ABSTRACT [\ ab-ˈstrakt]
Expressing a quality apart from an object.
The word poem concrete, poetry is abstract
Welcome to week three of this behind-the-scenes breakdown about the vurbmoto Original Film: No Runners that, by the time you read this, will only be days away from its release. First and foremost, I would like to thank you for making it this far. As I’ve discussed in the past two installments of this blog, I’ve narcissistically decided that I am Willy Wonka (GENE WILDER VERSION FOR FUCK SAKE) and… yeah, you know by now. If you don’t know? Well then, you probably don’t know that I am also best friends with Tom DeLonge of Blink 182, Box Car Racer, and Angels & Airwaves. Oh, and I am also best friends with Jake Weimer, former 250SX West Region and MXoN champion. See, look what you did! Are you happy with yourself? Because you didn’t read my last two installments of Frame of Mind I had to go and be that guy and name drop how fucking cool I am so that you feel like less of a person and I better about myself. Congratulations. “YOU GET NOTHING! YOU LOSE! GOOD DAY, SIR!” To better absorb that quote, please view the link below to understand how I feel about you not reading any of my blog installments, not commenting, not “liking” any posts about this and that now you get NO chocolate factory.
Okay, please understand the name-dropping thing is my failed attempt at humor. I didn’t mean any of that. However, one of the aforementioned statements is absolutely true and it’s your job to decipher which one that is. Anyway, I’ve been having an up and down relationship with Wes Williams since our last FoM installment. He’s been dodging my calls and texts. However, yesterday, he finally came through and returned my call. In doing so, I kept him on the phone for almost one hour so we could talk about the things that needed discussing. So, because of this, he’s managed to earn his way back onto my tour of this metaphorical chocolate factory. However, if I don’t hear from him today, most likely he will be picked up by my Oompa Loompa and tossed into my chocolate river where nobody shall save him. Also, please understand this colorful description of how he would parish is also me being wildly facetious. I would execute this plan in an entirely different fashion that… wait. Fuck. I’ve said too much. I swear this has nothing to do about that MTB ride and almost bear attack experience in SLC. DAMMIT! I need to stop talking. I am in innocent! I just want you to read my blogs and like me, okay?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Now that my intro bit to my upcoming HBO stand up special entitled, “Fool Me Once, Strike One, But Fool Me Twice… Strike Three.” is out of the way, let’s talk about the post-production process for No Runners ft Trevor Stewart shall we?
Seriously, guys… I can feel the tension. I am joking about all the shit I just said up above. Please don’t EVER take me seriously. It’s all in good fun expect the part about Wes refusing to ever talk to me. Dude finds out he’s having a kid and all of a sudden ‘ol Cowling here ain’t top dog no more. Dick.
POST-PRODUCTION – LESS IS MORE
For post-production of No Runners, really, it’s moved efficiently. And, that is mainly because of the prep we did in pre-production with shot lists and having a pretty clear vision of how this entire film should be laid out. Also, stylistically for me (for better or worse), I am an incredibly simplistic editor. I’ve never been one to do flashy effects that induce seizure like symptoms to the viewers. That was rude. I’m sorry. But, being honest with you, I’ve always applied the theory that adding a bunch of visual effects, glitches, pops, super-fast cuts, etc. to your Instagram banger video just because is in an attempt to make your lack of creative composition and framing feel more exciting and cooler then what it is. NOW, I realize I just pissed off the remaining two or three people reading this, but that is simply my subjective opinion on the matter. It doesn’t mean I am right. I realize my style of work comes more so from a cinematic approach and it is not for everyone. Trust me, I know. I’ve literally had people comment on my work saying that was the biggest waste of time they’ve ever seen, and I should never be allowed to make dirtbike videos. Yes, that is real feedback courtesy of the scholars of University of YouTube Visual Arts Couch Potatoes.
Now that I’ve shit on everyone and they all hate me, let me go ahead and tell you that I actually did do some glitchy effects in a couple of parts for No Runners. But that is because it works in a way that serves the story and adds to the emotion we are trying to convey. Again, it was all about serving the story and doing what best told the story and not about what was cool and doing it just to be cool. Anyway, about my simplistic editing style… It’s really shown off quite well in this piece. Typically, I do like to linger on shots and use minimal cuts and that is very much the case for this film. Though, all with intention. The minimal cuts and staying on specific shots for longer periods of time is about letting us, the viewer, really sit in that world with Trevor. While Trevor is feeling trapped and trying to get out of the bad state of mind he is in, visually, in the edit, I did what I could to convey that feeling by staying on shots for longer than normal in order to make the viewer feel stuck and/or slightly uncomfortable. Now, does that actually play? I dunno. But, I tried.
Another example is a scene in the kitchen where he pours himself a cup of coffee. Typically, I would have a wide master and then go in tight for CUs (close ups) of stuff on the mug, coffee being poured into said mug and more. But the reality is that, for a story like this, it serves no purpose other than having CUs just to have them. If I was to do those shots, it would be because the mug or the coffee being poured has some sort of meaning, or some sort of clue, or foreshadowing something that will happen later on in the film. But I knew that wouldn’t make sense for this film because those shots would be nothing but fluff. So, instead, we sit on a wide master the entire time, watching Trevor from a far and avoiding the fluff all together.
I’ve always loved the less is more approach and it is something we will continue to talk about throughout this installment of FoM. I am not saying that this specific style is how it should be for everything. This is simply me trying to think through the process of the story and how to best tell it. I never wanted the images or the lighting to be distracting and take you out of the story. I want you to be in it the entire time and, really, never notice the visuals. And, hopefully that less is more approach pays off when you watch the film.
POST-PRODUCITON – THE VOICE OVER
For me, every aspect of this film has been a creative challenge. Every time we’ve moved onto the next step of the project, there is a new obstacle that I have to figure out and overcome. Yet, another big obstacle was the VO (voice over) of this film. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I knew this wasn’t going to be an interview or an off-the-cuff conversation and then dropped into the film to tell the story. Instead, it was going to be a story that I would write and Trevor would narrate to tell his story from a first person point of view. So, how did we do this? Well, below you will see a long, in-depth behind-the-scenes video that Brandon Carter shot of us recording Trevor’s VO and the process of us working together to bring it all to life.
Here’s how we wrote the story…
After we wrapped shooting on day one of No Runners back in April, we placed a mic on Trevor, sat down at the dinner table in his parents’ house, and we had a 30-minute recorded conversation talking about the mental battles Trevor went through. How he got to that point, what it was like in those times, and how he eventually worked his way through it. Then, I placed that audio file on a timeline in Adobe Premiere Pro and listened to it multiple times, pulling out sound bites that stood out to me and writing them down in my Notes app on my phone. From there, I placed those bits into the master timeline of the film as place holders to help us get an idea of how the VO would help elevate the visuals of the film. After that, and I sat on the VO until August, letting it marinate in the back of my mind and then, I spent one full day in August writing out the entire story. I had the film playing back on the TV in our living room with the volume blasting with the temp music so I could really get into the mood and vibe to write this story. I would also fire up some old school classical music to further help me lock into that mental frame of mind to write this VO. I wrote it out sequence by sequence.
Once I had the story written out, I then played back the film in Premiere Pro and used my iPhone Voice Memo app to record me reading the story out loud and in the tone and feeling I wanted, multiple times. This helped me to figure out what would read well, what wouldn’t, and how to address changes for parts that didn’t read well. Once I did that, I uploaded each individual voice memo file to Dropbox and sent it to Trevor so he could listen to my terrible voice read the VO in the tone and feeling I was hoping to achieve. This allowed Trevor to really understand spacing, pauses, the feeling, and understand how the words on the page would actually translate out loud and on-screen.
Last week, Trevor came over and we ended up spending over seven hours recording the VO and rewriting portions that we could tell on the spot didn’t read naturally or flow properly. This was a team effort between Trevor, myself, and Brandon Carter who helped us tighten up aspects of the VO that we were struggling to figure out ourselves.
Take a look at the BTS video from Brandon for a seriously great in-depth look at how we did it. And, I apologize to all the sound engineers out there. We had no sound studio, so we were left with the walls of my house in 90-degree temps with no AC. Thrilling!
POST-PRODUCTION – THE SCORE
This film is an abstract approach on mental health, focusing on not only what Trevor has gone through, but also injected in some areas is how I’ve also felt during moments of my life that closely relate to Trevor’s story. It’s an incredibly personal project for both Trevor and me. And, as always, I knew the score would be an imperative piece of the puzzle.
One of my favorite films to release was Todd Phillips’ rendition of Joker with Joaquin Phoenix, photographed by cinematographer, Lawrence Sher, ASC. I’ve watched that film several times and also watched a lot of behind-the-scenes about the making of the film, specifically from the perspective of Sher. That film is, to me, a poster child of mental illness/mental awareness. There are moments in that film that I relate to all too well. Moments that hit close to home for various reasons. And, they did such a beautiful job in capturing everything and then coupling it with a beautifully haunting original score by professional cello artist, Hildur Guðnadóttir. The original score that plays in the scene where Joker is in the bathroom and begins dancing was my main inspiration for our score in No Runners. I downloaded that piece of composition and placed it in our timeline as temp music and our main source of inspiration for what would be our real score. Now, keeping in mind that we had spent our $10 budget on day one of production thanks to McDonald’s’ Mocha Frappes, I had no budget for music, but I also knew the music composition had to be the perfect no budget score. After doing research, thinking about ways to approach this, and having my good friend, Oliver Lyu, take a stab at the music, I realized I needed to have a professional cello artist do an original score. After more digging and digging, I stumbled upon Ukrainian cello artist, Polina Kermesh. She is a professional cellist who was a contestant on the The Voice – Ukraine and has toured with major orchestras (I found out about The Voice thing after the fact).
I presented her with the film, concept, ideas on the score and we were able to workout a deal to have her create an original composition for the film, all on the cello. Her work in the first attempt was almost pinpoint on what I was hoping for. I only had a few very small revisions to make and, by the second version, we were right where we needed to be! Now, I don’t know if a lot of people will think much of it or think it is cool what we did with the music, but, for me? Honestly, I think it’s a pretty punk rock thing to have the balls to say I want this film featuring a professional dirtbike racer to have the music only be a cello. I dunno. Maybe I am patting myself on the back too much, but I just feel like that’s fucking cool and so punk rock to go very much against the traditional grain of music and stay absolutely true to the vision in the mind.
And, as with the theme of this film, where the music lives and how it feels is all very intentional. This film has total runtime of 15:33, but we only have music play in three parts of the film for very short periods of time. The longest it goes is at the end, where we have play the score for roughly the last two and a half minutes of the film. It’s something I am very proud of and I hope further separates this film from other dirt bike projects.
POST-PRODUCTION – POSTER ART & GRAPHICS
Again, for the umpteenth time, this was a passion project. Funded out of our own pocket in order to create our interpretation of a piece of art. Which, again, means asking and convincing your talented friends to be a part of this craziness. Enter Brandon Carter and Stu Alfano. I enlisted Brandon as a stills/BTS photographer, AC, grip, etc. For Stu, we’d been clamoring to work on something together for a while, and I had a feeling this would be the perfect excuse. And, I was correct. Stu came on to handle still/BTS photography and also do all of the graphic design work in-video and also all of the poster artwork for social media. Early on, I had a decent vision of what I wanted our artwork to look like, again, referencing Joker artwork (poster inspiration below).
I let Brandon and Stu do their thing with still photography. And, a fun idea I’ve had for years was to have the on-screen text be the physical handwriting of the talent and, this was finally the opportunity to do just that. That evening, after we wrapped up shooting at the lakebed, Stu had Trevor handwrite the entire alphabet on a piece of paper. From there, Stu scanned the piece of paper with Trevor’s handwriting into his computer and created an original, custom font that is Trevor’s handwriting. So, every single piece of poster art on Instagram and every single text/graphic that you see in the video is 100% Trevor Stewart’s handwriting courtesy of design extraordinaire, Stu Alfano!
Some fun insight into that process: Stu had Trevor write out the alphabet both in lower case and in all capital letters. Once Stu had the font ready to go and some comps ready to present to me, he gave me options of lowercase or all caps. We ended up having a pretty serious discussion about which it should be and talking about the emotion and feeling all lowercase gives us vs the emotion and feeling all caps gives us. After talking about our thoughts on the matter, we ended up going with the all lowercase type face. The reasoning is that it felt much more real and authentic to Trevor and it came from the idea that maybe we took the writings from his journal (as seen in the film) which would’ve been all lowercase and then created this typeface based on how he would write in his journal, which would be lowercase and not all caps. It’s a super small detail, but yet again, very intentional.
POST-PRODUCTION – THIS ISN’T ABOUT DIRTBIKES. IT’S ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
I’ve said it throughout these blog installments about the making of No Runners, but I really want to take minute to truly explain the importance of this project. Yes, Trevor Stewart races dirtbikes. Yes, he is an athlete at the top of his respected sport. Is No Runners a dirtbike film? No, it is not. In the entire 15:33 film, there are only two complete shots in which we actually show Trevor riding his dirtbike. Well, four shots if you count the closing bit and how I cut that sequence. Anyway, it just so happens that Trevor is an athlete who races dirtbikes, however, the reality is that this film is about a human beings and mental health. It’s an abstract take on what Trevor has felt, gone through, and now worked through. It’s an abstract take on what I have felt and gone through and am forever working through.
While it has certainly improved within our sport, I strongly believe mental health is a large problem within the world of dirtbikes and, more often than not, laughed at. We sit back in our beds or sofas and comment horse shit things through a phone screen on social media about this athlete or that athlete being weak in the mind, or a full-blown head case scared to win or unable to win. And, instead of actually addressing the issues and searching for solutions to improve mental health, we laugh at them and think they are weak-minded people and, we move onto the next athlete that can, “be a winner.” Because, these guys are, at times, viewed as just a number and replaceable within moments.
However, my simple-minded thought? The solution is to address mental illness in a positive fashion. Supporting these individuals and letting them know it is okay to feel this way or that way and that it is okay to sit down with a clinically licensed and trained professional psychologist to talk about our mental state of mind. In fact, I strongly believe sitting down with a professional psychologist, whether it be a sports psychologist or whatever their expert field of mental health is based in, should be positively and heavily encouraged. While sitting down with a psychologist is not yet something I have done, it is 1000% something I have wanted to do for years and something I intend on doing before this year is up. I am not afraid to admit that. Hell, ask Wes. Him and I have had some serious conversations about my shit. Our brain is our most unique and fragile asset as human beings, yet, we continuously ignore its long-term health as individuals, as a state, and as a country.
Look at big time celebrities, musicians, athletes, and artists who have succumb to their mental illness by committing suicide. Yet, by the outside looking in, we assume through late night TV interviews, Instagram posts, and Tweets that these celebrities, musicians, athletes, and artists have it made. But, the truth of the matter is, we know nothing about them or their battles.
My point is this: just because what you see on Instagram appears to be rich with perfection and happiness doesn’t mean that’s in fact real life. More often than not, what we see on Instagram is more a facade and more fake than watching an episode of The Kardashians. It’s a place to pretend all is okay and our lives are all so perfect. And, unfortunately, it makes the rest of us feel envious, angry, sad, depressed, confused, and questioning why we aren’t like them. The reality is we have no idea what others are truly going through and/or feeling at any given time, no matter the outward appearance we are seeing via their digital footprint. And, in my own way, I wanted to address that with No Runners and to show an abstract perspective of this and how one individual went about resetting his mind and finding comfort in who he is as, not a racer or an athlete, but as an individual.
While I do hope that the individuals whom watch this film can take something from it and apply it to their own lives, it’s also a reminder for me to never give up on finding that confidence within myself, understanding I am not alone in how I feel at times, and learning how to become comfortable and proud being uncommon amongst the uncommon… Never let others determine your self worth. In the words of David Goggins, “Never let people who choose the path of least resistance steer you away from your chosen path of most resistance.”
Next time we speak, No Runners will be out for your streaming pleasure. I hope you guys and gals enjoy our take on these themes. Oh, and starting now, I am going to be providing movie recommendations with a small list of crew, genre, etc. Since I reference Joker here, I figured it would make sense to kick it off with Joker as my recommended watching material for you. If you hate it, blame Wes. Or, me. But, remember who had that great vurbmoto merch idea with the artsy five panel hat… MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! So, blame somebody else!
KC’s recommend film to watch:
-Directed By: Todd Phillips
-Cinematography: Lawrence Sher, ASC
-Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime