In a world of quick-hit hype and a literally endless stream of “content” that flows straight from a phone to social media, spending a month on one video shot just may be a certain kind of insanity. But it’s also exactly the kind of care and commitment to craft that we value here at Beta, and so we’re always proud to be able to share behind-the-scenes looks at the passion that goes into some of the scroll-stopping video segments that come across our screens. In the piece below, Director of Photography Tory Powers takes us through ‘Of Ten Thousand’; Yeti Cycles’ latest production featuring Warren Kniss.
Words by Tory Powers
Photos by Drew Boxold
It’s February 2021, and I’m deep in the Bellingham woods suffering through the production of “Ghost Machine” with Wiley Kaupas and Drew Boxold. Morale is at an all-time low as our cable cam, yet again, isn’t working due to too much moisture and a detached motherboard. After hours of struggling and carrying 40 pounds on each of our backs through the mud and cold, Wiley says “Wouldn’t it be crazy to do a one-shot video?” Excuse me, what? The idea got sidelined as we sat and wondered how it could even be done.
Summer of 2021 rolls around and Wiley texts Kasen Schauman and I: “Would you guys be keen on doing a test run of the one-shot idea?”
Why not try, right? We borrowed a cable cam system that wasn’t fully capable of descending at more than an angle of 10 degrees–definitely not enough to make it down your typical trail. On a trail that was not at all fit for the occasion, and an uncertainty as to whether the braking system of the cable cam would actually work at a steep angle, we put our friend Chase Willie on belay. In his harness with a climbing rope tethered to the camera sled, he was ready to risk it all. Pool noodles lined the end of the cable as an ultimate last-case. Thankfully, neither were utilized. With lots of drastic directional angle changes, height differences, and a trail that wasn’t helping us in any way, it sort of worked. This small glimmer of hope was all that Wiley needed to prove to us that it was in fact possible.
Cue the fall of 2021, and the idea comes up again. Wiley says: “Do you guys want to try to pitch the one-shot idea?” Sure, another winter-time mountain biking video sounds just lovely. We had finished our pitch and were eagerly awaiting a response when word of “Continuum” breaks the internet–we were shocked. Of course two legends, Harrison Mendel and Brett Rheeder, beat us to the idea. We were eagerly awaiting the release of “Continuum” to see if our idea was any different. Our minds were absolutely blown watching the production (read our BTS here), but we thought, “Our idea is actually somehow different.” We wanted to do a singular shot on one trail, utilizing camera obscurities to hide our cuts. While we knew it was direct competition to one of the best mountain biking shorts ever created, we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could make it happen.
We knew Yeti Cycles was going to be the company, if any, that would help us make this short come to life. With a crew of four that hadn’t produced anything for Yeti before, the pressure was at an all-time high. Finally, we got the green light to pull off the shoot before our rider, Warren Kniss, had racing kick off for the year. Warren was our rider of choice because of his tenacity–we knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task and we needed somebody that would be all-in.
Looks like production is set for January in Colorado, boys!
After hours spent in pre-production scouring Google Earth for locations, we found a large piece of property that checked all of our boxes: south facing, because we need any help we can get with the amount of snow high-country Colorado gets, a burn zone, purely for aesthetic reasons as Colorado can otherwise look pretty average in a lot of spots, close enough to our homes in Boulder that we could feasibly spend an entire month traveling to the location, and finally on property that we could lease so that we weren’t risking legal issues, as illegal trailbuilding in Colorado is heavily monitored. We spent weeks discussing leasing the property with the mining company, and Drew Boxold, our AD and photographer, was on the plane to Colorado to help kick off the build when plans all of the sudden fell through. A lawyer stepped in and shut down the entire production.
“We’re screwed,” we thought. Drew was already in town, Warren had his flight booked, and we had nowhere to go. We spent a few days weighing our options; checking out local trails and reaching out to everyone we knew about potentially leasing land. We turned up with nothing.
We were kicking ourselves for losing out on the chance to make this project happen, when we got a call from the lawyer. He mentioned he had a piece of land just down the road that he thought could be the perfect fit. Better than nothing, right? We didn’t expect much since he didn’t know what we were looking for, but we knew we had to go check it out immediately. We did a walk of the property and it ticked all of our boxes, and was somehow even better than the original plot. We could not have gotten any luckier.
We signed a contract that allowed us to build a single-use trail that we’d tear down after our month of production, and we were officially in session. A few days behind schedule, we bought all of the hand tools we could carry and went up to start planning. Knowing that this trail had to be specifically designed to work with our cables, we started by mapping out the only way that the camera could feasibly make it down the hill. We found a new cable cam system that could go at as much as a 45-degree angle, so we knew that was our only option. Having this new technology on our side, we were able to plan some pretty hectic lines. We spent a few full days just walking the land, mapping out every potential option for cable cam lines with pink string. We had some “it would be really cool if this line could work” options, but also had plans A, B, C, D and probably even E lined up just in case. We had never used this cable cam before, and weren’t sure how robust it was, so we couldn’t say for sure whether it would work in the ways we needed it to. On top of all that, the man behind the cable cam was building his second-ever system for us. There were a lot of “ifs” before we even got a camera turned on.
We mapped out where all of the lines needed to go for this to happen, all while simultaneously creating an ideal situation for building the trail utilizing the best features of the land. When we felt confident enough that our lines were in the most optimal spots, we got to work. We dug for ten days straight from sun up to sun down; eating exclusively chicken pot pie, chocolate cake, and Gatorade. With the help of a few extra hands in our buddies Josh Conroy, Chase Willie, and Austin Hackett-Klaube, we managed to finish the trail the day before Warren was set to arrive.
We had a friend come test-ride a majority of the trail while we were finishing digging, and he assured us that it was going to be rideable–thank goodness. We hadn’t had any time to test any features ourselves and just purely built what we thought would work. With a couple of slight modifications, the trail was ready to go. Warren arrived and mad a couple of small trail adjustments himself, while we begin to battle what would be one of our biggest nemesis throughout the shoot–January snowstorms. With eight full days needed to shoot, (seven cable lines, and one day for the shot of the camera doing a backflip to barrel roll combo), we knew this wasn’t going to be easy. The day before Warren arrived our cable cam system showed up, giving us time to test our longest line to see if it would work. We rigged it up with the tallest construction ladders we could get, fence posts to hold the cable in the ground, and a lot of rocks and tie downs. A little sketchy, but we made it work. Our 300-something foot line that we initially had no trust in working worked flawlessly. It was go-time.
Our schedule for every day was as follows: arrive at Wiley’s by 7 a.m., load up the car, and head up to the spot. To make this work, we had only a small window to shoot–right after sun-down, in order to match the light between all takes. Every single day we shot, we spent the entire day taking measurements, being sure that our next shot could line up with the previous one, perfecting our positioning of the cable, and occasionally hoisting up dead trees with branches taped to them to act as our camera obscurity and cut point. Every day we used every last minute of light getting it perfected, just in time for Warren to show up and make it happen. With myself on the sled controls, Wiley running the gimbal controls, Kasen pulling focus, Drew shooting photos, and Warren riding, it was on everybody to do their job perfectly in order to execute the shot. The toughest part about this was our slim 30-40 minute window after the sun fell behind the mountains to our west and blue hour settled in. We usually only got about 8-10 attempts to make this work before the winter light faded away, and Warren had to practically run back up the hill in order to be ready to go again. With a relay of filmers hauling his bike back up, we did what we could to make Warren less tired than he already was going to be.
Fighting the wind, fading light, and snow, we made it through to our last couple of lines. We dug trenches for the camera because it was too close to the ground, removed I-don’t-want-to-know-how-many tons of rocks, and hoisted up more than our net worth in camera gear with fence posts for days before another massive snow storm hit. We pushed back Drew and Warren’s flights, and snow removal became our new job. We shoveled not only the trail, but the surrounding area and backgrounds in order for it to melt as fast as possible. On our final day, we got our ending shot with minutes to spare, and the biggest sigh of relief knowing that our month-long haul was finally coming to an end. Our more than sun-kissed skin and troubled bodies (and minds) were very ready to spend some time indoors.
The best part about this project was that the edit was more or less figured out. We shot some additional b-roll of Warren on our snow days with some car mount rigs we had no business running (courtesy of our killer grips Drew & Kasen), to make our one-shot more of a surprise when it began. Wiley did some VFX removal for the edit, mostly of me standing in the shot and a couple of ladders we couldn’t hide, but somehow everything lined up as we hoped.
All in, I managed to lose 15 pounds from start to finish, and if you know me, I’m already a twig. My brain hurt more than my body, and it definitely made me want to be an editor for a while. This team could not have been more dialed in and I am so thankful for the roles everybody played. We treated the whole crew as one because nobody had a more important job on the set than anyone else. Huge thanks to Yeti Cycles for believing in Wiley’s crazy idea, and trusting that we could make it happen.
Check out more ‘Behind The Scenes’ pieces HERE.