Dan Jones: farewell to Back Stage Pass
Interview – Dan Jones
– By Rob Arnold
Fresh out of film school and at the age of 23, Dan Jones set off to discover the world. One of his first ports of call was the Tour de France. In 2005 he wanted to tell a few stories. Since then he has acquired a significant following, collected hundreds of hours of footage, and become a true film maker.
Together with Marcus Cobbledick, Jones created a movie which has been showing in Australian cinemas since August. All For One is a sporting documentary that follows the first five years of the ‘GreenEdge’ team.
“We’re in the entertainment industry,” team owner Gerry Ryan told him. “Our category is sport and our section is cycling, so just go out and entertain people.”
That’s what Dan Jones has been doing for many years: he’s many things but above all, he’s a story teller and an entertainer.
The legendary Back Stage Pass series on YouTube changed the way that cycling teams generated their media. Jones was able to get bike riders to become actors and create something that held universal appeal.
He has been a key member of the GreenEdge team since inception but his last race with the team will be this Sunday, the final stage of the 2017 Vuelta a España. It’s time for a change of direction for Dan Jones and cycling will miss his input. There are many who came to cycling because of his work and the legacy of his work will be long lasting.
We join in the chorus and shout out loud: Thanks for the memories Dan! All the best for the future.
Here is an interview with Dan Jones about his time making films about cycling…
Click the Soundcloud file to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript below.
Go to YouTube and type ‘Back Stage Pass’. Sit back. Enjoy!
RIDE: I’m talking with Dan Jones and it’s the last weekend of the Vuelta. You’ve got some pretty big news… can you divulge some of that to us now?
Dan Jones: “Well… it’s the end of an era for myself. [The Vuelta] is going to be the last race that I do with the team.
“I’ve been with the team since its inception. I was brought on, even before we raced a race, back at the end of 2011 for the training camp but unfortunately all good stories have a finishing point and that’s going to be for me the final weekend of the Vuelta.”
Dan Jones is the name that I’ve referenced; I haven’t really gone into detail – but he doesn’t need much of an introduction. He is a film maker. He is the man responsible for the Back Stage Pass and he’s worked with the Orica-Scott team… a lot of people would be familiar with your work. You’ve changed the cycling landscape in Australia, that’s how I’d put it. Do you feel like you’ve had that contribution?
“The reception I’ve had from the start with the videos that we’ve done has been pretty overwhelming to be honest.
“Looking back, I think we did have an impact.
“All I ever wanted to do from the start was to show riders as people.
“I didn’t really care too much about the results, I was more interested in the personalities and I saw it as my job to bring those personalities out on camera.
“I just wanted to enjoy my time with the team and a lot of that was built on trust. I really appreciated the fact that riders let me in and allowed me to tell their stories because it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on the WorldTour – you’re going to lose a lot more races than you win but to the credit of the team that I’ve worked with they’ve always been all too happy to be on camera and to share the journey.
“I hope that we did have an impact because you look back and I’m pretty blown away with what we were able to put out there.”
Let’s just cover the future first. What’s going to be the next step for Dan Jones?
“Well, honestly mate, I just became a father five weeks ago now. So for me the biggest thing was the travel; I just couldn’t fathom being away from home for four or five weeks at a time, so I’m really excited about being in Melbourne and being bogged down with the family and spending some quality time there.
“On the back of the documentary (All For One) I think I’m still passionate about telling stories whether it be in cycling or sport in general so I’m sure that I’m going to be able to put my skill set to use in those areas.
“I’m keen to continue to tell human stories in the sporting circles, for sure.”
You came to cycling through the Tour de France. You covered how many of those before the Back Stage Passes began?
“I think I did seven. I’d done six or seven or thereabouts.
“I did two documentaries on the Tour de France; one in 2005 and 2007, and then from 2008 to 2011 I covered the Tour for Fox Sports – the last year being when Cadel won the Tour de France.
“And I did every year after that with the team.
“This year was the first time I wasn’t in Paris because I had to come home for the birth of my son.
“There’s a lot of Tours and, as you know Rob, [Grand Tours are] pretty taxing.
“I think I threatened to quit every year in Paris after the Tour de France because I was just so wrecked. But I’ve covered a lot of Tours de France.”
I guess what I was getting at is that you came to cycling through that one event but now you know cycling intimately. And you know a lot of the bike riders and personalities. What’s the thing that’s going to stick with you most when you close your eyes and dream about the work you’ve done in the last 10 years?
“I think it’s probably the impact – or the reaction that we had – from the fans.
“The amount of people that expressed how much sharing the team story meant to them… the inspiration that people drew from stories like Esteban – this is more particularly with the film that we’ve just released – but even with stories like Matty Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix… it’s been probably more the reactions that people have had to the content that we’ve put out there.
“As you said, I came into the sport through the Tour de France and when I first started I was fresh out of film school. I just saw it as an opportunity to get some work, basically.
“I wanted to do a documentary and it all started to line up and I was able to do that back in 2005. I was a 23-year-old at the time; I didn’t know how the sport worked or whatever. But it’s the people who really drew me into it. And that’s been the hardest thing walking way from it – the people.
“The people I’ve met through cycling are the best people that I’ve met, not just professionally but in life.
“The friendships that I’ve got from that, as you said, when you put your head down on the pillow and think, that’s what stands out: one, the reactions that we’ve had over the years; but also the people that I’ve met and the friendships that I’ve made in the sport.”
All For One: in cinemas around Australia in August and September 2017.
I went and took my 12-year-old to watch All For One and he adored it. We sat behind some players from the GWS Giants and I could see them wiping tears away from their face at certain moments. In other words, I know that you’re able to make big fellas cry and also entertain children. You’re a storyteller through and through. How important is it to have stories like what Orica-GreenEdge has conjured for you? Do you think you would have been able to be a filmmaker without that?
“That’s a good question. I think I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller even as a kid. I used to love telling stories and just trying to make people laugh and I think that humour side of it is what we did that was different.
“We didn’t take ourselves too seriously.
“Even with the film, people laughed the hardest when we were having a bit of fun amongst ourselves but they also loved that emotional side of sport or storytelling.
“The reaction that we’ve had for the film, particularly amongst sporting groups, has been overwhelming because they’re seeing these universal themes in the sport of cycling that they probably haven’t seen before.
“What annoyed me for such a long period was, with the media, there was just one angle with cycling: that was to do with doping or scandal. And that’s a lot to do with what happened with the Lance Armstrong stuff but there are so many good stories that were inspirational that were just getting brushed aside.
“I think it’s just such a good feeling to know that people have been able to connect with guys in the cycling world. As you said, footy players have been touched by it. I mean, there’s not many platforms where that’s been able to happen.
“If I can take anything away from it, I hope that we have had an impact on the sport.
“It’s a respect thing as well. I think we started to lose our way a bit, particularly in Australia: there’s so much conflict with cyclists and motorists – and just a lack of understanding of the rights of cyclists and the passion for the sport…
“Hopefully when people see a film like All For One or they watch the Back Stage Pass, they get what it’s like to have a passion for cycling. It’s not just like people who wear lycra and go into coffee shops in their bike shoes – it’s definitely a lot more to that.”
I think that’s a real salient point and I hope that that message is drummed home. I loved the reference that you had to humour. I think that’s missing from sport and cycling in particular a lot of the times – and you had been able to extract that from guys who are very committed and focussed individuals. One of the Back Stage Passes that really stood out for me was [the one on] Svein Tuft; when you told his story about riding around Canada. That one still pulls a tear to my eye. Which one is your favourite? Have you got one?
“I think one of my favourites was stage 20 of the Vuelta last year when there was about nine or 10 different messages in the one video.
“The evolution of someone like Neil Stephens has been something that I’ve been really impressed with… early on in the GreenEdge story Neil was a bit of a hard-arse, you know? He was an old-school director that went through an old-school system where the boss is the boss and that’s it!
“Whereas at the 2016 Vuelta, a switch flicked in his head where he looked at it more like the group were shareholders, the riders. So he’d involve them a lot more in the race tactics and the conversation.
“And in stage 20 last year, coming into that, Esteban had to pull in a minute and a half on Contador to make the podium. And then it was a commentary of the whole team working together to formulate a plan, for starters, and executing that plan.
“Then, when Esteban went on the front and attacked really early on in the stage and we had Damien Howson waiting for him at the top of the climb… there was miscommunication amongst the cars and there was heaps of drama.
“And then we had a guy like Simon Yates, who could have run fifth at the Vuelta, and he sacrificed that [spot] to follow team orders to loosen up the troops and try and pull Esteban back. The fact that they pulled that off…
“You could see in the video this plan coming to fruition. That is one of the stand-out videos for me because we felt like we won the Vuelta that year because of what they achieved on the road.
“The fact that there were nine guys committed to a plan and they all played a part to execute that – that, to me, encompassed everything you want to see in a day’s racing. That’s one of the stand-out clips, for sure.”
I love that you reference racing because you could talk about any sort of thing and ultimately it’s the sport that brings us all together – and that’s why I’m talking to you: I met you through bike racing.
You know the team better because of Dan Jones’ work…
To conclude… YouTube has basically changed the dynamic of media, certainly for you. Is that the future of sports broadcasting? How do you imagine it’s going to play out in the next few years?
“One thing I’ve noticed from the start is: one, a lot more teams – and a lot more sporting clubs – put a lot more emphasis on video content now.
“When we first started, there wasn’t a lot of people doing it. Whereas, particularly sponsors, they see a lot more benefit because attention spans are so short nowadays. And there’s so much more competition for your attention so your stuff has to be short, punchy… otherwise people are just going to tune out.
“I think, with the evolution of iPads and iPhones, everyone is just going to watch this content [because] it’s easily accessible. That’s why YouTube has taken off because so many people can watch it from anywhere.
“I really do think that that’s the future.
“If you look at what Velon is trying to achieve with trying to make it more interactive with the bike cameras and things like that. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in five years time, there’s an app where you can literally tune in to live racing and then flip between the cameras on the bikes and pick which rider you want to follow at any particular time – and you can literally control the cameras.
“I think that’s where it’s going to start evolving.
“And you only have to look at drones nowadays, it won’t be long before television helicopters are gone and it’s just drones following a bike race…
“I think the sky is the limit but definitely media nowadays… people are wanting to look at things on their phones and things like that so there’s not as many people sitting back on the couch watching things on TV.”
This is a conversation that could follow the how-long-is-a-piece-of-string concept. You and I could talk for hours, but that’s a great summary. Anything you want to say before you sign off officially on the Back Stage Passes? That’s the end of it? Do you want to clear that up? Is there going to be someone else who is going to try and become Dan Jones?
“I don’t know if they’re going to continue the Back Stage Pass concept as a whole. It throws up a good opportunity for [the team] to take the content into a different direction.
“Personally, I want to say a massive thank you to Gerry Ryan who gave me the opportunity from the start.
“A lot of people need to understand that it took Gerry to say, ‘Look, we’re starting a new team. We want to do it different. We want to engage fans from the beginning.’ That’s why he brought me on board. His blueprint was simple: ‘We’re in the entertainment industry. Our category is sport. And our section is cycling – so just go out and entertain people.’
“For me, as a storyteller, you can’t ask for a better job.
“Throughout that whole period, if I didn’t have a great support network and riders who were willing to do whatever you wanted in front of the camera, the concept wouldn’t have worked.
“We were talking before about the humour and I just had brilliant characters to work with and I can’t thank everyone enough – the people that I’ve worked with, but more importantly, the fans as well.
“The support that we’ve had from the start… they took us from a team that had no following to the number-one following on YouTube.
“It has just been an amazing ride and I hope that we have left an impact on the sport because I suppose that’s what people are looking for at the end of the day: to make a difference. If we’ve done that, then we’ve done our job.”
I tip my hat to you Dan. It’s been a pleasure watching you work and I wish you all the best in the future. And I’m sure you’re going to be a great dad and enjoy that whole ride as well.
“Appreciate it Rob, thanks for your support mate.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold