Field Notes: Filmmakers Brandon Semenuk and Rupert Walker of Revel Co.
"It's just finding the right track that brings out the right mood, and then also matches the pace of the riding and the location of the terrain." — Brandon Semenuk
Filmmakers Brandon Semenuk and Rupert Walker like to push their creative boundaries. Semenuk has spent much of his life building a reputation as one of the world’s most acclaimed and inventive professional mountain bikers. Meanwhile, Walker, a friend and self-taught filmmaker, has been collaborating with Semenuk to capture profiles in the moments away from the competitions and the camera flashes — the stuff that happens off of known trails and in new places. Together, the two Vancouver B.C.-based filmmakers founded Revel Co., a production company that allows them to showcase not only Semenuk's incredible riding, but the work they want to make on their own terms.
Blown away by their recent film, Simplicity, we caught up with the two friends to learn more about their unique filmmaking style and making tricks look easy (we know they aren’t).
Marmoset: Can you guys tell us a bit about yourselves and kind of how you got into making the films you're making today?
Rupert Walker: Basically, I was working a video editing job in California, and I didn't like my job, and me Brandon had been working on a video together while I was employed to this company. Pretty much, we decided to start our own company. I quit my job, and we have been working together ever since.
Brandon Semenuk: I was also in a similar situation at the time. I was working with some other production companies, but I didn't really have as much creative control over my content as I had hoped. Me and Rupert had been working together to try to express ourselves creatively.
You mentioned this company that you started together, Revel Co. Can you tell us a bit about it, and the kinds of videos you make. What's your goal with it?
RW: Yeah. Revel Co...basically, we do a handful of commercial work, but most of the stuff that we do is focused around showcasing Brandon's riding. Brandon's on top of the game. He's such a talented and creative mountain biker, and so we're taking these unique and outlandish concepts that usually wouldn't be applied to mountain biking and applying it to Brandon's skill and then developing these really interesting and visually appealing mountain biking videos that really no one else is making.
You're talking about this unique way of showcasing riding, but it seems like the music also plays a big part in your videos. Can you talk a little bit about your process of choosing music to go along with the films?
RW: The thing about trying to find music for that is there always tends to be a pacing to the movement. I think it's just trying to find the right song that has the right pacing to match the riding, and then also just trying to make sure that we basically capture the mood, showcase the mood the best way possible. Brandon, do you want to touch on anything? You found that song for the last video, and it totally changed the video, you know?
BS: Yeah, for sure. Every video has to have a certain flow. Then obviously there's an energy to the riding. If the riding is really aggressive, you kind of want something that's hitting hard, and if the riding is more flowy, you can have more of a mellow track that makes it look more dreamy. Like Rupert said, it's just finding the right track that brings out the right mood, and then also matches the pace of the riding, the location of the terrain. Once we get it all on the timeline, you kind of start to see that flow, and then you can start looking for, "Okay, I think this is going to be more an upbeat song, or something slower, or something electronic," and then you get a better idea once you start seeing the footage altogether. Most of the time, music's a really, really big part of what we're building out in the end, and the right songs really bring it to life.
What's something you learned when filming Simplicity?
RW: One thing we learned is that sometimes it's better to just keep things simple -- you don't need to overcomplicate stuff. The only thing about Simplicity that Brandon wanted to do is basically just do the most stylish and simple trick, but make them look perfect -- that's "simple" in Brandon's terms, right? In terms of the riding, it was just about being simple. The film itself is black and white. There was this whole simple vibe to it, but at the end of the day, it turned out...we didn't try to over-complicate it, and it turned out really good, we think.
BS: Even the locations were like a single jump and a field, not a lot of distractions, all that kind of stuff. It's easy to clutter shots sometimes to try to make them look more exciting. But just to take that really "simplicity" approach to the whole video, I think, was something we learned. Just making things look neat, nice and visually appealing.
Cool. What would you say was the biggest challenge of filming Simplicity?
RW: I think we were in New Zealand filming that and we live in Canada. So just our timeline was kind of tight, and we were only there for a certain amount of time, so we really had to make sure we got everything with the time we were there. That's was the difficult part of us.
BS: Yeah. I had a friend in New Zealand build a lot of that track. So we were showing up to a bunch of jumps and mountain bike trail I hadn't even seen. We were showing up and going into shooting it right away, hoping that it works, and we've only got a handful of days, and we're dealing with wind and rain and all that stuff. Yeah, just emphasize being halfway across the world trying to make that go smoothly.
What is something others would be surprised to know about you?
RW: Actually, this goes along with the video concept of Simplicity, but when we film, the gear and our set up that we like to use, it's actually very simple, we roll with a small kit. We don't roll with a bunch of huge cameras and boxes and boxes of gear. We're actually a really kind of small production. I think that sometimes people don't really understand that when they see some of our videos in the end. Yeah, that's one thing that I would say. That probably would apply to both of us, eh, Brandon?
BS: Yeah, I think so. We like to keep it tight.
What is something that inspires you?
BS: I mean, a lot of things for me. Obviously I look at a lot of other sports, action sports, in particular. That inspires me, as far as my riding. But then in a creative sense, pretty much anything I see that is visually appealing, that makes you think, or just seeing people go out and just trying to be different and do something fresh, that alone is really inspiring to me. I think that's a lot of motivation for me, just trying to keep pushing my creative outlets, too.
RW: Yeah. You can apply that also to me, as well.
Great. Last question here. What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
RW: The best piece of advice I've ever been given is to not take any.