Ahead of the world premiere of Being AP - Anthony Wonke’s film on Irish jump jockey AP McCoy – at the Toronto International Film Festival, the filmmaker talks to realscreen about how he captured a champion saying goodbye to his sport.
In the sport of horse racing, jump jockey Anthony “AP” McCoy seldom knew the bitter taste of defeat.
Over the course of an illustrious career spanning two decades, the 41-year-old Irishman would become the first rider to record 4,000 career wins, riding on the backs of more than 4,300 winners. Standing atop the horse racing ranks for 1,040 successive weeks, McCoy would be crowned with 20 consecutive Champion Jump Jockey titles before hanging up his saddle this past April.
When executive producer Nick Ryle approached Fire in the Night director Anthony Wonke (pictured, below) nearly three years ago with the idea of intimately chronicling the legendary rider, neither would know at the time that the end result would capture McCoy’s final season as the sport’s most prolific jockey.
Though Wonke admits he isn’t particularly fond of racing, he says he ultimately decided to pursue Being AP– which marks its world premiere at TIFF tonight (September 14) – following a four-hour-long meeting with McCoy and his wife Chanelle. The documentary, he decided then, would revolve around the idea of what happens when you part with something that’s defined you for so long.
“I wanted to explore those themes of what happens when you say goodbye to it all,” Wonke tells realscreen. “That to me was an interesting idea because it made it much more than just a profile of a very successful [athlete]. It’s all about a decision: how do you make it and who you make that decision with?”
Soon after, the director went about gaining the trust of not only the many governing bodies of racing through various meetings, but of McCoy to ensure the film followed a more cohesive and intimate storyline, rather than an uninspired hagiography, Wonke says.
Filming for the documentary coincided with the launch of the 2014-15 season. Over the course of the first few race days, Wonke and a cameraman would accompany McCoy as he traveled from racecourse to racecourse. They sat in silence, quietly filming the entire duration of the journey.
“I needed to trust AP that he was going to tell me the truth and not close doors to me, but first he had to trust that I was going to make a film that fairly represented his life, that season and what he was trying to achieve,” Wonke says. “I think he then understood that that was the angle in how I would be filming it, that it would be quite observational and it meant that he could just carry on with his life and I’d be there to capture it.”
Being AP - produced by Moneyglass Films, Roads Entertainment and Partizan Films – follows three separate but intertwining narratives, beginning with early season successes and the hope to ride 300 winners in a season. A serious injury, however, would ultimately derail that dream and instead shift McCoy’s thoughts to that of retirement. With exclusive access, the production team set about capturing his final months as a jockey and McCoy’s sense of loss as he toured the scenes of his greatest triumphs for the last time, concluding at Sandown Park Racecourse.
While the sport of racing provides a degree of drama, the constant challenge for the crew was seeking a positional advantage that enabled them to capture significant elements of each race over the 12-month filming period while still incorporating cinematic flare. Approaches like flooding the racecourse with multiple cameras or relying on archival footage were deemed too costly and removed from the equation, replaced instead by meticulous planning for various scenarios in order to ensure they could capture every outcome possible with a limited number of cameras.
That task, however, was made considerably more difficult due to a near daily race schedule. Additional flexibility was required on the part of the production team as no jockey is 100% confirmed to ride any given horse or race until 24 hours prior to that specific race.
“Like anything with observational films, things happen – things are quite fluid,” the filmmaker says. “It’s all quite unpredictable, and sometimes you’re just not there and he falls and gets injured and it’s a really critical moment in the film.”
From the beginning, Wonke and his team worked diligently and delicately in their approach to avoid disrupting McCoy’s daily rituals. A lot of that, he says, was based on knowing the people closest to the champion rider in order to work around his daily plan and approach each situation with patience, diplomacy and sensitivity.
“Patience is a very important tool,” Wonke says. “It’s a very emotional story and I hope people will identify with some of the themes about making a big decision in life and the position that puts you in.”
- Being AP debuts tonight (September 14) at 9:15 p.m. at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto.
- Check out a trailer for the film below: