Behind the Gate is co-directors Jack Lucarelli and Mark Giardino’s documentary about the tremendous efforts that go into training a racehorse for the Kentucky Derby.
Casting his own purebreds as stars of the film, Mark Giardino (both co-director and executive producer) strips horse-racing of its notorious corruption and exposes the purity and glory at its core. Fighting the traditional associations with gambling and animal cruelty within the horse-racing industry, the film’s infectious compassion towards its star athletes deigns them all the respect of its human characters. “We were well aware of the state of racing,” says Giardino, “and we wanted to do something positive for the sport… One of the main reasons we made this film is to help the industry, which is now in a tailspin.”
MovieMaker spoke to Giardino about snagging the involvement of Joe Pesci (amongst other famous names), and his baptism-of-fire learning curve in documentary fundraising. Behind the Gate is available to watch instantly on MovieMaker‘s VOD theater.
MovieMaker Magazine (MM): How did you assemble the right team for the movie, both onscreen and off? How did you become aware that your subjects were involved in the horse-racing industry?
Mark Giardino (MG): I’ve been involved with the horse-racing industry and with the entertainment industry for well over three decades. As an actor, I loved every minute of it. I have been interested in horse-racing as a spectator ever since I was just a kid from New York and I would go to the track with my father and his friends. Now I participate in horse racing as an owner with partners and with my wife.
Early on, Joe Pesci and I became friends—lifelong friends—and as we both had interests in both fields, it was an extension of the love that we have for one another. When the project first began, it was going to be nothing more than a love letter to the sport from my wife, Daryle Ann. My wife had wanted to do a film on horse-racing for over 20 years. When we started the project, it seemed like it was the right time. We were well aware of the state of racing and we wanted to do something positive for the sport.
Our associations with jockeys like Aaron Gryder and Laffit Pincay Jr., trainers like Doug O’Neill, Ron McAnally and others, as well as tracks, track executives, and the fans made for the perfect opportunity to tackle a film on the history of this sport. These associations, our relationships with some filmmakers and friends, along with the good folks at HRTV and TVG, helped us to secure the team we would need at the track. Of course the team changed as the film took well over a year to make, but we made some good choices early and that carried us through.
MM: What inspired your interest in horse-racing, and why were you compelled to produce a documentary on the subject?
MG: My interest was based more in the sport of horse-racing. Over the last 30 years, horse-racing has taken a beating. It used to be that we’d stop everything we were doing to listen to a race featuring horses like Secretariat, Seabiscuit or John Henry, but now we’ve been relegated back to one of the minor sports out there.
Horse-racing is one of our greatest sports. Thoroughbreds are the greatest athletes on the planet and because of mismanagement, the lack of a commissioner, limited television coverage, attacks from groups that don’t understand the sport, and yes, even some horrible treatment of some of these animals, the sport has taken a beating.
We had to tell this story. We had to let people know just how wonderful these athletes are. Take away the gambling, take away the tracks and you still have one of the most magnificent animals in the world to watch and experience. We had to tell their story, the positive side of their story.
MM: Documentary financing is notoriously difficult. How were the funds raised?
MG: Well, that is a story unto itself. I had one budget in mind and one budget only. Boy, was I wrong. I don’t care who you are; you cannot create a film starring Academy Award-winner Joe Pesci, Superbowl champion Dwight Hicks, and six-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya, along with a musical score from multi-Grammy award-winner Mike Post, and do it cheap. It was only because of their mutual passion for horse-racing and their long-term relationships with me that I was able to do it.
I funded the documentary, and believe me when I say: It hurt. When we needed more money, I reached again and again and again until we had a finished film. I didn’t think it was fair to ask other people to fund my dream and the dreams of my wife with this film, but I did.
With the star power we had, I thought that raising funds would be pretty simple, but you have to understand that this film went from being a small project to something so big that I’m not even sure I understood how big or how good it could be. We didn’t know that in the beginning, so how could I go to friends and investors and tell them something that I wasn’t even sure of? On top of that, there is still the question of how the film will be received, by not just the horse-racing industry, but by the public at large.
MG: The biggest challenge is still yet to come. We have a deal with Yekra.com for our online distribution, but after that we have to still find domestic, international, cable, direct market, DVD and other sales streams. On top of that we have to get the word out about this film to serve the industry and the sport that we love so much.
One of the main reasons we made this film is to help the industry, which is now in a tailspin. We have four documentaries about the sport to follow. This was not a one-off deal. For my wife and I, this is about something so much bigger than us. Would I do everything the same way as I did with Gate? Would I use the same people? Would I believe everything everyone told me? No, absolutely not. But would I still make the film? Would I still take the risks I took? Absolutely—yes.
MM: Are there any lessons you took away from the experience with Behind the Gate?
MG: Well, I’ve been around a very long time, and I’ve learned that filmmaking and the entertainment industry are a lot like life. When you make a film, you learn whom you can trust and whom you can’t trust. You learn that even the things you believe you can count on are not always guaranteed, and that whatever can go wrong, may or will go wrong. Then again, you also learn that people who you never thought might give you a chance or come out to help will have your back in ways you’d never expect. You learn that even in a world where technology changes faster than a kid in a candy store changes his mind, the story is more important than what camera you use or the post-production system your editor cuts on. What I learned was something I always believed—story is king. As is the horse for us. MM
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