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How To Make A Death-Defying Viral Hit With Danny MacAskill

Director Stu Thompson talks about making The Ridge on Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

As Danny MacAskill rides across a seemingly impassable rocky outcrop on what looks more like the side of Mount Doom on a sunny day than anything resembling a place to ride a bike, two question may cross the minds of the people watching it more than 11 million times. Is MacAskill f*%*ing crazy? And, how the holy haggis did they shoot that?

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Only MacAskill can answer the first one. As for the second, talk to MacAskill’s creative partner and director Stu Thomson. The Ridge is the third film Thomson has directed with MacAskill, and while the riding in both Industrial Revolutions and Red Bull’s Imaginate is amazing, this is the most cinematically stunning. So amazing is Cuillin Ridge–a seven-mile long, 3,255-foot high stretch of mountains on Scotland’s Isle of Skye–that MacAskill’s greatest stunt may be just getting his bike up there.

Thomson says it was an idea the two of them had talked about for a while. They scouted The Ridge–without bikes–a month before filming and decided they could make it work, leaving the trip with a location ‘hit list’ but not much else. With two weeks to shoot, Thomson says the rest of the details, like specific shots, came about organically. “Everything else was worked out when we got there on the day,” he says. “Danny figured out what he could ride and we worked out the shots as we went along. The only thing I really had storyboarded (in my head) was the opening boat scene.”


The biggest obstacles weren’t creative. Just to get to the ridge took two to three hours each way, all lugging all the camera gear, food and water for the day. “Definitely the access was the biggest challenge,” says Thomson. “Before the shoot it really seemed like not only a huge undertaking but I also really thought we might be just be being a bit stupid trying this. It’s a dangerous location, and each day it was a huge physical challenge. We’d never tested it on a bike and when you mix in the very unpredictable Scottish weather it really was a big ask to make it work . . . But they say fortune favors the brave!”

Two of MacAskill’s biggest films, Imaginate and this year’s Epecuén, were done exclusively with Red Bull. This time they took a different approach, this time going with a multi-sponsor approach (Five Ten, ENVE, and Santa Cruz) and more creative control. “The amazing ‘Epicuen’ film in Argentina for Red Bull kind of ticked the box for the ‘2014 Danny Macaskill viral’ so there was never really a requirement to make the film,” says Thomson. “We were keen to try and fund the film in a different way. The other interesting aspect is that there wasn’t one party with the final say on the creative so it gave us complete control to produce whatever we wanted as long as we delivered on our commitment to the brands. Right from the start The Ridge had always been a personal project that we just really wanted to make happen and genuinely my thoughts were that, given the lack of tricks from Danny, it may not have the same widespread appeal of his other films.”


Since first blowing the Internet’s mind in 2009, MacAskill has been a two-wheeled viral machine, cranking out web films watched by tens of millions. The pressure to perform and out-crazy each previous effort is very real but not the primary motivation. “His big viral films have all been so good and raised the bar so high that I definitely feel the pressure to live up to them,” says Thomson. “That said I definitely believe in being ‘different’ rather than ‘better,’ and I think the three main films I’ve done with Danny highlight that. Industrial Revolutions, Imaginate and The Ridge are really all very different and I prefer the new challenge rather than trying to better the last one.”

Thomson and Cut Media co-produced a long-form making-of documentary for the BBC that airs in Scotland on October 10. More behind-the-scenes action will be released through Five Ten and ENVE‘s YouTube channels.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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