Interview with Felipe Bustos Sierra, the director of “The Three-Legged Horses”
Gosia: You are a writer, director and producer. After years of moving from place to place you eventually settled down for longer in Edinburgh where you’ve started Debasers Filums. What is your focus as a film director?
Felipe Bustos Sierra: I love great storytelling. I love stories that take you seamlessly to a moment or a place you couldn’t picture from the start. I’ve made four shorts so far and they all take place in different settings but they all essentially tell the same story: someone sets off on their own and through their work/commitment/enthusiasm/skill/all of the above, a community has rallied around them and made a bigger impact than what they could have achieved alone.
The “Three-Legged Horses” is inspired by a true story that happened to you when you earned your living as a rickshaw driver. Could you tell us about that memorable night that inspired the climactic scene in the film? But let’s not reveal the unexpected turn of events towards the end of the movie.
I was a rickshaw driver in Edinburgh for about two years. My knees were in a bad state by the end of it. Edinburgh’s all hills and cobblestones and we’d often end up cycling standing upright. It helps to keep the momentum going when you’re cycling uphill but on a rickshaw, the pressure on your joints is so strong, your kneecaps start to erode. Once I figured that out, I decided to finish the month making as much money as I could. Mostly everything went wrong and the second half of the film is a pretty accurate description of what happened next. The moment at the very end of that night (and the last scene in the film) remains one of the happiest moments of my life.
This short low-budget movie was a real community effort. You managed to involve quite a big crew.
It just wouldn’t have happened without it. I didn’t go to film school. I’m learning as I’m going, which has its advantages and drawbacks. As a film production, it was beyond anything I’d done before. Five nights in winter filming entirely outdoors, lots of speaking parts, lots of different locations with sound curfews. It was a long week for everyone involved! We had a mix of experienced film people who offered their skills and friends who gave their time and everyone’s talents made the film what it is. There were about 40 people involved in shooting the last scene underneath the castle, not counting the extras. “Three-Legged Horses” was also the first successfully crowd-funded film in Scotland. We raised the budget through two campaigns, one for filming, one for the music. There’s a very famous song sung by a very drunk man (which is what happened to me) and it plays a big part in the last scene. It was quite expensive to get but it connected with people immediately and there were about 120 donations from all over the world to make the film happen.
In the trailer to the movie it is said: “It’s a gamble, it’s a game”. Does pedicabbing require, apart from fitness, any particular abilities?
It’s a mad job, no question, and everyone seemed to have a different way of coping with it. It must be even harder now because there are a lot more drivers around and possibly more competition. You hire your rickshaw for the weekend and you hope to earn enough on the Friday night to cover your rent. Then Saturday is all profit. Some weekends are more lucrative because there’s a big sports/music event happening somewhere in the city but it’s all a gamble. There’s a limited amount of hours to make good money and rain, punctures, steep streets, drunks, random assholes will slow you down. You set a standard fee at the start of the lift, depending on how far and how steep you’ll need to cycle. After that, you might get an extra tip and that really depends on anything memorable happening during the lift and who you are and who your passengers are. There’s a lot of randomness at play and it pays – sometimes literally – to be open to it.
Is cycling a part of people’s lifestyle in Edinburgh which is pretty hilly and notorious for its windy and chilly weather?
You get used to it. Edinburgh looks glorious. It’s almost as if it’s been designed for great pay-offs. You cycle up the North Bridge and there’s an ancient volcano on your left. You cycle up the Mound and there’s a castle on your right. It’s never boring.
Can you tell us about a bicycle film that has particularly inspired or moved you?
I love Breaking Away. Great story, characters and cinematography. Like Stand By Me (which is my favourite film) with bicycles. I’ve got a soft spot for American Flyers, an early Kevin Costner film, which is nowhere near as good but the bike scenes are fantastic.
Thank you. A pleasure to talk with you.