The Moped Diaries is a film feels much longer than it actually is. Now, that may sound like a slight against the film, but really, it’s the opposite—a testament to just how much directing duo Nick Vitale and Tyler Nilson (along with their creative team at Lucky Treehouse) cram in there. This is a film about an entire life lived on a rural island off the coast of North Carolina and how our protagonist—faced with a series of trials and tribulations—finally gets the gumption to move onward into the great big world. Comedic and sweet, with faint vibes of Wes Anderson, The Moped Diaries is a beautifully shot film that will infect you with a delightful case of the warm fuzzies.
Now, this short isn’t perfect. Story-wise it’s somewhat thin—essentially Levi, our protagonist, is completely passive as the events of the film wash over him in montage. But, it’s hard not to admire the craft on display here. We dart from moment to moment, eventually building to the inevitable juncture when Levi learns to—you know—grab life by the horns and take control of his own destiny. It’s a somewhat obvious message bolstered by an even more obvious symbol (literally, crossing a bridge), but, damn, this film still gets to you. By the conclusion, you too are ready to venture boldly into the unknown in search of adventure and new experiences.
The setting of The Moped Diaries is a character in and of itself. Shot in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the town of Wanchese (where the film’s co-director Tyler Nilson is from), the film is bathed in summer sun streaks. You can practically taste the salt in the air, smell the ocean and fish. The locations and props feel lived-in and real mainly because—well—they are.
As Nilson elaborates via e-mail, “I contacted an old friend whose dad had a boat yard and we went and met with him. His name is Winki and he ended up being a huge part of the film. He did everything for us, gave us forklifts for crane shots, boats, and his grandchildren. Everyone was just excited we were there and doing cool stuff.”
The process of creating the film was surprisingly unstructured. Two summers ago, the small creative team showed up on Wanchese with a 5D, a bounce card, and a tripod, aiming to make a film. Quickly they learned that they needed more preparation to make the whole process work.
“We shot for two weeks that summer,” relates Nilson. “A LONG time for a short but two guys move slow and we had high ambitions. Then we came home to edit… and it sucked… bad…It was a 22 minute cut that didn’t flow well.”
Thankfully, they didn’t give up, working hard on the script and changing about 85% of their initial pass on the film. The following summer, they returned, grabbing those stunning water shots and filling in the gaps that the rewrites had created. The result is a leaner product that has a really strong sense of pace and style. This film may just be one long montage, but as we move from little vignette to vignette, from joke to joke, from moment to moment, it feels like we’re getting access to a special cinematic world. We watch as Levi just sort of lets life happen to him, and then, ultimately, comes to the realization that only an active participant truly gets to live life.