A criminal court judge starts a running club on L.A.’s notorious skid row. Fascinated by the project, Mark and Gabi Hayes decide to tell the story. That’s how this documentary, supported by Sachtler, started, in 2013.
When criminal court judge Craig Mitchell started to lead a running group on a six mile run through the streets of downtown Los Angeles from Skid Row to Chinatown, and back, he knew he was setting up an unorthodox running club.
The club’s members have a point in common: they are residents of Skid Row’s Midnight Mission Shelter. The club is comprised of homeless drug addicts, a recovering single mom and an paroled murderer, people who consider themselves among those least likely to succeed. But as they train together to run in international marathons, they learn to dream big as they are re-acquainted with their own dignity.
Every Monday at 6 am, criminal court judge Craig Mitchell leads the running group on their six mille run. It’s a routine that took them from the streets of LA to a variety of running events, including the Accra International Marathon in Ghana, the LA Marathon and the Rome Marathon in March 2015.
Many of the club members have been living on the streets or in homeless shelters for significant periods of time. They’ve lost everything – their homes, their jobs, their families and relationships. As they run with the Judge, they struggle with their demons and attempt to regain their self-esteem and self-sufficiency. Not everyone succeeds.
Yes, if you’re like me, you’ll feel, by now, there is a story here to be told. It’s hard to not get emotional watching the recent trailer, which prepares the path for the upcoming documentary, Skid Row Marathon. Because there is one! The DP behind the documentary also published some material shot throughout the three years, so it is possible to see how the team reached the actual trailer.
Mark Hayes and his wife Gaby Hayes were fascinated by the judge and his running club, recognizing how important it was to tell this story. They joined the club in 2013, and although Mark does not like to run, Gaby made him run… after a story. Directed by Mark Hayes and produced by his wife Gabi Hayes, the feature length documentary, Skid Row Marathon, follows Judge Craig Mitchell and his running club.
Gabriele (Gaby) was born in the former East Germany. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she was allowed to travel to the West. Gabriele produced the documentary film One Germany, The Other Side of the Wall in 2011. Gabi loves to run and has been with the running club since March, 2013. Mark’s most recent documentary is One Germany, the Other Side of the Wall. He also directed From Red State to Golden State, telling the story of Soviet Jews who emigrated to Los Angeles.
The team behind the documentary also includes James Stolz as director of photography, a freelance cinematographer working for US and German television, editor Ben Dohrmann, who began his editing career as an assistant to several notable documentarians, Kim Planert, a German television and film composer based out of Los Angeles whose past TV credits include: The Whispers (ABC series produced by Steven Spielberg), The Unit (CBS), Lie To Me (FOX) and many others. Yana Gorskaya, the editorial consultant, frequently consults on both documentary and fiction films and received the American Cinema Editor’s Award for her first feature, the Academy Award nominated documentary Spellbound, while editor Tchavdar Georgiev, an Emmy nominated producer, director and editor who has received multiple prizes and has produced for PBS, History Channel, National Geographic, Amazon Studios, USA Networks and MTV.
“It intrigued me because here’s this guy that, as part of his day job and daily responsibilities, is sentencing people to long sentences and life in prison,” explained Mark, who’s been documenting the runners in this passion project for three years. “Yet, on the other hand, he’s reaching out to those same individuals to help them get back into society and be a part of the greater community. He believes in their potential.”
“Any perception that people who suffer from addiction or end up on Skid Row do not possess character traits to achieve great things in their lives is an absolute misperception,” asserted Judge Mitchell in the documentary trailer. “[The runners have] sustained way too much disappointment, too many dreams that have not come to fruition, and I’m not going to let this experience [of the running club] fall into that category.”
The film follows the runners over the course of three years as they battle with the ups and downs of addiction, and how the retreat of the club offered them a second chance.
“We’re trying to tell the story of these people as they reconnect with life, society, and their own dignity. The running club has given them this second chance at life and we’re following these characters as they either succeed or fail when given this second chance,” commented Mark.
But Mark and Gabi faced a few challenges while filming the documentary. Since it’s based on a running club, the subjects would move quickly from place to place, giving Gabi and Mark just a single opportunity to get the shot. The Hayes needed camera supports that were lightweight, set-up quickly and didn’t compromise on the quality of the movement. The solution was using Sachtler’s FSB 8 fluid head paired with the Speedlock tripod. Built for camera operators on the go, Sachtler’s tripods are lightweight and their Speedlock technology helps users set up quickly by having a single release per leg. Additionally, the FSB 8 fluid head has a versatile payload range that supports the wide range of cameras Gabi and Mark use, including the Canon C300, the Sony FS700, and the Sony a7S.
“Once the runners started their run, we can’t tell them to wait while we jump in the car to follow them, so we’d use Sachtler’s Speedlock legs every day. We’d collapse the legs, pop it in the car, put the quick release plate on, level the tripod while we were moving, and then 10 seconds later you’re shooting. The ability to move that around quickly and to drastically change your setups was really made possible by the ease with which we could raise and lower the tripod, balance the head, and then quickly start tilting and panning to follow these runners. It’s carbon fiber legs make it light and maneuverable, but strong and stable at the same time,” said Mark.
Another challenge is that the homeless community doesn’t appreciate being photographed – much less filmed. But Mark and Gabi would run with them every week, and had built up trust within the club and its members year after year. And despite the long production and low budget, their equipment, skills and dedication created a truly engaging story with superior quality.
“The story is about second chances, but as shooters know, you don’t get a second chance so you have to get the shot the first time around. Sachtler helps us get the shot so we can tell the story and capture that emotion. If we didn’t do that, no one would want to watch this documentary. And, for us, Sachtler’s made all the difference.”
According to the website created for the project, “there are over 47,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, which represents the largest concentration of homeless in the nation. It is a complex problem with no easy fixes. Just because it’s a difficult problem doesn’t mean we can’t do something now. Our project will show that people are getting involved and making a difference. We hope to inspire others to become part of the solution, each in their own way.”
To follow Skid Row Marathon go to skidrowmarathon.com