The Making of ‘Long Live Chainsaw’ with Darcy Wittenburg of Anthill Films

Creating a film to memorialize a legend comes with great responsibility, and the team at Anthill Films has not taken their role lightly with this recent piece about Stevie “The Canadian Chainsaw” Smith. The film follows Smith’s life in chronological order, from childhood through his early sponsorship struggles and on to his fully-sponsored career as a role model to many downhill riders.

Smith died in a motorcycle accident in 2016 at just 26 years of age, passing a wave of deep shock and sadness over fans, friends, and competitors. Long Live Chainsaw aims to share the love Smith’s community has for him, and all of the film’s proceeds will be donated to the Stevie Smith Legacy Fund. The team at Anthill Films has dedicated and donated hundreds of hours over the past few years, collaborating with all of the folks who knew Smith, photographed him, and filmed his rise to the top of the sport. Anthill co-founder Darcy Wittenburg says that the project came together thanks to a thoughtful collaboration between people all around the globe. Smith’s mom and sister were involved in the project in several ways, and both approved of the finished work.

Wittenburg says the film had been on the table for quite some time, and the pandemic provided the opportunity to slow their schedules down and slide the project to the front burner. He mentioned that the most difficult production challenge was simply coordinating all of the film clips from Smith’s life. Wittenburg had all of the photographers who were working during Smith’s career comb their hard drives and requested film clips that were never used during various product launches or location features. There are also clips of Smith racing that were shot on cell phones, though phones didn’t have much data storage five years ago so many of those images and videos were unfortunately deleted. Some of the folks who contributed images include Sven Martin, who handed over his whole library of Smith images, filmmaker Ryan Marcus, and over a dozen other filmmakers and photographers who will be listed in the credits.

The Chainsaw documentary includes recent discussions with athletes all around the globe that paint a clear picture of who Smith was and why everyone loved the Canadian athlete. The interview cast includes Brook Macdonald, Finn Iles, Gee Atherton, Josh Bryceland, Mark Wallace, and Miranda Miller. The crew at Anthill paid videographers to collect those stories, making the film feel as representative and comprehensive as they could manage in a 90-minute window.

In most cases, profit from ticket sales, download sales, and streaming rights is how the folks at Anthill get paid. Sponsorship money from the industry often covers production costs, and paychecks come from the money that’s made after the release date. As mentioned above, all of the cash from this documentary will be going to a non-profit that was started in Smith’s honor, aiming to build a pump track and jump line, maintain a bike park, and support up-and-coming DH racers, in addition to other cool projects. Wittenburg says that “we knew from the very beginning that this is not something we want to profit from. That’s just not the way we want to do it. The whole intention from the get-go was to make it a nonprofit.” He added that they are currently shopping the film around to different streaming services, so stay tuned to learn where the full-length piece will air.

Wittenburg and Darren McCullough were the two main Anthill members dedicated to this project. Anthill was started by four friends in 2009, though they had all worked together since 2003 under the name The Collective. They now make roughly a couple dozen films per year, with a lot of commercials and shorter pieces strung between longer features and series. Some of their team focuses on shorter pieces while others are committed to longer projects, and they are all able to overlap and help out on each other’s endeavors. Like much of the bike industry, most of the ten full-time Anthill employees are in it for the passion first, with a mix of prior experience and education in the field.

Living the classic powderhound life, Wittenburg got his start filming in Whistler while helping some friends create snowboard edits. He saw what filmmakers were doing with boardsports in snow, surfing, and skateboarding and decided to expand that creative work onto the trail. His then-girlfriend, now wife, paid their bills on her waitress wage during the developing stages of his current film career, and it looks like that lean living paid off. Check out our podcast with Wittenburg to learn more about how Anthill goes about making these stellar films and commercials.

The world premiere of Long Live Chainsaw will screen November 5 in Smith’s hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia, with downloads and streaming opportunities to follow.

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