After several previous successful collaborations within the commercial and music video world, most notably on Gareth Emery’s 'U' which Hankoff shot and Maxwell directed, the duo decided the time was right to join forces on a project they could sink their teeth into.
The pair found inspiration for YELLOW while shooting a 'U' in Arizona, back in November of 2013. They describe the beginning of their creative process as eerie and almost prophetic, discovering a dirt racetrack at night in the middle of nowhere and taking inspiration from the assault on the senses they experienced; roaring engines, dust filled air and bright flood lights piercing the vast and empty desert.
Maxwell comments, “The appeal of making a film such as this was the opportunity to get to know a lifestyle outside our own — deep dive into something different as opposed to portray what’s familiar. Making this film felt like summer camp. We would go out to Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey on the weekends, watch races, get to know the drivers, their pit crews, families and shoot around a little bit without an objective. Its development took that of a documentary approach, we wanted to immerse ourselves and earn the community’s trust.”
Energized and motivated by their prophetic desert experience, the pair began scouting East Coast locations, while Maxwell worked on YELLOW’s script. They settled on Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, NJ.
The Thrill Factor
Hankoff and Maxwell spent most of their weekends that summer scouting the speedway, these trips has a dual purpose, allowing the co-directors to authentically choose a race series for their story and select a real-life driver to play the lead role of Davy. For the protagonist, they decided on Jesse ‘The Thrill’ Hill, a third-generation New Jersey driver.
The duo established close relationships with the drivers, pit crew and families over time, and it paid off. The thrill of being able to connect with people in a human level, get to know them and their world allowed the Hankoff and Maxwell to find the grittiness and authenticity they were in search for.
Despite spending several months documenting the racing community in New Jersey, the shoot itself was carried out over a five-day period.
Hankoff and Maxwell spent a great deal of time testing rigs to get a stable on-board camera, allowing them to diminish the constant bounce and chatter of the racing cars. Red Epic served as YELLOW’s A-camera, recording full-frame 5K. GoPro’s were modified and mounted with specific lenses, giving the shots a more cinematic look.
Maxwell continues, “The race scenes were a combination of choreographed set-ups with shooting actual races. They were cut together in such a way that gives our film a sense of scale that we would never otherwise be able to achieve for our modest budget. There were only two races a night in the heat that our story revolved around and a quick turnaround between them. We had our own heart pounding race in that interval as we blazed around the track switching up our camera angles. Our race cars were golf carts so a little less exciting for the crowd…Gas powered golf carts though!”
The Mill’s team of VFX artists played an integral part in bringing the story to life, with the film culminating in a dramatic wreck. Playing into the aesthetic of the film, the team integrated as series of understated effects that heightened the realism of the final climactic shot, before Colourist Mikey Rossiter seamlessly tied the rich and gritty visuals together in the final grade.