Derby queen

Photo By brad Bynum

Filmmaker Valerie Bischoff grew up in the Reno area, and she’s currently working on Derby Kings, a movie set in Nevada that will serve as her thesis project for a MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University. For more information, or to donate to the film’s production fund, visit

Give me a quick synopsis of the movie, and tell me where you are in the production.

It’s about two demolition derby-driving brothers whose relationship is on the brink of collapse. The story’s basically about the older brother Jim’s forgiveness of his younger brother through this ritual that they do together, the demolition derby. As far as production, we’ve been working on it for the past year. Right now, we’re still in preproduction, and I’m working with a classmate who’s still in New York [Mayuran Tiruchelvam]. They’re doing work on the insurance and stuff there, and I’m working with a local, Winter Carrera. She’s Paiute and is from the community that we’re going to be shooting in, so she’s been helping with location scouting and sending out casting calls through all the tribes.

Where are you shooting?

The story takes place in Wadsworth, so we’re going to be shooting there, and then the demolition derby that we’re going to be shooting is in Yerington. So we’re going to shoot at a real demolition derby for the climatic scenes.

How did you get interested in demolition derbies?

I went to my first demolition derby at the Nevada State Fair in 2009, and it was just like an amazing, insane, apocalyptic spectacle.

Yeah, they’re really fun.

Yeah! And I was like, wow, I really want to set a story in this world. So, last summer my brother and I went to seven derbies in Northern Nevada and California and made a little documentary project to have an excuse to hang out with drivers and meet people and try to understand their real motivations for why they race.

Want to tell me about the fundraising that you’re doing?

We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, and we’re actually pretty close to reaching our goal, which is awesome. So, all the money that we raise is going to go directly into production … renting equipment, and we have to buy a duplicate demolition derby car, so the funds will go into building that and transporting. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the film community. People are going to be donating their time and equipment, so the funds will just be for all the expenses that we can’t get donated, like air fare for other crew members. …

What makes demolition derbies appealing?

There’s so many things. First and foremost, just the spectacle of it. It’s such a uniquely strange American ritual that you really don’t see in other parts of the world, except Australia I think is the only other place that does it really. But also, and this might get kind of philosophical, but looking at old Westerns, and images of the West and rodeos and things like that, it feels like this strange modern rodeo. And the fact that it’s this ritualistic thing that ties a community together is really interesting. Especially in a lot of these places where the derbies are held, especially in places where they’re really big, it’s such an important keystone of the fair. The other thing that really interests me is that anyone can build a car and get good at this specific kind of skill and be celebrated as a local hero for having these qualities that no one else can have.

Is it destructive and dangerous? Or is it just good, clean, family fun?

No, it’s like strange, mutated, destructive family fun. But it’s definitely such a family ritual, and secrets of demolition derby drivers are passed down from generation to generation, so there are definitely like dynasties of demolition derby drivers.