Ride's been making full-length videos for over two decades now, with 18 videos to our name, beginning with Thunder back in 1997. And we continued with a steady pace of roughly a video a year up through 2009 with Range Of Motion. With an eight-year hiatus since Range Of Motion, the prospects for a new Ride video were looking slim to none. But then in mid 2017 we were presented with an opportunity to make a new full-length direct to digital video. We recruited one of our favorite filmers and good friend Mike Mastroni and basically gave him carte blanche to make the video he wanted to make. Here's the story of Ride's 18th video, Headlights, with Mike Mastroni…
Photos/interview: Jeff Zielinski
In today's world of instant gratification video and quick turnaround content in general, what does making a full length mean to you?
It means everything, honestly. This strange push for more, more, more has really just sucked the artistry out of everything across the board. I think everyone is scared that if they don't do the same stupid thing everyone else is doing, then someone important will, therefore putting them out of business… it’s bullshit, really. I think brands and media outlets have a certain responsibility to produce higher quality stuff, so that's what I'd like to think we did.
Headlights was a made for iTunes project, which was a first for you. What are your thoughts on making a full length that isn't available on DVD? What is you opinion on the iTunes vs DVD in general?
I think it's great that it's on iTunes and I think it's really funny how much of a fuss people are putting up about it. Don't get me wrong, I like holding something in my hand as much as the next guy but really, its 2019… who honestly (besides like the 50 BMX video purists) has a DVD player? The convenience of having something forever in the quality it was intended to be viewed is gold, Jerry. Not only that, but $10 get you something that will never get scratched or lost in the sea of other DVDs around your TV stand… because every BMX rider keeps their house like super organized, right?
The last Ride video, Range Of Motion, came out in 2009. What are your thoughts on making the first Ride video in nine years?
It's an honor to say the least. I grew up watching all the Ride videos so it's definitely rad to say I've done one. Insight is one of the best BMX videos of all time… pretty much every full-length Navaz did was the best thing to happen to BMX during whatever time it came out. Left/Right, Talk Is Cheap… that guy is a God. I would like to point out, though, that it was never my intention to try to follow in any sort of previous Ride footsteps or anything like that. I was simply just trying to do my own project and was just extremely lucky for it to have a home with Ride, as well as some much needed financial backing from The Orchard.
Would you elaborate on the meaning of the title, Headlights?
I was playing with a few names all sort of centered around the idea of creating something that stands the test of time. As I touched on above, I think a lot of the artistic aspects of BMX videos that I grew up loving are being quickly pushed aside in favor of this endless sea of instant gratification garbage. Whether its because companies have convinced themselves that quick turn around stuff sells product, or that kids choose to follow amateur vlog culture more than professional BMX culture… who knows? Regardless of the reasons things are the way they are right now, the only thing for certain is that it's definitely a dark time to be someone who actually cares… if that makes any sense. The name Headlights to me is sort of symbolic of just heading out into that darkness and doing what you have to do to get the project done anyway, regardless of the current BMX landscape and whatever people think they need to digest content-wise.
What were some pros and cons of doing a project like this while living out of your van?
It's funny, the plan initially was simple: buy a Sprinter, convert it, and travel around the country making the video for super cheap. Easy right? Well it all went great whenever I'd make solo visits to everyone's towns. However when it came down to actually doing bigger "team" type trips it really didn't make that much of a difference because it's not like everyone can sleep over at my house [laughs]. In fact it kinda made everything harder because not only would we have to get vacation rental houses anyway, but we'd also have to get rental cars to fit everybody from spot to spot. Basically the van was never meant to be a tour bus for everyone, it was meant to be my house for the duration of the project, and aside from being a little complicated on trips, it basically allowed me 100% freedom to be anywhere at any time, which ultimately is the reason this video could exist in less than a year. I do live indoors now, however I still love my Sprinter and I still drive it everyday.
Looking back to when you were first getting started on the project and the preconceived notions you may have had at the time, was it at all like how you imagined it would be?
Yes and no. I don't think anything should ever be exactly how you envision it at first because then you've thrown all the creative process and life experience out the window in favor of some sort of master blueprint or something. Maybe if you have a ton of money you can railroad your ideas like that, but those high-budget projects usually end up sucking anyway, right? With making a BMX video you kinda have to be open to change to a certain degree as long as you're not sacrificing the quality. There were definitely dudes who I really wanted to have sections, but they just couldn't get with the program, and then on the other end of the spectrum there were dudes who I would have been happy with just having split parts or whatever who came through with some of the best full sections in the video. But you know, it's BMX, life happens, people get hurt, everyone has tons of other sponsor obligations that take priority, etc. Almost everybody who I asked to be a part of the video originally came through with flying colors, though. So yes, given the terms and conditions in the following question I think the result is as close to humanly possible of what I imaged it could or should be.
Getting cleared music for a project like Headlights can be a nightmare. But the soundtrack for the video is dialed—not only do all the songs fit the riders, but they're actually good sounding songs in general. Can you shine a little light on what's like to get a good soundtrack of cleared music?
Thanks! I've always put a lot of emphasis on music with all my projects. When it comes to a video having any sort of re-watch value, the music is far and away more important than the riding really. As far as finding music I wanted to use, it was definitely a daunting task…one that took me the better part of a year digging around in the indie blogs. However, once it came down to reaching out to artists and licensing songs it was actually went a lot smoother than I thought. Really it was just a really time consuming process. I knew going in that I had to find bands who were really good, yet somehow relatively undiscovered. They did all get paid something, and I certainly got shut down by a couple, but most of the musicians were happy to be involved in the project regardless of what we could offer them. When I reached out to Shenandoah Davis (the girl who does Biz's song) she replied right away and said she actually had a BMX rider mix her album…small world! Really, musicians are just like us, except probably struggling way harder. Imagine trying to create something that's never been done before in music vs. BMX? I think we have it a little easier. I would also like to add that almost every song in the video was made in 2017 or 18. So for everyone out there (like me) who thinks that music sucks shit these days, great stuff is definitely still out there and being made regularly, you just have to look a little harder to find it.
A hard fast deadline, mandatory cleared music, and a set budget… How was it working within those parameters?
It was honestly really, really stressful. First off I think a lot of the riders involved weren't really used to having a hard deadline like that. I always felt like a dick having to push, push, push to get things done, and I'm sure everyone probably thought I was tripping. But then when there was like a month left to film everyone was like… "Oh shit… this is really it, huh?" Beyond that, the tight budget constraints made it very, very hard to do trips. Riders were begging their sponsors for flights or just buying their own in some cases. I think we piggybacked off some energy drink money for an AirBNB at one point during a contest just to get something going for a few days, and so on and so fourth. I could sit here and sugar coat it, but honestly the whole thing beyond me just going directly to the riders was kind of a logistical nightmare. Of course now that the video is done I can look back on it as one of the best times of my life, but really in the thick of things I heavily questioned whether or not it was gonna get done properly. Where there's a will there's a way I guess…
Aside from the three constraints listed above, you had full creative control of the project, right?
Definitely, pretty much every decision was in my hands which was totally, totally awesome. I really have to thank you [Jeff Z.] and Fudger for all the creative freedom there, as well as the support when I needed it.
In the days of gimbals and mirrorless cameras, you went with the tried and true HVX/HPX set up. What has kept you working with these cameras for so long?
I think really I'm just not a gear guy. I hate gear guys [laughs]. As soon as anyone starts talking to me about the latest new camera specs and etc., my brain just shuts off. For me though, my first camera was a Panasonic DVX100A, so I've just kinda stuck with the natural HD progressions of that camera because I know how to make those cameras do what I want. I think when anything is done right there's a place for it, but 9 times outta 10 the gimbal type filming in BMX (especially with a fisheye) is pretty lame. The device by design is basically taking something that's supposed to have artistic characteristics unique to the film maker like camera movement, framing, zoom, focus, etc… And just kinda streamlining it into one blobby cloud of boringness where everyone's footy looks exactly the same. As far as the younger generation is concerned, I think all the gimbal type products are aimed at the entry level shooter trying to skip the step where they just suck for a couple years, and just level up to great things right away. However, it really it just doesn't work like that, so I think that's one big reason why I think we’re seeing so much of it these days. Really though, regardless of anyone's opinions (including my own) the best camera is just the one that's in your hand, and your brain is what's making or breaking the project—not your gear.
How did you go about choosing the riders?
First and foremost I really just picked people who I wanted to hang out with for a year. Obviously everyone's riding styles played a big role in things, too. I knew everyone I picked would contribute something entirely unique to the project, and that no one rider would out-shine another in any way whatsoever. I think that’s super important for a video, or a BMX team.
You've worked with a lot of these guys before, which I'm sure that makes the project flow smoother since the rider/filmer dynamic is already established, right?
Definitely. Guys like DeMarcus, Tate, Zach, etc… I know them so well as people and I'm super familiar with all their riding characteristics. I know their style, what kinda setups they're after, how they land, what aesthetic they're going for, what angles are gonna enhance their riding, when they don't really wanna ride… All that kinda stuff. Those previous years working with them definitely made for much better results through and through.
How was it working with guys like Johnny, Calvin, Elf, and Spriet for the first time?
It was great. It always takes a second for me to kinda adjust to working with new people, but it went about as smooth as it could possibly go. Johnny never ceased to blow my mind. Almost daily there would be situations where he was just warming up on a rail or whatever, and I was so impressed by something he just pulled that I'd approach him to film it, to which he'd respond with something like, "Yeah that was cool, but I was thinking more like bar in or kickflip out." I think Justin was probably the dude who's riding I was the least familiar with at the start. He was always down to just kinda send it, but he ended up being a lot more particular with his spots than I was really aware of going into the project. This definitely made for some incredibly memorable clips, just maybe fewer of them. It also seemed like he was constantly getting hurt which was a bummer, but we got what we could and I'm super hyped on his footage. Calvin and Elf were always a treat to film with, they're very much in their own lanes riding wise, but they do share a common trait of always knowing exactly what they want, and they'll do whatever it takes for as long as it takes in order to make the dream a reality. I admire the fuck outta that kind of dedication.
Was there a rider who surprised you the most?
Elf. His work ethic puts all these young kids to shame. I don't know if it's a generational thing or what, but productivity is just like baked into him. While you just spent your afternoon scrolling through Instagram and playing video games, Elf probably built a shed, met three new girls, got five clips, beat Tate at ping pong, had a few beers at the bar, and was still somehow in bed by 10:30.
Do you have a favorite section in the video?
They're all my favorite, but Biz's is definitely a standout part for me. I love the way the song works for his riding, and I'm super happy with all the clips he got. People might not automatically think of Biz as a super creative rider, but if you pay attention he's one of the most creative and spot-focused dudes out there in my opinion. Clips like the bar off the school roof onto the box truck to drop in, the concrete pump track line, or the curved kinker into the tree are good examples. There's no doubt that Biz is a BMX-lifer, and I think that over the past few years he's been kinda using his extensive skill set developed by 20+ years of professional riding in combination with his right brain powers to sort of hone in on some really interesting stuff—like stuff only he would see, which is something really special. It was really cool to be a part of that and I think in the coming years he'll only get more refined with it.
Let's talk about your part. You had some of the most unique clips in the video. How much of your footage was stuff you had from before filming for Headlights began?
Thanks, almost all of it [laughs]. I think Tate and I both went into the project with about a minute of footy each, actually. After The Finer Things we were just on that filming high and kept the ideas flowing and the ball rolling for whatever the next project was gonna be. For me that ball eventually deflated. I cut my hair, quit Volume, bought a van, and did a whole bunch of other life shit in between filming my final clips. To put it in perspective my hair had pretty much fully grown back by the time I filmed the rest of my part [laughs]. I always kinda go through periods where I'm really focused on riding and trying to create something, and then other times where I probably don't touch my bike for months—or in this case probably the better part of a year. I think if I'm gonna do something it's kinda all or nothing, so for a while it ended up being the latter. Another big factor for me was that taking on a project of this magnitude meant that my riding was ultimately gonna have to take a backseat for the sake of making sure everyone was taken care of, and I was totally okay with that. I'm honestly super hyped I was able to somehow get as much footage as I did, and it feels insane to even have a part in the video alongside all these amazing riders.
Which clip of yours was your favorite and why?
Maybe the rollover on the spinning wagon wheel or the last clip. That wagon wheel is in fact a real spot, and it's the entrance to this old man's farm on the central coast of California. My mom lives up there now, so I found it while out on a road bike ride one day and couldn't believe it actually spun like that. Calvin, Biz, and I were randomly up there on a trip visiting Alex Raban, and I realized that it was probably the time to figure out how to film it. I drove into the farm one day and found this old guy working on his tractor in the barn. He had this giant hearing aid and was totally startled by my presence, but granted me permission to come get the clip. I remember it being weird because the wheel is spinning opposite my tires. It's kinda like when you go for emissions and they put your car on those roller things. Basically, it really wasn't easy to get up, over, and off the other side of it, but I thought it would look way cooler that way. I also remember that somehow in the 40 minutes time it took to get the clip Biz was in the van and drank like eight beers by himself. I remember being hyped to get the clip, but more so I remember how funny Calvin and I thought it was that Biz got THAT hammered just on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
When it was your turn to ride, who filmed you? And I know from personal experience how hard it can be at times to go in front of the camera after having been behind it for so long. Was that ever a challenge for you?
Most of my older stuff was Josh Clemens and Krejmas. Towards the end it was usually either Calvin or Jon Tinsley here in Salt Lake. All those dudes are great filmers so I never really felt uneasy about too much. Being a filmer, I definitely I have a certain standard I need to adhere to no matter how good I did the trick. If that means doing a trick a few times I have no problem with that. Usually with my stuff if it comes relatively easy I like to do as many as I see fit while I'm in the moment just to get different angles or whatever even if it's filmed perfectly the first time. Usually the second or third make ends up being with better style or speed anyway. I think I just like to have as many options as I can because I know that I'm gonna be the one editing it, so I'm in a unique position to be as picky as I want.
Do you want to talk about the uniqueness of the spots you rode / ideas you had and what it took to make them happen? Every clip you had was something out of the ordinary…
I've always kinda liked to walk the line with this stuff, but I don't really care anymore so I'll talk about it. Honestly these days I have almost zero interest in riding something unless I build it or modify it in some way to create a situation unique to me that wasn't just there for the taking previously. I never really do anything to make things easier on myself, it's more like the goal is to make a new idea happen. To sum it up, it’s basically a process that goes something like this: Get all hopped up on coffee so my brain in functioning at 120%, drive to some middle of nowhere areas where no BMX rider would ever go, find something that draws me in and come up with an idea, take a bunch of photos and think it over for weeks, go to Home Depot like ten times, and then finally once everything is ready I'll eventually drag everyone out there to help me film it. I enjoy the process of making spots just as much or even more than the riding aspect, honestly. Getting the clip for me has always just kinda been the ends to justify the means. I like coming up with these weird concepts, figuring out how the hell to make them work, spending days on “funny farm" (as Richie [Jackson] and I call it) painting whatever the thing is—all that good stuff. The whole thing is just really fun and rewarding to me—that's about the best way I can explain it. I will say though, there are quite a few spots in my part that people for sure think are fake, but they're in fact real. Really at the end of the day it's just an endless hunt for new ideas, and by default I usually end up finding a few pre-existing gems along the side of the road.
With Tate, Elf, and Brady all located in Salt Lake, you obviously spent a lot of time there. Overall, SLC played a huge role in the video. What's it like riding and filming in that beehive of creativity?
Definitely, it was great! Really, I've just been coming here so much over the past nine or so years that Salt Lake has always felt like way more of a home to me than California. I liked it so much in fact that as soon as this video was done I called it quits on the Southern California “cool guy” scene forever [laughs]. Really everyone here is the best, were all good friends, nobody is trying to like be anyone else, there's minimal clicky bullshit going on, spots are 1000x better, and everyone just rides, goofs off, and rips on each other constantly. That's what a scene should be in my eyes and that's a big part of why so much interesting stuff comes out of here.
Of all the video projects you've worked on, where does Headlights rate?
I think this is my best thing for sure. No matter what I do I'm constantly trying to better myself and out-do whatever my previous thing was. Which I think is healthy to an extent, but I also realized that the way I think about things could eventually drive me to complete and total insanity. Right now I'm actually taking a break from BMX for that reason, and just working a normal job. This video definitely took something out of me to the point where I realized that I just needed to step away for a while. Regardless of all that stuff I'm totally happy with the video, eternally grateful for the amazing opportunity, and excited for the next chapter, whatever it may be.