Messenger turned filmmaker, Chase Bauer, has an obsession with the Bullitt Bike. He’s making the first feature length film about it. This year he travelled the globe following the niche cargo bike around cycling events, meeting riders, frame builders and families who share the love. I met him at the European Cycle Messenger Championships in Copenhagen and the Cycle Messenger World Championships in Paris. He was constantly papping the bikes with a grin on his face. I asked him some questions about his project.
Hi Chase. Who are you?
I’m 28 years old and in the process of retiring from bike messengering in Chicago and transitioning into doing freelance filmmaking work full time. I’ve been a Buddhist practitioner since I was 16 years old and completed seminary with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in 2011. I love making still and moving images with any tool that can capture them.
How would you describe your relationship with cycling? When did it begin and what have been the stages to it?
For me, cycling is a self-prescribed outlet for my anxieties and frustrations. Nothing quite makes sense to me the way riding does. It connects me to my body and helps me connect to my environment and my senses, and it has a way of shaking the dust off stale thoughts and habitual patterns. It also joins fun and practicality – it’s rare to find something that connects those two and I think this is one reason that despite all the other modes of transportation that have been invented, cycling remains something people are are loyal to. I’ve loved cycling since I was a kid. In 2007 I was 18 and moving into the city in Chicago. I converted an old road frame to a fixed gear and that was when it started to become more of a serious passion for me.
Then I moved to Boulder, CO where I unintentionally took a break from riding for a couple years. I found it again while a relationship was crumbling almost five years ago now. After that breakup I left Boulder on a touring bike with no money or map and ended up doing a hobo-style tour around Colorado for a month. It ended up being about 750 miles before I finished up and decided to get a job as courier.
That’s when it went from being a serious passion to being everything for me. My life was really nasty at the time and if I didn’t have cycling I don’t know what would have ended up happening to me. I think cycling has saved my life two or three times.
I was messengering in Chicago for about three and a half years, the last year of which I was teaching myself filmmaking. So far everything I have learned has been self taught and funded by working on my bike.
When did the obsession with the Bullitt bike come about?
I think it came about the first moment I saw one. I had just moved back home to Chicago after that horrible time in Colorado, and I walked into Ciclo Urbano in Humboldt Park and there was a Bullitt sitting in the shop. At the time I was still really shaken up and kind of scared of everyone in Chicago, and the mechanic there just had a really kind way about him. He asked me with a twinkle in his eye if I wanted to take the Bullitt around the block. I was so in love with that bike and what it represented. That mechanic, Brandon (@chicagocargo) ended up becoming my best friend eventually and I was able to get his old Bullitt for a steal.
Has your love of ‘regular’ bikes fallen by the wayside now?
Pretty much. It’s hard to explain.
Tell me about your project in a nutshell and why it’s had you traveling around the world.
This is not going to be an informational video about the history of the cargo bike and why you should buy one and how it’s going to change the world. This is a learning process and the project is based on open questions about our world, about what is moving us forward and what is not, about our cultural priorities and how they influence our decisions, and about whether or not we are looking clearly at the effects caused by those decisions. A lot of documentary films that fail are made by people trying to press their ideology onto their viewers. Instead of taking that approach I am presenting the Bullitt as a kind of emblem or reference point that can help us while we digest some of those questions. I have about half of the footage I need, which I gathered in Europe this summer.
“The automobile was kind of a blip in Danish history, something that happened and that the Danes are coping with”
The other half will be filmed here in the US, and the film will use contrast as a means to understand some of these concepts about cultural priorities and where those lead. When I was in Denmark I very much got the feeling that the automobile was kind of a blip in Danish history, something that happened and that the Danes are coping with. There is no Danish auto industry that I know of, so the cities aren’t handicapped by auto industry lobbyists and money being funnelled into all things highway and the sprawl that follows. You can feel it in Danish cities. The United States have basically been colonised by the auto industry, which creates needs we didn’t have before and keeps the poor impoverished while trampling our open spaces and stealing resources. And for what? AC and bad pop music on the way to work? But these are ideas I don’t have the energy or desire to force feed to anyone, so I’m making a film which I hope will be entertaining that also lays out these contrasting environments and lets people make up their own minds.
I don’t know if that was a nutshell.
Where’s your project taken you?
I spent about 7 weeks in Europe this summer. I was in Copenhagen for the most part, but visited Humlum, Aarhus, Berlin, and Paris too! I actually did not think I would make it to Berlin or Paris but was able to do a paid film job in Berlin which funded the rest of the trip.
What’s been one of your most memorable Bullitt-related experiences?
Oh jeez, so many! There are some I can’t even talk about! I would say my most memorable experience was spending five days with a family on the west coast of Denmark in a little town called Humlum. The family, the Barfoeds are probably the biggest Bullitt fans in the world, and when I visited I think they had nine of them in the garage, all outfitted differently and in different colours.
The town is so small, only about 450 households, a pizza shop, and a grocery store. There is a steady, aggressive wind from the east all day every day, and even though I was there in the middle of July it was cold and rainy almost the whole time. This family is very active on social media and I went there to document their story for the feature film I’m working on about the culture revolving around the Bullitt. I think everyone in the Bullitt community has questions about the family – they really do stand out. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why do they have so many Bullitts? What do they use them for? I went there to get to the root of some of these questions. When I got off the train the entire family was there waiting for me on their bikes with an extra Bullitt, helmet, and rain jacket.
I spent five days eating with them and riding around rural Denmark. I was able to get almost half a terabyte of footage of the family doing their thing. I won’t give away anything else now, but it was a very memorable and heart warming experience.
I have a lot of love for that family and how fearlessly and relentlessly themselves they are. They don’t care what anyone thinks of them and they live a good life. I think that’s beautiful.
ECMC and CMWC were both just great opportunities for me to get footage that supports the stories I’m telling. I’ll admit that it was really challenging for me to get actual story content during these events because there was just so much going on, and filming a race and trying to tell a story about who is winning and following a character as he tries to win, all of that would require a crew to do well if it was my style, which it is not. I’ve never been a competitive person so I’m not a big racer but it is always great to go to these events and be part of the forums and be with my messenger friends from across the world, many of whom are like family to me. I’m very grateful to have gone!
What’s your hope for the project?
Of course, my first priority is creating a film that is true to its own subjects. I hope to accurately and compassionately empower the stories that people are brave enough to tell on camera by composing them in something that a broad audience will be intrigued by and learn something from.
A big part of this project is that I’m really working hard to enter the world of independent filmmaking. Most filmmakers will say “start with what you know” and I’ve taken that to heart. I hope the film ends up being moving enough and good enough to get people’s attention, and I hope it shows people what I’m capable of so I can keep telling important stories. Talk is cheap in this industry and I am trying to make a point of showing that I will work my ass off and put everything on the line for this craft. A lot of hopes for this project have already come to fruition. Traditionally one doesn’t take pictures on a pilgrimage, but going to Copenhagen and becoming close to so many of the people who make Larry vs Harry possible did feel like something of a pilgrimage to me. I wasn’t expecting to change and grow as much as I did, it actually changed my life and my worldview.
When’s it going to be finished?
I am aiming to be done with production by the end of January and have it edited and finished by May. I am hoping to enter it in the Bicycle Film Festival and may distribute it for sale independently on a platform like Vimeo. It is hard to say with complete certainty what will happen on that end. I am open to distribution deals if that seems like the best route to take and the film is doing well. My main priority though is to just get it out there and get it seen.
What are you up to next? Right now I am launching Weatherfield as a small production company with my partner Alexandria. I feel excited to create visual stories full time and I really do love every step of the process, it fulfils me in so many ways. I knew it would take a lot to peel me away from messengering but I do think I’ve found my passion and my medium and I intend to pursue it fully. Part of the idea behind this project was to tell stories I’m close to as I learn, and this will prepare me for other more challenging stories and environments.
I’ll continue to make documentary films and intend to cover more and more challenging stories, of which there is no shortage these days, unfortunately.