5 Questions: ‘IMMOO 240 Frames Per Second’s’ Steve Donovan

“…there is an audience for the athletes and there’s an audience for the audience…”

For those outside of the state’s cabal of fitness maniacs, IMMOO 240 Frames Per Second‘s title doesn’t make much sense. Parsing out “IMMOO” yields a nickname for the IRONMAN Wisconsin competition (“IM” for the race, “MOO” for the rest) but even dedicated triathletes can’t appreciate those 240 frames without seeing this balletic short film in person.

And “seeing” is the operative focus. Painting the state’s 2015 competitors in grand, languid fashion, Steve Donovan’s film is as much about the people watching the race as it is about the race itself. Slowed-down kinetics capture triathletes when they first touch the water all the way to the crazed, costumed crowds cheering at the finish line. It’s a compressed timeline, and IMMOO is all the better for it, spooling together an accordion-like six minutes from a race that takes six hours to finish.

In continuing our “5 Questions” series with 2016’s “Wisconsin’s Own” directors, I talked to Steve Donovan about his beautiful exercise in, well, exercise:

1. Your camera gets so close to faces, but you’re also high above racers, shooting from the side, along the lake, etc. How did you manage the obvious logistics challenges with shooting an IRONMAN race?

I’m glad you asked this. A big thanks was given to Judy Frankel at the end of the film. She helped secure media credentials for me. This gave me access to many places I wouldn’t have otherwise could have gone.

2. This is such an intense feat of endurance, so I’m curious: Did any competitors have the time or energy to notice you and your camera?

Everybody was so wrapped up in what was going on that I don’t think so. Like you said, it’s an intense day. These athletes have been training for months and years. It also helped that I shot this with a very small camera.

3. Did you go into IMMOO knowing you’d ramp up your frame rate?

That was whole idea behind shooting this. The IRONMAN Wisconsin has never been shot at such a high frame rate. It’s been shot by so many photographers and videographers (wonderfully, mind you) and I wanted something extraordinarily different in tone and technical work since it’s not your typical film about a sporting event. That being said, I began shooting this with one concept and it went through two more incarnations before it became what it is today.

4. Lizzie Weber’s music adds this ballet-like effect to everything. What about that song seemed like a good fit?

God, that song. If you look her up, you’ll see that she actually has lyrics for the song. She even had a short film/music video made for it. It’s so very beautiful. I felt like it was a good fit because I just wanted the audience to watch it and wonder what was going to happen next. The song seemed to have that same quality. It keeps you guessing where it’s going.

5. The festival guide notes the importance of the spectacle and the spectators. I didn’t notice it at first, but there’s a definite emphasis on the crowds, too: the dude in the devil costume, the guy with the djembe, the onlooker wearing a DeadMau5 mask. You have that great shot of competitors biking past as spectators race after to encourage them. Is part of IMMOO about those watching, too?

Yes. It’s tough to give an elevator speech about such a short film and Ben Reiser’s write up did the best job. The IRONMAN Wisconsin has such huge support, that it has gotten to a point where there is an audience for the athletes and there’s an audience for the audience, if you get what I’m saying. This race is an amazing spectacle that we’re lucky to have here. I don’t think we can know at what depths the effects it has on our city.

  • IMMOO 240 Frames Per Second plays as part of the “Mad About Madison” program on Sat, Apr 16 at 11:00a at the Barrymore Theatre.