Don Hampton, a mountain biker with a passion for film, followed a group of professional riders to the rough trails of Jamaica to make his first sports movie.
It didn’t sell well, though, and Hampton realized his audience simply wanted action without much plot.
“When we started, people were hungry to see what was capable on a bike,” said the founder of DH Productions, a small film production and marketing company based in Spring Mills. “No one really wanted true stories.”
So for almost 10 years, Hampton produced successful action and instructional mountain bike films, but his return to storytelling in a 2007 film called “Sevenvision: The Cut” has been a hit with audiences and critics.
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The film, commissioned by Cannondale Bicycle Corp., is a documentary of seven mountain bikers from the United States, Australia, Canada, France and Germany who have different riding styles but all use Cannondale bikes.
And it’s clear that Hampton finally has the audience he lacked 10 years ago.
The film is expected to sell 20,000 copies, has sold well in Europe and has been accepted to several prestigious sports film festivals.
“Sevenvision: The Cut” premiered in April at the Sea Otter Classic in California and was named the top professional film at the 2007 Megavalanche in Alpe d’Huez, France.
Back in the United States, it will be screened between Jan. 19 and 23 at the 8th Annual X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival in Salt Lake City.
The film begins in the Cannondale USA factory in Bedford, where its bicycles are made, and then follows each rider with footage across Europe and the United States, including a trick off the back wall of a Penn State building.
Cameras were attached to helmets and zip lines in the Utah desert and the Canadian forest, and interviews about the trial and passion for riding are caught in settings reveal the character of each rider.
“You bring the viewer in and let them be sort of a fly on the wall,” Hampton said as he described his documentary style. “The script is just using the interviews to tell the story.”
Hampton won four Emmy Awards for his television documentaries and sports stories for WPSU, where he worked for 10 years before going full time with his own company.
Hampton is proud of the recognition Sevenvision has received and said he doesn’t think it would have been possible without all those action films he made or his own experience as a competitive biker.
“This is my most polished video so far,” he said. “But our other videos are known for being gritty and true to the roots.”
Hampton was a competitive rider until 2004, and much of his early video was captured when he brought his camera along on rides with friends.
Now it’s the pursuit of the best action shots, candid quotes and colorful scenery that gets his blood pumping.
“I like shooting and being out with the athletes. That’s the fun part,” he said. “Sitting here in the office is the necessary evil.”
Hampton travels worldwide to film his subjects and is gone from his wife and two boys as long as two weeks of every month.
When he filmed Sevenvision in 2006, he tried to minimize the impact on his family by filming for two weeks and then coming home for two weeks over the course of several months.
In Spring Mills, he has built a home on land purchased from his wife’s family. His editing suite, where two employees help piece together the films and sound, and an office are attached to the home in a quiet setting of farmland where no one would guess movies are being made.
Hampton recently traded his digital-video camera for two high-definition cameras, which he’ll use for his next feature and an upcoming documentary he’s filming for Rush HD, an extreme sports channel that often sells content to the National Geographic television network.
“This has really opened up some opportunities,” Hampton said, referring to Sevenvision. He said he plans to continue to make biking documentaries from his little office nestled below Brush Mountain, but he’s happy in the knowledge that he has a global audience.
“I’ve been lucky and fortunate,” Hampton said. “I enjoy doing what I do.”