Meeting The Superhumans

(Source: James Ballardie / Channel Four)

90 seconds of heart-pounding, arms raising, inspirational imagery;  Channel 4’s Meet the Superhumans is a glimpse of the athletes pushing the envelopes at the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Director Tom Tagholm talks over just what it took he and his crew to make the most of the opportunity to show the world who, and what , these incredible athletes can, and will, be doing in their respective events. James Ballardie of Channel Four had a chance to chat with Tom about the ambitious project, shedding light on some of the production details for the heart-pounding piece.

Tom Tagholm: 

“The brief came in towards the end of last year and obviously it was a pretty big one. And as with any brief for Channel 4 – but really more so on this than on any other – we knew we had to make some noise. We knew we had to add some edge and grit and attitude.”

.. “And so we narrowed it down to about four or five concepts that we thought could be really strong, but then someone came up with this line – Meet The Superhumans’. We really loved the attitude and the scale and the confidence of it. So we just built up from there to create the strongest, the most impactful concept we could get to run across TV and posters and online and in the press.

“You always have challenges when making films. We did about 15 or 16 days shooting in total, which is a hell of a lot for a project like this. We filmed at a lot of Paralympic test events which was very tricky in terms of access and how close we could get to the competitors and what sort of camera angles we could find that were new and felt special. It was a case of all the camera operators and myself keeping our eyes open at all times because there were people that we found and moments that we saw that we could have never predicted.

“And as well as the live sport scenes, we also storyboarded some of the more iconic shots from the very beginning. There’s one shot of a swimmer diving in to the pool with a camera strapped to her back – we had to invent a rig that allowed the camera to not only go in the water with her but to be sufficiently separated from the rest of her body so that you could see the whole of her back and head and arms as she made her way in to the water.

“There’s also another slow mo shot of two wheelchair rugby chairs crashing into each other. We were shooting that on Phantom cameras and knew that we had to get right in to the middle of the crash, which meant some really careful choreography and great set design. It was a really tricky balance trying to get that feeling of absolute naturalism whilst at the same time trying to get right in the heart of the action.

“But whether it was a live sport shot or a storyboarded shot – we really didn’t want to shoot around the particular physical attributes of these athletes and their disabilities. We wanted to absolutely embrace all of that – their stance, the ways they’ve adapted to their sport, the ways that they use their bodies. It’s very much ‘Here we are!’ y’know? There’s no tiptoeing around anything.

“As for the scenes in the middle with the explosion and car crash and the mother in the hospital – we thought long and hard about how to include them because one thing that we weren’t interested at all in doing was an advert which said ‘Isn’t it great that these guys have made it to the start line?’ That just didn’t interest me and I don’t think it interested the channel.

“What I wanted to do though was just get a flashback moment – to show that it’s a part of what they are now and a part of their physicality. I didn’t want to dwell on it, just to give a hint, a moment of just how tough these characters have had to be. I could have put those scenes at the beginning or the end of the trailer but I think it’d have been weirdly less impactful that way – having them where they are stops you right in your tracks and hits you in the face.”

How has Channel 4’s Meet The Superhumans impacted you?

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