Ok, time for something a little bit different. I said a while back that this darn blog (world’s worst sounding word. Is there an alternative?) was in danger of becoming a wordless guff cloud, but now I am appealing to that remaining few readers to give me a little feedback on some work. Sometimes words pour onto the page, sometimes they struggle to get vomited, and sometimes when they do end up on a page they don’t necessarily make as much sense at they sounded when they were in your head. The following is another piece that I have wanted to write for a while then one day I sat and just started pouring thoughts onto the page, but now I read it back and it doesn’t quite come across as I wanted. I have a vague idea of where it might end up, but perhaps it isn’t relevant to the magazine readership so it will just sit on my desktop as a work of rambling nearly misses. I am in the stages of drastically rewriting this but I figured it would be good to have you guys read it and tell me your thoughts on it. It’s good having a second or third opinion. So if you have anything to say just pop a comment below. Please bare in mind it is unfinished (there is a whole third chapter missing yet), it has been edited but perhaps there are still some dirty little grammatical and spelling mistakes but I am not bothered so much about them at this stage as I just want some big picture feedback; does it make sense? is it fair? is there a point to saying any of this? and what am I actually hoping to achieve with this piece?
Have fun and thanks.
VIDEO GAMES GONE WILDLY WRONG
There are a few things you wish to never hear your friends say. Prince among these would be a confession that they have slept with your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/pet.
Still quite high up on this list of things that makes you want to put your fingers in your ears and shout “LALALALALALA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU LALALALA” is something Dan Atherton told me recently. He said he wanted the Atherton Project to be more like Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
After giving him a look like he was playing with his own fecal matter, I made a sound that was somewhat like the soul wrenching cry of “NOOOO!” like a movie soldier seeing his lady get knocked off by the bad guys in slow-mo and simultaneously the suppressed sniggers of a female check out assistance when a appointment card for an STI check up drops out of your wallet. However, I saw that even if the Atherton Project did become as mundane and plastic as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, then it would still be infinitely more watchable than 90% of the web edits that swamp the world wide wonderland each day.
You see there is a two fold reason for this months hot heated guff cloud being directed at mountain bike web videos. Firstly, we have become infatuated by amazing new tools but like primates unintelligibly knocking rocks together with the same expression as a man who has been asked to convert fahrenheit to celsius in his head, we seemed to of missed the point of them. Secondly – and this is not your fault, because it is our collective fault – as a culture we have become addicted to speed.
The Go-Pro is an amazing invention. When I was a kid we once stuck our mate’s dad’s camera to a helmet for some next level follow cam in his garden. However, it seems we should of spent that extra money on the Duct tape instead of Cellotape because the £700 camera turned into about 3lbs of sparking diodes, tangled tape and mutilated plastic moldings. These days for the cost of a train ticket across London you can buy a tiny little, hardwearing, waterproof, video camera that shoots hours of footage and is nearly as good as what was used to film E.T. It’s incredible. It’s a genius little bit of kit, but somehow these things get mistreated.
Youtube is essentially made up of one part crash videos, one part illegally uploaded movies, and months and months worth of top to bottom A-Line head cam footage. Have you ever actually been able to watch an entire POV top to bottom run of any trail? If so you are either the kind of guy that is amused just by listening to the dog farting in the corner of the living room, or you are lying. Seriously, there are whole servers devoted to storing this sort of tedious garbage. Whole data banks of binary bullshit buried underground and fed non stop by the gulping power requirements of millions of plebs uploading their head cam holiday footage. Just think of the power drain that these servers require. Forget cutting back on petrol usage, stop uploading guff to the internet and we will have more chance of solving the looming energy crisis.
Once you have seen one trail shot from a Go-Pro then you have seen them all. The video starts with the rider and his friends gawping into your screen trying to see if it’s on and then what follows is a lot of shaky, jittery footage accompanied by a lot of thudding noise.
Please, if you own a Go-Pro (or whatever kind of miniature video recording device) just stop and think about what you are doing. Think about mindlessly recording every run you can. What are you trying to do, create a portfolio of the most dull and mind numbing things you can make your wife or dinner guests endure? Are you recording it for posterity, in which case, will you really sit back in years to come and watch old POV footage of you tumbling down A-Line with all the finesse and grace of a new born giraffe? No, because the internet is a fad and it won’t be around in years to come, so much like your father has his teenage years recorded on some antiquated format that he no longer has the device to play it upon, you will be left with…nothing, not even a solid copy. Just an expired URL address which isn’t worth the paper it isn’t printed on.
More so, no one else wants to watch it. Please stop. The honeymoon of useless content is over. Don’t amaze yourself at what you can do with a Go-Pro can do, instead amaze everyone else with what you can do with a Go-Pro. Get creative and use the Go-Pro tool like it should be used. Use it to highlight the empathetic sensation of movement and dynamism to the viewer. Use it sparingly, think about the shot and what you want to convey to the viewer. But just one pleading request, if you do want to upload an entire unedited top to bottom run, including rest breaks, banal banter between friends and candid crappiness, then please tag the video as ‘Do Not Watch, Ever’.
The Canon 7D, and other DSLRs of the same ilk, are the next step up from the Go-Pro. Accessible, readily available, and makes you a photo/movie producing god of the same caliber as Spike Jones or David Lynch. Except it doesn’t because although it is a fabulous tool, it is not the artificer.
Supposedly digital cameras are more affordable these days and they have a host of new high tech features that can help make a photographer realize their vision for a shot, which bizarrely, includes the ability to shoot high quality video. These DSLRs have become very popular with film makers for a variety of reasons, and now the camera manufacturers are increasing the number and quality of film making modes on any and all still cameras.
This means anyone can go out and buy a camera and a computer with some Play School editing software and then upload it to the web far easier than it is to plumb a house, lay concrete or build a 1/100 scale model of the Palace of Versailles using only tooth picks, lollipops and boogers.
However just because we have the tools doesn’t mean we have the capacity to make a work of art. There is still the value of the film maker to come up with a concept, a story, a plot, collect the shots that convey this story and it’s themes and then edit it together into a piece of work that tells the viewer something. However, in mountain biking terms what we are getting is a lot of video that follows the exact same formula and storyline.
We have all seen a bathtub load of videos that all look the same. You know the kind: rider drives up to the parking lot in truck laden with bikes. Rider unloads bike and then there is a close up shot of helmet straps getting done up or feet twisting into pedals. Then we the viewer are treated to four minutes of mid pack riding, slow-mos, freerider cutties, and skids all paired to some vaguely popular electro mod music. Usually these videos allude to the actual act of mountain biking as much as having sex with my own hand does to the real three minute thing. Usually the rider is alone, shredding the trail like they built it (which they probably didn’t). But how often do you go out and ride alone?
Maybe more than I realize.
The only other slight deviation from this model is the one where a rider talks. Usually it is the same old blithering lassitudes echoed about ‘this season I want to achieve this, that and the other,’ or even worse, the bike check. Please, your bike is an incredible machine, but guess what, we all have one just about exactly the same. They all have brakes, they all have suspension, and they all have tires. There is nothing vaguely special about your bike and I don’t care to see you fumble your way through this inane attempt at reping your sponsors that has got the marketing consistency of water. If you want to represent your sponsors think of a way to not make you or the products with which you whore yourself to this season look like some insipid, lackluster tripe that has the personality of a dial tone.
Usually a web edit looks like it was shot in one afternoon and edited whilst the film maker was updating his Facebook status. It is incredible that content can be produced so quickly, but what about a rider putting some hard graft into the edit. Rather than filming a trail top to bottom in one session. How about collecting footage over a long time and collating it into the very best shots. It’s just one afternoons worth of filler, with zero thriller.
What is currently happening is these digital super tools are allowing crappy content to rule the roost. We are so occupied in just getting web edit out there that often not a lot of time is spent thinking about why and how we are doing things. It sounds awfully like when VHS replaced traditional film in movie theaters. At first it was incredible that almost everybody could produce home videos, but then when amateur movie producers realized that they could buy equipment to make home videos of Darren and Tracy having sex on their own couch, the craftsmanship of making proper blue movies was lost. There was no longer any need for sets, stories, and professional performers, instead the back seat of a Chevy Ecovan with some old trollop from the pub would do. It cost a lot less to produce and it allowed a certain democratization of movie making, but we lost the art and craft of making proper movies. Now it was the start of the rise of amateur. A time where any old bollock could unleash his artist within upon the general public. Quality died in the wake of dilettante. And this is what I hope doesn’t have to happen for us mountain cyclists.
A good movie should take time to gestate. The motion picture should be painted in pencil first, plotted, planned and then created over time. We should wait for greatness rather than be preoccupied and absorbed by the quick fix gloop that we are swamping ourselves in. This is why the professionals of mountain bike film making are respected. The Freeride Entertainments, The Anthills, Stance Films, SecondBases and the Clay Porters all take time and care with their craft. They don’t chew some half baked plastic fast food then stick their fingers down their throats till they vomit bile and mucus for us to collectively consume like a horde of twittering little garden bird chicks.
But like I said back at the start of this long winded multi-part odorous odyssey, this isn’t your fault. No no no, it’s society’s fault, and society has got nothing to do with you.