Taking the High Road: Q&A with Filmmakers Lindsey Hagen and Colin Keaveney
Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, Brand Storytelling
High Road celebrates the unbreakable bond between Paralympian Meg Fisher and Jack Berry, a young para-athlete who's cycling career is just beginning to unfold. Together the two navigate life's obstacles with grace and integrity, creating space for the next generation of paracyclists. The short film comes from cycling industry innovator Cannondale in partnership with purpose-driven brand story studio Gnarlybay and is supported by Outride, a nonprofit intent on improving the lives of youth through cycling.
Brand Storytelling caught up with the short film's director Lindsey Hagen and Cannondale Global Marketing Manager Colin Keaveney to learn more about how Meg Fisher's infectious spirit and drive motivated the making of a film and what it means to amplify the work in focus in High Road:
Where does the story of High Road begin? With the filmmaker, the brand, or the non-profit? How did it all come together?
Lindsey Hagen: High Road came to be by means of a friendship forged between Colin Keaveney, Cannondale’s global road manager and recently signed Cannondale sponsored athlete Meg Fisher. Upon hearing the breadth of Meg’s advocacy work and understanding the current state of para-athlete involvement within the road and gravel categories Colin enlisted my help alongside production partner Gnarlybay studios to share a timely advocacy story meant to create awareness, shift culture and change policy within gravel and road cycling events to create space for para-athletes. I worked closely with Meg and Jack’s parents to craft the story and Cannondale created the space to explore a story approach that was most timely and relevant to Meg and Jack’s experience. In an effort to create more impact Meg enlisted the help of her sponsor “Outride” a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth through cycling. The production came together as a co-branded film, sponsored by Cannondale as presenting sponsor and Outride as supporting sponsor.
Colin Keaveney: The story as told can be traced back to a Saturday afternoon phone call in the middle of winter. Meg and I had been exchanging messages, but it was that two hour conversation which really set things in motion. What’s remarkable about Meg is that her accomplishments are actually the last thing she talks about. It was clear how she always put others first as she immediately shared Jack’s story. She was full of admiration, and incredibly genuine.
After that call I was immediately in touch with Lindsey. I knew this was an important story to tell and given Lindsey’s background in adaptive sports, I trusted she would have the right approach and care for the project.
There’s a lot more to it, but this project had all of the fundamentals to be great from the beginning.
What is it about the story of these two people that create overlap between the filmmakers at Gnarly Bay, Cannondale, and Outride?
LH: Each party really came at this story with our own specialty and background. Colin has his finger on the pulse of the road and gravel cycling industry and policy around para-athletes involvement in this vertical. I came from a background working in adaptive sports before I was a filmmaker with a speciality in nuanced impact storytelling and Tasha Tinagero of Outride brought the youth empowerment chops and the competitive edge as a seasoned athlete.
While we could never truly understand Meg and Jack’s lived experiences we each brought an empathic approach and willingness to showcase their story as we all saw the potential their story held for dramatic change and progressive thought leadership within the cycling industry. The making of the film was done in an effort to reflect their tremendous strength and perseverance and reflect that outwards as a tool to empower and uplift para-athletes, the cycling community at large and really anyone facing challenging circumstances. It is also meant to help shift thought patterns around accessibility and inclusivity within a very dated and traditional industry.
CK: Meg has an infectious enthusiasm for just about everything she’s involved in. From the very beginning, her story was always one that needed to be told. But the way she lives out her passion for helping others, day in and day out, is what really anchors her character. Impressive as her work making paracycling categories on the national and international cycling scene is, the work she does in her local community is exceptional. As she shared Jack’s story, it was clear how cycling had helped him find his strength and ability post cancer.
With a new mantra of “Come Ride With Us,” Cannondale was seeking ways to expand the traditional views of cycling. What can cycling teach a broader audience outside of its normal perview? What new perspectives might be offered to the current establishment of “cyclists”? It’s those questions which inspired the need for stories like High Road.
Meg anchored the story with her wisdom and experience – she’s schlepped her way to World Championships and Paralympics. While Jack brought a youthful exuberance as he tests his limits and grows into his future as a paracylists. Together in High Road, their stories show how cycling can be a perfect way to redefine our limits and prove how capable we all are. That’s the sort of magic that a brand like Cannondale could dream of in a project like this.
Stories like Meg and Jack’s can be difficult to tell in that the subjects don’t always feel they have a say in how their stories are told. What did it take for brand and filmmaker to build trust in telling a piece of their stories?
LH: I felt very lucky to collaborate with Cannondale and Outride on this project- they understood the importance of letting Meg and Jack share their stories on their own terms. This was a fundamental value from day 1 for all parties involved. I think this is an element of brand storytelling that can very easily become a sticking point, especially when you’re working with real people and nuanced subject matter. Throughout my process it was really important to keep Meg and Jack’s family privy to our approach, interview questions and story outline. I learn something on every single film and with this particular project working closely with Jack’s family was the best decision towards making this a project that he and his family could really be proud of.
Meg, Jack and his family all got final sign off on the finished film- at the end of the day we really wanted this film to be used as a tool for good. Because we set out with this intention from the very start - Cannondale and Outride were supportive and onboard throughout the entire process and really showed Meg and Jack the utmost respect. We were all in tears at our community launch event in Missoula.
CK: Something I’ve said around this project a lot is just two words, trust and relationships. It’s seemingly simple when it’s just two words, but in practice it takes a great team, patience and honest conversations. From the onset it was always clear that this was Meg and Jack’s story to tell. It was brilliant that they had an authentic connection to Cannondale and an existing admiration of the brand, but we were never going to position the bike as the hero – this is a story about human spirit. Cycling is an experience that no one quickly forgets – there’s a reason you always hear that expression about riding a bike. The bike is a tool that enables its rider in unique ways, and both Meg and Jack represented the best examples of this.
With Meg, we signed her to Cannondale and said standing on podiums is cool and all, but if you can make space for others and get para category podiums at more races, that’s the bigger win. From the beginning we had a really healthy respect for the future we each saw for cycling.
Of course with Jack being just 14 at the time of filming, I wanted to ensure we did right by his family. Both Lindsey and I have strong backgrounds in sport and coaching, so I trusted her as the right partner to tell his story. We each had conversations with Jack and his family to ensure there was transparency from both the brand and production sides.
Again, it’s all down to those fundamentals – trust and relationships. You need to be willing to invest the time and show your true character if you expect the subjects to reveal theirs.
What brand goals were discussed around supporting this film?
CK: I mentioned earlier the new Cannondale mantra “Come Ride With Us” which is all about the experience of cycling being open for everyone. The brand needed a story which embodied this purpose and driving mission. Most brand stories centered around elite racing or new product releases, which is brilliant for the core riders, but wasn’t quite inviting to a broader audience. High Road represented a perfect balance of Cannondale’s goals, to be both performance and inviting. Meg is an 11-time World Champion and Paralympic medalist, she raced at the highest level for a decade.
In terms of specific goals, I saw a wonderful opportunity to create a festival-worthy film that would inspire audiences who might not expect Cannondale in that setting. This is a way to help grow the sport in an inviting way where more people can see cycling as a purposeful outlet.
Can you share more about the goals surrounding screening the film, especially screening it for youth audiences at schools?
LH: Through this shared sponsorship the film had a community launch event in Missoula, MT with Meg and Jack’s family and friends, the film will screen in 200+ schools across the country thanks to Outride, it has been translated and released in 8 languages globally, it’s being used as a cancer treatment advocacy tool for patients facing a similar journey to Jack’s, it was accepted into Banff Film Festival and Bicyclefilm festival amongst many more festivals and has had an outstanding media response.
CK: We always had the hope to premiere the film in Missoula, as a testament to the remarkable community which has supported Meg and Jack. It was incredibly rewarding to debut the film in front of their home audience. We had some big festival targets and we’re thrilled to be accepted in the Banff and Bicycle Film Festivals. Those were instrumental in broadening the reach of the film to new audiences. In the brand space, we chose Outride as a partner for their ability to reach hundreds of schools and youth programs around the USA. We’re incredibly excited for the future of this film.
What is important to you about telling purpose-driven stories?
LH: At Gnarlybay we pride ourselves on sharing stories that help uplift, inspire and shift the way our viewers see and engage with the world. There is so much potential for connection and expansion through effective brand storytelling and therefore we’re very deliberate about which stories and narratives we support.
More often than not the stories we gravitate towards are reflective of people who are already shifting perspective and forging connections- we really just come in to insulate and support their efforts while keeping the essence of their story intact and ultimately creating something they can be really proud of.
I see media and film as a great tool when used properly. Working with brands who allocate their marketing budgets towards these efforts is a powerful combination and unlocks tremendous potential to shift culture for the better.
CK: Meg says it best, change comes from challenge. Cannondale has always been a brand with a pioneering spirit, willing to shake things up. In 2022, it’s important that brand stories reflect its purpose. With High Road, it was the perfect opportunity to offer a brand message, “Come Ride With Us”, while simultaneously challenging the fact that paracyclists have limited access in the sport. I firmly believe that brands need to live out their mission, inside and out.
Where can people watch High Road?
The film can be watched on Cannondale Youtube. Or, for the big-screen experience, you can hopefully see High Road at a festival screening starting this November.
About Lindsey Hagen
Lindsey Hagen is an Oscar qualified Director, Executive Producer and Head of Development at Gnarlybay studios with a focus on cause related storytelling. Lindsey has a background in sales and marketing, journalism and brand strategy. She leads a successful career ideating and pitching meaningful stories to brand and network partners, creating compelling human centered films and campaigns.
About Colin Keaveney
Colin Keaveney is a global marketing manager at Cannondale, focusing on product release campaigns and brand storytelling. Through a decade in the bike industry, Colin has concentrated on community stories and celebrating the social aspect of cycling. His expertise spans marketing and creative, with the human experience always at the core of his work.