“The Tour de France is hell for everyone—the cyclists and all of the organizations around it. You can’t control it, and for a film crew that’s the worst thing. Either you’re there when it happens, or you miss the shot.” Fortunately, the Wired to Win crew had Rhonda Edmonds’ formidable organizational abilities and fluent French on their side and they got the shots.
A bilingual “go-between”As the film company’s production coordinator, Edmonds handled all of the French and American crews’ travel and hotel arrangements and wrangled all of their equipment. The IMAX cameras were shipped in from Canada and the U.S., a special mount for action and aerial shots came from Germany, and most of the grip and electrical equipment was rented in France. Rhonda Edmonds uses her excellent short-term memory, along with her ability to track many things at once—most of which change on a daily basis—to do her job. “Everything tends to filter through me at some point or another,” she explains. “I have a global view of what’s going on, even when I'm not on location. I like the ongoing speed, although it gets nerve-racking.”
The last shoot, in May 2005, definitely involved some nail-chewing when delays in the schedule meant that the shipping company couldn’t guarantee on-time delivery to the southern city of Nice. Edmonds had to arrange last-minute overweight permits to allow two camera assistants aboard a commercial flight with one ton of IMAX equipment and gear. Edmonds did persuade Air France to say yes, but not until 11 p.m. two days before the shoot.
Another challenge was bridging the culture gap between the French and American crews, since she and producer Daniel Ferguson were the only two North Americans who spoke French. The crews’ working habits differed, as did their other priorities. “After a long shooting day, the American crew preferred a quick dinner, McDonald's or pizza, and then to return to their hotels,” she recalls with a smile. “The French crew always preferred—even expected—a three-course restaurant meal lasting several hours, with wine, of course!”
Catching the cycling bugEdmonds spent her junior year of college in Paris and figured her next visit would be as a tourist. But after an unrewarding year working on Wall Street, she fell back on her experience at New York’s High School of Performing Arts and found work in France as a dancer. That was 23 years ago, during which time she married a Frenchman, had children, and was hired by a French production company that made commercials. Eager for more international projects, she was excited to be offered a freelance position with a line production company that was interested in the Wired to Win project.
Edmonds was already a regular at the thrilling Tour de France finish on the Champs Elysées. She’d read Lance Armstrong’s book, “and of course, knowing what he lived through made me a fan.” It also made her want to understand this grueling sport. “The cyclists do it for love; it’s their profession. I could identify with that because dancing is very hard on the body,” she explains. So when the French company she worked for didn’t land the Wired to Win job, Edmonds got the green light to pursue it on her own. In 2003 the Tour de France finally agreed to let an IMAX camera crew film the race, and Edmonds came aboard as the crew’s production coordinator.
The thrill of the raceEdmonds was occasionally able to get away from the office and go on location, where she loved seeing the crew at work with the equipment that she’d brought in. A highlight was watching the Tour’s 13th Stage in 2003 at the Port de Pailheres, whose 2,001-meter climb was the steepest of the race. “The crew set up an amazing crane that soared out over the crowds lining the narrow mountain road and held the director of photography and the bulky IMAX camera,” she recalls. “Finally, the cyclists began to climb the winding road. When they reached the summit in the scorching heat, I expected them to be in slow motion. Instead they whizzed by! I managed to identify a few riders, but if I’d blinked at the wrong moment, they would’ve been nothing more than a blur of colors.”
Edmonds didn’t feel satisfied with her choice of career until she discovered film production. She is used to being one of the few women on the crew. “We have to knock down doors, but there is a place for women in the film business,” she observes. “And finally, at 47, I think I’ve found my niche.”
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Name: Rhonda Edmonds
Born: Brooklyn, New York, 1958
Where I go to watch IMAX films: The Geode, in Paris
Job: Film production coordinator
Education: B.A., Tufts University
Book/s I'd want if I were stranded on a desert island: Milan Kundera. I love The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Favorite place to visit: Somewhere I haven’t been yet. I’d love an extended visit through Africa.
Favorite food: All types of exotic cuisine, especially Asian and African
Favorite artist/kind of music: R&B, jazz
Biking experiences: Ouch! I prefer roller-blading!