41x: A Father's Legacy


Mike Graves races. He always has because it's in his blood. The funny thing is he races lawn mowers. The Avon Park Mower-Plex in Avon Park, FL was founded in 2002 as the first track solely built for lawn mower racing in the nation. Mike has been a regular for years. For him racing is about the thrill and he certainly won't let his cerebral palsy slow him down. As his father would say, "Win, lose or draw, if you bring your mower home in one piece it's a good night of racing." Adrenaline isn't the only thing fueling his love of the sport. Racing is a family affair for Mike and the memory of his father drives him to be the best.

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Interview withthe Director

Interview withthe Director

What do you hope people take away from this film? How might their life be different afterwards? In the grand scheme of things, why do you think people need to hear Mike's story?

Carlson: First I hope viewers call their fathers when they're done watching it and tell them how much they love them!


Big picture wise, right now I think our country is pretty fractured. Everyone is pissed off about something (and most of the times for good reason).


I think Mikes story is important because it reminds us we really need to read between the lines when it comes to human relationships. There are many people out there who are vastly different than me but all of us share the same experiences. Kinship, love, loss, thrills, defeats, etc.


When we can boil our lives down to these basic feelings we can begin to look one another in the eyes instead of punching each other in the face (wether literally or with our words). I say this not to preach but because I need to be convinced of it daily as well.


Ultimately I think the film is about empathy.

Where did you get the idea to do a film about lawn mower racing? It's not necessarily an every day topic.

Carlson: There was this show that used to be on Discovery Channel called Wreckreation Nation. It was hosted Dave Mordal, a comedian I really enjoyed. I think I began watching the show at the gym because the only other options were hockey highlights on ESPN and Keeping up with the Kardashians. The show had a sort of anthropological bent to it, which I appreciated it. One episode Dave visited a lawnmower racing track. It struck me as so absurd, funny and endearing that I went home and looked into it. Turns out there was a track about 2 hours away from home.


I actually sat on the idea of doing a short doc on lawnmower racing for several years as I was really busy with work at the time. Eventually I got around to visiting the track to do some research to see if it would be a good subject. (By the way, when the show was canceled after the first season I started watching The Kardashians. It's like watching monkeys fling poop. You can't look away).

Where did you get the idea to do a film about lawn mower racing? It's not necessarily an every day topic.

Carlson: Initially I went out to the race track and started filming willy nilly. I didn't have a subject in mind. I actually thought the subject would just be lawnmower racing and its culture. After looking at the footage I had captured on previous visits I decided that wasn't a good idea. It just wasn't interesting enough and I also didn't want the film to be exploitative. I had really come to like the community at the track. At that point I knew I needed a subject, which seemed like a daunting task at the time. But I knew there had to be at least one interesting story out there.


So then I just began talking to people, gauging their personality, asking them questions, picking their brain. I've got to thank Wes Pyburn a lot for his help. He introduced me to Mike and helped me with logistics. So I met Mike and obviously by the look of him something is different because of his walk. I was curious to know how that affected his driving. These questions led me down the path of featuring him and eventually discovering the role his family and more importantly his father played in his life.

What are the people like who you met at the track (the racing community)? Were they welcoming and easy to work with?

Carlson: The people at the track were great. I'm a pretty outgoing guy so it's not hard for me to strike up a conversation with a total stranger. I'm also naturally very curious, which people in this community really loved because they're all about growing their sport. I didn't have one bad experience with the racing community while shooting. Everyone was excited about the project and most offered me footage they had captured. They were fun to work with.

Were there any difficult parts of the process? How did you overcome them?

Carlson: One difficult part was the filming itself. It's a 2 hour drive out to the track from were I live and they only race once a month in the late afternoons into the evenings. I only had about 2 hours of good light to shoot in before the sun went down. And the first two hours are the lower class races, meaning they don't go as fast (which isn't as visually interesting). While shooting we also went through daylight savings time, so clocks jumped forward an hour. This change meant I couldn't film for several months because there was no light. Add to that they don't race all 12 months of the year.


Needless to say it took a while to shoot this film. Patience was key. Another challenge was the race itself. I'm not a big racing fan so hopefully I don't offend anyone here but filming guys riding in a circle isn't that visually impactful. To combat this I decided to feature some archival footage as well as some steadicam, high speed, POV & slow motion shots. I think the mix works well with the subject matter. I had wanted to use a drone to do some direct flyover shots looking straight down but unfortunately the track butts right up to a municipal airport. A crashed airplane was the last thing I needed.


On a side note, the slow motion shots on the track were pretty fun. We didn't have a good way for Matt Hutchens, the steadicam operator, to follow the racers so we borrowed a truck and strapped him into the bed of it with ratchet straps. On a few turns the truck careened off the track because I was going too fast. Thankfully Matt is still alive.

How are those two worlds different (photography and video) when it comes to impacting viewers? What's easier about film? What's harder about film?

Carlson: That's a hard question. I think stills make you sit longer and force you to take in what you are viewing with more intentionality. I also think stills cement themselves in our brains with more permanence than film. With films it's easy to flub a shot or two and not have it impact the film. I don't think still photography is that forgiving. But with films I believe you can really attack the audiences senses and more easily engross them in a story. I think both have their place and one of my favorite sayings is, "The pendulum swings."


I think in the next few years you're going to see a significant increase in film based stories, marketing & advertising. But after that people will want to swing back to a stills based storytelling. I really think the concept or story should dictate the way it is captured. Some stories are better told with film while others lend themselves to stills. I could talk about this idea forever but I'll spare you my blabber.

Traditionally, you've spent most of your professional career as a photographer, creating for many well known Brands, but you've now transitioned to also being a filmmaker as well. Why did you decide to expand beyond photography?

Carlson: It's funny because I actually fell in love with movies first. My parents were big movie buffs. We would head to Blockbuster every week and rent a bunch of movies to watch as a family (and then my dad would fight with them over those bogus late fees). My high school at the time had a great photography program, but not a film program. So I studied photography in high school and my parents were instrumental in encouraging me to study the arts after I graduated. From there I went college and studied photography.


While in college I began to see the writing on the wall. Newspapers were shutting their doors and multimedia (voiceovers and/or music with stills) were becoming a big thing. A few years later a lot of photographers started getting asked if they did films. That's when I knew it was time to get into filmmaking.


Some of the best filmmakers started out as photographers and some stories are told better through film than stills. I think I have a pretty powerful creative voice so for me the real hurdles were the technical details, not the storytelling ones. For me it was just as much of a business decision as a creative decision. I wouldn't be surprised if in 10 years I'm doing substantially more directing than photography, though I'll never give up shooting stills.

You began this as a passion project on your own, so tell me a little bit about how the other Creatives ended up working with you on this project and what that was like.

Carlson: One of my favorite things about filmmaking is you get to collaborate. Being a people person I love this about film. With stills there isn't nearly as much collaboration. I love being able to work with talented people who have a strong vision and are equally passionate about a project. I'm not stupid, I know I'm not an expert in every aspect of filmmaking. I simply can't be. So being able to work along side people who know more than I in a particular area is really rewarding. I think we all benefit and more importantly I think the story benefits.


James, the Creative Director & Producer, really helped me get this film done as it was sitting on the cutting room floor for a while because of my busy schedule. It definitely wouldn't have gotten completed without him. James introduced me to Joshua, the editor, who was tremendous in helping to fit the visuals to the storyline. I really valued his advice during the edit. Andre and I shared an office space and he not only helped me film one of the 3 interviews but also was a great sounding board for ideas.


Matt and I had worked on a few previous projects together (including Mr. Gold). He is probably one of the most easy going and friendly guys I've ever met, so asking him to help was a no-brainer. And Michael is a good friend, an extremely talented designer who likes to push the envelope and he also loves racing.


Ultimately all these guys helped make the film better than my vision for it, which I think is the point of collaboration. I would work with all of them again and hope I can soon.

If you had a time machine and could go back to the beginning of the project, would you do anything differently?

Carlson: I don't think I would do anything majorly different. Ultimately I would have liked to get it completed quicker. But that's the nature of personal projects, they tend to take a backseat when life get busy.  Additionally, I would have found a way to do the drone shot. While drones have become really popular and often times overused I think it would have worked well for this film. After filming had completed I learned you can actually shoot next to an airport, particularly ones that are very small, with the right equipment and permission. But I learned this way after filming and it didn't make sense to reshoot anything.

Connect withthe Director

Connect with the Director

Film Poster

Film Poster

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes