Speed. Since the beginning of time humans have been obsessed with going faster than our biology allowed. When technology allowed us to go harness the power of many horses, our quest to be the fastest on land had only just begun. A new documentary on National Geographic Channel, Breaking Barriers: Mankind’s Pursuit of Speed chronicles our obsession with being the fastest in history. We chatted with director, Jacob Rosenberg (Bandito Brothers) about this film which features some of the best-known names in motorsports and Grammy award-winning musical artist, Tim McGraw.
“Breaking Barriers demonstrates what it takes to build and drive a vehicle faster than anyone on the planet. Follow American automobile entrepreneur John Hennessey’s pursuit of the production vehicle land speed record and trace the roots of land speed racing from the early days of hot rodding to today. We discover that since the advent of the automobile, the pursuit of speed and the fight for the title of fastest carare intrinsically connected.” – National Geographic Channel
When did production on Breaking Barriers start?
The project was the brain child of Geoffrey Campbell from MediaCom. Geoff works with Pennzoil and pitched an idea to make a TV show about innovation and record breaking achievements in motorsports to align with the Pennzoil PurePlus product launch. We had a lot of initial conversations in November of last year, then our first official shoot was in December down in Houston with the Hennessey team as they were preparing their Venom GT for its record run.
This film features John Hennessey, Roger Penske and others, including Country music star, Tim McGraw. How did you get these guys to participate?
With Pennzoil backing the show, there were certain people and relationships that were a natural fit for the story we wanted to tell which was essentially to articulate the lineage of a character who tweaks and tunes their cars taking them to the absolute limit of their potential. As it turns out, the story is a very American story (which most of your readers are well aware of), especially when you have characters like Frank Lockhart, Craig Breedlove and John Hennessey bringing Land Speed records back to America from overseas. To this point, Tim was an incredible fit because he is a car guy, he’s very patriotic and he has a voice that resonates and respects these salt-of-the-earth guys. Our Producer Ari Palitz started to dive in talking to anybody who would listen and we got on research calls with experts and historians and started to piece together the connected tissue of these individuals who made an impact were still around to share their story. Once everyone sat in the chair for their interview it was very clear that this was going to be an amazing project that shed light on an important aspect of the automotive history of our country.
When did you first become interested in making films?
I grew up as part of the Star Wars generation and my father always had a Nikon Still Camera and Nikon Super 8 camera so we constantly had slide shows and made short Super 8 films. I just remember being enamored with watching movies and knew that’s what I wanted to do at an early age. I just loved getting lost in a movie.
Which directors’ work affected you the most?
I keep coming back to Stanley Kubrick because of the meticulous nature in which he researched his projects and then how precisely he executed every frame he photographed. That is just on a technical scale because on a narrative scale he was absolutely fearless in making the story he wanted. I think I was about 20 years old when I went back and starting really watching Clockwork Orange for example and seeing how the rawness of the execution of that film perfectly sold the idea that he wanted to convey, the material demanded an approach that was perfectly executed. The same can be said for Dr. Strangelove, Barry Lyndon, 2001… most all of his films. But for me, the passion in which he embraced his vision is what inspires me most when looking at being affected by the work. There are so many filmmakers that have affected me, Kubrick is just the one I come back to most often.
What are your top five favorite films of all time?
Very tough question because it always changes, but my go to favorites are Raging Bull, The Conversation, High and Low, Blue and then another 20 that are in a tie for 5th… Caddyshack, The Long Goodbye, The Last Detail, Eyes Wide Shut, There Will Be Blood, Raising Arizona, The Insider, …
How did you prepare for this project as a filmmaker?
It’s important for me to admit that I am not a car guy despite the fact that my business partners and Bandito cohorts are aficionados and experts. The preparation for the project was researching the narrative arc that connected the past and present day Tuners and Hot Rodders, then it was a matter of being very present to listen to each person’s story and arriving at the well from which their shared passion springs. Fortunately I am surrounded by car experts to correct me and make fun of me so I could keep certain details in check, but my job really was to illicit each individual’s story and make sure that they were connected to each other and fit the theme of the show we sold. I always like to be prepared to a limited degree when you go into an interview because if you know too much about your subject you risk leading them to a destination that you are surmising, assuming or projecting. Whereas if you get some facts, dates, themes and curiosities, you make the interview a journey of discovery where the destination is gold for your story.
A Final Word
Breaking Barriers: Mankind’s Pursuit of Speed premieres on National Geographic at 8pm EST May 7, 2014. It airs again May 8th at 1am EST, and again on May 14, 2014 at 4pm EST so we urge you to tune in or set your DVR for this exceptional show.
You can keep up with Jacob Rosenberg by following him on social media –