More thoughts on filmmaking

In response to the Phil Atwood video:

“Charlie you are a tool, that video was totally a copy of most 2000’s skateboard cinematography. Plus, most of those trails looked like they sucked, if you weren’t fooled by the 2 second clip montage. Does the exhaust in your shitty rattle can painted van leak, ’cause you seem high.”

Let’s break this down into three parts so I can fully address your questions and thoughts:

“That video was totally a copy of most 2000’s skateboard cinematography.”

This might be the highest praise you could attribute to a mountain bike video, outside of maybe comparing it to Rankin. It’s like perfection has already occurred in action sports filmmaking, and now we’re going backwards with every subsequent step.

By contrast, probably the worst thing you could say about a mountain bike video would be “that video was totally a copy of most 2015 mountain bike cinematography,” which is also to say “that video was totally a copy of most 2012 snowboard cinematography.”

I’ll take Rick McCrank in Yeah Right! over 99.9% of anything from the last five years in mountain bikes or snowboarding:

“Plus, most of those trails looked like they sucked, if you weren’t fooled by the 2 second clip montage.”

I don’t know how to make this any simpler: that’s the point. It’s the bike riding on display in the video, and the better you can make horrible trails look, the better you are at riding bikes. Have you ever wondered why Australia and Great Britain produce some of the fastest riders in the world, even though all of their trails suck and their hills are 30 feet tall? Have you ever wondered why almost no one fast has ever come out of British Columbia, even though it boasts an almost unlimited amount of trail building potential?

Mom always told me “creativity takes place within boundaries,” and Phil Atwood made more creative on a shoestring budget in a weekend than these jamokes probably could in two years with a full production team and a million dollar budget:

The entire point of the Atwood video is that he’s dicking around, and if the trails didn’t suck the video would lose its teeth. He’s pissing on everything, and if that wasn’t clear enough the video starts with a shot of him literally on the shitter. It seems like a simple concept to me, but apparently a lot of people are struggling to understand. I’ve prepared the graph below to help explain where I believe this disconnect is occurring:

The Atwood video is supposed to communicate these things called “fundamental bike skills,” and the great thing about fundamentals is that you either have them or you don’t, and they can be practiced or demonstrated anywhere. This is why I’d rather watch a dimly lit iPhone video of Luke Strobel doing cutties and drifts in a gravel parking lot over a 12,000 FPS seggie of Geoff Gulevich riding some picturesque dream trail on a mountain top at sunset surrounded by Incan ruins shot from a helicopter with another helicopter shooting the first helicopter shooting Geoff. Would you rather have one used 2.5″ 3C DHF or a pile of brand new Nevegals? And no, in this scenario you can’t sell the Nevegals to buy more DHF’s.

Here’s why all modern mountain bike filmmaking sucks:

Here’s another analogy: do you remember in Of Mice and Men when Lennie loves the puppy so much, but he keeps petting it and petting it harder because he loves it so much, and finally he kills the puppy by petting it too hard? It’s like that.

And the real tragedy is that in this analogy for the modern mountain bike video creative process, mountain biking isn’t even the puppy. I don’t know if these filmmakers care about mountain biking half as much as they like playing with expensive cameras, assigning self-important labels to themselves and their “productions,” and traveling around the world to exotic locales. I’m sure in their tragicomedic creative meetings the actual act of mountain biking is the 14th item on their discussion agenda, somewhere after figuring out film permits but before arranging local catering. Like once all the details are penciled in for which cameras to buy, what countries to fly to, which sponsor wants which riders to be featured, which months will have the best weather and light in which hemispheres, which kids to feature in the gag-worthy “groms segment,” and whether they can book Sam Elliot to do the narration, someone asks “oh yeah, what sort of rad mountain biking do we want to shoot?”

Riders standing around, waiting. “Progression.”

Building a dream drift track for Steve and Brook in Kamloops doesn’t even count, because that’s more about the visual masturbation of slow mo dust sequences than it is about the actual riding or speed, and because clearly Steve and Brook had nothing to do with its creation. That whole shoot was probably more about early morning light conditions than it was about Steve or Brook having fun on their bikes. I’d bet the track was made without any input from the riders, everything was arranged logistically for them, people were on site days or weeks before the riders showed up, and once the riders were on set it was a turn-key production where the riders only job was to eat, sleep, and “dance monkey, dance!” when the light was good and the big man with the mega phone told them to.

I’d bet you ten to one the coolest thing Steve or Brook did on their bikes during production was dicking around on the minute-long trail they took from the “drift track” down to camp, and I bet you no one on set offered to shoot it or even cared. The “producers” were probably already back at camp going over different processing treatments for today’s footie or reading the Farmer’s Almanac to figure out when the nug light was going to be hitting tomorrow in between mouthfuls of locally-sourced organic quinoa salad from the staff chef.

Remember this seggie? Big smiles all around. “Rider driven.”
Or who could forget this Whistler segment? You can just feel the energy and excitement coming off these two riders. “Collaborative.”

Maybe the reason these videos feel like boring self-important snoozefests to the viewer is because they were boring self-important snoozefests during the creative process, on site, and during post-production. Maybe the reason I, as a rider, am miserable watching these films is because the riders were miserable making them.

If you want a mountain bike video that doesn’t suck, stop trying so hard. Find a good rider, find some trails he likes, and then point a camera (any camera) at him riding. The Brannigan Queenstown video is at 165,000 views already. I know that no mountain bike filmmaker would want to have their name associated with the extremely low production value or non-existent formal qualities of the Brannigan video, and that’s exactly why all of the current crop of mountain bike filmmakers should be taken out back and shot. The Brannigan video made people happy, it made people want to go ride, and it made people appreciate bike riding more. If you can’t get behind the video because the resolution was low, the light was brackish, or because the guys filming had shaky hands, then you clearly love filmmaking more than you love mountain biking, and we need fewer people like you, not more.

The point of visual communication is not to demonstrate the medium of visual communication, or to marinate your viewers in the various aspects of the medium or the production process. The medium exists to capture a subject and tell a story. So figure out what your subject is, figure out what story you’re trying to tell, and then get out of the way. Like good service, you should be invisible.

“Does the exhaust in your shitty rattle can painted van leak, ’cause you seem high.”

No, the exhaust is fine, but I bought a fitting so I can refill those one pound Coleman propane canisters, and the seals on the canisters totally leak after you refill them. So yeah my van smelled like propane all last week while I was living in it.

Is propane noxious? They mostly stopped leaking, so it seems fine to me.

30 thoughts on “More thoughts on filmmaking

  1. So. Damn. True.

    Same in skiing… What video got the most hype this winter? Candide thovex riding his home resort with a go pro

  2. I love the Brannigan edit for all things it's not. No stupid slow motion, no over used music clips covering up the sounds of the bike. I've lost interest in most mtb videos because of all the self importance.
    The only helicopter shot I like was taken on a local trail with a rider I've taken advice from. Plus it proves you don't need wide bars to ride fast.

  3. The vital raw videos are my favorite to watch for this very reason, great riding and no BS filler.

  4. Sometimes I like to think about the poor UBC filmmaking professors who probably have to sit through 5 or 6 “garage shot to time lapse to frosty breath to sequential wiggle bar/loamy freeride flick” final projects every semester.

  5. I kinda skimmed this. Its always weird when someone who merely creates a little blog tries to sound like an expert on… anything really.

  6. I agree with what you said about the Anthill style shooting where there's not nearly as much emphasis on the actual riding as there should be. It's almost hard for me to watch some of the sections from those films more a handful of times because of that. When the shots get too creative it takes away from the riding. The same goes for the overly long drawn-out shots and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the way-too-quick cut shots that don't actually add to the presentation of the riding.

    At the same time, it seems like you missed the most important part of those Atwood and Brannigan videos.

    a)They're fast


    b)They're both pushing really hard.

    Nobody wants to watch a video of some lame grom (or you) riding a sketchy trail just because the video might not have slow-motion or because they picked some Cannibal Corpse song (or whatever music bmx/skate guys from the northwest listened to in 2004, that you want people to think you like, but I digress). If those videos would have had Minnaar, or some other reasonably calculated rider who never seems to get that loose, I don't think they would've been anywhere near as good. There are plenty of fast riders out there who are uninspiring to watch.

  7. “I've lost interest in most mtb videos because of all the self importance.”

    – That about sums it up. Lay off the skiing influence mountain biking. More skateboarding please. Skateboarding is raw as fuck. Actually don't copy skateboarding, I don't want mtbing ruining those junts.

    “I kinda skimmed this. Its always weird when someone who merely creates a little blog tries to sound like an expert on… anything really.”

    – you are clearly butt hurt. Go drink some Monster and kill yourself.

  8. Bwahahaha….where is the bar graph for when Charlie is trolled on his own troll blog, doesn't realize it, and loses it?…..bwahaha……

  9. I'm in the category that gets the joke but disagrees, like the time you were wrong about 40 foot drops at the first Rampage.

    Other times I might get the joke and agree.

    But sometimes I want to tease you because you tease everyone else. Like pointing out that you aren't even in the top ten list of bike blogs:

  10. When are you and Cory Tepper gonna make that Robot montage video we talked about??
    You know…,,,the one where u dress up In your robot costume and ride a crowded MAX train during rush hour and see how people react…..i.e. maybe bring your bike too, just to make sure people are gonna borderline freak out on you.
    I'm assuming you dress up like a Robot enough times a week that it wouldn't be a stretch to film you around town too, in Starbucks, or River City Bikes etc.. If you did it right, that shit would go Viral – and you and Cory would be raking in that YouTube money $$$


  11. MTB films are shite now compared to the ones made by Rankin and Callum Swift.

    The irony is that vital RAW and the Brannigan video are so much better than the fancy high budget stuff and by the look of it a trained chimp did the camerawork on Brannigans video with an iphone.

    Basically, if you use slow mo and don't pan the camera you should not be shooting mountain biking. Go film something else.

    The epitome of this was the rise of enduro video, the whole team should have been sacked and replaced with a chimp with an iphone.

    Oh and please don't keep responding to the comments Charlie, one of the things I liked most about TR is you put up a load of piss taking bollocks and then ignored the comments.

  12. I haven't had time to read the article but I agree the Phil Anthill (didn't know that was a guy?) movies are sick.

  13. God damn it Charlie, why are you always right? I'll have Gwin make a good video since he is the only one of you bastards who prays to me anymore.

  14. You are actively choosing to miss the point of this blog. Obviously I can't speak for charlie but I don't think that was ever the goal… Team robot sucks and if it ever gets on the top 10 MTB blogs then were all screwed anyway.

  15. I've got ten bucks says the next big film in mountain biking is called “FILMER”.

  16. Just wait til we get unRizzeal out there and blow your head off with filmmaking circle jerk. Hope you like filmmaking!

    Atwill/Brannigan two of the best videos to come out in this past year. Where the fuck did that skinny teen with no knee pads come from? Strobel on the list for sure as well. How many other riders could pull off that style of edit though?

    Also, where do the MacAskill videos fit into this? Too many Legos distracting from badass trials, or does it work?

  17. Probably a bit late, but you're totally right.

    Some of the trails in that Phil Atwood video are my local ones (the ones halfway through are Swinley Forest) and they fucking suck. The trails are “sustainable”, ie. the surface is a golden trail of shite, bumpy and kills all flow. There are no hills, the small jump he launches and whips (slight left-hand dog-leg) is maybe, MAYBE, the only trail in Swinley Forest worth riding. And he launched that about twice as far as the fastest guys there do.

    If I posted this on the local Facebook page I'd get a new pooper torn about how great Swinley is by the plebs who barely get an inch off the ground. I only go there now if there are people I want to ride with there. If I want better trails I drive to an Army training ground and run the risk of not being able to ride, or riding through a training exercise.

    To conclude, those trails are fucking shit, the rider made them look great and was totally taking the piss.

  18. My new favorite thing on this blog is when you write posts sooo long no one reads them but still comments on them. GENIUS. Also, seriously, the Brannigan video is really, really good. One more thing, you really shouldn't wear tld pants. It isn't working for you.

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