30th July 2021

‘The Road To Tokyo’: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Story

GB Rowing has been one of the mainstays of Team GB’s Olympics medal bid ever since the days of Redgrave and Pinsent. As the rowing finals play out at Tokyo 2020 this week, there’s one Lease Loop customer who’ll be taking a greater interest than most: Adam Heayberd.

Founder and Editor of Truly Visual Post Production, his latest documentary, ‘The Road to Tokyo’, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Olympic and Paralympic rowing squads. Yet it isn’t just a documentary. It’s a project of love, passion, teamwork, and dedication. We recently spoke to Adam to hear the story behind it…

How it began

As well as working in film and television, I’ve been a rower for the past two decades. So, when a project on the athletes’ final run up to the Olympics came about, I jumped at the chance. Our Director of Photography and I pitched an ambitious idea (beyond the capacity of the budget!). However, we wanted to produce something unique to the sport, telling the real story of the athletes. In the end, we won the contract, and ‘The Road to Tokyo’ was born.

Initially, when consulting with the client, British Rowing, we thought about producing an online mini-series. Yet with my sporting background, there were bigger ambitions to represent the sport. So, we decided on a three-part, 90-minute documentary that would cover the personal journey of the rowers and exactly how they feel. It was going to be more than just online media content – it was going to be in-depth, personal and epic.

Filming started in autumn 2019. Early on, we created the title sequence and it was clear we would be creating something completely bespoke. Over the next few months, we continued work on the project, but then COVID-19 started to creep up on us. For a little while, things were normal – like any professional sport, athletes have to maintain focus. So, we captured the final Olympics trial in March 2020, then, lockdown hit.

A different tale

Before we knew it, we were in the middle of a global pandemic. That’s when I realised something: we were in a unique position to cover a part of the athletes’ lives that will never be documented again. As a former rower, I felt it was an important story to tell, and fortunately, British Rowing agreed.

Of course, changing government guidance created unique problems, but we managed to work around these. Whilst it was a challenging year of filming, it was a successful one, and we captured some incredible material. 

We really had to refine and refocus filming. If an athlete got COVID-19, it would affect their chance of getting to Tokyo. This was especially difficult towards the end, but as a filmmaker, I had to make sure the story was concluded properly. After all, the audience has gone on this journey with the athlete; they needed a fitting close.

The end product

When filming finished, we had almost two years’ worth of footage to edit. We originally expected this to be eight months, so, needless to say, it was quite a challenge! Not only that, we wanted to make sure we adhered to a high level of broadcast production delivery standards. To create a cinematic event that captured and echoed the sport of rowing – the rawness, the emotion, the difficulty and the beauty – we filmed in 4K with some major camera equipment and lenses.

The final result met our initial vision for the documentary: to break the stereotypical mould of sport. People are so used to what the media feeds you, which is what’s easiest to digest. I wanted to get across what a personal sport rowing is, and how it requires an extraordinary amount of dedication.

Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the documentary. It represents rowers, and I felt that a club or athlete can look at it and think ‘that’s my sport, that’s what I do’. I also wanted it to reach not just rowers, but those who wouldn’t usually have any interest in the sport. Now, they can see rowers going up and down the river in their local area and understand what they’re doing, why, and the things they’ve gone through.

A helping hand

In the credits of the documentary, I gave thanks to a number of organisations including Lease Loop. James has always provided a fantastic service to Truly Visual Post Production, but his support really meant a lot this last year. He gave great advice, particularly when the edit suite struggled under the weight of the material, and went above and beyond to offer solutions, so I never had to worry about technology. What’s more, he helped generate interest in the documentary. 

Here at Lease Loop, we personally recommend watching ‘The Road to Tokyo’, a gripping, realistic documentary capturing the GB Rowing Team’s journey to the Olympics. Watch it here.