100 Years of Rolling Thunder
Opening Sequence (5 mins)
The Scottish Highlands. Dawn mist is gently rising off rolling fields, hugging an ancient peel tower like a white skirt. A herd of red deer raise their heads, ears twitching nervously. A moment’s silence…
Then we too hear what they have heard: the throb of a V-Twin Evolution engine getting closer and closer.
A lone motorcyclist thunders past, faceless against the cold.
We follow the rider as he winds his way through some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, past Loch Lomond and south into England.
Then we cut to Liverpool Docks. A constant drizzle seeps from a leaden sky. A small group of riders is standing by the quayside watching their motorcycles being crated and fork-lifted into a container. The faceless rider from Scotland joins them. His motorcycle is crated last and the container is swung high off the quayside and onto a ship bound for New York.
In voiceover (either a commentator or the voices of some of the riders themselves, telling anecdotal stories) we hear why we are briefly here at Liverpool, along these lines:
‘In the middle of the nineteenth century William S. Harley’s father emigrated from these docks to the New World. His friend Arthur Davidson was the son of an impoverished Scottish carpenter. Little did they know that, one day, their legacy would span the globe…’
Now we begin to cut rapidly through a series of shots that span the globe…
A lone woman leaves a French café and climbs on her Harley.
A man crossing the burning desert sands of North Africa.
Another man leaving his friends in a busy Tokyo street.
A pair of riders, cruising side by side through the Australian bush.
Now we cut for the first time to the United States.
It’s dawn, in New England. We are looking down on white clapboard houses in a sleepy Massachusetts town. Everything is neat and well-tended, with immaculate lawns delineated by picket fences and decorated with flags, one to each house. The rising sun casts long, soft shadows on the sidewalk.
We cut to California. The sun rises slowly from the east, over the Coast Range, casting cool early morning light down through giant sequoias and onto the Pacific shoreline. Waves lap gently through the kelp and a flock of pelicans lopes by, flying north around Monterey Bay.
In New England, a lone figure emerges from the garage of one of the houses: a motorcycle rider, dressed for the road. We watch as he wheels his Harley-Davidson onto the driveway. For a moment the only sound we can hear is dawn birdsong.
In California, we watch from the air – a camera viewpoint that hovers over the ocean. As the sun rises higher in the sky it lights the narrow ribbon of Highway 1, still deserted as it hugs the coast beyond Carmel and Monterey. In the distance we can hear a motorcycle engine.
In New England, our lone rider fires up his V-Twin, and turns out onto the deserted highway. The camera banks and zooms, tracking the motorcycle on his journey out of town, getting closer and closer. The sound of the engine fills our ears…
And we cut to California. A second lone rider is cruising into view, travelling north over the highway’s precarious bridges.
For a moment, the two riders and their landscapes mix and mingle on screen, as their engines mix in the soundtrack. The sound builds to an overwhelming roar – which segues smoothly into the opening bars of a pounding instrumental rock track.
This is how we will begin Rolling Thunder – a unique celebration, in the spectacular IMAX film format, of a unique motorcycle brand and a unique country.
The Ride Home Sequence (8 mins)
Much of the footage in Rolling Thunder will be gathered from the Ride Home, a key component in Harley-Davidson’s 100th Anniversary celebrations. The Ride gives a unique opportunity to focus on individual Harley-Davidson owners as they travel across America from all points of the compass – but the journeys we are following could be taking place in any year – past, present or future.
This second sequence is used to establish the film’s narrative thread: the 100-year history of the brand. We hear the story in voiceover – but this is no dry-as-dust corporate narrative. Intermingled with our commentary are frequent anecdotes, recorded during the Ride, from the people who care the most: the Harley-Davidson riders themselves.
These are a cross-section of men and women from all walks of life, and all ages. Their only common bond is their loyalty to Harley-Davidson, and the freedom it represents. The more we listen to them (and the more we watch them ride), the more we begin to understand the bond between these diverse, fascinating individuals and the great American motorcycle.
In this sense, the journey is as much an exploration for the viewer as it is for the riders onscreen.
We’re not simply learning the history of the brand, measured in memorable events and dates – we’re finding out why people in London buy Harley-Davidsons when they could choose a Triumph; why people in Tokyo buy Harley-Davidsons when they could have a Honda; why people all over the US continue to pick Harley-Davidson as a vehicle for their dreams.
No other motorcycle (in fact no other brand) better embodies the American spirit of endeavour. This is why the Ride Home works well as a jumping-off point for our story: because it enables us to interpret the history of the company through the contemporary American landscape, both natural and man-made. Thus at various points in the sequence we might see our riders interacting with the American journey, in an almost limitless number of spectacular locations:
Surrounded on all sides by water as they cross the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge
Tracking a passing train on a desert railroad
With their engines drowned by the massive turbines of a Columbia river dam
Sipping wine in the Napa valley
Pausing respectfully in the Civil War battlefields at Antietam or Gettysburg
Passing through the surreal landscape of the US Steel works at Gary, Indiana
Simply riding on Route 66
Every one of these locations will be committed to film in all the breathtaking splendour of the IMAX medium. The nature of IMAX allows us to take full advantage of panoramic landscapes and spectacular aerial shots that will take the audience right to the heart of the American experience.
Meanwhile, much of the direction of the story will be dictated by the natural conversation of the riders. An essential part of all these riders’ journeys is their respect for the machine that enables them to make it. So along the way they will naturally converge on the places where the legend is made – the Harley-Davidson manufacturing facilities at York and Kansas City, or the brand’s spiritual home in Wisconsin.
Here again, we can use the scale of the IMAX medium to express another vital part of the American experience: the liberating power of its great engineering and manufacturing industry. The natural landscape will give way briefly to a celebration of the crafted landscape, and one of the greatest products of that craft – the Harley-Davidson.
History Sequence (20 mins)
Throughout Rolling Thunder, we are shaping a historical story – about the development of the company itself. Inevitably, this story will be amplified by archive footage from the early days of the company’s history. But we will also visualise this story by introducing a series of cameos of historic motorcycles from the Harley-Davidson collection.
These will be linked to key moments in the script, with riders dressed in period costume. And because much of the American landscape – and many American landmarks – have remained essentially unchanged over the decades, it will appear to the viewer that we have captured spectacular footage of historic Harley-Davidsons travelling through America as if they had only just rolled off the production lines.
The exact balance between this and the previous section will be determined during scripting. We currently foresee a reverse chronology (from the present day to the 1900s) that links each decade with its landmark motorbikes, setting them against a location that has both resonance and spectacular visual appeal.
Again, our choices will be dictated by production planning and research, but the sequence could run along the following lines…
1990 – present day
Ultra Classic Electra Glide
Filmed in a modern location – preferably somewhere in Wisconsin, near Harley-Davidson’s traditional heartland. Perhaps somewhere along the Northern Mississippi, or on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Wide Glide (‘chopper’ styling)
Softail (Evolution engine, hidden rear suspension)
Filmed against the most spectacular of America’s landscapes – perhaps in the South-West, looking down over the rim of the Grand Canyon, or up from the floor of Bryce Canyon.
FX Super Glide ‘cruiser’
XR750 dirt track racer
Low Rider (development of Super Glide)
Café Racer (black finish)
In 1970, Cal Rayborn broke the world land speed record on a Harley Davidson at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah – making this a wonderful backdrop for our 70s machines. Also an opportunity to use the giant IMAX screen to thrill the audience at speed.
FL (Shovelhead) Electra Glide
It’s the sixties. Where better to showcase our Harley-Davidson than on the Golden Gate Bridge, then riding north on Highway One towards Mount Tamalpais?
XL Sportster (OHV cylinder heads added)
Duo Glide (first rear brakes and hydraulic rear suspension)
Several alternative landscapes suggest themselves here: perhaps the Black Hills, near the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally; or Daytona Beach, Florida, where Harley-Davidson won several trophies during the 1950s. Or perhaps we simply choose a spectacular East Coast ‘mirror’ location – like Niagara Falls – to match the previous shots at the Golden Gate Bridge.
WLA Model (Flathead) Military bike
The key machine here is the WLA – a crucial component in Harley-Davidson’s developing history. Location options here include Germany (the first American to enter the country in 1945 did so on the back of a WLA) – or a spectacular landmark that lies close to one of our rides home, and carries an echo of the United States commitment to freedom in its name: Independence Rock, on the Oregon Trail in Wyoming.
Mount Rushmore. Carved in the 1930s, celebrating the pioneers of American freedom, and conveniently close to one of our rides home.
WJ Sport (flat twin)8 Valve (board track racer)
S Peashooter (dirt track and cinder track racer)
DL Sport (flathead)
The era of board track and dirt track racing. Which suggests a real opportunity to display our vintage motorbikes on a suitable dirt track – preferably riding at speed.
Model 5D (first V-Twin)
The motorbike known as the ‘Silent Gray Fellow’ – a nickname we can reflect by slipping into period black and white. And then seeking out a location that looks as if the world left it behind – perhaps somewhere high in the Appalachians, or deep in the Mississippi Delta. Or both, with the location echoed in the accompanying music track.
Model 1 (single cylinder)
The oldest Harley Davidson of all – and here we can show it (still in black and white) motoring alone under a monument that was built to celebrate the westward growth of the USA up to 1890: the Gateway Arch in St Louis.
The list of possible locations is clearly endless – and open to endless debate. But whatever route through time we choose to take, one thing is certain: we will arrive back at the company’s roots in Wisconsin – ready to travel forward to the present day again…
Thrill Ride Sequence (2 mins)
And when we travel forward, we travel in spectacular style – courtesy of a sequence that places the audience on the back of the motorbike, watching the world from the rider’s point of view…
As the machine catapults us back to the present day at ever increasing speed.
During this sequence, several things are happening at once:
The front of the motorbike – all we can see of it – is morphing from model to model, moving forward in time.
The background landscape is also morphing.
The road surface is morphing – from mud road to board track to blacktop highway to salt flat to interstate and so on.
The sound of the engines is changing.
And the ride is getting faster and faster, until we arrive back at…
100th Anniversary Celebration Sequence (10 mins)
Where we discover that we are not alone, and the world is full of Harley-Davidson riders converging on Wisconsin – the Amerindian ‘place at which the waters gather’.
The anniversary celebrations are not the heart of our story, but they do have an important part to play – if only because they are a vital part of the company’s story: the most extraordinary gathering of Harley-Davidsons that has ever taken place.
The performers at the celebrations will provide a final, fitting soundtrack to a visual feast of riders and machines.
And the riders themselves will present a picture of the United States, refracted through the lens of its most famous global brand, that is as optimistic and exciting as at any point in the last 100 years.
Closing Sequence (1 min)
The celebration is not the end of the story. Just as we think the film is about to draw to a close, we see the journey begin again, picking up on our most familiar riders as they set off in new directions, exploring new dreams.
For them, every journey has its own agenda, its own roadmap. They know – instinctively, as Harley-Davidson riders – that it is better to travel than to arrive. And the thunder will keep rolling, for as long as they possess a dream of freedom.