Interview with Stu Thomson | Director of Latest Danny Macaskill Video "The Ridge"

Trials cyclist Danny Macaskill released a new video featuring a ride through unthinkable terrain in his homeland of Scotland. The daring exploit took place on the Cuillin Ridge in the Isle of Skye, where the spectacular scenery alone is worth the price of admission. The beauty of the Scottish landscape, mixed with the technical and dangerous mountain bike riding is absolutely thrilling to watch. The pinnacle shot, where Danny climbs up a ridge with bike in tow, closes the film and solidifies Danny as a death defying badass. We reached out to the director of the film, Stu Thomson, to ask a few questions about the making of this project. 

danny macaskill the ridge photo

I've read that this was more of a personal project for you and Danny than the typical video you guys do, that is awesome. Can you talk a bit about what drives you to create new material and what keeps you going as a director?

For me creatively I love the challenge of producing something different to what is out there.  Coming from a background of bikes and extreme sports there is so much amazing content out there that its so hard to set yourself apart.  I also love threading even the simplest of narratives into our films, its something I feel the wider public relate to more than just amazing cinematography and action.

The Ridge also had a little extra motivation as we had put the whole project together ourselves.  It was something Danny and I had been talking about for a while and we began early this year trying to pull the whole thing together.  It was certainly a big undertaking given the difficult location access and hugely unpredictable Scottish weather so for us it was always going to be risky and difficult to pull off.  We decided many months ago that Cut Media would not only handle the production but also myself and Danny would work together to raise the budget needed, but we’d spread that budget over several parties rather than one specific client.  That way we had creative control and no-one other than ourselves had the final say on the film.  The brands we worked with (Five Ten, ENVE Composites and Santa Cruz Bikes) were so relaxed about it but also put so much faith in us.  We’re so grateful to them for believing in our idea.

danny macaskill nose wheelie reflection photo

How is it working with Danny Macaskill? Maybe describe how you guys come up with ideas for these videos? The process of filming together?

Everything always begins with Danny and the riding he wants to do.  The last two films I’ve created with him have been polar opposites, Imaginate and The Ridge.  It always starts with Danny though, with Imaginate he had decided that he wanted to make a new film indoors where as the Ridge began with him wondering if that specific Ridge could be ridden along with a desire to promote the Isle of Skye (where he grew up).  From those basic outlines its just about developing the idea and seeing what riding is possible.  Danny has a huge amount of input at the beginning and we work together to build a vision for the films.  What I love about working with Danny is that he’s equally as driven as I am to make the best film possible, neither of us will stop until it is as we want it.  Once he has pinpointed the riding/tricks he can and wants to do it then falls on me to show it off the best we can.

A film like Imaginate was reasonably well storyboarded given the different props etc to build and then ride, where as The Ridge was far more organic, we scouted the location and came up with a list of parts of the Ridge that could be ridden.  We didn’t actually get a bike there until the shoot though so it really was all worked out once we got to each location there each day.  

isle of skye scotland photo

You've alluded to the pressure that comes with creating each new epic Macaskill video, how does that effect your creative process?

Its definitely tough.  I’m so proud of the films we’ve made together but the quality is so high and they have been so popular online that you have this pressure of living up to them each time we release a new one.  I think its maybe why The Ridge has done so well because we both thought that it would never be as big...  The fact that he was riding a full mountain bike and not really performing too many tricks kind of had us thinking it wouldn’t have the same appeal, we were definitely making this one for no other reason than we wanted to make it.

bts the ridge danny macaskill photo

Within 15 seconds or so of starting "The Ridge", I'd decided that a trip to the Isle of Skye has to happen..that is one damn motivating location. What was the hardest part about filming there?

Oh man, the access…  It was a serious effort to just get to the filming locations.  The Cuillin Ridge is 7 miles long and to get to the easiest summit is at least 2 hours of hiking up (and then 2 hours back).  We had to carry food, water and all our camera gear (including the drone and 8 batteries for it) in and out each day.  The longest day on the mountain was8am until 1am and included a total of 7 hours of hiking for 5 shots in the film.  

hiking photo gear the ridge video

What is next you, what are you working on now? Do you have any major career goals you'd like to accomplish?

We’ve just wrapped on a few projects recently and have a couple more to deliver to clients before the year is out.  We’ve made a cool film with motorbike trials rider Dougie Lampkin for Red Bull which I’m excited about and also a long form ‘making of’ the Ridge for TV broadcast which is exciting for us...  Longer term I want to make another proper long form adventure doc which is something I’m working on putting together for next year.  Generally though I’m just stoked with the direction our company (Cut Media) is going and the quality of what we produce, so I’m definitely driven to build that.  We have such an amazing team behind our recent films and I love working with those guys so it definitely motivates me to grow as a collective rather than a personal career goal as such.

behind the scenes stu thomson photo

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Anonymous's picture

I was impressed with the work you guys did on Imaginate but I think you set the bar even higher here. Both in terms of the riding and the cinematography, stunning work guys -- kudos!!

Simon Whitehead's picture

Held my breath for 8 minutes - absolutely stunning footage and insane riding. Crazy Bastard!

Ansel Spear's picture

I thought "Way Back Home" was a goody - but this excels that. Well done.

Somebody need to roll back my tongue and close my jaw. This is really insane i'm really impress.

Christian Berens's picture

WOW!! On top of being a beautiful film, that dude has some major balls, everything 4 minutes and after is beyond crazy lol

I'm up in Skye at the minute, heading to out to the Cuillins tomorrow if the weather is ok (been miserable the last few days!)

Bavarian DNA's picture

This is absolutely insane unthinkable work, wonderfully executed and great performance from Danny behalf. Adrenaline rush into my vines

Wayne Du Bruyn's picture

Amazing captures , absolutely inspiring video. Love where your going with your work....Big fan !