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Saam Gabbay’s silver dream: shooting the ‘Triple Nickel’ bike

Saam Gabbay’s silver dream: shooting the ‘Triple Nickel’ bike

© Saam Gabbay for Petrolicious

July 2015

US-based photographer and filmmaker Saam Gabbay teams up with classic bike enthusiast Stacie B. London to showcase her passion for racing in a film that touches on something more, as CPN Editor David Corfield discovers...

A conversation with Saam Gabbay takes many twists and turns. In the space of 45 minutes we go from animated discussions on philosophy, film and Porsche 911s to human behaviour and man’s continuing search for expression. Gabbay is as much occupied by people as the machines that define them. And in the case of Stacie B. London and the ‘Triple Nickel’, it was too good a story to miss...

A what? The ‘Triple Nickel’ is her affectionate moniker for a 1968 Honda CB160, a stripped–back racing motorbike that has become her passion as she races it across the USA in the American Historic Motorcycle Association race series. Saam ran into her at an art gallery and soon realised that she would be the perfect subject for a motoring website called Petrolicious that creates beautiful films of individual, engaging people for its discerning audience.

© Petrolicious

Please click on the image above to watch a Petrolicious trailer for the film shot by Saam Gabbay with the EOS 5D Mark III.

Saam takes up the story: “Stacie has a unique speaking cadence and I thought it would be great to have her describe her world to the Petrolicious audience. At the same time, motoring has been shot in just about every way and yet we still feel the need to bring a new angle to the genre. I wanted my film to feel handmade and intimate, so no sit-down interview, no dolly shots, no slider, no slo-mo. I wanted it to feel live and raw.”

Saam likes to bring a spirit of improvisation to a shoot, invoking curiosity. “Stacie was very generous with her inner workings and I was grateful for our connection during filming. It definitely opened the door for me creatively,” he remarks.

“My experience is that people show up depending on what kind of room you give them. I know Stacie as a competitive racer and I was thrilled she shared an incredibly vulnerable version of herself. You don't necessarily see the hard racer; this film was more about her journey.”


If there is a sense of ‘winging it’ for Saam, it’s for good reason. “When I do observational documentaries, it just seems like I show up with gear and just start, with no visible agenda,” he smiles. “That’s not what’s going on inside me of course. I feel more like a jazz musician. When people listen to a pianist improvise, they forget that actually that piano player has been playing for, like, 20 years... I wouldn’t say the piano player was winging it as much as flowing with it.”

© Saam Gabbay for Petrolicious

The sun sets over Stacie B. London at the El Mirage lake bed in California, USA.

He continues: “I show up to shoots knowing that as a creative, it’s my duty to contain the nausea and absolute terror of knowing that nothing is there. Nothing is pre-organised. It’s that terror of responsibility. But there is this weird pull inside of me that says that if I apply my process and apply my expertise then the story will present itself. I just need to dust and chip away until it starts to piece itself together. I love working this way because it requires that I forget entirely about myself and get into an acute state of listening and curiosity, focusing my attention on the subject. So it was with Stacie, and I was lucky that what unfolded was magic.”

“We started off by filming her in her garage as she prepared the bike for an upcoming race weekend. I took my EOS 5D Mark III , EOS-1D Mark IV and a handful of EF L-series lenses – 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.2 prime and a 70-200mm f/2.8 – and filmed her as she prepared her engine and got the bike rebuilt ready for testing. I shot inside the bike shop with mixed available light and would sometimes leave the [EOS] 1D [Mark IV] on the monopod on a tight shot as I would move to another camera to get timelapse.”

“Probably the first question we all get asked as creatives is ‘what kind of camera did you use?’ and every so often I reflect on why I use the gear I have,” Saam ponders. “Every camera creates a different connection to the subject, so what we point at the world really makes a difference. But the biggest decision for me is how a camera feels, and Canons feel a part of me. I truly love holding them.”

He continues: “The really great thing about the EOS 5D Mark III is that – as well as being easy to shoot both still and video – the image quality continues to astonish me. Every iteration of this camera increases its wow-factor. It’s the ideal camera for do-it-alls and Canon has done a wonderful job of making it easy to go back and forth from stills to video.”

“For my kind of work, a camera is much more than just its technical specs,” Saam affirms. “The EOS 5D Mark III is not a threatening object. You choose your camera according to the impression you want to make and to be successful at films like ‘Triple Nickel’ I believe it’s important to be able to disappear – which is so unlike me usually because when I’m with a group of people I’m the loud clown and a complete pain-in-the-ass! Shooting with a stripped down 5D creates a very different on-set psychology than when I’m shooting a built-out C300 kit with a cage and booms and such. Ultimately for me, what makes Canon special is that it feels like home in my hands. The Canon UI for me is ‘home’. When I shoot with a 5D I add the BG-E11 battery grip because I like the extra weight and balance. Let’s face it, aren’t they just beautiful objects? I love their form and that is important to me as much as how they work and the quality they give. I like a camera that is a muse!”

© Saam Gabbay for Petrolicious

Saam Gabbay films Stacie B. London with his EOS 5D Mark III on a monopod.

“Speaking of quality, I wish I had a photograph of people’s faces when I lift up that 85mm f/1.2 prime,” he laughs. “That in itself is a joy to watch. My bare-bones rig consists of a Zacuto finder on the back of the 1D or 5D to help with focus and a RODE mini-boom mounted to the hot shoe for sync and backup sound. For this shoot I had the main camera mounted onto a monopod with a tripod base, with a fluid ball head that allowed me keep the camera alive. I used a couple of external audio recorders placed around the bike shop to capture dialogue.”

“After the initial garage scenes we then took Stacie and her bike to El Mirage Lake, a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino, California, where she could perform some tests with no speed restrictions – and also because those bikes don’t really have brakes. That’s what I really wanted: just her, in her leathers, on the bike, riding flat out and free of other visual distractions. I filmed her out of the back of the Petrolicious camera van and let me tell you, I’d never experienced dust like it... thank you EOS-1D Mark IV! I looked like a white zombie from a ‘Mad Max’ film and I was grateful that the camera was weather-sealed. Everything cleaned up just fine. I only regret not having a photo of me with eye-cup raccoon eyes…”

Saam continues: “Many photographers and filmmakers use physical sensations inside them to guide their creative decisions when in the moment of shooting. I’m hooked on those feelings, of being in the zone and focusing on the positive. I shot hours of footage for this film – literally gigabytes of stuff – because I would get no second chance. When I know I am getting good material I often get quite animated and vocal and by the end of the second day in the desert I had no voice left! That was definitely a good sign.”


There were five very distinct ways this film could have been edited. Saam reflects: “We could have focused on Stacie’s accident, or the motor build, or her race day with the Le Mans-style start. Nadia Fugazza, Petrolicious’ in-house editor, had an immediate sense of how to focus on the human nature of the film and did an expert job of wrangling all the material.”

© Saam Gabbay for Petrolicious

Stacie B. London surveys the El Mirage lake bed in California, USA, the testing location for her ‘Triple Nickel’ Honda racing motorbike.

“I’m grateful to Petrolicious for the platform they have created for filmmakers. Petrolicious handled all of the post-production. The colouring was very true to how it was shot. I’d say 90 percent of what I wanted made it to the final cut. That’s not bad going when you hand over your footage to somebody who wasn’t there. For the stills, I took a lot of yellow out of the sand in the desert and I moved the blue hues of the sky. I was very pleased with the colour on the stills and impressed with the tonal range of the 5D in that harsh desert light.”

“As much as I love motoring, it’s always about people for me,” says Saam. “This film is not just about a bike. It’s a moving portrait of Stacie,” he concludes. “It’s about her heart and her love. And I couldn’t have got that with any other camera. I believe in serendipity. No other camera lets me move so quickly.”

To view Saam Gabbay's complete film on the Petrolicious website, shot with the EOS 5D Mark III (with the EOS-1D Mark IV used for B-roll footage), just click here!

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Biografie: Saam Gabbay

Saam Gabbay

Saam Gabbay is a director, photographer, and creative director based in Los Angeles, USA, and working internationally. He has collaborated with some of the most recognisable brands in the world including Apple, Shell, Toyota, Acura, Infiniti, PlayStation, Ford, Coke and TrueCar in motion graphics, directing commercials, branding, photography, interactive, and music. Outside his commercial projects, his photography has been published in Numero, Big Magazine, Flash Art, Art Forum and “911 Love,” a new book about the history of the Porsche 911. Fine art collaborations with Katy Schimert, Kip Fulbeck and Michael Joaquin Grey have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoCA, and the Tate Modern, plus museums and galleries worldwide.


Stacie B. London surveys the El Mirage lake bed in California, USA, the testing location for her ‘Triple Nickel’ Honda racing motorbike.