MTB Heroes: Word from the Creator
Damien Vergez explains the process of filming MTB Heroes.
With the free showing of a full episode of MTB Heroes Season 2 (more info click here), we asked Damien Vergez of FastFokus, the man behind the series, a few questions. Here he talks about his reasons for going against the grain and producing in-depth, 30-minute shows featuring some of the greatest mountain bikers ever and biggest characters in the sport.
Watch Episode 12 of 13 - featuring KC Deane and Darren Berrecloth - for free here on Dirt, 5pm Friday 30 - 11pm Saturday 31 October.
Dirt: Why did you decide to start MTB Heroes?
Damien Vergez: As mountain bike fans, we see many events, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. What we don't know it what's behind the scenes, why they ride a bike, from where they come from, what's their everyday life.
I started the project and wrote a first script in 2013. I wanted a series that could be shown on a TV channel. I decided to go for it, now or never.
I contacted several TV channels including Extreme Sports Channel that seemed well suited. I had a response from the Channel; a first step. They were interested, but nothing more. So I decided to go to London and try to get an appointment with them. And it worked! When I got out there, I told myself that I had completely messed up and they had definitely found my English ridiculous. But, to my great astonishment, they call me back a few days later and said, "Let's go." They saw the love and passion for MTB in me, trusted me and offered to produce one season.
Dirt: How has filming and edit for Season 2 gone?
About the filming aspect: You get up at 6/7 am, walk for hours in the mountains, and then you come home in the evening around 8/9pm. A quick shower and dinner, then you save the data, format the cards, prepare the schedule and interviews for the next day, answer emails, call your girlfriend and then you go to bed around midnight. Sometines 1 or 2am. And then go again.
About the Editing process: It's another intense process. We had three weeks editing and post-production to in parallel shootings. As I wanted the best in terms of image and sound quality, I worked with a dedicated freelancer for colour grading on DaVinci Resovle... and with one of the best in audio post-production: Keith White. He did the audio of Where the Trails Ends, to give you just one example. There were dubbing actors and for the voice-over I chose to work with pro rider Geoff Gulevich.
We spent almost eight months on the series for the Editing process and ended up with 30 terabytes of data in total for Season 2.
Dirt: Has anything changed since Season 1?
It was really important for me to improve the quality for Season 2. Just to give you an idea of the time process for the season, each episode was about two or three weeks of shooting, compared to the 1 week of Season 1. I was maybe a little crazy when I decided to produce twice as many episodes for Season 2: 13 x 26min... it's huge!
This required a lot of organisation, especially because I wanted the second season to be better than the first. For example, I worked a lot on the rhythm. I wanted my episodes to pass very quickly for viewers and I worked more on two important aspects:
- The image quality: I shot this series with a cinema raw camera in 4K. It's the first MTB series shot in 4K cinema quality
- The interview quality: I spent many of days working on the interviews
On the 2/3 weeks shooting, 1 was devoted to know the character, his home, his trails etc. Then on the last week, I asked the questions and shot live reactions. The last 2 days were for the main interview, facing the camera, fuelled by 2 weeks together.
The goal is simple: Make the speaker becomes a friend who knows and trusts you, so he can speak from the heart. This is something that's only possible with a long shooting, and this type of TV format.
Series 2 trailer.
Dirt: Which was your favourite episode to put together and why?
It's pretty hard to choose. I started with the Megavalanche in July 2014, which was one of the toughest in history with crazy weather... and has the Red camera under the rain, it was scary. Then I went to Poland with Simon Godziek, then Germany to follow him for the District Ride contest. He won the best trick in front of 80,000 people. Then I shot in Berlin with Timo Pritzel, the legend of dirt, one of the very first to become professional dirt jumper. It was a great time with a guy that wears the heart on the sleeve and has been through a lot.
Then I went to Chile with Tito Tomasi, an adventurer, to hike a volcano that was about to erupt! We started the mission at 2am, with 10 hours of walking in one of the oldest forests of the world, we heard the volcano begin to rumble, and 3 days after our return to France, we saw on the news that the volcano had erupted.
We also went to New Zealand with Antoine Bizet (to join Kelly McGarry), who discovered the country for the first time. René Wildhaber, I followed him in Switzerland in winter when he's a ski instructor, then we went to Madeira for his EWS training... For me he's one of the most impressive riders around, and also the most professional, meticulous and physical. He always offered to re-do the shots until we had something perfect that shows his best riding. He was pedalling and running all day long until we had something suitable.
Than I went to Canada to met Brett Tippie, Jackson Goldstone and Ted Tempany. In Italy, at Finale Ligure, I followed Anne-Caroline Chausson, the most successful mountain biker of all time. Finally, for the last two episodes I went on an adventure trip to China; first in the Gobi Desert with KC Deane, then with Darren Berrecloth on the Mongolian border to explore unridden terrain... Having dinner with locals in their yurts and asking them to show us the trails, when there are no trails! Those were magical places. You need to watch the episodes to understand.
It was a full one-and-a-half years. Lots of good times, and I hope people will learn new things and be inspired to travel through my episodes.
Dirt: How was the Gobi? Did you have any problems to overcome while filming there?
Gobi was... So f**** HOT! This episode is maybe one of my favourite in terms of good times. But I also had the most hard times.
In this episode you meet KC Deane, who is less known in mountain biking but when it comes to ski freeride, he's is a major player. He went to see the Rampage and fell in love mountain biking. When I contacted him and asked him where he wanted to go, he immediately answered, "Gobi Desert!" His favourite movie is Where the Trail Ends, which was partly filmed there and he fell in love with the Gobi part. We were supposed to go with Geoff Gulevich, but he couldn’t come and he advised us to ask Darren Berrecloth. He's been several times to China and immediately accepted! He had been waiting a long time to go back!
The Gobi desert is one of the places that impressed me the most for the beauty of the landscape as well. To ride a bike there, it seems strange, but it's extraordinary.
The mountains are made of a material between dirt and sand, you can fall without getting hurt, sliding down the slope like you’re skiing. But it is also extreme; during the day it was 45°C in the shade... but there is no shade! At ground level it was 70 °C. Just imagine: You can boil an egg in the sand in 3min.
So imagine two weeks of hiking and filming in the dust. Sometime it was so hot that my camera overheated and had to shutdown after 10mins because of the temperature.
Really, really difficult to film there!
Feature cover illustration by Ep2 star Tito Tomasi.