September 27, 2015

Watch: Tarantino-esque 'Moto Borgotaro' Breaks the Biographical Short Doc Mold

Moto Borgotaro
It turns out that not all biographical short docs these days are exactly alike.

A few weeks back, we shared a hilarious parody of a documentary style that has become all too common in today's internet culture. The style consists of plentiful voiceover, often soft and contemplative, slow motion shots of a subject as they take on mundane tasks, copious amounts of silhouetting, backlighting, and shallow depth of field, all of which is topped off with an emotive, atmospheric soundtrack. Of course, these filmmaking techniques are fine in and of themselves, as they can all be effective. However, when they're all used together, and when seemingly everybody is doing it to some extent, our content all starts to look and sound the same.

Roberto Serrini
One of the questions that arose after that piece was published was, "Is anybody out there crafting biographical work that defies convention and raises a middle finger towards the clichéd style of today's short docs?" After watching the following piece from Roberto Serrini, a talented filmmaker based in NYC, the answer to the question will be a resounding, "Hell yes!" The documentary is called Moto Borgotaro, and it's a profile of an enigmatic motorcycle mechanic who, somewhat paradoxically, hates motorcycles, or at least the machismo attitude that surrounds them. The film explores his passion for one bike in particular, the 1979 Moto Guzzi Le Mans, which he rebuilt from scratch. Check it out:

Moto Borgotaro

Not only does Moto Borgotaro defy many of the stylistic conventions that have come to define "maker docs," but it also sets a new standard for the genre of bike shop videos, which almost always feature grinder sparks shot in slow motion. The film accomplishes this by drawing heavily from cinema history to create an aesthetic reminiscent of a spaghetti westerns, grindhouse, and Tarantino films. In the context of a short doc, however, these narrative stylings feel fresh and vibrant, and they definitely help Moto Borgotaro break the mold for what a piece like this can look and feel like.

I had a chance to chat briefly with Roberto about why he chose to make the film this way, and how he went about crafting it:

Peter and his bike are anything but typical. So the film shouldn’t be either. 

I have been doing a lot of work lately with this sick motorcycle shop in Brooklyn called Union Garage. The owner Chris Lesser is always looking to do work that is genuine and just outside the norm. When his partner Peter Boggia decided to build a 1979 Moto Guzzi Le Mans by hand, we knew we needed to document it, and do it in a way that was not like any other bike build movie, i.e. no grinder sparks. Anywhere. Ever. Also, this was something of a great honor because Peter’s not one to ever go on camera, and what he does is really remarkable.

Roberto also talked briefly about how he and his small crew went about shooting this film, including their choice of using mixed capture formats, including some 16mm film:

Moto Borgotaro 16mm

So, we basically threw all we had at it, and we shot the film over two days using a RED Epic, a BMCC, and even an old 16mm Arri we found at a prop house. I wanted to mix a bunch of different formats and shooting styles so that in the edit when I went apeshit on it (like I like to do), it really jumped off the screen. I went with lots of Italian Giallo type music, and found pieces of archival moto footage to give it an even more obtuse feel. I was basically ensuring that it wouldn’t look like your average "maker video", which just saturate the scene these days.

Moto Borgotaro is currently playing in 8 festivals, including the Hollywood and Jalopnik Film Fests in LA, the Williamsburg and Motorcycle Film Fests in NY, and the Aesthetica Film Fest in the UK. If you have any questions for Roberto about the film, leave them down in the comments!     

Your Comment

26 Comments

Nice work! Loved the style.

September 27, 2015 at 4:42PM

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Steve Yager
Filmmaker
313

Thanks Steve!

September 28, 2015 at 1:34AM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

By far one of the best short docs, or doc period, I have ever seen. Really well done and so much fun to watch. Congrats to Serrini and his crew. Really kick ass job!

September 27, 2015 at 5:16PM

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Kico Velarde
Director / Producer / Editor
74

Fine compliment Kico, very much appreciated.

September 28, 2015 at 1:34AM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

It's a pretty nice piece. Sure.

But I just can't get past the irony that this guy who loves subtle, understated, beauty-of-function motorcycles is featured in an incredibly flashy documentary that draws an immense amount of attention to itself without imparting much of an experience to the audience.

"Why is this bike so slick?"

"It's so slick 'cause you can't tell how slick it is."

Unfortunately, we all know how slick this documentary is.

September 27, 2015 at 5:21PM

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Ben Billups
Filmmaker
88

That's an interesting observation. Part of me feels like going with an understated filmmaking style could have been an interesting choice, but I genuinely think the piece wouldn't be as fun to watch, or as effective, if it weren't flashy. For me, the turbocharged style makes for a nice counterpoint to Peter's minimalist bike philosophy. They sort of balance each other out in a way.

September 27, 2015 at 5:44PM

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Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
5350

I can almost see that. And it's true that flashy can be fun. But if you're looking to balance the philosophies, it's a bit unfair to do so by contradicting your subject's point through the film style -- in some ways parodying him to make the opposite point.

The part that disappoints me is that I suspect the filmmakers failed to see how antithetical their approach was to their subject. So I suppose my real issue with the film is that it lacks intentionality.

(i.e., If we assume intentional communication: the film style contradicts the subject who praises subtlety; therefore, the film is against subtlety in art; however, arriving at the opposite conclusion from what is presented on screen is an achievement in subtlety; therefore they were not contradicting the subject? The film lacks clarity which can indicate the filmmaker means "both." However, it's impossible to argue for and against subtlety at the same time. Therefore, it's most likely the filmmakers lacked intentionality with the piece.)

September 27, 2015 at 8:16PM

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Ben Billups
Filmmaker
88

Ben. Excellent observation. I love this. And I can tell you that you are spot on.

I think the style was an attempt to contradict the style of maker videos in general vs. the personal style of my subject. Peter's world, which is custom bikes, is one that is full of flair, boldness, and lots of chatter. Peter isn't like that at all which is why he was such an interesting character to me. My thinking, intentionally I hope, was to make a film that had all the spirit of the custom bike world, but of a subject that actively moved away from it. I was hoping to draw out the contradiction between style of the film and the style of the motorcycle maker.

And at the end of the day just make a face melting edit and a film that was fun to watch.

This was a great comment. It's great to see your own film through someone else's eyes in a way that you may have not even been aware. I thank Robert and NoFilmSchool too for giving us a platform to discover these new perspectives too.

September 28, 2015 at 1:45AM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

A truly professional reply :)

September 28, 2015 at 4:31AM, Edited September 28, 4:31AM

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Matt James Smith
Founder, Lintelfilm Video Production
139

Thank you, Roberto!

I appreciate you taking the time to consider my criticism. I suppose your angle on this topic was more difficult for me to see as I don't have much experience with the custom bike world. However, someone more familiar with it may feel a deeper connection with the subject and the story.

I still love the style and the good work that went into it. So feel free to melt our faces any time.

September 28, 2015 at 12:24PM, Edited September 28, 12:34PM

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Ben Billups
Filmmaker
88

Thanks Ben, and absolutely, I'm all about criticism (I made the mistake of studying Film Theory, which has made me very unpopular at parties and coffee shops;) - Anyway, it's great to get a fresh point of view, and thanks for letting your voice be heard. More face melting to come for sure;)

September 28, 2015 at 5:26PM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

I disagree. I think it works well because the style of the documentary is the yin to his yang, so to speak. That contrast serves to present a fairly un-flashy auto shop and motorcycle in an engaging way.

September 27, 2015 at 5:50PM

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Tim
413

Nailed it Tim;) Thanks.

September 28, 2015 at 1:45AM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

Yep. The film would have been boring as hell if the style reflected the interview subject. You made the right call Roberto. I think Peter is awesome but he treads a line close to pretentious at times (no doubt consciously) - if the film did the same there would be no hope for it. We'd have ended up with something not very far from the parody referenced in the article.

Great article too by the way Robert. This subject of short form docs/promo pieces is really interesting and something I'd like to see more discussion of (not just on NFS but in general). So ... I've just set up a Tumblr, FB page and Twitter for collating info, news and discussion on the topic. Obviously there's not much there right now but if others here would like to contribute to building it as a small resource that would be awesome. More details at http://shortformdocs.com (yep I even bought a URL!).

September 28, 2015 at 4:29AM, Edited September 28, 4:39AM

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Matt James Smith
Founder, Lintelfilm Video Production
139

Also the music is credited but unlicensed. NFS beancounters might want to be wary of linking to something using very obvious unlicensed music like this is.

September 27, 2015 at 5:58PM, Edited September 27, 5:58PM

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This documentary is shot and edited like a music video. Big deal.

September 27, 2015 at 9:17PM

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Mooey
266

Beautifully stylized doco and some refreshingly original visuals and techinques.

My only problem was that sometimes it got lost in those visuals, rather than using them to tell the story. For example, when the subject is talking about a bike being simple and all about lines within the design, instead of showing us the lines, we were seeing cuts and text on screen. So in the end I had no idea what the guy was talking about when he explained the simplicity of the lines of the bike. It was quite ironic, that the dialogue was saying "strip away everything to it's barest form, and just let the design speak for itself", but the visuals were the exact opposite.

Other than that, I love the energy and pace of the doco, so I was right into it!

September 28, 2015 at 2:21AM

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Ben Howling
Writer / Director
692

Ben I totally agree with you (and you've hit on a pretty sore subject for me;). Originally I wanted to take the bike and in post strip away everything but the lines he was talking about, because Peter's theory does line up with his practice. Unfortunately the style of the film made it difficult to introduce something clean and quiet without slowing down the pace to a crawl. In the end I went with flash over fodder, which I do regret. Good comment great observation. Now stop looking into my soul.

September 28, 2015 at 10:33AM, Edited September 28, 10:33AM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

Yeah, I can see the bind you would have been in now. The message and philosophy got across, so no worries at all. Other than that, amazing work mate! Give it a year or two and everyone is gonna be ripping you off (if they've got the patience to do the vfx, mograph and other stylised set ups).

Just out of curiosity, how long did post take?

September 28, 2015 at 5:59PM

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Ben Howling
Writer / Director
692

Thanks Ben, that's quite a compliment;)

The titles took about a day (sourcing the right images was the clincher) ... the edit was maybe a week of messing around, then three solid days to finish. Call it two weeks.

September 28, 2015 at 7:17PM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

Smashing!

September 29, 2015 at 2:26AM, Edited September 29, 2:26AM

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Clive Rose
Photographer
288

Thanks Clive!

September 29, 2015 at 6:57PM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

Great stuff! I think the intentionality critique is very valid but doesn't take away from my appreciation of this piece. I come from a commercial radio production background: long form docs with a primary V/O, music clips, sound bites and FX. It's nice to see video interview footage, b-roll footage, archival footage and text - all with different textures - cut together with a similar energy, pace, meaning and confidence. My only disappointment was with the interview audio. Definitely think that could've been handled much much better. That said, this piece was inspiring. Well done.

September 29, 2015 at 8:37PM, Edited September 29, 8:37PM

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Ty Harper
Producer/Documentarian/Broadcaster
152

Thanks Ty and valid comment. Audio is by far the most important aspect (me thinks) in film... that being said, without any dedicated sound person on set, we had our challenge set against us... and I am unfortunately the worlds 2nd worst mixer;) But glad you dug the mix media and more importantly the energy... means a lot.

October 18, 2015 at 6:58PM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507

The editing was great but the constant focus shifting was overdone. I wanted to see certain things but they went fuzzy too quickly. It was as if the story was the camera play and not the bikes.

October 1, 2015 at 11:13PM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
793

True Ryan... this definitely was more about cinema and less about bike... and that just comes from being a selfish filmmaker. I am more interested in look and less in information. Frankly, the bike is so fantastic, it would take a feature length film to fully explain it's complexity properly. This was just meant to give you a boner... for the love making, you'll have to go visit Peter in the shop;)

October 18, 2015 at 7:00PM

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Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor
507