Click below for the Q&A. Zach asks the questions, Dave answers.
ZK – What sparked your interest in filming BMX and how did you get your start with a video camera?
DS – The first BMX videos I watched were the reason I picked up a camera really, I’d never owned or had any interest in using a video camera before that, but seeing the way BMX videos combined riding and music in a way that seemed to elevate both things and create something more than the sum of their parts fascinated me. I wanted to try and emulate that by filming with the friends I rode with and edit that riding to the music I loved too. Initially I borrowed a camera from a friend to try out but bought one soon after. This was back in ’95 when everything was still analogue, cameras shot to 8mm tape, editing was a laborious tape to tape process and adding music had to be done at the end after you’d cut the riding together so nothing could be accurately timed. The limitations of what was possible with that kind of setup back then really makes me appreciate how accessible video is now and what can be done using a computer or even a phone these days!
Do you do much work outside of BMX? If so, what’s the ratio of BMX vs non-BMX material that you shoot in a given year?
I used to freelance mixing some website design work and some skatepark design / build work in with the video stuff. Since 2013 I’ve been a full time employee with BSD so almost all my work since then has been inside BMX for one brand. But for BSD I’m not solely a filmer, I jump between graphic design, product photography and making videos for them. The last couple of years the balance has leaned more toward the graphic design side as BSD has grown, but we’re in the middle of making some changes to give me more time to spend on video again.
What is your approach when out with the riders and how do you decide when to pull out cameras and unpack the gear?
As it’s always the BSD team I’m filming with, it feels like there’s a short-hand now between me and the riders and its obvious when someone is ready to film a clip. But the approach changes for any given scenario.
Filming street riding is so spot specific and so many variables are thrown in to the mix that there’s no one approach. That’s what makes street so enjoyable to film to me. Every clip is a new problem solving scenario. A spot that might turn out to be a bust needs a quick run-and-gun setup approach. A long technical line might need some thought put into how I time my movement with the the riders to make it all flow. And every spot has a different backdrop to take advantage of in your shots and different elements around it to find new angles to shoot from. So at any given spot, before I have cameras out, I’ll often be walking around looking at angles and opportunities and imagining in my head how things could look so when one of team come up with something to film I’ve already got a rough plan in place to make the spot work for a clip.
I’ve heard riders refer to you as a “calculated” filmer… What’s going through your mind as you are mid-session eyeing up angles / setting up cameras / filming a clip?
Haha, yeah I guess so. First I’m thinking about what angle is going to show the riding the best. At the end of the day its all about the trick or line the rider is doing, so getting that part down is a must. But beyond that I’m thinking about what I can bring to the clip in the way of movement or composition that adds to what the rider is doing. Can I make the clip feel more dynamic with movement, can I lead the viewers eye with composition, will I need more than one camera angle for coverage to show different elements of a spot or trick. I guess that’s some of what’s going through my head unless it’s where’s my next coffee coming from. Haha.
Do you ever “edit in your head” while out filming or set up angles in a way to be intentionally edited in a specific order?
Yeah definitely. I normally have three cameras with me and if all three are running for a clip, each angle will be trying to capture a different element that I can use to best show the riding. But I find that although I may have a preconceived idea of how something will cut together that may change when I come to edit so it can be more important to just have good coverage that’s flexible. For me its the editing process where there is the most creative opportunities in making a video, that’s where I find I can really shape the video into what it’s going to be so the more coverage of the riding to work with later on the better.
What level of planning goes into the videos you make? Obviously with Transmission there was a strong theme that lent itself to skits and visual effects… Do you usually have a strong vision for a project before you even start filming? Or do things develop along the way?
It varies. I’ve made riding edits where the theme was decided after all the riding was filmed and conversely had a clear plan for a video in place before anything was shot. With Transmission, we filmed for around 18 months on 10 trips and it wasn’t until before the 8th trip that we agreed on the DVD name and the space theme. So that’s fairly late on in the process really. I do feel that the more planning and preparation you can do before you shoot the better the end result. But from experience making a video is an organic process that always changes as you shoot, so its best to be as flexible as possible and allow things to go where they may. I try and use my initial plans as loose direction to start from, not an inflexible destination to end at and that tends to work best for me.
Speaking of Transmission, obviously the video was great but also all of the skits and effects were amazing. Do you have any sort of formal training for film-making or graphic FX / animation?
Thanks that’s much appreciated! No, I’m self taught with the video stuff. That’s always been one of the appeals to BMX for me. Its a sport that encourages a DIY mentality so if you have a creative leaning then there are so many aspects around BMX that you can learn to exercise your creativity within. Like building ramps or trails, shooting photos or video, making zines or even running jams. Its not just the riding where you can learn to be creative. I love the hands on approach with things and making riding edits is a chance for me to learn something new with every video I make. That might just be a small thing like learning a new title effect or camera technique for a video or something bigger like learning to use green screen for Transmission. Leezy’s intro where he’s doing a hop bars on the moon was the first time I’d ever shot green screen or used After Effects to composite it. I tend to like to throw myself in at the deep end with that sort of thing so the themed shots in Transmission were a literal voyage of discovery for me as well as a figurative one for the video’s theme. It did add a lot of time in the edit though, I spent 3 months editing Transmission with the last 2 months being 10+ hour days, 7 days a week. That was a slog, but I was proud of having tried something that was a bit different and learnt an editing technique that was new to me. I’m also super grateful that BSD would support that kind of time investment in a video project not many people are lucky enough to get that chance.
In particular the ALVX edit was awesome. How do your ideas usually develop for pieces like that, and was that first shot where Alex hops the TV done in after effects? In theory you could’ve somehow had a camera hooked up to the TV.. haha
Thanks, yeah I was really happy with the way that one came out. An advantage to working with one brand is that I’m involved in more than just the video part of things. So with Alex’s new frame I designed the ALVX frame graphics too. They were themed around the idea of Alex being a filmer as well as a rider so I was already thinking about the frames theme before I was thinking about the promo video. The ALVX video theme then just became a natural extension of that thought process. The video is meant to be in part about the idea of going out to ride your bike specifically to make a video. So I was trying bring the idea of watching the end result of filming into the locations themselves with the TV theme. I had some fun with that one, there’s a few less obvious filming references in there that I’m not sure people spot. I normally edit myself out of second-angle shots but I leave myself in one here but changed the camera in my hands to a VX as a nod to the irony of filming in HD. And there’s a sequence where Alex is comp’d into he same shot twice as the rider and the filmer filming himself which is pretty subtle. And yeah, the shot of Alex hoping the TV in the intro was done in After Effects. That shot was done during a trip out in Israel and the TV just happened to be lying in the street so that whole sequence was figured out on the fly at the spot. I was so surprised that it worked out when I edited it together back home afterwards.
Give us a basic rundown of your bag / gear, does it change or stay the same for every mission? Rough weight? Do you pedal around with it on your back and do you bring around more than one camera bag?
My current cameras are a Sony FS5, A7sII and NX100 and I shoot with Canon lenses, an insanely heavy Vinten tripod that has a really good fluid head and I use a steadicam for fisheye stuff. I like playing about with different cameras and formats too, so on any given trip I might bring along a super8 camera or a Hi8 camera depending on what type of look I’m going for with a video. On a trip I’ll be pedaling with the team so everything’s in one bag that weighs around 23kg which is 50lbs. If I’m filming back home at a park or driving to a spot I might bring more gear in an extra bag or flashes to shoot photos when I get the chance too.
Thoughts on skateboards vs gimbals?
Whatever works for you. I’m not really an ‘either or’ person. I like to give everything a try and think its about the right tool for the job. That said I still film fish with a Steadicam even though I do own a couple gimbals and normally have a skateboard with me when I’m filming too.
Fish or long lens… which do you enjoy using more and how do you decide?
I film fish more than I feel I should if that answers the question? Haha.
Top 3 BMX videos that have inspired you and why / how?
There’s been so many videos that inspired me, its hard to pick just 3.
I owe a big part of getting into BMX in the first place to Hoffman’s Head First by Eddie Roman. It was loaned to me when I’d just started riding by a someone who lived in a neighbouring town and who afterward became a lifelong friend all through BMX. I watched that video on repeat! Dave Parrick’s Dirty Deeds was the video that showed me what BMX could be when it was paired with great music, that video’s got an amazing raw vibe and such a classic soundtrack. Its the video I wanted to emulate when I first got into filming. And what Joe Simon was doing with Mutiny videos and in particular Stoked on Being Pumped had a big impact on me. Seeing the production value in BMX video starting to take a step forward was a big inspiration to me around the time I was starting to film stuff for BSD.
What do you think is the future of BMX filmmaking? Any forecasted drastic changes in your mind?
I really don’t know. Social media has been changing things a lot obviously as are mobile phones. Capturing and publishing riding clips has never been so easy and immediate and accessible to anyone. That’s a great thing but it means there’s also a lot of noise out there and its only going to be the videos that offer something unique that rise to the top. And music copyright law and how copyrighted content is used online is changing so there could be much less freedom in how songs are used in edits online in the future. The music is such an important part of an edit to me so how that effects the traditional style video part in the future is going to be interesting to watch evolve.