Joey Schusler's new film, "RJ Ripper" is garnering praise such as; "a masterpiece," "incredibly inspiring," and "the production of the year." The film follows Rajesh (RJ) Magar, who, despite growing up in Kathmandu, an unorthodox place to begin a promising career in mountain biking, rapidly became the most successful young rider in Nepal. The praise is well-deserved, as RJ's story is captivating and flawlessly told through Joey's artistic mastery.
Watch RJ Ripper HERE
How did the idea for the film come about?Joey:
I had first heard about RJ from a number of friends who had visited Nepal to ride and explore the region. RJ was their guide and everyone had nothing but good things to say about him - which isn’t surprising now knowing his infectious energy and ever positive mindset. I then learned more about his story through a short online article Berne Broudy did for Bike Mag in early 2017. And from there I went down the rabbit hole of learning more and more about RJ. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect to make this film, and the project slowly started to materialize.
From start to finish, how long did this project take? Joey:
We (myself and fellow filmmaker Ben Page) were in Nepal for the entire month of December 2017. One thing that I really wanted to make sure with this film was that we never felt rushed. I wanted to make sure we had the time to really get to know RJ and his friends, see Nepal, and give this project the time it deserves. The pace of the trip really allowed for this film to grow into what it has become. The editing process was full on and took around three months on and off with a solid team at the helm. This was the first film I’d ever attempted in a foreign language, and that was definitely a huge hurdle time-wise, both on the shoot and in post. From original concepting and pitching to the online release, it was about a year-long process all said and done.
How were you able to interview RJ with the language barrier?Joey:
RJ understands English well, and can even speak it pretty darn well, so it was no real trouble for us to communicate. He is studying diligently to become fully fluent. The reason we decided to conduct the interviews in Nepali is that he was then much more expressive and elaborate with his answers, whereas in English the answers were always a little more delayed and simplified. I’m confident we got better answers and a more authentic look into the real RJ by conducting the interviews in Nepali.
How was this project different from others you've worked on?Joey:
Aside from being my first foreign language film, this one was different in many ways. The story arc and overall run time of the piece are more than I’ve taken on before for sure. But I think my favorite aspect of the film, and a piece that sets it apart from much of my other work, is that it depicts Nepal and Nepal’s riding scene so honestly, without unnecessarily bringing anyone else into the picture. The film features only Nepali’s and I really love that about it - its more authentic and is a true depiction of RJ’s life and what life is like in Nepal for so many. It’s a totally different style from any of my other films to this point.
How was this project similar from others you've worked on?Joey:
Well, on the action & riding side of things, it was really just the culmination of all I’ve worked on leading up to this point. I’ve worked on countless MTB shorts, so the action & riding side of things is something I’m used to. I think I was able to push myself a bit, and am really happy with how each of the three main riding segments turned out, from the streets of Kathmandu, to the prayer flag ridge of Hattiban, to the high desert trails of the Mustang Valley. The riding scenes seemed like just another shoot with an extremely talented rider. That I had done before, it was the story, place, and character that I was focused on to really make this piece what it is and make this more than just another riding video.
What was the most delicious thing you ate in Nepal?Joey:
Momos! Nepali dumplings that you can find anywhere and are beyond delicious. That and RJ’s sister cooked up a pretty incredible Dal Bhat for the crew. Loved the food the entire time we were there.
How close are the mountain bike trails to Kathmandu and what are they like?Joey:
They have a pretty good setup. The city is situated in a valley and there are hills and mountains in a 360-degree array around you there. Aside from it being pure mayhem to cross town, it’s pretty easy to get out for a ride. RJ lives on the southern end of town and can get up to Hattiban pretty easily (where the prayer flag scene in the film was shot). This is where the local crew builds and digs on trails, and where many of the races are held. Really fun riding in the forests, on mostly clay and loose dirt. But obviously Nepal, in general, is mountainous and has extremely diverse ecosystems and terrain, so you can find a bit of everything there. Getting around on foot in these mountainous regions is pretty prevalent, and that makes for some extensive, and ancient, trail networks.
RJ's dad doesn't speak in the film. Is he proud of his son's cycling abilities?Joey:
He is definitely proud of RJ. He didn’t say much in the interview we conducted, but you could definitely tell he is proud. I honestly think that both RJ’s parents are just surprised that this is a viable path for him. I’m sure not so long ago they could have never imagined what he is doing now for a living.
Is RJ still in school now? Joey:
RJ is no longer in school now at age 21. After school, he was working at a printing press before he found a life in bikes.
The amount of local, national, and international races available for RJ to race surprised me. What kind of a role did that regional racing play in getting him noticed?Joey:
Yeah, there are definitely some pretty large races in the region now, which is great to see. The Asian Enduro Series is a really big deal for him and he competes in many of the rounds across the continent. It definitely helps with his recognition in the Asian race scene. That being said, he only has 2-3 races at home in Nepal per year so he still has to travel pretty extensively to get to any sort of larger race. But I still really think he really needs to race against some of the world's fastest racers to really help bring him to that next level. Having raced in the EWS myself, I can say that he is fast as can be but really needs that mentorship and competition to take it to the next level. What really got him noticed was his guiding and leading clients from the west on tours in Nepal. Everyone who has him as a guide usually becomes an instant fan - that coupled with his racing accolades is really what got him noticed.
How do you think RJ will do at an international-level event?Joey:
Like with most people, I’m sure it will take some time for him to get up to speed and figure everything out, but he has the same kind of drive in determination that I’ve only seen in a handful of other racers, the likes of Richie Rude and Jared Graves. I think if given the opportunity he would only progress and progress. But at this time, he would be the first Nepali to race on the EWS which would be a milestone in and of itself for his country and hopefully a stepping stone for younger up and coming riders from Nepal.
Did you see other Nepalese kids (or adults) out mountain biking during your time in Nepal?Joey:
Yeah! RJ has an excellent crew of buddies around Kathmandu that he grew up with and rides with regularly - A few other really really fast guys, so they can build off each other and push each other. Mostly everyone knows everyone, but the sport is growing quickly there it seems. We definitely saw other riders out and about, as well as tourists there to ride, which is also great to see. RJ is definitely not alone and has a great community he is a part of - certainly some of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve met in the MTB world.
RJ is getting support on a level that's unprecedented in his local community, which is awesome to see, but is there any danger of putting his success out of reach of local riders who look up to him?Joey:
What struck me as truly amazing about RJ is his drive and willingness to give back to the MTB community in Nepal. He mentors younger riders and helps out with local events, always going above and beyond to be a good role model and grow the sport. To me, that’s the greatest part about RJ, is his willingness to give back and help the community. While his level of support may be directly out of reach to some of the other riders, he’s raising the bar for Nepali riders, and helping pave the way to more support for riders there. Already there is a crew of riders, not just RJ, that have support from some of the larger international brands. It’s super cool to see.
How do you think the bike industry can give riders in developing nations an opportunity to be part of the sport?Joey:
One major thing I think that can help is just more media coverage, whether it be from events, films like this, grassroots projects, etc. More exposure will help bridge the gap and grow the worldwide MTB community together. I also think that it will come naturally as the sport grows in these places. That being said, I know it’s always a difficult prospect to become a fully supported rider from a non-North American / European country. I think there is always a way, it just takes a bigger breakthrough and more determination to make it happen. I grew up racing with Marcelo Gutierrez from Colombia and he is a prime example of someone who has beaten the odds coming from a lesser known region for MTB and getting onto the world stage in a big way. I sure hope RJ is the next Marcelo in that aspect because it’s been so incredible to see how far Marcelo has gone since we were juniors racing together. I also think that MTB tourism can be a huge help for riders and MTB communities in developing nations like Nepal. These guys are able to make a great living doing what they love and sharing these amazing trails and experiences with people from all over the world. If you’ve ever been thinking of a riding trip to Nepal, RJ and Mandil can be your guide, you can ride the trials in the film, and I guarantee you will have the trip of a lifetime.Photo Credit: Ben Page