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Ben Younger: But, What I Really Want To Do Is Direct (A Motorcycle Racing Movie)
by adams & lohmann
Friday, February 10, 2006

After a few months of directing Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman, Ben Younger likes to relax by going knee-down at a track day.
thanks ben younger
Racing fans are an enthusiastic lot, driving 14 hours just to stand in the rain and scream as Eric Bostrom hurdles past in turn five at Elkhart or road tripping 31 hours in a manic non-stop two-up from Ames to Laguna to see the USGP. True fans won't let anything stand in their way; many go to a race, watch it, then go home and watch the race, again, via VCR or Ti-Vo.

Fans live the mantra uttered by racer and sometime actor Steve McQueen in the film Le Mans: "Racing is life; anything that happens before or after is just waiting." The issue, of course, is that unless you work in the motorcycle racing industry, your work-life and the activity that you love butt heads like angry male goats. There's never enough vacation time. The air-head intern looks at the riding gear hung behind your desk and says in a horrified voice that's just short of a shriek: "Gross, there's...dead bugs...all over your jacket!"; the other employees stare at you when you compare a workplace accident to 'that one time Polen's chain went nips-up on the first lap of the 200'. They stare as if they have no idea what you're referencing because, in fact, they don't.

Individuality is a good quality to have as an employee; no one wants to be just another cog. So you do what you can to make your work space yours: hang a Mladin poster on the back wall of your cubical, glue your Nick Hayden-signed VIR 2000 knee-puck on your industrial work station, fill the back window of your company car with racing decals, wear a different racing t-shirt every day of the week. The man is not going to contain your racing spirit. You are a fan of the coolest type of motor racing, dammit, and you're gonna wear it proud.

See, Ben Younger is just like that. He's a big motorcycle racing fan, owns multiple bikes, does track day events, attends races, even hangs a Doohan poster on his workplace wall.

It's just that Ben Younger doesn't work in an office, doesn't have a company car to hang his DuHamel sticker on.

So he had to put them in his movie.

Younger is the 33 year-old writer director responsible for the recent movie Prime, a New York story about a pair of comically star-crossed lovers. Uma Thurman plays a woman in her prime who falls for a much younger man. As the film unfolds, clues reveal that the young man just happens to be a race fan, as evidenced by the Rossi and Doohan posters on his walls, and his fondness for the Speed channel and Moto GP Playstation games. His love for the sport doesn't have a thing to do with the plot of the film, and doesn't distract from the story in the least, but is, as Younger puts it simply an interesting personality detail—a detail which hails straight from Younger's own life, in which he is a fan-and even more than a fan—of the coolest type of motor racing around.

Younger began riding motorcycles when he was 19. A late start, perhaps, but aside from typical parental objection, he had to contend with a larger cultural one: "Jewish kids don't own motorcycles," he jokes.

But a genuine love of all things mechanical drew his attention to his first bike, an old Yamaha Virago, abandoned in an former girlfriend's garage. "It was love at first sight," he says. Younger asked her dad, "If I fix it up, can I ride it?" In the end "he just ended up giving it to me."

Next, he bought a Suzuki GSX1100G in Miami and rode it back home, through all sorts of hazardous weather and conditions. As fate would have it, "I rode it from Miami to New York, through all that, then promptly crashed it the night I got to New York."

After his first feature film, Boiler Room, wrapped, Younger took a further step in the sporting direction when actor Ben Affleck gave him a BMW K1200RS which whetted his appetite for a sport bike. He then bought himself an Aprilia Mille and now they're tight. "That's the bike I've been most out on, on the track," he says.

Because there's no better test of a motorcyclist's dedication to the sport than to check in on them after they've hit the ground hard, broken some bones and had their spleen removed or, worse yet, been so immobilized that they had to endure having their girlfriend perform clean-up after they use the bathroom.
His schedule allows for plenty of track days. "I'm a writer-director, so when you're in production, it's crazy. But in between movies, you know, as a writer, you take your time. I don't have a picture deal with the studios, so it's really up to me. I do a lot of re-writes too. That's how I make a living between movies." It was five years between Boiler Room and Prime.

Well, okay, we've been here before, several times, in fact. so much so that the story is almost pat: Hollywood guy discovers motorcycles and racing, falls in lust with the sport, is an semi-omnipresent fixture for a while, then slowly disappears. Next we see him on the greens at Pebble Beach, swinging some club around and wearing ridiculous pants. A question: Is Younger a short-timer or is he one of us?

I've found that wonderful way to gauge a new enthusiast's love of racing and the sport is to touch base with them after their first big crash. Because there's no better test of a motorcyclist's dedication to the sport than to check in on them after they've hit the ground hard, broken some bones and had their spleen removed or, worse yet, been so immobilized that they had to endure having their girlfriend perform clean-up after they use the bathroom. Getting back on the bike after that is what separates the true motorcyclists from the guys who are merely hanging around, or on.

Younger had raced at various tracks but it was at Pocono where he took and passed his Dean Test. "I broke everything, punctured a lung. I hit a concrete wall," he says quietly. And, after he healed up, he went riding.

Hey, that's not supposed to look like that. Younger feigns fear after his tire comes apart.
image thanks BY
Okay, he's one of us.

Authentic as he is in his dedication to the sport, any fantasy Younger may have had about a Walter Mitty-ish GP career aside (the first Jewish world champion!), he's probably not going to give up moviemaking for professional racing anytime soon. His pillion experience at the Laguna Seca MotoGP last July illustrates:

"I got to ride three laps on the back of Randy Mamola's bike, the Ducati Desmosedici. And my girlfriend got a chance as well.

"Before, when we were getting suited up, I went over to Randy and I said 'Look. I don't want the celebrity version of this ride. I'm a racer myself. I really want you to show me.' And he goes, 'Great. No problem then.'

Younger's girlfriend went first and he witnessed Mamola wheelie them out of the pit lane. "I saw him wheelie down the straight on the flying lap...at like 130 mph. And then he did a fifty-foot long stoppie coming back in."

That changed things a bit; Younger decided a small consultation was in order.

"I went over to Randy and they shut the bike for a second so I could actually talk to him and I said, 'Randy, forget everything I just said. I don't want the celebrity version. I don't want any version. I just wanna do three parade laps. I don't wanna die. Please don't ride the way you were just riding with my girlfriend." Younger reenacts the conversation humorously, in pure, plaintive Woody Allen tones, but all things considered, his pleading stems more from perfectly rational fear of death rather than from comic urban neurosis.

"You just don't realize how fast these guys are," he says.

Mamola refused, out of principle, to tone it down, however, and they ended up going seven seconds faster than the lap with Younger's girlfriend. "And, afterwards, I thought if I could get the president of Universal [Studios] on the back of that bike for three laps, she would understand."

Younger's above wish is in reference to his desire to make a movie about road racing. "It's never been done before, the movie I want to make. But this isn't the 70's anymore. When McQueen made LeMans it was a much different time, you know? Filmmakers owned that decade. So it's a tougher sell these days, especially racing movies. They're sort of poisonous to the studios. They haven't traditionally made a lot of money on them so it makes them nervous.

"But I just feel like road racing is a perfect subject for a motion picture because it's not just a guy stuck in a cage with a HANS device where he can't move his head. It's physical, you get to see the actor, see all of him, you know, hanging off the bike...crashing...it's a lot more visceral. Anyone who rides knows."

A project about Joey Dunlop, the late Irish road racer and hero of the Isle of Man, is on Younger's back burner. "I did go to the Isle of Man last June. I feel that is a venue that at least I could sell to a studio...it's unique; there's a much greater element of danger. Three people died when I was there last June. I rode the course maybe 15-20 times when I was there...I went as fast as I've ever gone on a bike, on a public road. I went 168 mph there. And I just thought, 'There's a movie here.'

"And I love Joey. He was an amazing character."

While tracing the course of some of Dunlop's footsteps in Belfast, he met with Dunlop's wife, Linda, who graciously gave him the rights to her husband's life story, although Younger admits he doesn't have a traditional bio-pic in mind. Instead, he'd like to situate Dunlop in a fictional tale, perhaps as mentor to a younger race. Setting the tale on the Isle of Man will be paramount though, for both factual as well as dramatic reasons. On the treacherous roads of the Isle of Man, "skill matters far more than what bike you're on."

As for us race fans, we've good reason to wait with genuine interest and anticipation. Because when a writer-director, especially one with a successful track record, says to himself, "There's a movie here...," there probably is.

Or, maybe he'll live the enthusiast dream—make enough money to never have to work again and just go riding.

You know, they say that Howard Hawks never made another movie after he discovered riding dirt bikes in the desert. Stay tuned.

ENDS

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