Are we getting worse at what we do?

WARNING: this is a long one, so get a glass of water, make some popcorn, and take a deep breath.

You know when you listen to a song a million times, and you know every part of it, every guitar riff, every fill from the singer, and then you go to the concert and it sucks?

Don’t watch the full video, please. After about 40 seconds of this crap you’ll get the point.

I’m sure when 51 year old Vince Neil gets up there to sing Kickstart my Heart for the 17,534th time, the last thing he wants to do is sing it the same way he did the last 17,533 times. I’m sure he doesn’t find any creative satisfaction these days in repeating all the same screams and yells the way he did in ’87 before he sucked at life and back when reality TV for him meant bringing cameras backstage to document him slugging a pound of blow up each nostril and doing terrible, unspeakable things to consenting groupies. I’m sure Vince wants his music to evolve and progress and grow. I’m sure the musical atrocity that is the live version of “Kickstart” is some sad attempt to redeem Vince’s artistic side, and he probably thinks that his new pacing and singing style breathe new life into an aging song.

The thing is, Vince is wrong. The Kickstart my Heart that you and I know and love is so badass because Motley Crue sat in a studio for days perfecting it to the zenith of hair metal shredding. If there was something left to change, something that sucked, it would have been changed in the studio. It’s not like the producer thought, “This is going to be THE banger song off an album that will probably go quadruple platinum. Let’s just ignore all the crappy parts that are easy to identify and would be easy to fix, and then Vince can fix those in concert 20 years later.” And by the way, timeless classics don’t need to be “freshened up.” Good is good. If it’s awesome in ’89, it’s still going to be awesome in 2012. If it ain’t broke, don’t be a dumbass.

Yeah, I’m talking to you, too, George Lucas.

No, really, it was waaaaaaay better with Hayden in there. Good thinking, George.

Basically, when it comes to making good bike movies, BMX figured out a very simple formula a long time ago:

METAL + BANGER RIDING + FAST EDITING = GOOD VIDEO

2001: Van Homan, Criminal Mischief:

Van Homan – Little Devil – Criminal Mischief from groove section on Vimeo.

2007: Chase Hawk, Fit Life

There’s really very little variation required here. Does it have to be metal music? Of course not, but it’s definitely a safe bet that chucking your body at full speed onto a twenty stair icepick is going to sync up to Metallica better than Madonna. Maybe instead of metal, you throw in something classic. MAYBE you could get away with a contemporary, non-metal song, but that’s pretty thin ice before you fall into electronica, dubstep, or other pussy music. Maybe for your mountain biked movie you spice up all the riding clips with a couple quick clips of drunk Steve Peat making fun of everyone at the afterparty. Maybe you have a little buildup to the riding and have a slower, more melodic song before you get to the metal+banger riding+fast editing.

But that’s pretty much it. There’s no need to do too much thinking, the format works. But try convincing mountain bike film makers of that.

This Whistler segment is mega big budget, replete with cable cams, boom cams, steady cams, three minutes of talking, famous quotes, everything starts moving backwards for no apparent reason, NEW music, slow mo, SLOW MO, and REALLY REALLY REALLY SLOW MO, and then starting at 3:13 you only get to see one shot of every rider, and you don’t even get to see a whole shot of them riding. Isn’t it awesome when the action cuts off halfway through, and then they cut to someone else? SWEET. The segment sort of doesn’t even make sense. The second time I watched it I think I got what they were going for. Maybe.

“The Collective” and “Anthill Productions” are technically different companies, but it’s still the same dudes. For comparisons sake, look at the Whistler scene from Roam, way back in 2006:

It’s actually pretty good. Sure the music sucks, the “watch me drop in behind the last guy” trick gets pretty old, and there’s waaaaaay too much pedaling, but it stills works. It even makes sense. It’s a coherent storyline, and that’s more than you can say for the latest Anthill Whistler scene.

Looking at these two Whistler segments it’s apparent that TheAntCollectivehill actually got worse at making movies. Their most recent Whistler segment is objectively worse. Why did they change anything? Just do it over again, with slightly different riders and see what happens. Wild guess: letting a bunch of super talented riders loose on Whistler is going to be entertaining as hell and you won’t be disappointed, even if you don’t storyboard out three minutes of narration and spend 10 days setting your cable cams up..

Everyone in mountain bike film making is trying to innovate, to one up each other, and to find the next new thing. To be the most epic. For some this means buying a Phantom Flex or a Red so they can do 1000 FPS shots and put people to sleep. For other filmmakers, progression means traveling halfway around the world to Bolivia or Nepal or Morocco or another place called BFE to build the same jumps they have in Kamloops and to put the riders in mortal danger in a country where healthcare means calling the local witch doctor to ward off infection. For others progression means stopping at nothing to show how bro’d out you all get when you come together to collaborate and shred; Reggae, sunlit beaches, and boardshorts somehow make it into bike movies when you’re trying to illustrate just how chill the scene is, bro.

So the movie makers keep “progressing” and getting away from the basic formula

METAL + BANGER RIDING + FAST EDITING = GOOD VIDEO

But what no one realizes is that you don’t need to keep artificially “pushing the boundaries.” This attitude of constant, unmotivated “progression” pervades all of mountain biking, whether it be film making, trail building, or steerer tube standards. MORE MORE MORE.

Guess what? 200 million people turned into NFL games last year. 278 million people watched the NBA. The seven World Series games last year averaged 17 million viewers per game. Even the NHL had 70 million viewers last year. And those sports have looked really similar for the last 30 years.

Major league (aka real) sports don’t need to change the rules or introduce new cameras or use crazy editing techniques or build bigger fields to draw viewers in. These are real sports, and a real sport is compelling enough on its own. Year in, year out, fans root for their favorite player and their favorite team because of things like personality, athleticism, and geography, not because of 1000 FPS Phantom Flex cameras.

What I’m trying to say is that there is no need to reinvent mountain biking every time you film a web edit. Maybe next time just make a movie with bike riding in it. Just go out into the woods and shoot what you think is good, edit it to music that you think is good, and maybe some people will think it’s good. If they don’t like it, then you know they suck.

Wait…

This lightbulb is supposed to signify an epihany that I just had while writing this.

An epihany that I just had while writing this: Maybe the new, crappy videos are what the movie makers wanted to do all along, and it’s only now that they have the budget and freedom to allow them to finally realize their crappy artistic vision.

There’s no denying that, at this point, Clay can do whatever he wants. I’m sure he would say he has this limitation and that restriction, but basically, if he really wants to do something, he can get it done, as long as it’s not rebuilding and then resinking the Titanic for his next Atherton webedit. Clay can do whatever he wants to do, and it turns out that when he puts his head down and starts thinking, his ideas just aren’t that cool.

“I miss filming with Alex.”

Maybe getting to do everything you want to do creatively isn’t a formula for success. All creativity takes place within boundaries, and when you are totally unbounded, with an endless budget, and no direction, you get things like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

It’s unwatchable. Seriously, I bet you fell asleep. This is a ten minute fight scene that does nothing to move the story along or develop the characters. I’m not invested in this fight scene at all. Congratulations George, your crappy artistic vision was fully realized. It turns out that you just suck.

Watch this 2 minute Rennie video, and learn how visual story-telling works:
No budget, no tripods, no interviews, just Rennie and The Who. The riding speaks for itself. Without any words, I know way more about Rennie’s riding style, personality, attitude, and Whistler’s terrain from two minutes of Rankin than I could ever get from a documentary style ten-minute slowmo cable cam SNAFU.
Good is good.