How Fixing Motorcycles Is a Bit Like Being a Veterinarian

Roland Sotello reflects on the ups and downs of running a small business.

In business since the 1970s, the Spare Parts Company in Philadelphia is a destination for owners of vintage bikes. The spot caught the eye of Cinema Mercantile, a crew of filmmakers who crafted this short portrait of the shop and its owner, Roland Sotello.

When customers bring their bikes in, Sotello explains, it's almost like dealing with a pet. "A lot of people don't realize what's wrong with their bikes, so if you really give them a good assessment they sort of feel more comfortable that you ... care what's going on." Owning a small business isn't easy; Sotello says that when he took over the shop from its founder, he had never thought about the "hours and hours" he'd have to put in after the nine-to-five work day as an owner. Still, he seems deeply satisfied with his work.

This documentary is part of an ongoing series from Cinema Mercantile. Mike Collins, one of the filmmakers involved, describes how the project came together: 

The Atlantic: What was the genesis of this series?

Mike Collins: After a long day shooting we went out and grabbed a drink at a bar. The other two guys on the crew and I started talking about how there were stories out there that we wanted to tell. And that we wanted to tell them the way we saw them in our heads, where we would have complete creative control. We thought, what if we made something that was "ours"? What if we didn't worry about getting paid to make this happen? What if we decided instead of just talking about this we actually went out and did it. What if, what if, what if ... and Cinema Mercantile was born.

How do you choose who to feature?

Normally I read an article online or see a cool piece in a magazine that sparks an idea. We knew we wanted to focus on people who make things. We live in a world where everything is mass produced and thrown away but this really interesting movement is popping up where people are making things by hand. From motorcycles to letterpress prints, even going as far as people becoming urban farmers. I'm fascinated by this world and the people that inhabit it and I wanted to tell their stories. But the short answer is that I spend a lot of time on the internet.

What is the production process like?

What I've found really interesting is that at first most people wouldn't even respond to my email. I would write "I want to make a short film on you and your work that you can use however you want. We just need a few hours of your time." And no one responded. I mean literally, the first six people I approached never bothered to respond. Then I reached out to Linda Lee Mellish from ReStore and she asked me to come in person to visit. After spending an hour with her we were ready to go.

Now, with the success of the first two pieces online, everyone responds! Then I go to visit them in person. It's always a good idea to see their space and say hi in person before I roll in with four other people and interrupt their world. We pick a date that works for everyone and we come in and shoot. Then it's off to editing, music selection and color. Once we have the final cut we release it online. We don't have a website and aren't sure we really need one. Our core audience are the type of people who either contribute to or are regular viewers of Vimeo so we're happy to have our films debut there. Once it's launched I spend some time reaching out to websites I like to visit and submit the film to them. We have been really lucky to have had a lot of interest and more placements than I ever expected. Video clearly is the currency online and there are a lot of great sites out there, like The Atlantic, that understand that people want a curated experience that extends to online viewing.

What's next for the project?

We recently filmed an amazing young letterpress designer named Bessie Anderson who is working out of a shop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and are finalizing details with Maxwell Hazan of Hazan Motorworks who builds motorcycles that probably should be considered works of art by hand out of a workshop in Greenpoint. We aren't sure what the next steps are going to be beyond that. All of us have full time jobs as well creating films for other people and that comes first, but I think it's safe to say we would all love for our little venture to become our primary gig.

For more work by Cinema Mercantile, visit their Vimeo channel

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Video

Just In