Motorcycle dreams

Malibu resident Scott Gillen, who directs well-known TV commercials, at his Built by Thugs garage, where contestants on the Speed Channel TV show "Build or Bust," created by Gillen, build custom-made motorcycles they have dreamed up. If the bike starts, they get to keep the machine. Hans Laetz / TMT

In a new twist on reality TV, contestants of “Build or Bust” dream up, draw and build their own custom motorcycle. If it starts in the end, they get to keep the $60,000 machine.

By Hans Laetz / Special to The Malibu Times

Mix a big scoop of the recent reality TV show craze with some chrome, machined steel and big exhaust pipes. Add a dash of the fanciful dreams of motorcycle-crazed youths. Now harness that image to the engine of young men’s desires to own a custom show bike, and put it on a cable channel devoted to all things loud, shiny and fast.

And if the thing will start, the contestant gets to keep the $60,000 custom cycle that he dreamed up, drew and built.

Those are the ingredients for “Build or Bust,” a cable TV show created by Malibu commercial director Scott Gillen, entering its second season on the Speed Channel television network.

“For the 60,000 people trying to come on this show, this is the chance of a lifetime,” said a gleaming Gillen as he surveyed a half-dozen custom cycles parked, in various stages of completion, at his TV studio-custom cycle shop at a top secret location somewhere in the 310 area code. Gillen does not want to reveal the location so would-be contestants don’t show up unannounced.

It seems like a ride of his lifetime for this kid from the Valley, who grew up and gets to play with cars, motorcycles and big camera lenses for a living.

Gillen, a Sweetwater Mesa resident, has made his name as a director for car commercials, the ones that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn out a 30-second epic that can make or break a car line.

If you’ve seen that new Volkswagen Beetle screaming down a roller coaster track, you’ve seen Gillen’s work. He built an actual 110-foot-high coaster track and put an actual Beetle on it for that production.

But his reality show on the Fox Sports-owned Speed Channel is a big step for the audience, taking 14 young people from admiring those custom choppers in cycle magazines at the 7-11 store to drawing them, machining the parts and starting them on national TV.

“If they can start ’em, and pass the burn-out test, they get to keep ’em,” Gillen said.

Would-be cycle-heads start the process by filling out a form on the Internet.

“They get one chance, and if they enter twice, we tell them they blew it and are out of here,” Gillen said. Contestants are picked based on their ability to pull off the complicated design and execution of turning a custom frame, engine block and a pile of parts into a dream cycle worth $60,000 or more.

The would-be bike builders are given a one-month time limit. They work under TV cameras and the tutelage of master bike builders hired by Gillen to work at the “Built By Thugs” garage, tucked behind a muffler shop on the busy, secret street.

“They weld, they use a lathe, hand tools and then they get their hands on an engine and frame,” Gillen said. “About half make it.”

It appears Gillen has made it. His wife and child share his Malibu house with a remodeling project aimed at creating a six-car garage, with hydraulic lifts to boost another six vehicles up in the air.

“Space is so damn tough in Malibu,” he said.

His personal collection of cars and cycles has to reside elsewhere until that project is done.

The final test for the would-be bike builders is the burnout, when the machine has to be started and then burn rubber on camera. One applicant from Fresno had to kick-start his bike for a half hour before the beautiful beast turned over.

“I almost told him he could have the bike, before it kicked, because I knew it would start at some point,” Gillen said, admiring that particular cream-colored custom bike outside the Thug shop. “But he kept at it, and at it, and at it, and then it started.

“I want the guys to win, but they have to earn it.”