizon Business and that conversation popped into my head. I Googled “lawn mower racing” and mow and behold I saw that people did in fact race lawn mowers and it appeared to be quite organized. Having dreamt of making a film most of the my entire I thought here was my chance to join the ranks of the maverick indie filmmakers I had long admired. By that time I had had some of my photography published and had experience with super 8 and 16mm movies cameras both on my own and in a classroom setting. Additionally, starring as MC Mick Rat in Pat DiNizio’s King Leisure S.O.B. I gained valuable experience working on the set of a low budget independent feature film.
As soon as I discovered that lawn mower racing did indeed exist I made it my passion to learn all I could about the sport. I watched YouTube videos, I read the web sites, I joined the forums. The mow I learned about the sport the mow interested I became.
In the beginning I figured that I would hit a number of races, shoot some footage, put it together so that it made sense and in less than a year I am tossing back Bombay Sapphire martinis with Robert Redford at the Sundance Film Festival. Or so I thought.
A friend convinced me to upgrade my camera gear and by the time the 2008 season started I had bought a pro camera, pro mics, a tripod, and anything else I thought I needed for the film. I was at the height of my IT career. Life was good and so were the prospects for shooting my first film. I decided to follow a racer who was smart, funny, and well respected by his peers. At the end of the season I confirmed with the racer that he was going to be at a race 48 hours prior to making a 9-hour drive to the race. When I got there nothing could prepare me for the shock and disappointment when he told me that he was no longer interested in telling his story (to me anyway) and that he would have no time for me over the course of the weekend. Standing along and dejected in the pit area I saw that the Mikula family was there and realized that it was their story I should tell. I pitched the idea to them and they were on board instantly.
2009 was awesome in that I not only had a story but a very important one. The research and extra equipment I bought helped a great deal with the sound I was capturing. I interviewed Congressmen Bob Filner and started making connections with the Huntington’s disease professional community. I got a fair amount of media attention and I was using it to spread the word about HD and the wonderful community of lawn mower racers who do their part to raise research funds for it. This was getting far bigger than I had ever imagined. My parents expressed pride and told me that I was doing important work.
The season ended and I stepped up my efforts to return to the Information Technology world. I had a few interviews here and there but it seemed like they had a big pool of candidates to choose from. I had a steady photography client; I waited tables, and collected partial unemployment. 2010 saw hundreds of resumes sent that never got a response. I continued to live frugally, wait tables a few days a week, and shoot photos Saturday nights at a nightclub. I focused my attention on interviewing HD medical professionals and by the end of the year I had bugged Congressmen Peter Hoekstra’s office enough so that he visited the Mikulas at their shop, Four Seasons Yard & Sport, in Michigan to discuss HD. One of the family members called me and told me that I had 24 hours to get there if I wanted to film it. With barely any money I loaded my camera gear in the car and headed to Western Michigan. I drove straight through the night because I did not have enough money for even a room at the Motel 6. When I arrived at Four Seasons, Donna eagerly proclaimed, “My, you’re up early….” Instantly the look of concern came over her face when she concluded that I had not been to bed yet.
By the time 2011 arrived I had lots of great interview footage explaining what HD was and more lawn mower racing footage than I knew what to do with. I had cleaned out what was left of my 401K, gotten a Mac, and took a short class in Final Cut Pro. I had begun the time consuming process of looking through 100 hours of footage and saving anything that I could use to tell the story I wanted to tell. The going was very slow as my lack of success and lack of money was doing its part to rob me of enthusiasm for anything. The University of Maryland’s baseball stadium is 20 minutes away and even the underemployed can afford a $5 ticket every now and then. At that point I could really care less.
Late last summer I had a Mr. Mom/Michael Keaton moment and I was then determined to control the situation instead of allowing it to control me. I amped my efforts to find a job, started to get some exercise, and started moving all the footage I captured into a crude timeline in preparation for final editing. This past October I got back into the IT world (albeit at compensation far less than I was making before I was laid off) and started talking to my editor about finishing the film. He was booked for all of October but in November we started working my crude timeline into something that looked like a movie. The film has now been submitted to the 2012 DC Independent Film Festival and now we are scrambling to have it finished by late February.
It has not been easy but I am well aware of the fact that there are a lot of people who had it much worse.
I am glad that I did not keep track of what I spent on this project because I am sure that the numbers would scare me to death. For the money my parents have lent me I will be paying them back for the next couple of years. I am now asking your help to finish the film. Although there has been great progress there is still a lot of work be done. Please visit www.mowermovie.com and consider a donation to the postproduction fund. You can either enjoy a tax deduction or wonderful gifts.
Thanks for listening.