I was fortunate enough to receive a digital camera for Christmas from my parents around 2003 and it was a pivotal moment in my life. I never considered myself artistic because I couldn’t draw. I now realize that my worldview on arts and creativity was flawed and that I had lots to offer in the creative space.
The path from making my first terrible video to where I am at today has been one of constant learning, and that’s why I love film making.
Even today I make video’s and think they suck. It’s that constant drive to be the best that drives you to be better and become a success.
The path from that first digital camera to having a movie appear on Cable TV in HD seems like a dream but it actually happened and I feel compelled to share it with the world.
The first video I ever made:
In 2007 I biked around Manitoba writing my first guidebook, Manitoba by Bicycle. My friend Blake joined me and I started pointing the camera at him and asking about how he was enjoying the ride, what he liked about bike touring and why others might want to try it. It helps that Blake is one of the most entertaining characters globally, but the content was really good. A spark emerged in my brain and I started thinking about how cool it would be to have a bike tour TV show. This was in 2007.
I kept bike touring and kept making really terrible videos. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor in my friend Chris Mitchell who was at the time studying film making with dreams of becoming a accomplished Director and traveling globally to pursue that dream. He lined me up with my first copy of Final Cut Pro ( editing software ) and would critique my work when I sent it to him.
In 2010 after biking across Canada and writing Canada by Bicycle ( a guide for biking across Canada ) I decided that I wanted to go check out “the rest” of our country and started planning a tour from Whitehorse, Yukon to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. No one really wanted to go so I planned on riding solo. When I planned the trip and even as I was leaving out of Whitehorse, I had no idea how wild it would be. I didn’t know that there was a 500 kilometer stretch of gravel between grocery stores, didn’t know about the herds of wild bison, aggressive bears and bugs that ripped flesh from your skin or the fact that we would have to pump water from creeks for over a week.
Fortunately for me, I wasn’t alone on this trip. At the last minute, my mentor Chris and his younger brother Ryan, as well as a couple others, had signed on to come with me and document the trip. Chris had a goal of shooting a feature film before he was 30 and this was the opportunity to do so.
I always laugh looking back at that project because Chris and Ryan had no idea about bike touring, and I had no idea about film making. To add to our problems, we were travelling on one of the most unforgiving, isolated roads in the world. To say we were in over our heads would be a MASSIVE understatement. It truly was the ultimate crash course. By the end of the trip the Mitchell Brothers figured out bike touring and I had more or less figured out film making.
The trip was 1800 kilometers over 30 days and undeniably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. We were working 18 hours per day, braving the elements and trying to shoot a movie that didn’t suck!
Through hard work, determination and luck we made it to our destination on time with no sustained injuries. It really was a miracle.
Chris returned to his home in Vancouver with a hard-drive full of footage and the intention to edit this movie that we now called “Riding North” into something we might be able to enter into a film festival.
Fast-forward two years and Chris now lives in Winnipeg, works mostly for Dirty T-Shirt Productions and with a lot of hard work and time at the computer he finished Riding North, a 50 minute documentary with the following synopsis.
Experienced bike tourist Steve Langston and a film crew embark on a one-month journey from Whitehorse, Yukon to Yellowknife Northwest Territories. Along the way they encounter bike problems, wildlife, extreme weather conditions and giant flies that take huge bleeding chunks from their flesh. With hundreds of kilometers between services, food and water become scarce and road conditions deteriorate. They are left with no other choice but to put their heads down and grind it out inch by inch to Yellowknife.
We finished the video on July 20th, 2012 and a week later I was headed to the Gimli Film Festival for the first time. I arranged for a meeting with a representative of HiFidelity which owns channels like OasisHD, EquatorHD, HiFi and RADX.
To put it into perspective for you, RADX is likely my favorite TV Channel in existence. It stands for Risk, Adventure, Danger, Extreme. I’ve pitched broadcasters before on the idea of bike touring and never had any luck, so going into the meeting I had low expectations.
I had nothing planned, just an iPad with the Riding North Trailer on it. I sat down, told the lady ( Daphne Vaz, he nicest lady in the industry ) about my life, showed her the guidebooks and talked about why bike touring is important and what my goals and visions were.
I showed her the Riding North trailer and she told me that she was definitely into it and thought it might be a good fit for her company. I was kind of in shock so I high-fived her and said “I think we’re gonna get along just fine!”
We exchanged cards and I told her I would send her a copy of Riding North when I got home.
I left Gimli as a skeptic thinking that there was no way this lady was going to buy our film. We shot it on $0 budget, it was a huge learning process and only people with Baby-Boomers at the helm of their companies get films on TV. It turns out I was wrong.
A few days after sending her the full version of Riding North I got an e-mail back saying that RADX wanted to purchase the rights to broadcast our video in Canada for the next five years. I couldn’t believe it and smiled for the next three days. Riding North will begin its time on RADX on December 1st 2012 ( I’ll keep everyone posted on the times )
Fast-forward another four months to present day and we have just finished another bike tour video called Tailwind: Prairie Harvest, which will be available on MTSTV in the near future ( Shoutout to Kim Bell & Cam Bennett from MTS ). In this video we cycle 1200 kilometers around Manitoba consuming only food grown in Manitoba. It was a wild adventure full or learning and excitement; I can’t wait for everyone to see the final product. The video was again shot by the talented Mitchell Brothers and is now in post-production.
At present we have a plan to roll out both Riding North and Tailwind: Prairie Harvest theatrically over the next year, sell the products internationally and through DVD as well as on the web.
My ultimate goal of taking a diverse group of people and biking them across Canada. I’m thinking about taking characters like a cancer survivor, Rig Pig from Fort McMurray, a new Canadian, Military type or anyone else with an interesting story and desire to make a change for the better.
I believe that the content will be compelling and can see it happening over the next 18 months.
Based on my experience going through this process I would say my biggest piece of advice to aspiring film makers would be to begin with the end in mind. Define what will make your movie successful, who wants to see it and figure out what you have to do to connect with those people. Shoot the film for your target market, speak to them in their tones, share their passion and your movie will be a success.
By examining who will care about your story you will be better positioned to tailor your content to those demographics and make an impact in their lives.
Thanks to everyone that has shown support to myself as well as Chris and his brother Ryan over the past decade or so. The process of getting good at film making is a humbling one and it helps to have people show you some love along the way. Also a big shout out to the dozens of people that have hopped on their bike and came touring. You know who you are and all of you deserve a pat on the back!
I’m looking forward to a future of using bike touring to help inspire the general public to get out on their bike and explore the world. Bike touring changes your reality on life, exercise, sustainability and the role that we play in our eco-systems. If anyone has questions about bike touring or my experiences in independent film-making please look me up or leave a comment below! Have a great day!
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