The New Look of Adventure Sports Films?

Sweetgrass Productions’ Valhalla marries narrative filmmaking to powder-shredding.

Weaving narrative into extreme sport films is a move that I’ve been expecting for a while, as viewers like myself, begin to lose interest in seeing skiers and mountain bikers simply huck themselves off of every lip in sight.

“By far our most impressive film to date, detonating the boundaries of the action sports genre, and filled with harder hitting ski and snowboard action and more soulful story than’s ever been packed into 60 minutes.” –Dana Richardson, Sweetgrass Productions

Whether the story that provides the backbone of this film is fiction, non-fiction, or a mix of both doesn’t really matter to me. What’s important is whether the narrative they chose  feels more full than the driving guitar chords that usually link back-flips, and sick powder lines. If it does, this film will be a game-changer.

The film maybe dropping by your neighborhood. If so, it might be worth seeing on the big screen. If you happen to be in Denver on Sept. 13th, check out the Premiere (and party down with Sweetgrass afterward.)

Summer update: sunny Acadia and Georgia’s brewmasters

beehive cliff trail hike climb grip travel acadia national parkIt’s been a busy summer with a bunch of projects flying off the shelves. One of my favorite has been filming an episode of Arteries of America’s new video series that will be showing on Trip Films over the next few weeks. Arteries of America, hosted by Ashley Johnson, visits Acadia National Park. She is a natural travel host and Acadia, as always is a gorgeous backdrop for such a beautiful woman.

We got all of the footage for a five-part episode/series in one fast-paced day, hitting most of the usual stops. Ice Cream and shopping in Bar Harbor, Park Loop Road, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, the carriage roads by bike and sunset on Cadillac Mountain. Ashley seemed to have as much fun hosting as I did shooting. Her talent in front of the lens meant I could really focus on work behind the camera, capturing some great footage.

As these videos air, I’ll be posting them here.


jailhouse brewing brewery paulie and me georgia craft brewers guild o'dempsey's

Left to right: Paul (Paulie) Warshauer, Glenn Golden (Jailhouse Brewing), Randy Dempsey (O'Dempsey's), Mark Broe

Paulie & Me has also been ramping up, with a trip to Atlanta to film a teaser episode. It was a trip of waffles, southern craft beers (of which there are VERY few) and southern hospitality.

As with all trips, this one seemed to spiral out to the edge of control. Mark Broe, the new brewmaster led us on a trip to Jailhouse Brewing, where the universe’s strange sense of convenience also placed two of the founding members of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild. Contacts were made, beers drank, ideas planted.

Animated Map of Paulie & Me Brewery Tour

This is the animated Map I built to show the progression of “Paulie and Me” on their microbrewery tour of the US.

I built this using photoshop and Final Cut, rather than a dedicated graphics or animation program. The results are pretty good for never having done anything like this before.

This map is embedded in the official Paulie and Me TV show teaser.

Bike Passion on the Silver Screen: Taking in the NEMBA Mountain Bike Film Festival

The dim heart of the Regency Theater swirls with energy as over one hundred mountain bikers greet each other in anticipation. The food and beer lines stretch along the back wall. Mountain bikers oogle raffle prizes including day-passes from Highland Mountain Bike Park, bike care-kits from Pedros, Two Fox suspension forks, CrossMax wheel-sets from Mavic and Back Bay Bicycles, and the Grand Prize, a Kona Tanuki mountain bike. 

This is the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) Mountain Bike Film Festival and the anticipation isn’t just for the Red Bones BBQ or the beer donated by Harpoon Brewery–or even the prizes–it’s for the films. While screenings of big name films happen all over the country, this is one of the few that celebrate the making of mountain bike films at the amateur level. These are videos made by mountain bikers about their own rides and adventures.

Prizes donated by Kona, Mavic, Fox Shox, JRA, Back Bay, Highland, Pedros and many more...

Soon, the lights go dark and the films begin to tick off one by one. They are all short (rules require under 5 minutes, but most are under 3.) They all have limited production quality. They each shake, wobble and tilt in vertiginous ways. But what these films lack in production, they more than make up for in passion. As I watch beginner XC riders skitter through singletrack turns and freeriders send-it off dirt kickers, I realize that picking one to be the “People’s Choice” was going to be a contentious event.

Mike Feeney produced a couple of hard-charging freeride videos that not only included hucking decent-sized jumps and ripping scary ladder bridges at Highland MBP, but also rednecks jumping ATVs and starting a snowmobile on fire. “Badassalon 2008” and “I Didn’t Pump My Tire” head up the humorous entries with pellet rifles and a remake of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Marsha MacEachern’s “A Biker’s Playground” is a surprisingly emotional romp through the woods (and a lake.) I am surprised to see an animated feature, but Bryan McFarland put one together with some chill music. There is also an iPhone entry that has some of the best composed visuals in the festival. Two high school kids put together a strong contender for the People’s Choice award filming their mountain biking class riding homemade stunts. It is “One Speed Jasper” that barely edges out the other films for People’s Choice, however. This film used the GoPro HD camera famous for helmet-cam shots in so many adventure movies. Of course, the camera ended up attached to the usual places on the bike: helmet, rider’s chest and seatpost. What really made this film shine was that the subject wasn’t just the ride, but also the faithful mountain bike companion: the “trail dog.” In the true GoPro fashion of showing things from “your point of view,” the camera was attached to Jasper the Dog for a trail-dog’s-eye-view of a run through the woods chasing a bike. THIS is what makes amateur film shine. The footage shook like “Blair Witch Project” but it focused on a valuable part of mountain biking that often gets overlooked by the large production films.

After watching Highland Mountain Bike Park’s GnarEast film winner, a good film that centered around the central “story” of the park and ride bus that shuttles riders in to Highland from surrounding towns, they announced the raffle winners. Not everyone left with a Kona mountain bike or set of Mavics, but, I think it’s fair to say, we all left with a greater appreciation for mountain biking, whether it’s the camaraderie of riders gathering in the dead of winter, the glimpse into where video will be taking us in the future or the passion for riding that made these films happen.

2 Outings, 2 Lessons

Bar Blur

Photo by: Eric Warren

We all make mistakes, the trick is to learn from them.  I got the opportunity to learn a couple of lessons while trying to get the last couple of clips for my first (experimental) mountain biking destination video.

1.  Check your equipment before you go out. Most of my equipment is assembled from common house-hold items.  This fact should induce an OCD-like compulsion for me to check my set-up.  Not so.  Last year, I used zip-ties to mount my still-camera to my bike helmet for the shot that graces the top of my blog home page.  What I didn’t think about was that in the interim I’d crashed hard enough to need a new one.  The new one lacked a flat spot to mount a camera to.  The result: footage that looks like it was filmed by a bauble-head doll.  Of course, a quick dig through my closet reacquainted me with my old, busted helmet and a few days later, I got my shot.
While the problem-solving aspect of “getting the shot” on a budget can be fun, making sure your set-up will work before getting on the scene is essential.  With Maine’s temperamental weather, it could easily have been weeks before I could shoot again.  Bottom line: I got lucky.

2. Charge your batteries–every time. Sounds simple, but I neglected this, even after working with digital cameras for years.  I thought the shot was going to be quick and easy.  Wrong.  While I had just enough battery life to get the shot I had planned, I didn’t have a single minute more.  This means I missed a bunch of shots that I now saw around every corner.

This leads me to a hint: shooting video is like going to the grocery story when you’re hungry. There’s always another shot you’re going to want.  Try to give yourself a little more time than you think you need–and a lot more battery!

Matador TV Internship

I spent the last three hours trawling the internet for interesting travel videos, seeing new places and getting stoked to explore the world. Can this really be my new job?
It is. A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to take my travel media career to a new level. I applied for an internship with Matador TV. The hard work of becoming a frequent contributor to the Matador Network paid off and I got the position! Now it’s my job to ensure that Matador TV lives up to its tag line, “Filtering the Best Travel Video on the Web.” I do this by wandering around the web, watching travel videos from various filmmakers (something I’d be doing anyway) and looking for great work to feature on the Matador TV site.

Photo by: Julian Cohen

The first video I posted, called “Diving with Great White Sharks,” is up and ready to watch. I thought a video of people experiencing the business end of a twenty-foot-long eating machine was the ultimate “encounter.” Their accounts, in the back of the tour boat afterward, really bring home the feeling of the event.

I have been lucky enough to work with the Matador Network editors for the last three years and am excited to continue in this new, more involved role. I am also lucky enough to get to work with fellow travel video producer Lindsay Clark, my co-intern (see her excellent pick for “animal encounter” here). Being selected along-side her is an honor. Her website Nomadderwhere chronicles her living the dream of getting out there and seeing the world. I hope to learn from Lindsay and my editor Josh Johnson in the months to come and add some fantastic video content to Matador TV.