Interview with Bryan Smith and his newest project, The Season

Sunday, 17 January 2010
Bryan Smith on Camera. Photo Credit: Steve Rogers
Last week we were all blown away by Bryan Smiths Cable Cam Demo Reel video so I decided find out what he has been up to over the past season since he seems to have dropped out of sight. The fact is that he has been busier than ever working on a brand new project called The Season.

The Season is a 22 episode web television series co-produced by Bryan Smith and Fitz Cahall. It’s unique because it’s different than other videos as it covers 5 different athletes (some pro, some amateur) over an entire season as they try to achieve their goals. The sports represented are snowboarding, bouldering, mountain biking, whitewater and sea kayaking. Shot entirely in HD, all 22 episodes are going to be available for free via iTunes.

Below is a preview of what to expect when The Season gets released later this January.

With the new project coming out very soon, I sat down with Bryan to learn more about The Season, working for National Geographic and his new fancy camera gear.

1) Talk to us about your latest project. How did you come up with the idea to product The Season? Why this, why now?
The Season was the result of several late night sessions at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2008.  Fitz Cahall and I were amped by all the energy at the festival and he approached me about trying to build on the success of his online radio show the Dirtbag Diaries.  He wanted to create a new project, something with video.  I had just finished two sea kayaking DVD's and was itching for something new.  We were curious if we could take compelling stories from our community, combine it with tightly crafted footage and create small installments that reveal a bigger story?  We both started pitching each other story ideas over the next month or two and then we went to Salt Lake City for Winter OR to feel out potential advertisers.  2009 was a terrible year to be looking for money, but somehow I think this project was just different and unique enough that we got people's attention.  When Arcteryx came on board, The Season was born.  It just got easier to bring other people in from there.  We never looked back.

2) You have been working on some new gear to get more fluid and more unique shots. Tell us about it.
I invested an insane amount of money into cameras, audio equipment and rigging gear this season.  We are shooting on the Sony EX platform now which has been a huge jump from even the HD cameras that we used in the Horizons films.  I also worked closely with Matt Maddaloni who is an expert rigger and engineer on developing some new tricks and we designed and perfected a remote controlled cable cam system that is helping us follow the action.  It is basically a tiny robot that can fly down the line at over 60kph.  The other new toy is a 20 foot jib boom that is allowing us lots of creative angles as well.  If I got super specific on details, Matt would probably kill me and then come after you.  The basic idea on the cable cam is that we have a camera that has full pan/tilt/roll capabilities flying down lines at over 60kph.  We are covering spans close to 600 feet, so it makes for very dynamic shots.  With wireless monitoring we are able to watch the shot without even looking at the action.  I think our work is progressing to the next level with all the new gear.  The cable cam has been the highlight for sure, but the new cameras are just blowing me away.  It has been a season of realizing our potential and motivation.  It has gone from me doing my thing, to having a team of people all busting their butt to come up with that unreal shot.  The payoff has been unbelievable.

Bryan Smith filming 49 Megawatts back in 2007.
Bryan Smith filming 49 Megawatts back in 2007.
3) What technical challenges did you have to overcome to get some of those fantastic cliff/paddling shots?

I have had to become very comfortable with rope work to achieve what we are doing now behind the scenes.  Many of these shots involve rigging ropes and climbing them or hanging from them.  It has something that I have always had some experience in, but I think this summer has taken it to a whole new level.  It is amazing where you can go and the angles you can achieve with 70 meters of static rope, a harness, grigri and a couple of ascenders.  There are always technical issues, but patience seems to be the solution.  There are some shots in the Season that took us half a day or more to get, but they were worth every bit of effort.  If anyone followed us around and saw the amount of work we are putting into rigging, cable cam angles, and making our work professional I think they would be impressed.  There have been many, many long days this summer.  If we did not love what we do, there is no way it would be happening.  For all the technical hitches and issues, there has been so much passion and will to overcome and succeed that it almost feels surreal.

4) How did you find the athletes to highlight in the series? What was it like working with them longterm over a full season as compared to before where you would drop and shoot one day to get some action?
For the most part, Fitz and I already knew most of the athletes.  Scott Pettet, the mountain biker, was by far the most unknown for us.  We picked everyone based on their story.  We wanted unique stories that we felt would be compelling to the outdoor audience.  We did not want all "pro" athletes, but we also wanted a couple to make sure that we had a decent balance.  The idea was to have young and old, pro and weekend warriors and a good diversity of sports.  We are both really excited to share these stories.  Working with everyone over the course of the season gave both of us an opportunity to get to know everyone so much better.  I think we can both say that all five athletes are our friends.  We shared lots of moments, ups and downs and stoke.  Fitz and I had our own season for sure.  It would have been awesome to have a film crew following us as well!   

5) Let’s talk about the production. What was your style of shooting? Did you storyboard and map out beforehand exactly what you wanted or did you approach each athlete’s story more free form and see what turns out?
I think the bottom line here is that Fitz and I wanted to be story tellers first and foremost.  We picked interesting individuals who were highly motivated, so we knew that their stories would unfold naturally.  That said, we story boarded and scripted things to some degree and we also worked closely through each shoot as events unfolded but when we saw opportunities for the stories to unfold in new and unforeseen directions we jumped on it.  It was very much shot like a TV show, but with some obvious open ends based on what happened over the season.  It was a great partnership.  Fitz did a lot of the scripting, interviews and organization of shoots.  I concentrated heavily on the creativity of shots and editing.  For me it was refreshing to have someone to trade ideas with constantly.

6) Finally, where are you going with the series? Do you have a long term goal for The Season?
The Season is 22 episodes of HD video delivered via the internet for free.  It will run for 4 months and then it is over.  Our goal is to develop a widespread audience and bring strong story telling back to adventure media.  The Season will run its course and that will be it.  We are already working on another web TV series that will follow after this show completes.  Don't expect the Season to stick around, but Fitz and I are not going anywhere.  There will be lots more to come.

Might be worth mentioning that I have been working on assignment for National Geographic all summer as well.  We produced 7 stories for a new TV show that is coming this Spring.  We covered base jumping, whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, climbing, ice climbing, mountain biking, and slacklining.  I also had a kid in July as well so I still have no idea how I was able to make so much happen this summer.  

Next stop…Kamchatka -

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David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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