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A typical video project starts with an idea, then the filmers and athletes figure out how to execute the concept from there. In the case of “Continuum,” a 2-minute, eight-shot melding of Brett Rheeder’s classic style, and filmer Harrison Mendel’s sharp camera skills and editing expertise, it all started with a piece of equipment no one on the crew had any experience using. “I saw this cable cam unit online, no one had ever purchased it. This system supports a full camera rig up to 100-pound payload, and you can put it on a 45-degree angle slope. I was like, ‘This is so sick. No one’s ever had it before. Every single cable cam has to stay flat because of how it works,’” Rheeder said.
Mendel, who’s been shooting with Rheeder for years, had been mulling a 10-shot edit idea for a while—an edit that would fall somewhere between the one-shot, continuous-take approach, like the approach utilized in Brandon Semenuk’s “UnReal” movie segment, and the traditional ‘shred-edit’ with hundreds of fast shots.
The slope cable cam, which Mendel describes as similar to “a motorized clothesline meant for a camera,” opened the door to execute such a project because he would have the ability to shoot Rheeder in various locations, and match the continuity of each trail’s slope with the cable cam, then stitch the shots together. With full creative freedom and support from Shimano, they set out to film in some of B.C.’s dreamiest riding spots. After nearly six months of work from start to finish, “Continuum’ ended up at eight shots over 2 minutes, with each transition seamlessly stitched together. As Rheeder flows between the Revelstoke alpine, a Kelowna forest five years into its post-wildfire rebirth, a Vernon forest, jumps set against Kamloops desert-like backdrop, a burn zone in Monte Lake, and a wide-open flat field in Pemberton with a succession of massive jumps in the shadow of Mount Currie, and backward into Kamloops, the transitions between all eight shots are noticeable, but not jarring. It tells a visual story meant to represent the experience of each ride being an extension of the one before, of each place we ride being connected, and of always building toward a flow state of endless progression.
The end result is stunning, but there was definitely a learning curve to figuring it all out. There were some technical issues with the camera during the first two shoots that resulted in significant lost time and budget, and there was plenty of trial and error along the way. Even though only one planned location didn’t end up working out from a technical standpoint, attempting it cost Rheeder his Rampage entry. While trying to get the shot on the slopestyle course he was building at Silverstar, he crashed and tore the meniscus in his knee, the injury that caused him to withdraw from Rampage.
“It was so off compared to everything else,” Mendel says.
Fortunately, everything else came together fairly naturally, and with a lot of collective brain power. They had to think strategically about a shot they already had in the bag when scoping a new location, and factor in how each spot would contrast with the next.
“There were many times, for me, my brain was melting thinking of all the complexity,” Rheeder says.
Mendel attacked the puzzle methodically, one transition at a time, and tried to stay flexible with the plan. They shot the jumps in Pemberton first, so he knew he needed to match up the backwards landing at the end of that segment to the start of the next segment in Kamloops. They knew they wanted it to start and finish with a static shot, so he could work from there to match one end of a scene to the beginning of the next. He didn’t use any visual effects or post work to help the viewer’s eye along, just some basic re-framing. For him the biggest challenge was matching up exact camera movements, making sure each pan and tilt that ended one shot, was perfectly aligned with the pan or tilt that started the next.
They also did far more location scouting than normal, driving out to each location the day before, and testing before shooting the real thing. They only did one custom build—the spectacular jumps in Pemberton, courtesy of builder Corbin Selfe—and the rest of the locations were existing lines, some they’d built and never used for previous projects, and needed some touch-ups. And once the cable cam location was set, they were committed to the shot. Normally Mendel and Robb Thompson, who was shooting stills, share angles and work together to nail the best possible light and framing for both stills and video, but Thompson was more mobile, although he was limited by the presence of the cable, which he had to keep out of his shots.
“The different thing for me was how difficult it was sometimes to get one shot in these locations,” Mendel said. “We’d get back to the Airbnb, and be looking at the back of Robb’s camera, like, ‘That’s an unbelievable shot, but we’re not going to get that here.’”
Mendel downloaded his footage on the spot, so they could see real-time if the shots were lining up properly. And they took continuity seriously. Mendel used the same camera and lens for the whole shoot, Rheeder rode multiple bikes, a Slash, two different Sessions and his slopestyle bike, all painted white and wore the same kit the whole time.
Mendel estimates they filmed about 250 takes, start to finish, throughout the eight locations. And Rheeder had to ride every scene multiple times because Mendel never knew which shot would be the right take.
“You can’t hide anything when there’s only eight shots, like a slipped pedal. What impressed me was the consistency of Brett’s riding. I think that comes from his competition background, and he can link those things back to back to back,” Mendel says.
For Rheeder, he was just returning from a broken femur during the shoot, and it was the first major film project he’d done since “Return to Earth” in 2018, one where he wasn’t promoting product and had 100-percent creative control. For it, he wanted to prioritize stunning visuals over trick progression.
“I would for someone to watch this before they go riding, to get fired up. I wanted the riding and every location to be inspiring. …I want people to watch it, and feel like it’s a timeless classic that is always relevant. I tried to not go above and beyond with crazy tricks, to dial it back, and leave it more simple and more relatable for the general audience.”
As for the cable cam, it’s in the rotation now. There’s nothing else, Mendel notes, even a drone, that lets you shoot so close with the rider, predictably every time.
“It’s the sickest unit for filming mountain biking in a forested area,” Rheeder says.
Another of Thompson image will be showcased in the Chroma photo gallery in the upcoming Winter issue of Beta. Images like these are best enjoyed by looking at them in a real, tangible print issue. To get it delivered to your mailbox, check out our membership packages here. You can also purchase single copies of the magazine here.