The Birth of 'Metis' | 3 Is a Magic Number
Dirt take a look at what happened when three creative heads decided to join forces and take on the world with 'Metis'…
Dirt take a look at what happened when three creative heads decided to join forces and take on the world with 'Metis'…
From Dirt Issue 138 - August 2013
Words by Grant Robinson. Photos by Grant Robinson, Ian Collins and Amado Stachenfeld.
There are always individuals that rise to the top in every walk of life. Whether supreme party animals, talented athletes, musicians or artists, they stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries and are the stick that all others are measured against. Game changers, leaders, call them what you will, but they do whatever it takes to be the best in their chosen field. Some of them are genuinely crazy but all are obsessed with furthering themselves and their genre, happy to do whatever it takes to see their visions and dreams become reality.
Without these players our creative boundaries would stagnate and become a haven for cannibalistic reproduction until it had consumed itself entirely and ceased to exist. Every now and again these individuals will tire of working on their own and join forces to become a super force of creativity and production and here enters Metis Creative. Three of the most talented people to work in action sports documentation have teamed up and are in the beginning stages of bringing you visual and ethereal senses massage like you have never experienced before.>>
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Blind Melon once sang that "Three is a magic number... it takes three legs to make a tripod or to make a table stand", fitting then that there are three individuals all at the top of their game putting their collective talents on the table in an attempt to redefine the possible. Also fitting that the dictionary definition for Metis contains three entries, ‘wisdom’, ‘skill’ or ‘craft’. We wanted to find out how they got to this stage, why they have decided to put their names under the wrapping of a collective and what they see as the future both for themselves as individuals and for their new partnership.
Dirt: Give us the operational breakdown if you can of what responsibilities each of you take on when working on a project?
Cam: I am Head Coach, Hustler Kamikaze, Problem Solver, Project Hunter. Clay is the All–star Midfielder, Rainman, Visionary and Future Hall Of Famer. John is the All–star Striker, The Glue, Jack of all trades, Motivator.
Clay: Cameron produces every project we do. He takes care of logistics, planning, budgeting, scheduling and more. On our recent Aaron Gwin and Cole Seely (MX) edits, I directed, shot and edited the project. We've done projects that I'm not involved in at all and then sometimes John and Cam take over the directing and shooting and John will do the editing.
All three of you had full time successful individual careers before you came together. Why have you decided to join forces?
Cam: This business is about trust. Clients trusting in you to deliver something special for their money in return for making them look like all–stars to their superiors. I had this down pretty good solo but I knew the mediums of still and moving image were merging in advertising. It took me 10 years to be proficient in the photo world, I didn't have an additional 10 years to do the same in moving image. I had been watching Clay grow since his first films and we were on the same trajectory in the action sports world. It seemed only natural for me to court him when I decided that moving image was my next move.
Clay: We decided to join forces in the pursuit of creating the best work possible. Filmmaking is a collaborate art form and I felt I had reached the capacity of what I could do on my own. I wanted to work with a team on projects in order to create better work. In the summer of 2011, I got Cameron on board to produce a product video for Giant and Metis was born from that project really. Cameron brings a solid business sense and level head to the team. He's a great problem solver and he's good at identifying flaws in our work and figuring out solutions to improve those. He also brings his background and skills in commercial lighting to the team which has been huge in giving our work a more polished feel. John is a jack of all trades kind of guy that is pretty dialled in every aspect of production.
John: For me it is all about the three of us coming together as like–minded people to work on new projects. It was a no brainer for me to join forces. Filmmaking is a huge group effort and in order to continue pushing myself I knew I needed to be working with the right team. Clay and I have been talking about working together for a long time and I'm stoked to have finally made it happen.
Metis has just finished up two great projects, one with Gwin, the other with Seeley.
Cam: The response for both were very positive. In the MTB world people know what Porter is capable of but in moto a lot of people were surprised that things can be done at the level we bring to the table on every project. Motocross is using a lot less gravity! Having a motocross bike able to reset in seconds rather than re–hiking a mountain makes life a lot easier for everyone involved. Especially when dealing with as much equipment we bring to every shoot, it allows us to really get into a good flow.
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We can understand the amount of work and planning that goes into a top flight film, what about the creative processes and development, the stages and the total man hours involved on a shoot such as the Gwin shoot?
Cam: One of the most challenging aspects of working with top level athletes is finding time within their schedule that matches ours. Athletes are focused and busy and we are booked a lot. Then the first thing to figure out is getting estimates approved, location logistics, permitting, equipment. If I had to put a guess on the amount of hours that go into that I’d say, pre–production 50 hours, shooting 250 hours, and post 200 hours… estimate total of 500 hours. Obviously that’s a lot of time for a three minute web edit. We went to the location a few weeks early and mapped out our general game plan. Once on site, we have enough group experience to just go through our process.
What would you say is the most difficult of the process when making putting an edit together?
Clay: The post–production. You can have all the best shots in the world, but if you don't know how to piece them together and time them correctly, they won't have much of an impact. It is really where the film comes alive.
No creative process is without creative differences.
Cam: This does come into play at times. We all have a vision, which we spend a fair amount of time honing together, but sometimes I may think a shot looks better one way and someone feels its better another. Most of the time we can get a few takes but at the end of the day, we are all pretty good about not getting hung up on petty personal wants. Some of us are more experienced with certain aspects and we all respect that. Clay is the best action cinematographer that I have known so he usually wins if an angle is questioned. I have substantially more experience when it comes to portraiture and light. We appreciate each other’s strong points and use them to our advantage. However, sometimes in the heat of the moment, it can get tense but we do a good job of being reasonable and respecting each other’s opinions.
The director calls the shots in most situations and it appears that Clay holds this position most of the time. What it's like working with Clay and the levels of trust you need in each other to get a job done?
Cam: Porter was my first and only call when I knew I wanted to be in the moving image market. When he is calling a shot, I know it’s going to be good and in line with what he has been envisioning. He knows where he's going next and what he's doing there. It puts John and I in a cool spot to be able to think freely for unique angle ideas during production to throw in the mix.
John: My favourite aspect of working with Clay as a director is his level of dedication on a project. He goes into every project 100% focused on getting the job done and will spare nothing to make it happen. He always has such a clear vision in his head that it can often make shoots easy. He never second guesses.
Cam: They are slick, polished and big budget. With that comes blood, sweat and commitment. We are cool with having our lives revolve around bettering our crafts. We are obsessed and will do whatever it takes. If you don't feel that way and aren't willing to claw through the mud, you can't be on our crew. It comes with a cost of our personal lives and needs yet we continue doing whatever it takes. People look in from the outside and think the camera does the work or we just push buttons on tools. If it was that easy, everyone would do it. We push the limits of ourselves mentally and physically on every shoot we sign up for. How big we go is up to us and what paths we choose and navigate. I don't want to be just one of the best in action sports, I want to be one of the best in the world.
Clay: If you tell someone you make mountain bike films, the reaction generally is "that is so cool" or "you're so lucky". Yes the job is cool but there is no luck involved. I am at where I am right now because I have worked my ass off solid for years. The lifestyle can be pretty un–glamorous at times. Our work appears slick and polished because we put everything into it. We're obsessed at times and we're perfectionists. If you want to create amazing work, you have you love it and you have to breathe it.
John: I think Clay said it best the other day, "It's blood, sweat, tears, and caffeine". Gone are the days of heading up to the trails with a handy cam and some friends. Now it's RC heli's crashing into hillsides with Red Epics attached to the front and carrying 100lb weights miles into the mountains to get that one shot. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and with that comes stress. It's the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about going to bed. It completely consumes your life and everything else gets put on hold. It's also what we love and I wouldn't trade all that stress for anything else.
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Cam: We are obsessed. Our worlds revolve around creating, how we can better our crafts and what we can bring to the table at the next opportunity. This puts our families, our relationships and friends in the backseat for the ride. I think there is a lot of competition that drives us as well. You have to believe in yourself and build confidence in your abilities. I didn't set out to be the best photographer that I knew, I wanted to be one of the best in the world. That’s a huge statement to strive for, but that is the fact. I’m not sure if any of the friends I grew up with ever felt that way, so when Clay and I first thought about joining forces, it was refreshing knowing that someone else besides me believed that it is possible to push the envelope over what has ever been done before. Do I think we are the best in the world now? Not even close. Are we the best in Motocross or Mountain biking? Maybe? But what really does that mean? Those are two relatively small markets in the world.
Clay: If it’s crunch time and you have a deadline you’re going to sacrifice having any sort of routine until that project is finished, but that comes with the territory. I never looked at things in the beginning as hurdles to overcome or anything like that, It was just what I had to do to get to where I wanted to be.
Juggling work, travel, all the planning and production whilst still having some sort of personal time and life cannot be easy. Or is the whole point that you have don't have any hence not many people make it to where you are?
Cam: You reach a boiling point where you have to shut it off. Some can do that easier than others, it’s a balance. I also have a family with a wife, and two young boys. Before I had them I could just work around the clock without any care for anyone except myself. I still sometimes have to do this when it comes to deadlines but I then need to make up for it when I can. Scheduling everything has become extremely important. It’s all about efficiency.
John: Juggling work, travel and home life can be one of the most difficult parts of what we do and it's taken me a long time to learn how to manage it.
There must be a balance of sorts otherwise you cannot be in a healthy and creative state of mind?
Clay: There has to be a balance. It’s all about recognising and acknowledging when that balance is off and taking a break. Recharging the batteries and taking some time off can be hard when there are projects in production but it’s vital.
John: I'm the happiest I've ever been right now and I can't get enough of it. We're working on amazing projects so it's easy right now to work long hours. I don't need a lot days off but I like to get away every once in a while and go surfing or riding. As long as I can do that then I'm happy.
How important is it to be working with the latest technology whether hardware or software?
Cam: Digital Cinema cameras have changed the game. Being able to have a camera that is capable of delivering your vision is amazing. You need to have all of the accessories so as not to be limited in any way and this takes a lot of research and testing to figure out what works for you. Having the right lenses for the job is mandatory, so being able to shoot the same lenses as my photo work has really helped me bite the bullet when investing.
Clay: It’s super important as long as it doesn't interfere in the story you want to tell. I see so many young filmmakers that only talk about tech and cameras. The topics should be what films, filmmaker or edit inspire them. It’s self–destructing to only talk about new gear. I embrace new technologies but I don't let them define me. Last year, iPhone footage made it into two of my favourite projects. It was a tool that allowed me to give the viewer exclusive access. The footage might look like shit but it made the scene seem more urgent. People wouldn't have given me the same reactions or access to the reality if I pulled out a Red.
John: There's no getting around it, technology is very important for us but at the end of the day if you can't tell a story then your not going to make a good film. It doesn't matter if you have an old Super 8 camera or the latest Red Epic. But I do think that having a Red Epic has changed the way that we tell stories. We go to a lot of amazing locations and shoot riders at high speeds and the Red has allowed us to slow down the action and show the viewer things that a few years ago you couldn't see.
You have also worked with Amado Stachenfeld?
Clay: Amado is our buddy who we've just started working with earlier this year. He used to race World Cups and when he stopped racing he moved to New York to do some commercial work. At the end of last summer and hit me up about potentially working with us. He's worked on a few projects with us as an assistant and shot the Super 8 footage on the Brendan short that we did a while back. Amado definitely has good taste for quality work and I like it that his influences are completely outside the world of mountain biking and motocross, and he is keen on bringing some of these influences into our work. He reminds me a lot of myself in a way. He loves to find amazing new work online. I do. He loves filmmaking and photography with a passion and is constantly on the hunt for new amazing new work and loves sharing it.
Can you tell us a little about your individual influences and career paths?
Cam: I wanted to do to action sports with a mainstream twist. I met and worked under a New York based commercial photographer named Monte Isom. Monte showed me the level that portraiture and commercial work could be done and I implemented that to my aggressive style in the moto world.
John: It all started for me about 15 years ago watching any and every mountain bike movie I could get my hands on. My early influences were the Sprung and Earthed series, Transcontinental, and Chainsmoke. I got into filmmaking to make mountain bike movies so I would watch everything that came out. I've always been a huge action sports fan though so I was always watching BMX and skate videos growing up as well. These days my main influences can come from anywhere, a big budget Hollywood film, documentaries, music videos or the thousands of amazing films posted on Vimeo. There isn't one thing that influences me but I'm always on the look out for new work from Ty Evans, Curtis Morgan, Kai Neville, and Joe Simon.
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Cam: Everyone is different. We typically are shooting current Champions or contenders. It so happens that Champions are focused on their tasks at hand, so sometimes that gets in the way of what it really takes to do something. It’s time consuming and everyone has to be committed. If you have a subject that is down and understands what is at stake overall then magic is possible. The guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to make it the best are the ones who get exceptional content. It’s a win–win for everyone involved, including them when it comes time for their contract re–negotiations with their sponsors being their poster child or most used or viewed athlete on their roster.
Clay: Not really. Everyone is generally ready to give it what it takes to get great footage. You definitely need to remind yourself that pretty much everyone we shoot these days is a top racer and is getting paid to race, not necessarily do tons of filming. If the athlete isn't stoked then you're pretty much f–ked. The athlete is everything. It's a complete respect thing. The best shoots are when the collective mentality between the athlete and myself is "you kill it at riding, we kill it at filming…let's create the radest stuff anyone's ever seen". That's when you really get amazing footage.
The genre of MTB film is relatively small. Where do your ideas and inspiration come from when sitting down to map out the next project?
Clay: Ideas and inspiration come from everywhere. Other films, photography, music, magazines. I think we make sure that we're always continually pushing the limits of our work by always trying to better ourselves. With every project you do you learn so much and are able to bring that new knowledge to the next project… each is really a progression of the last one.
Clay you have put together some of the most successful MTB films of the past decade (one being The Atherton Project).
Clay: Looking back on The Atherton Project I think it was a huge success. It really opened the door for me within Red Bull and was an amazing project to widen and expand the family’s fan base. The biggest accomplishment for me during the three year run was when the show got on Fuel TV, prior to The Atherton Project, a show about mountain biking had never been on the network. To get the sport of mountain biking into an area like Fuel TV where it had never really been before was a huge accomplishment for me. After Red Bull decided not to do it again, I made the Four By Three series last year. I was super proud of it and feel it's probably my best ever work. I wanted to do something that was more cinematic after The Atherton Project. It was a super hard decision to make but I've decided not to do Four By Three again to spend more time focusing on existing projects and new opportunities. This is the not the end of me working with the Atherton's or anything like that, I just wanted to take a year off to recharge and take advantage of some doors that have opened up for me. I've got some ideas for projects with them… I love working with the Atherton's and hope to keep filming them for years to come.
Clay and John, the majority of your work for the past 10 years has been based around World Cup DH, does this venture mean a stepping back from World Cups for both of you and if so why the decision to leave behind what has given you both so many opportunities?
Clay: I definitely don’t see myself going to every World Cup like I used to, but I’m stoked to keep shooting them as long as we shoot them in a different way each time. I’d be stoked to shoot a World Cup with 20 plus cameras, and everyone mic'd up and really get behind the scenes. Bottom line is, if a project is new and exciting, I’m stoked.
John: Yes, I will be stepping away from World Cup racing. It's not that I don't love filming at the races but it can feel a bit stale at times. They can be tough to film and I didn't feel like I was growing in my filmmaking. I haven't actually gone to many in the last few years and I think this helped in our last film from Ft William. I went into the first World Cup of this year excited and ready to work hard and I think our film from that race turned out awesome and gave viewers a different perspective on the event.
What is it like returning year after year to the same venues and what is the drive to continually create new work from these locations and what will you miss the most?
Clay: It definitely forces you to better yourself. I’d like to see more track variety on the World Cup circuit but the classics are classics. There’s a reason we go back every year to tracks like Ft. William. Looking back, shooting the same venues over the years has definitely helped me become the cinematographer that I am today. Every summer, its given me a subject coming down the hill at me every 30 seconds. My style has been honed by shooting racing. You never put the camera down and you’re constantly perfecting a certain shot.
What are your personal opinions on the current state of DH?
Clay: The sport is the biggest it has ever been since I have been involved. I think its thriving and its super cool to see. It’s a way bigger sport than when I started in 2004 and I think its gonna keep growing. Its more competitive, more fans, the coverage is better than ever. It’s growing and I’m proud of the sport.
Clay you are still working outside of the Metis group as well, in particular on Peaty's biographical film ‘Won't Back Down’ (WBD) with John Lawlor. This has been a huge undertaking and you've been working on this for the best part of two years now. Why do you feel is it such an important film and how is it going to be different to what we have seen from you before?
Clay: I think WBD will be an important film simply because it’s Steve's story. He's the most legendary mountain bike racer of all time and he has an amazing story. To get the opportunity to tell that story is quite special. It is a project unlike any other I've worked on. It's definitely a way different process than anything else. It’s the first project I've worked on that is really 100% story based. This is the first project I've ever done where story has been the ultimate priority. I really want you to be able to watch the film and know nothing about Steve Peat or the sport and leave watching the film stoked on Peaty and the sport in general. It’s an ambitious project and has kept me awake at night thinking of the best ways to approach it, but it's such an amazing story.
Where do you see Metis in the next five years?
Cam: I see us working on a lot more commercials where we can follow a more definitive shooting schedule and being able to take on fresh challenges weekly. I can still see us doing some film work but it will be based on our passions and our personal fingerprints we want to leave on subjects or genres.
Clay: I see Metis creating amazing commercial campaigns and short films. I see us continuing to develop and refine our style. I want people to be able to view our work and instantly know that it's ours. I would love for people to get psyched on a commercial or short film simply because they knew we did it. I want people to always be surprised and inspired by our work.
John: I see big things for us. It's exciting to see how much we've grown in just the last year and I'm stoked on what the future holds. I think we can all agree that we will be moving into different sports, continuing to push ourselves.