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How Filming ‘Call of a Life Time’ Helped Its Director Cycle Back to Passion and Purpose

<span class="caption">Filming ‘Call of a Life Time’ Helped Its Director</span><span class="photo-credit">Wil Matthews / Life Time</span>
Filming ‘Call of a Life Time’ Helped Its DirectorWil Matthews / Life Time

Shannon Vandivier, director of Call of a Life Time, doesn’t just film the racing action—he’s actually the target demographic for the series. Before filming Call of a Life Time last year, he hadn’t ridden his bike seriously since his teen BMX years, and at 215 pounds, he was feeling out of shape and ready to make a change.

After season one of the series, he got back on the bike—and the results were game changing for him. Now, with season two releasing on Friday, we wanted to learn how riding and racing changed the nature of season two.

Bicycling caught up with him just as he got off the bike—“I like to ride to get in the right flow state mindset for interviews,” he said as he settled down at his work station, where monitors cover the walls to the side of him. When you’re looking through 100 terabytes worth of footage and interviews to pull out six episodes of content, you need a lot of screens.

“It’s been a really interesting evolution for me,” Vandivier told Bicycling. “I grew up as a BMX racer, and got into mountain biking as a teen, then it faded to the background. But when this series became a big part of my life, it got my wheels turning. It’s hard not to be inspired by all these riders.”

When season one was in motion, Vandivier weighed in at 215 pounds. “Since college, started gaining weight just little by little,” he says. “Now, a year later, I’m at 175. And it wasn’t a major diet change, it was just getting back into riding.”

Admittedly, it’s easy to get into riding when you can go straight to the source material for Call of a Life Time in order to gain some tips and tricks, in addition to the inspiration. After interviewing pro mountain biker Cole Paton all season, Vandivier had no qualms about texting him for some advice about getting back to riding. “I call Cole my unofficial coach,” he says. “Last April, I decided I wanted to try this racing thing after putting season one together. I signed up for a Leadville qualifier, the Austin Rattler, that happened in November, and that would be my first ever endurance mountain bike race.”

But it wasn’t the weight loss that really brought him back to cycling: It was work. “It wasn’t just about fitness,” he says. “I’m making racing content, so I want to get inside the mind of the racer, which means I want to train for a race so I can see what that feels like. I want to get out on a start line and see what these races are like from the inside. I want to get to know the community. I was so blown away on all angles of the process, and I hope that it’s made me a better storyteller.”

He says that he’s officially fallen in love with cycling, and season two of Call of a Life Time is definitely influenced by that new mindset. Last year, he—and the rest of North America—were figuring out how this whole gravel racing and Grand Prix series was going to work.

There were some missteps along the way, like setting the schedule to follow men for one race, women for the next, which sounds like a great idea until you realize that the men’s coverage would include the two biggest races of the season, Unbound and Leadville 100. (They’ve since changed that to make coverage more equitable in the new season.) But season one set the stage perfectly for a beginner’s look behind the scenes at the racing scene, with enough juicy coverage to make even hardened veterans of the sport take notice.

Season two benefits not just from the experiences Vandivier had during season one, but also his own racing. “I did notice in my interviews with athletes this year, I’m seeing nuances in a way that I’ve never been able to see before, because of how I’ve engaged the bike and racing,” he says. “Talking to the riders, I can speak a little bit more credibly to what their mindset is, and understand a bit better what their struggles are or what their strategy is.”

“We want people to know their stories. We want to grow this sport,” he says. “And the nuance of bike racing is one of the most difficult things in the world to film, especially on single track and gravel. Mountain biking has a heavy skill set and is challenging to film.

In terms of group dynamics, that’s a challenge to capture in gravel over hours of racing. Even when filming, it helps being someone who races, because you can better understand what's happening.”

Capturing the honest emotion of racers before, during and after races takes trust, and credibility. Vandivier believes that working with many of the same racers last year, plus his own riding now, have broken down barriers for this season to make for even better content.

“When you’re in that flow state of race day, I think everybody—no matter what level rider you are—has struggles and doubts and a cascade of angels and demons on their shoulder,” he says. “I think that it makes it incredibly relatable. And my hope is that we told a side of these athletes’ stories that’s more credible to racing, that engages the community more makes it more vulnerable and makes it more transparent.”

It has to be asked: What’s with the obsession with creating Drive to Survive for different sports?

“I marvel at how we fall in love with characters, and characters can pull us into that community. Shows like this are showing what racing is and the nuances of these races and competition, but those things are in there as almost secondary information that you gain by being captivated by the personalities. At the core of it all, it's that human connection. And cycling is just another form of how we express our humanity.”

And of course, now Vandivier is committed to getting more people on bikes. “The underlying message and tone that is that cycling is about promoting a positive lifestyle, and it's about engaging with nature. And it’s about appreciating nature and understanding that we are part of nature,” he says. “I don’t want to cheapen an important story by creating artificial villains or artificial drama in the series. Yes, we embrace the real drama and the real tensions. That’s a valid voice to be given to the grand narrative of what’s happening and how the sport is evolving and growing around us.”

Final question, now that it’s almost launch day: Is it hard to have four months between the final race and the launch of the series? Vandivier laughs at this, because considering Call of a Life Time and live coverage of the events as similar is akin to… well, watching a season of F1 racing versus Drive to Survive.

“Quality is at the ethos and at the heart of everything that I stand for as a director and as a content creator,” he says. “And I hope dang sure that people watch this content and recognize the cinematography and the level of heart and soul that we put into carefully crafting every aspect of how we told the story. Our goal is to give people the type of content that they need in the moment, and right now, I hope people are using this offseason to strengthen themselves, to work on themselves, to continue to evolve in their own way. And I believe that this is a series comes at a point in the year where we're looking forward and asking ourselves individually, what changes we want to make.”

And what’s next for him? Well, other than spending more time on his bike once the release finally happens, he’s signed up for the Downieville Classic in 2024, as well as the Austin Rattler for a second year. “I’m using the racing as benchmarks and goals to not only stay fit, but to keep learning and keep evolving. That’s the whole mindset with this series is just constantly evolving.”

Watch Season 2 on YouTube here.

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