Thomas Vanderham - From The Collective to Return to Earth
The Collective and Anthill Films have made seven full-length mountain bike movies over the last 15 years and Thomas Vanderham has been in all of them. From the opening scene in The Collective to his moto-sized senders in Seasons, following Sam Hill at home on the North Shore to the release of Return to Earth. A lot of the major moments in Thomas’ riding career have been captured in these films.
We first signed Thomas 19 years ago when he was just a kid in high school and at that time the North Shore freeride scene was beginning to gain momentum. Local photographer, Sterling Lorence, had just gotten his first cover shot of BIKE magazine and shortly after he and Thomas began to work together on their home trails.
Sterling has been the main photographer for all three movies from The Collective and stayed with the crew as they restructured for four more as Anthill Films. Being present for all seven films has given Sterling and Thomas a unique relationship. They’ve grown their careers in parallel with one another and documented some of the finer moments along the way.
“The Collective made a big splash when it first came out – and I’m not sure that any of us were really expecting that. The timing was perfect with freeride mountain biking emerging, but until this film, it’d largely been covered through single hits and big features. The fact that The Collective even showed singletrack felt different. I think it was more relatable to riders.
The opening shot set the stage for the whole film. It was a candid moment and it happened without me even knowing. We’d gotten up at 4:45am to shoot the opening drop at first light, and for me, at the time I was lining up a big drop. I was so focused on what I had to do and was waiting for the go-ahead from the team, I didn’t even know that the filmer, Jonathan Schramm, was behind me shooting.”
“Before this trip, I’d travelled internationally to Europe to ride and that always felt pretty easy and straight forward. Morocco was my first real adventure to the other side of the world; we all got sick, didn’t know where we were and weren’t sure what would happen if things went wrong – it was a totally different world.
The impact that trip had on me continues to sink in to this day. Mostly because I can’t believe how remote we were. That road gap was so far in the middle of nowhere! I’ll never forget it because we found the spot, built it, and then I spent 4 hours sitting at the top of the run in waiting for wind which eventually forced us to extend our trip. Like my story from The Collective, we had to wake up super early the next morning and drive 2 hours to the gap to get the shot before the wind picked up for the day. Maximum stress.”
“To this day this was one of the most involved projects I’ve ever worked on. I was working with ‘Big Red’ Ted Tempany on the build and we visited five or six ranches around BC before finding a place that would let us build the way we wanted.
It took four separate shoots to get the segment done because I took some really big crashes. The line was moto-inspired which made for some of the biggest jumps I’d hit to date. I wanted to push the limits of how high and far I could go on my mountain bike and I remember it being a huge relief when I finally put tires to dirt. After the first day of practice runs, I finally hit the big step up. I’d put a computer on my bike to look at speed and the highest number I saw during the shoot was 85 km/h.”
“I grew up in North Vancouver and the trails on Mount Seymour descend right to my house. The whole theme of Follow Me was to have riders paired up, and it was pretty cool to be able to show Sam Hill around my backyard. Sam was one of the fastest DH riders in the world at that time.
I’d spent some time building lines for the shoot and it was pretty cool to see Sam riding unfamiliar terrain and one-off features when he was known for smashing race tracks. It was amazing to watch his bike control on the slippery, technical, unforgiving North Shore trails. A lot of people struggle on The Shore the first few times they ride here…Sam didn’t.”
Strength in Numbers
“Aggy and I went down a month early to scope and build for the Utah segment, which basically turned into the two of us rallying quads in the desert. The goal of the shoot was to ride big mountain lines while also incorporating Green River’s natural landscape into big hits.
This shoot happened in November and I ended up taking a massive crash and separating my shoulder quite badly. It forced us to delay the rest of the shoot until February, which was just 2 months before the world premiere. When Aggy and I went back to get the remaining shots, I ended up manning a camera for a shot that got used in the film. I’m pretty stoked to have an ‘additional cinematography by’ credit in closing titles!”
“Concept shoots are hard, and this was one was especially difficult. The idea of dirt falling from the sky was inspired by trail builder and longtime Whistler Bike Park rider, Adam Billinghurst. The Anthill crew had to ‘re-dress’ the frame after every run through, which meant a ton of time was spent distributing fresh dirt, raking out our tracks, re-covering the trees, etc. For us as riders, it meant there was a lot of waiting around and then going from zero to a hundred in order to make the film as entertaining as possible.
The Whistler Bike Park has been an amazing place to have up the road for me. I’ve done countless laps over the years and it’s definitely helped shape my riding to where it is today. I’ve shot many videos in the park, but this one was especially cool as it featured the park in a different way.”
Return to Earth
“Similar to unReal this was another concept shoot that was difficult to make happen. We were shooting the autumn colours in Quebec and needed to re-dress every scene. The major difference between this and the unReal segment was that we were fighting against nature’s clock. Everyday we’d wake up to more leaves that had fallen from the tree branches and throughout the day big wind gusts would leave more branches bare. The whole shoot was a crazy balance of waiting long enough for the colours to be perfect, but not so long that the leaves left the trees bare.
I think the concept of the film really came through in this segment. Return to Earth is all about being aware of the time you have and making the most of it. Living by the moments that are the most important to you.”
Thomas and Sterling have had an incredible ride together through the release of these films. With Return to Earth, Thomas’ riding mixed in with a specific concept has helped bring the imagery we see today to a whole new level.