The Collective is the first film for some time to cause a stir in the world of mountain bike films. Veering away from the formula of bike porn set to metal, Jamie and Darcy tried to do something different, to create a work that captured an essence of our sport that other films have tended to miss. They realized they couldn’t do it on their own so they enlisted the input of everyone involved in the project – and not only invited participation – they demanded it. There were to be no passive players in this project and the riders were asked to drive the project forward with as much intensity and commitment as the filmmakers. Photographer Sterling Lorence’s input is evident as well in moody North Shore scenes and dramatic backdrops. The result is more than just a film for mountain bikers – it’s a work of art almost anyone can appreciate – even those who have never put rubber to dirt. Can we have a little background info on you lads??
D (Darcy)- I grew up North Delta, BC, I’ve been living in Whistler for the past 8 years and have been married for 4 days.
J (Jamie)- I grew up on the North Shore, went to university in California, then moved to Whistler
And how did you get into film making – and in particular mtb film making?
D – I first started shooting MTBing with Jorli Ricker on Ride To The Hills in ’99. That was the first film I ever worked on and Jorli taught me how to film as we went.
J – I started making ski videos with my buddies when I was 13. I got into mountain bike films after convincing Christian and Bjorn to let me work with them on Kranked 3. I was stoked.
Jamie – can you tell me what Darcy brought to the project and vice versa?
J – Darcy brought mad skillz. Sometimes I think the camera is like an extension of his arm – he’s comfortable shooting in a lot of tricky situations, which is key. There were so many times when we were seeing our film for the first time after getting it developed, that I would be blown away by some of his shots. Darcy’s also good at organizing things, which I happen to lag at.
D – It seems like Jamie and I compliment each other quite well. Jamie is a dialed business man and is great at negotiating with sponsors and distributors. He’s a wizard on final cut and is deep into the music scene so he was hugely responsible for the great soundtrack for the film.
Tag Along – Steve Romaniuk
The Collective is more than just a title – it embodies the approach you took to the film as well does it not?
D – True, the reason we called it The Collective is because our philosophy was to involve everyone’s ideas in the film. Over the years we’ve both noticed that riders, friends, and basically anybody has great ideas that are often ignored in the creative process. We wanted the riders to express themselves and their riding, by giving them that voice.
I heard that the riders in the film were actually investors in the project. Can you tell me a little about that and how it worked?
D – Some of the guys invested in the film at the beginning to help get things off the ground. Since it was our first production we needed to get the ball rolling before sponsors would commit – the investments allowed us to film a couple shoots so we had something concrete to show at Vegas. It was also a huge statement from the riders showing that they believed in the project.
Are there particular points in the film where the collective approach shines through?
D- To me it shines through on every shot. Everything from music to editing to the individual shots were heavily discussed amongst whoever was present. We talked about every aspect of the film constantly.
What were some of the surprises you encountered along the way? Hurdles you didn’t anticipate or locations that were challenging?
D – There’s always surprises in filmmaking and the unexpected generally becomes the rule. To name a few the wind in Hawaii was brutal for the riders, Leech’s section was a constant heat-score, bugs, cold, and of course there’s always the Bearclaw factor. If you take your eye off that guy for 2 seconds and he’s ATVing down some shoot or 4 wheelin the RV into places unknown.
J – From a producing standpoint, for most of the duration of the making the film, we didn’t know how much money we had to spend because it took a while to secure all the sponsors. That made things a bit interesting.
Left to Right: Dave Watson, Jamie Houssian, Andrew Shandro and Darcy Wittenburg
People are really stoked about your film – talking about it the way they haven’t talked about a freeride flick for a long time. Did you expect that? Why do you think it’s getting such a great reaction?
D- It’s been pretty amazing to hear people get stoked on something we put so much work into, you never really know how it’s going to go until you release it. I think the reason people like it is because the film tries to say “look how sick our sport is” as opposed to “look how sick we are”.
J – I expected people to be stoked because of the riders we were lucky enough to shoot with. I think part of the reason for people being stoked is that the film portrays a lot of real mountain biking, aspects of riding that people can watch and understand, and relate with.
Will the Collective be a hard act to follow? How will your approach change this time around?
D- I think our approach will be similar, just a little more refined. We learned a lot while making The Collective, and we are learning every day. I personally feel like we have just scratched the surface of what we are capable of.
J – There are a lot more things to be done and a lot more riding to be documented. To be honest, it would be easy to make the same film again and call it The Collective 2 – but that’s not going to happen.
You work mostly in 16mm correct? Tell me about the cost barriers and difficulties involved in shooting film vs video as well as the payoff.
D – Yes we work mainly with 16mm which can be extremely expensive. It does pay for itself right off the bat though. You can raise a much larger budget if you tell sponsors you are shooting a 16mm film as opposed to digi. That seems to be the way it is with all action sports films. 16mm can be a pain when you’re trying to change film 5 minutes before the sunset and the rider is dying to drop in. I do like the way it forces you to really think about what you’re shooting and whether that shot is worth 20-30 bucks.
J – There are pros and cons to both video and film. Really, it just depends on what type of material you’re after. We couldn’t have made this style of film without the use of both.
Have you had a good response from sponsors this time around? Do you think the industry is starting to rally around good films?
J – There are some very cool people in the bike industry that are genuinely interested in supporting good projects, including films, because they realize they are good for the sport. We were able to work with a bunch of those people. From a marketing perspective, it seems like more companies are becoming aware of the benefits that can come along with developing partnerships with film production companies.
Some filmmakers will only shoot riders who are sponsored by companies who support their film. Do you take that approach? What do you think about that idea?
D – That is a necessary evil of filmmaking, it’s unavoidable. The reality is you need money to make a film, sponsors give you that money, and you film their riders. Having said that, we still shot who we wanted, and not all of them shared the films’ sponsors. We started out by figuring out which riders we wanted to work with and vice versa and then we approached those companies for sponsorship.
J – We attempt to create as much exposure as possible for our sponsors, and obviously the major way to do that is by working with the riders they sponsor. But, no one has ever told us that we can’t work with someone. That would be lame.
Do you see the progression in freeride changing? There are those who think we can continue to go bigger – and who foster that notion. What is your feeling about that?
D- That’s tough to say – mountain biking is one of those sports that will constantly blow peoples’ minds on how it progresses. Things could get insanely tech like skateboarding, extreme precision, big moves at speed, tight and gnarly with no room for error and tricks coming out the ying yang.
J – Yeah, I think freeriding will continue to evolve and borrow from other bike disciplines that have been around longer, like BMX and Moto. For 99.9% of us, most pro riders included, the question of going bigger than dudes are going now is totally irrelevant, so I don’t think it will be a major focus in the near future.
What action sports movies inspired you before you began The Collective?
J – Shelter, Thicker Than Water, September Sessions (surfing). Yeah Right, The End (skate). All Greg Stump’s ski films.
Were there mountain bike films you admired as well?
J – I admire elements of every bike film I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, the Kranked films will always be the founding fathers – some questionable threads on some of the bros when you look back, but they really did open the door to this whole world.
Rider: Andrew Shandro
Who pissed you off during the filming?
D- the alarm clock
Who made you laugh?
D – who didn’t. Sterling probably the most, we could make a film just on him. Jamie calls it “behind the lens with lingman”
J – We had a lot of laughs – they help break up the intensity.
Who impressed you the most?
D- Matt Hunter, such a good guy and work ethic. When we showed up to Kamloops everything was pre-built and scoped. Romaniac blew me away – I was truly scared when I was filming him.
J – It’s a tough question, cause I can honestly say that every rider did something that blew me away.
What was the toughest location to shoot?
D – Shooting Leech’s segment in Portland was tough, we were constantly getting kicked out of everywhere and always had to rush when Ryan was riding his lines. Hawaii was also tough because of the wind. We wasted days show up to the same locations at dawn only to be blown away by the wind.
D – The Chilcotins was an unbelievable setting, we worked out of a remote alpine cabin, nobody around and sick views in every direction.
J – Yeah, and we had perfect weather pretty much the whole time there. Hawaii was obviously super fun, partly because we chilled with some quality local riders who showed us around.
D – Probably Whistler since we live here, we could go out and shoot and still be home for dinner.
Can you see yourself continuing to make films until there is a Collective 5?
D – I don’t think we’d number our films – that just suggests they’re all the same. However many we do, they will each be their own unique entity. There’s a million ways to put a film together and I think it would be interesting to use different formulas depending on what the film is about and what we are trying to achieve.
J – I’m just trying to figure out what I have to do tomorrow.
There are many titles being produced right now, with a wide range of production values. Do you think this is bad for the genre? Will the low pro films eventually be weeded out?
J – It depends what you mean by weeded out. There will always be low production value titles, because there are very low barriers to entry into the market. But it’s not a huge market, so low production films aren’t sustainable. They’re not bad for the genre, but it’s probably beneficial to the sport for distributors to maximize their support for the top tier films.
The classic question – do you have any advice for budding freeride filmers?
J - Try to represent the sport in ways that are meaningful to you and the people you are filming.
All photos courtesy of Sterling Lorence.
As well, you can order ‘The Collective’ from the nsmb.com store nsmb.com store website.
If you pick up the DVD be sure to check out their commentary for even more reflections on the making of The Collective.
To view the teaser, full screen even, click here.
Interview by: Cam McRae