Boarding Gets Therapeutic in “Minding the Gap”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Bing Liu

When Bing Liu started making his documentary brainchild “Minding the Gap,” he was a one-man show. After spending a year shooting and editing on his own, he started collaborating with Kartemquin Films in 2014. Two years later, co-producer Diane Quon joined the project.

“Bing started out doing everything — cinematography, sound, editing, and he’s even in the film,” says Diane. “Every time we see Bing, he’s showing us a new cut. He’s constantly editing.”

“Minding the Gap” is about three friends in the Rust Belt who find solace on their skateboards from their troubled home lives. Their story is one that Bing relates to closely — he’s one of the three men featured in the film – which marks his directorial debut and won Special Jury award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan appear in “Minding the Gap” by Bing Liu, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Bing Liu, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“My original intent was to travel the world interviewing skateboarders,” explains Bing. “Many of them come from broken or abusive homes, so I changed the focus of the film to explore this topic and got drawn into it myself. It’s definitely not a stereotypical story about a slacker skater doing tricks. It shows how skating becomes a community for young men who lack community at home.”

Bing began making skateboarding films as a teenager, editing them on Adobe Premiere Pro. “I’m a self-taught editor,” explains Bing. “I went to school to become an English teacher, but while I was there I started working on film sets as an electrician.”

Bing Liu, director of “Minding the Gap”, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Emily Strong, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

After completing his literature degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, he joined the International Cinematographers Guild, working in the camera department on a variety of films and television series.

It was while Bing was working on another project that he met Joshua Altman, who would eventually become his co-editor on “Minding the Gap.” Joshua’s editing credits include the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winning “We Live in Public_,_” and the 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary “The Tillman Story.” In fact, three of the six feature-length documentaries he’s edited have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. “Josh and I work well together,” says Bing. “He brings a lot of great ideas to the cutting room.”

One of these included the introduction of a virtual whiteboard to map out the storyline for “Minding the Gap.” From there, they would divvy up the footage — shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS C300 cameras — into reels that they could each work on from their own computers while sitting in the kitchen of their Airbnb rental in California. One would receive the other’s sequence, stitch it together with his own, and play it back — and then they would go surfing. They would return to talk about their latest work before repeating the process with another sequence.

“The ability to build cuts and share things back and forth in Premiere Pro was super helpful, especially once the story was laid out,” says Josh. “The run-and-gun aspect of setting up our laptops, moving around, going where we needed to go, sharing things, and avoiding the import process was fantastic.”

“We couldn’t have done it without Premiere Pro,” says Bing. “At one point my flight was delayed by seven hours. So I just set-up shop at the airport with my laptop and hard drive and started cutting. We could literally work from anywhere.”

When Bing had to return to Chicago, the two used Dropbox to share files back and forth. They are both looking forward to learning more about the Shared Projects feature in Premiere Pro, which will let them collaborate even when they aren’t sitting right next to each other.

For Bing, the premiere of the film marks the end of a five-year journey. “It’s been a wild ride,” he says. “Every year has been different and it was interesting to finally sit down for the last two months and tie it all together.”

“Minding the Gap” premiered on January 21, 2018, in the U.S. Documentary category at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. On August 17, 2018, the film released in Los Angeles and New York theaters, as well as on Hulu.