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What’s it Like Filming a BMX Legend? Come and Find Out

This article was originally published in June/July 2016 issue.
by Mike Steidley

This month let’s take a look at the video we produced with BMX legend and multiple X-Games medalist, Ryan Nyqvist. Having been fortunate enough to work on a variety of high profile action sports shoots, when the call came to direct a video with such an iconic rider we knew we were in for a treat. Let’s recap the experience and divulge some insider tips.

Any BMX rider will recognize the name Ryan Nyquist and Haro Bikes. This important company is deeply rooted in BMX history so we wanted to be sure this  video received proper attention. The adventure began in the planning stages south of LA at Haro’s marketing agency, The Creative Bar. We had a chance to sit down with the CEO of Haro and the masterminds at The Creative Bar to articulate our ideas face to face and develop the storyboard. The concept was twofold; first we wanted to produce a video showcasing this BMX rider’s move into Mountain Bike competition and feature some diverse riding. Second, we knew a rider of this fortitude and stature would have some insight to share with his fans and followers. There needed to be a way to car the message of the video into an enticing piece. After countless cups of coffee, pages of notes from brainstorming sessions and many contrasting opinions on how to utilize the camera to best convey the story, we arrived at our game plan.

What’s-it-Like-Filming-a-BMX-Legend---Come-and-Find-Out--6ENTER ALTER EGO

The concept was born; a video demonstrating the rider’s ability in both the disciplines of BMX and the larger wheel sized Mountain Bike would begin with him packing each independent bicycle for airline travel. We would follow Ryan on a day of training and riding and then conclude at the airport with both bags packed ready for a trip. The plot twist at the end was that the viewers would not know what genre they would see Ryan in next, forming an almost dual personality character, one for each sport discipline. This format allowed us to have some narration in the beginning to give some raw sound bites in Ryan’s own voice to his fans and then cut into the action while mixing in our storyline. We had a subtext theme to show the BMX version of Ryan in a white t-shirt and the MTB (mountain bike) version of Ryan in a black t-shirt. Thus the name of the project and video title was born: Ryan Nyquist Alter Ego.


Since BMX riding is done in a traditional skate park-style setting or dirt jumps, we wanted to make sure the location had some more mountain bike elements to it and really display our rider pulling moves with  a scenic backdrop. Opting for the West Coast location of Santa Cruz, California meant one major detail … airline travel. Joining us for this project was cinematographer, Ed Schilling who would shoot second camera and serve as spotter when needed. Since travel was now involved, we could meet this Midwest based filter in the airport and get on board the venture from there. We began organizing the schedule, shot list and ultimately, gear list. For the camera geeks out there, the gear consisted of several Panasonic GH4’s, more lenses then we knew what to do with, a fleet of drones, a DJI Ronin and a full light kit. We were essentially traveling with an entire portable production house on this one. Additionally, we could fly a GH4 or have it on the ground, which makes the color grading much more straightforward when we get to post. There was talk of bringing in Red cameras, but since most locations were only accessible after a hike and gear was loaded in the back of SUV’s, we opted for the small form factor cameras as it meant lighter support gear. Somehow this still translated into a massive baggage bill with the excess luggage at the airport. Remember to pack everything as bombproof as you can and never check your LiPos as they need to be on you at all times and go in your carry-on luggage. Next stop, California.

What’s-it-Like-Filming-a-BMX-Legend---Come-and-Find-Out--12THE GOLDEN STATE

We arrived in California with mountains of gear and convened with Ed Schilling, loaded all the gear up and were on our way. After getting settled there was the daunting task of double-checking the gear, cleaning lenses and camera gear and then getting a few flights in on the copters. As daunting as it can be, you can never check things enough and this is mandatory for safety. We always try to fly a few packs before heading on set to make sure everything is functioning correctly. Ge ing a solid compass calibration after airline travel and being in a new environment is a must.

Our preflight in this case was to check every nut and bolt to make sure all were secure, check the props, motors and ESC’s and then we were ready for a test flight. After the LiPos were charged we headed down to the California coastline to get some flights logged. Our mission achieved dual duty by grabbing some pickup shots of the sunset  and scenic coastline and also checking all the flight modes, overall copter stability and return to home in case we needed it for emergency. After a few gorgeous flights we were confident in our setups and ready to head to set.

We woke to a rarity in California for our first day of shooting which was heavy rain. Sometimes you need to be able to she gears and get maximum work done when on a remote location so we made the best of the day by getting all our audio work finalized for our voiceover and all our narration recorded. We also knocked out all of our intro shots and had Ryan pack two bikes for travel along with some general B-roll. This would serve as our cutaway shots for the voiceover. Plenty of slider work, macro shots and creative lighting brought out some dynamic footage to use for the edit. On to day two for a redo now that the sun was back out. We arrived to the first location after a drive deep into the woods to a secluded set of dirt jumps and wooden mountain bike slope-style jumps. Wrapped in heavy trees, this location had the look we were going for. The rain did a number on the jumps and berms so some  trail maintenance was needed to get everything up to par before Ryan was able to shred and lay down all of his tricks. There were now two ground cameras ready to roll plus the drone so we needed to be mindful of keeping the drone out of the shot of the other cameras.

What’s-it-Like-Filming-a-BMX-Legend---Come-and-Find-Out--11Using the bit of downtime we had while the trails were being groomed we did some test runs with the copter so the ground guys could make sure we all were on the same page. With the trails ready to ride and Ryan feeling good, it was time for him to throw a leg over his Haro Mountain Bike.

The first few shots had some nice tracking lines from the drone with Ryan hi ing all the obstacles. We worked a few angles to make sure the basics were covered before getting a bit more advanced. With Ryan focused we started to really plan out each shot. Evaluating each trick and deciding which angle would be best from the drone and which would be best from the ground was essential. We would time every shot to make sure the drone was not in line of sight of the ground camera as to not burn anything that otherwise would be usable. Lots of bright light meant opting for a neutral density filter to step down the camera and help control light. Also, when filming a person you typically are not at a very high altitude with the drone so be mindful of its shadow as to not have that pop up into any frames. We were sure to get our DJI Ronin out for some groundwork and did some unusual shots running full speed after Ryan and almost up the entire distance of the jump. We framed the second angle on the drone to just miss spoiling the shot and it made for a dynamic edit that had some shots that let the viewers guessing which film tool was used. Ryan pulled out all the stops and landed some insanely difficult tricks while throwing a full sized mountain bike around like it was a smaller BMX. Definitely an impressive skill-set by Nyquist. You become aware of how he gained so many X-Games medals with his style and magnitude. After filling up the memory cards to the maximum and Ryan giving it his all, it was a wrap on riding day number one.

Day two brought us to a new location with a new set of challenges. We arrived to assess the location and had only one good direction to aim the camera to keep a nice backdrop. Turning 180 degrees would show some unsightly construction that would take away from the end edit so there was no choice but to get creative when it came to shot planning. There was a line of four big jumps with the last fully wrapped in trees. This also would prevent going full speed with the copter as there would be no way to safely navigate the trees without smashing our bird. We broke down each jump to establish some lines and considered the copter more as a giant jib. J-hook jib shots and crane rises done from the drone took most of the morning and next we focused on some long tracking shots that eventually would travel over the foliage. We opted for a high altitude shot over the trees to get a cutaway shot of a 720 spin over the jumps. This shot was essentially a hover so we chose to go over crank at 120 FPS and use the shot in super slow motion in the final edit. The trees did give lots of options for the ground crew to stay out of frame so we really were able to work fast on this one. On one run we locked focus at a very low F-stop to get some nice depth of field shots that kept Ryan blurry while at the bottom and allow him to pop into focus at the peak
of the jump and his trick.

What’s-it-Like-Filming-a-BMX-Legend---Come-and-Find-Out--14As expected, the Golden State was handing out lots of sunshine and in order to stop down the camera, we needed to darken the light coming in. This was achieved by running the lowest ISO possible and the addition of ND filters to get a nice low f-stop. When working with talent and a drone, you need to make sure, however, that the rider always knows your game plan and to only cross the jump line or path of motion if planned; always think safety first. Make hand signals, communicate between runs or whatever else it takes to manage safety as a top priority. With another exemplary day in the books we set off for the last day of B-roll filming. With a goal of connecting the storyline to the action we headed off to the airport to start our first location of the day. We filmed a few scenes entirely on the Ronin for speed and efficiency, as we just needed some quick clips.

What’s-it-Like-Filming-a-BMX-Legend---Come-and-Find-Out--13Following that was a driving scene that called for a few unique shots. We headed down to the Santa Cruz coastline to find a driving location that would give a great car tracking shot that could gain into an epic sunset shot. We arrived well before sunset and got things mapped out. We jumped into Ryan’s truck to grab some ground clips of him inside that would then cut to a drone shot. Since the sky was a gorgeous, magic hour color we opted to light the inside of his truck with some LED light panels from Ikan so there would be an even exposure from inside to outside. With the sun just getting into the perfect position there were only a few chances to accomplish this shot, it would be one of the longest holds in the edit so we wanted to get it spot on. The shot follows the car as a tracking shot that then makes a giant J-hook with the camera tracking the car. Starting out with the truck in the left hand of the shot we tracked and slowly rotated out to reveal the rocky coastline. As we gained up the waves began to appear and then as we completed the J, the sunset over the coastline now was in frame. With that shot in the books it was officially a wrap and time to head to the editing bay.


What an impressive adventure with many stunning filming locations and shots! To view the final video check out Drones magazine website or visit the digital edition. We hope you enjoyed this recap of our latest adventure and we will see you next month! Happy flying and stay safe out there. =