Bryan Fogel Uncovers An International Conspiracy in Icarus on Netflix
“I found the Lance Armstrong doping scandal fascinating. Here was the most tested athlete in the world and he managed never to test positive. I’m interested in the process. I contacted anti-doping scientist, Don Catlin and asked him if what Lance Armstrong did is still possible,” said director Bryan Fogel on the subject of his new documentary film, Icarus. The film was initially conceived as an experiment in which Fogel would dope on-screen, race professionally and avoid testing positive.
Fogel started shooting in May 2014 with initial investments in an impassioned sports documentary. After the first year, he put together a 25-minute sizzle reel, showcasing the best of what he’d shot. He managed to get it into the hands of prolific documentary producer, Dan Cogan. “I saw the incredible 20 min reel. It had a high quality level across the board – the cinematography, editing, music, timing, and the concept to prank the sports world was perfect,” revealed Cogan.
With Cogan’s additional financing, Fogel kept plugging away, shooting full time with DP Jake Swantko who traveled the world with him, shooting all of the cycling, car mounts, and drone and verite footage. Through his connection to Catlin, Fogel was introduced to Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia’s anti doping program, and ultimately the focus of Icarus. In an on-camera conversation, Rodchenkov confesses to his involvement in helping Russian athletes to beat doping tests in the Olympic games.
“The film became about Grigory. He became a whistleblower and we brought him into protective custody so he could testify in front of the Department of Justice. We were filming the whole time as the drama unfolded,” said Fogel. After Grigory’s revelations, the closely budgeting film exploded. The filmmakers then scrapped hundreds of hours of footage and added more crew. “There were two cameramen and 7 editors, with Jon Bertain as lead editor, and 5 assistants. Timothy Rode shot the Los Angeles footage and also edited,” Fogel added.
For post production, archival specialists and Russian translators were hired and extensive graphics were added to illustrate the doping process on screen. “The graphics sequence was inspired by spy films. The lab and the urine bottles had to look real. It took a while to produce that – it was an important sequence as an explainer on how the urine was swapped,” revealed Fogel.
Cogan stated, “This film is very unique. I’m not usually this involved. My job is usually to oversee and finance. I had to set up criminal and immigration attorneys for Grigory and coordinate with the DOJ. We had enormous security, changed offices, then took the entire edit offline and hired security to avoid any leaks after Grigory’s emails to Bryan were published on Russian TV.”
In 2017, Netflix acquired the expose with a subscriber base of 118 million people around the world. Cogan concluded, “We wanted this film to be seen by as many people as possible and nobody does it better than Netflix.