On, the sports brand, tells the story of the “world’s fastest blind sprinter”
Writer / producer Andy Fackrell developed the project, shot in crisp black and white by Little Minx director Andrew Dosunmu and cinematographer Mika Altskan. They deliver a poignant and perfectly paced story, well served by the playful / ethereal score of Peter Raeburn. Rapper Black Thought from the Roots and comedian JB Smoove make appearances, alongside Brown’s mother, Francine, and other key people in his life.
SPOILER: There’s even a twisted ending. Due to an injury, Avery will not be Brown’s running guide at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. This literal detachment is packed with raw emotions for both and provides a coda that helps elevate the film’s treatise on life, friendship, sacrifice, and love.
Aired on Untetheredfilm.com and other platforms, the documentary recorded 170,000 views in less than a week, impressive numbers for a long-lasting offering from a niche brand.
In our conversation below, edited for clarity, Fackrell takes us behind the scenes of “Untethered”.
Muse: How did the brand relate to David Brown?
Andy Fackrell: We signed David and Jerome a few years ago, with the goal of using a Paralympian to tell their brand’s story during the Olympics. David’s story fits well with their “Dream On” philosophy of celebrating the human spirit.
They approached me with this media idea, as well as the need to showcase a normal running shoe, not just the cleats of these elite athletes. So the New York Marathon scout run was my role model for telling David’s story and the perfect opportunity to bring people back to his past. [They pop up to chat with Brown and Avery at various points along the route.]
Were these appearances a surprise for the two riders?
For David, we have kept certain aspects secret. I wanted the real thrill of meeting his mentors for the first time in a decade – the shock of reuniting with his first coach, Tim Cobb, then meeting his heroes JB Smoove and Black Thought… and finally his mother in Central Park. It was my nod to This Is Your Life. But Jérôme and Francine, his mother, had known the idea for almost two years. I had emailed them for clues about David’s favorite musicians, comedians, and cultural figures. All credit to these two for keeping it low.
Obviously, after a while, however, David understood.
When he met Coach Cobb, his high school coach, it was a special moment for them both, and very real. As a blind man, David has highly developed defense mechanisms, so he was obviously worried about being surprised. We have chosen not to edit these scenes. By the time he met Black Thought, he knew the trick and was a lot more relaxed, and more like, “Oh, who’s next?”
How did you choose your director?
Andrew’s football movie for Nike Nigeria showed he has an excellent visual style, a photographer’s eye. I wanted “Untethered” to be a doc, but a beautiful one. There must be something unique about the shots. This is where Andrew really pushed me to turn into a junkyard, on Coney Island, and sometimes stray from the New York Marathon course.
Why shoot in black and white with touches of color?
I wanted to celebrate the reopening of New York, a tribute to films like Manhattan. Black and white also reflected David’s limited vision and eventual blindness. The color snapshots of her childhood stood out more—[and symbolize a time] when he could see. It was also a moving storytelling decision, as I always imagined the sheet music was jazzy and the visuals and titles looked like a classic record cover.
There is a foreground with David’s head silhouetted against the skyline as he takes the Staten Island ferry. It seems to crystallize the message of the film, at least to me. He is standing, indomitable. Yet it is a moment of bad humor and reflection, not a cinematic cliché.
The openness to Staten Island defines the relationship: David controls his career but needs other people like Jerome to train him.
And there’s a memorable sequence with Jerome guiding David’s hands over a model of the Statue of Liberty.
This scene says a lot about David’s obsession with details, his brain absorbing information from Jerome, so he can process what the statue represents. I wanted this to be a long, uncut scene that allows you to follow David calculating the information in real time. His admiration for Jerome’s life and love for providing the information made it my favorite shot. It was a good time for the musical theme of Peter Raeburn to come into play.
Any anecdotes or BTS stuff from the production stand out?
After we got carried away and the team left, David’s fiancee, Rebekah, and I were chatting. It wasn’t until then that she told me that she was a marginal Olympic archer and had improved so quickly thanks to her new coach — David! A blind man trains an archer [on how to focus and dig deep during competition]—A sport where sight is the critical facet. Man does not impose any limits on his life.
In my entire long career in sport, I have probably never met someone as inspiring and likeable as David and Jerome. They will not stop helping you. David even emailed quotes a week later because he forgot to say how much he loved JB on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I didn’t use them because they didn’t look real and in the moment, which was something I was adamant about for this movie.
How does “Untethered” work from a brand perspective?
Once again, the brand aims to show the best of the human spirit, and David’s persistence despite his disability is a prime example. These two men, along with others in the film, from Coach Cobb to Black Thought, represent the best of us, at a time when we are obsessed with our own individual accomplishments. These people gave so much to David, and he gave it back to them with his wonderful outlook on life.