Ian Schiller, Harookz, Dustin Cook, Matt Hunter, Matty Miles, Harrison Mendel, Liam Mullany, & Robin Taylor interviewed by Scott Secco for Pinkbike.
Let’s start at the beginning, Ian how did you start working with Specialized?Ian Schiller:
I grew up in Morgan Hill, working in the R&D shop building bikes at 17, came back from college and built bikes. Then I wound up in Specialized’s marketing dept in 1999 after I graduated college. I didn’t really want to do that sort of work and took a pretty long circuitous journey where I learned how to do motion graphics and editing. Eventually leading me to writing and directing.. I’d been doing a little ‘’video stuff’’ I use that term loosely as kids these days have access to way better equipment and knowledge than I did. Harry and Liam (Mendel and Mullany) are way ahead of where I was at their age.
I was making these instructional videos. How to deal with your brain shock, set sag etc… basic stuff. And looking back the work is pretty rudimentary, but that is how I started. Then Specialized asked me if I could shoot a Tour de France commercial. Oh yeah I can do that. I had no idea what I was doing and I brought a few friends in and we ended up making this commercial with with Paolo Bettini, World Champion in Italy. I had no insurance, making it up as I went along. I did quite a few tour commercials over a period of 4 or five years then like any relationship it kind of fizzled out. I stepped back for a while from trying to be a director finding some work for the UFC. I worked a few of their TV shows field producing and then eventually their show embedded.
In 2018 Specialized was coming out with a new Stumpy and asked me to come to the meeting talking about messaging. This was after I applied to their marketing department job for the mountain bike marketing director. A job which I didn’t get. But that was for the best.
The meeting was really interesting as I was always a trail rider with very little interest in racing or whatever. But Specialized has always been a racing brand somewhat struggling with the messaging on trail. What came out of it after some creative discourse was a job to write and direct the Stumpjumper launch film.
I’d done it in the past all by myself, write, produce, direct, edit. It would take me months to get a :60 spot finished. I knew I couldn’t do it that way anymore, called up Dustin who I had meetings with about a script for a feature film..and we’ve been working together ever since. We write the scripts together; all the high concept trail stuff starts with us. I’ve had a long history with Specialized, since the 90’s. If you’d asked me back then if I would be doing work like this, I would have said no way! It’s great to be doing these films, it’s what I love to do. The fact that I have a voice through the advertising in this space is f*cking awesome. You really have to do what makes sense for you in advertising. If it is false for you, as in you’re sort of faking it, people will see that.
And how is Dustin Cook involved?Ian:
Dustin comes from the film world, he’s not a mountain biker, so the tropes we play with aren’t purely mountain biking. More about using archetypes. I think we enjoy telling stories more than anything and putting good riding shots on top of that is a bonus. Coincidently we are both self taught. There is something to that in how we approach our work.
To be clear on the first Stumpjumper film the Creative Director Chad Hilton presented us with a documentary about an artist as a starting point for the film. Then Dustin and I got to work. Dustin Cook:
I didn’t know anything about mountain biking if I’m being honest. For that first meeting, I flew up to Specialized, got a two-hour tour, then sat there for two days throwing out ideas. We presented our final concept and script to them and there were some pretty wide eyes, I remember trying to explain BIG HEAD as the trail DJ and reading ‘’what the F did we get ourselves into?’’ on some faces. They also had to explain to me why Mountain Bikes don’t belong in the Win tunnel…. I’m grateful they trusted us. Ian:
Even after we finished the film there were some people who were uneasy with the film. And I can understand why. Then it came out and people enjoyed it and it was all good. Dustin:
Then two years later here we are still doing this stuff. We have fun every time and I’ve grown to love the brand and the people there, They’re pretty bold in general. if we get a little too wild, they’ll let us know. Specialized gives us an appropriate amount of leash, I mean we got to make some ridiculous shit with Oh Delilah in Space!, SWWF, the FSR show... I’m sure one day they’ll pull us back. Ian:
One thing people forget or may not know, is that Specialized has had aggressive advertising in the past. Back in the day they had Bill Clinton in an ad for a seat that prevents impotence. The original split seat design. I can’t believe they had the guts to do that ad. I would also say this ad isn’t appropriate now, or perhaps back then. It is the thinking behind it and the boldness which I really gravitate to. I bought the poster on Ebay for $30, our northstar for any Specialized ads etc.. Our work is just the new version of the idea of how to use advertising. They had some really great and super aggressive advertising in the past, we’re not reinventing Specialized advertising, if anything we’re just modernizing things a bit. They’ve always been tongue in cheek, we just turned up the gas a little bit, morphed it to the trail rider. Apparently, the White House or Clinton’s people sent a cease and desist letter to Specialized. I’m not sure on the timing of it all. There’s a legend that Clinton was in a bike shop and saw it and gave a thumbs up. I have no idea if this is true however.Ian:
I would add, Specialized isn’t afraid to try ideas out. Some of those ideas work, some don’t. But that freedom to explore ideas and push the limit is hard to find. There is some good creativity going in the bike industry specifically advertising the trail / DH side right now. Big massive brands catering to a massive audience wouldn’t take risks like some of the mtb brands can. I think it is great to see and contribute to.
So where did the concept for this film come from?Ian:
It had been floating around in our heads for a while. Dustin and I had discussed the basic idea of looking back to now from the future. Then further inspiration came from [The Netflix Michael Jordan documentary] The Last Dance. We liked how that was framing it as these guys looking back at their perfect year. We weren’t trying to emulate it, but the mere fact that you’ve got Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman, and we’re treating Miles, Harookz, and Hunter as the same type of character looking back on their lives. That’s the most singular reference, but all the stupid stuff around the film - Miles running around in his underwear - we just wrote what made us laugh and fit the characters and narrative. ‘’Hey Miles, do you mind running around in your f***** underwear?’’ Specifically, tighty-whities. The film is sort of like politicians say, ‘’let history judge us.’’ We wanted to invent a future and comment about this time and then take that feeling down to the product, the Stumpjumper EVO. I remember when bikes were shitty and now the bikes and trails are so good, there’s never been a better moment to be a rider than now. That’s how the basic premise and narrative came together. After years of riding I still get joy riding with my friends. That is the heart of it.Dustin:
We talked about the golden age syndrome. We also thought about the EPIC piece we did a couple years ago, when the Epic runs away from home and how people commented they we’re crying, then realized how ridiculous that was… that’s probably my favourite spot we’ve done. That emotion combined with me being a bit more on the outside looking in, the technology blows me away and I think people take it for granted. I think this represents that intersection of heart and absurdity. I don’t know if you saw Midnight In Paris, but it's all about romanticizing the past. Not really appreciating the moment you’re in. It’s a tough time right now to even pull something like this off but we’re hoping to get a few smiles. Ian:
We wanted to find a balance in what the future looked like. We wanted people to passively feel the future versus shove the future forward. So we took care to pick a few specific things we could future up to reinforce we’re in 2063. Once we had the initial idea, our next problem was figuring out whether Miles, Hunter, and Harookz could even act. We want them to be really good, play the stakes for real. It took a long time for us to realize we could depend on them to act. We know they can ride, but can they act? This was the gamble from the creative end. We got them an acting coach [Chris Marquette] and they killed it. We also wrote the script with their characteristics in mind. So it is a constant process of refinement and we spent weeks chewing over script details. What we think we could pull off with the budget. How Harookz for example would say something. We’d send the script out to the team and get feedback… Harookz would never say this. So we’d make changes and I also think that helps with the acting. This script was being revised all the way to perhaps two or three days before the Vancouver unit shot the future version of the characters. Dustin:
We knew that a traditional acting coach would have been miserable, they would have had them crying, doing weird shit. Traditional acting coaches go overboard, we didn’t want to subject you [Hunter, Miles, & Harookz] to digging into their pasts, or your feelings about your parents. Matt Hunter:
Man, we had hilarious times while practicing, sitting in Miles’ house trying to do our lines over and over. We were so bad at them, but we did it.Ian:
I think the acting is really good, completely transparent. if that didn’t happen the whole idea crumbles. We knew the riding is always gonna be there, the acting would just have to lock in. Luckily, we had a rehearsal day, and that went well.Matty Miles
: We’d been practicing some different stuff; Hunter had this crazy old guy voice going.Hunter:
I was practicing this old man voice I learned from Ron [Ron Penney, Landmark Trailworks]. I tried it, and Robjn [director] was like, ‘’No dude! You gotta just talk.’’Ian:
Let’s hear it!Hunter:
[With old man voice] ‘’It’s been 43 years.’’
Sounds like a heavy smoker!Harrison Mendel:
I left rehearsal early. When I came back the next day, Miles had his makeup on. He completely flipped the switch and was a whole different actor. So believable once he had the mask on. I wondered if the mask helped or if they were super prepared. I didn’t say anything to them, but Hunter said the makeup kind of dulled the facial expressions and took it to the next level.Liam Mullany:
It was so surreal seeing them in the makeup, I know it’s you but its so hard to separate that it’s not a totally different person.Miles:
So much buildup with the mask, we can’t f*** the mask up. The makeup guy was super serious, he said don’t smile, don’t laugh, you can’t f*** this up. The mask helped me get in character. I remember walking into the woods and everyone staring at me, ‘’what the f***!’’Ian:
They sent me the first photo and I was laughing for like 5 minutes.Miles:
I was definitely nervous when I showed up and saw the first set and everyone was rushing and wanted to get rolling. But once Harry started shooting and laughing I knew we had something going. It worked pretty damn well.Harry:
It was so funnyMiles:
I was enjoying it, I liked how many takes we were doing, wish we had more time, it felt like I was getting into it better by the end.
So, what was the process like with the old man masks?Miles:
We did a trip to Vancouver and got the moulds done, then he spent a couple weeks doing the details. When we got there it’s a one-use thing, it took a couple hours to put the mask on.Hunter:
[Puts his mask on, mid-call] I’m saving mine for a party!
The best part was the client side. I sent them a photo and they’re like ‘’HOLY S***,’’ I thought it was gonna be like a moustache and some wrinkles!’’ No, the only way this works is if they’re old men and looks real.
[Harookz joins the call]Mullany:
How’s the fishing Harookz?Harookz:
Oh, it’s blown out, good to hear you boys!Miles:
I had so much fun shooting, I want to go back.Ian:
Specialized said they love the old man. We definitely want to do something more with him…
How long have you been working on this project for?Harry:
Well we talked about it in the spring. Harookz and I called Miles and Hunter, ‘’we’re coming to Kamloops in two days!’’ They didn’t know about it. We just knew we’d be behind if we don’t start the build. Ian:
We either build the trail or not. So, I made the call - do it, build the trail. This was before we had the script.Harry:
We went up two days after we called and scouted for a week, checked out all our options for builds. That was early June, then they started building in early July. We shot in Kamloops the middle two weeks of July, spent 13 days in Kamloops. We had the long weekend off, then back to Van for two days of shooting with the masks. Postproduction will go until the day before it launches. Ian:
So, five months basically.
How did you go about writing this?Ian:
We try to find the conflict in the story. That’s what drives the humour and narrative. We started debating what made the most sense: it’s a story about enlightenment, where do we go after we find it? It took a while to tease that out during the script phase. Dustin and I have a process of going back and forth on ideas. I may do a first draft or vice versus and the script then changes hands until we don’t really have anything left to add or change. I don’t come from a writing background so for me, when the concept works out from an idea then a treatment then a script, that is what I really enjoy in the process. Working with Dustin has shown me not to be afraid of a blank page.
And what was the shoot like?Mullany:
We spent two weeks getting up at 3:45am, shooting sunrise, mid-day nap, then filming sunset. Repeat. We had a couple cloudy days to sleep in. We got so lucky it kept raining and raining late into the year, and stuff was still green in July. It was very abnormal.Hunter:
We were lucky and there at the right time.Ian:
Only thing we missed was a big bonfire, but it was too dry. There was a fire ban.Hunter:
We can do that one next time.Mullany:
Gender reveal bon fire.
Dustin and I couldn’t go across the border but brought on Boldly and they’re based in Vancouver. We hired Robjn to direct on set and he carried the vision across production. He was there whenever there was acting. Boldly was our production service company the first Stumpjumper film. Geoff Manton, Shelby Manton, Sebastian Galina and Kristoff Duxbury. Great people. Robjn Taylor:
When they’re digging up the bike, the truck scene, the night stuff, when he lands the perfect run, the search for Miles, that kind of stuff. And the Vancouver and Squamish days. Ian:
MIIIILESSS!!! Where’d he go man?Robjn
: Yeah, and I love that bike search scene man, love how it all came out. It’s like 10 o’clock at night, everyone has to be up at 3:45. Harry had shared one of the stills with Ian of how we were shooting it. Ian:
That bike had to be buried!Robjn:
Miles didn’t want to bury it. It’s his only bike, it might get kind of f****** up. I want to use it after the shoot. But Ian was convinced, the bike had to be buried. Mullany suggested we scour the site for a hole that already exists. There’s a hole from where we built the jumps, we don’t want to create a hole from scratch. it’s gonna take two hours by hand. So we find a hole and bury the bike. Everyone is standing around holding lights and lasers and stuff. It didn’t occur to me until later that Miles, Hunter, and Harookz weren't even in the shot, and they could have pulled that card that they needed rest and just left, but everyone stayed around and made it happen.Ian:
My name was cursed a few times I’m sure. I would do the same thing. F this guy. Robjn:
At least we knew that the bike being found under dirt would be better, it’s a bit more work but we knew it would look better,Mullany:
We were caught up in realism and realized it’s way better if you wipe the dirt off, full Jurassic Park style.
How did Covid affect the production?Ian:
It defined everything we did. We decided to get these guys acting because of Covid, otherwise maybe we would have done it a little differently. I think what happened, happened for the best, to get the guys into their roles. Maybe we would have made a different decision and cast actors instead, which I’m very glad we didn’t. Hunter:
From my perspective there wasn’t much going on. We’re like ‘’what’s happening are we gonna do anything?’’ There hadn’t been much communication, then Harry and Harookz came up and we got to work on the project. It really changed my entire Covid experience. We got to do our thing; it was super cool.Miles:
The positive was we had a lot of time and not a lot of other projects in the way. To be able to take two months and not feel too stressed about it, it felt like we had time to do the build right, work with Harry, Liam, and Harookz. It felt cool.Ian:
More time and freedom for the riding, but then pressure was on for the acting.
What were the acting lessons like?Hunter:
We were on Zoom; we would just hang out together and practice our lines. We’d get on the call with Chris and try to do them for him. Chris was chill he was just a dude; he was laughing about how bad we were. He’d give us simple mindsets to get into. ‘’Maybe just try to say it like you’re actually thinking more like this.’’ Harookz’ acting career is gonna take off for sure.Harookz:
Chris’ way of communicating really meshed with our style. Going in as greenhorns, Chris explained things at our level, helped take the edge off. Without the coaching, prepping, and friendly reminders I would have been pretty nervous. Chris is just a pro at what he does. He really guided us, I never really felt super nervous or pressured which was nice. It was a big key factor to our performance.
How was it seeing yourself act onscreen?Miles
: It’s definitely weird seeing your face so much. I kind of had a vision for it, but I knew it would turn into something quite a bit different in the final video. It was nice to be involved with the editing. They sent us a cut with just the old guy acting, I was laughing so hard. After I saw that, I knew if we cut it with action it would be awesome. After shooting it I was wondering, ‘’Did we do a good job?’’ It felt good, but you never know. I’m pretty stoked with how it turned out.Harookz:
We were wondering, did that even work? Harry and Robjn were like, ‘’That was sweet’!’ Then when I saw it I was crying laughing. Once I showed it to my family and friends and they were laughing, I knew it was pretty good.Miles:
Once you show it to the girlfriend or wife and they enjoy it, then you know you’re good. Having Robjn there and his energy and stoke was crucial.Harookz:
There's a lot of pressure with the lights on and everyone watching. You’re kind of stuck, then Robjn would shout whatever and get you to segue and help.Robjn:
I really liked what I saw and I walked away each day knowing it was there.Miles:
Your confidence was cool.Robjn:
We all wanted these scenes to be sweet, and each morning I thought, “well in about 12 hours we’ll know.”Ian:
First time I saw it I was howling laughing.Harry:
Hunter did you FaceTime your kids and they didn’t recognize you?Hunter:
Yeah Robbie didn’t recognize me, I called everyone I knew with the mask on.Ian:
We like to play things for real, if there’s anything less it doesn’t work. They looked real and it doesn’t feel false when I watch it.Hunter:
Yeah, you told us, ‘’ You know how you normally do stuff? It can’t be like that!’’ Now I get it, yeah.Robjn:
After the perfect moment, we were shooting closeups of Hunter watching his friends. I was watching and thinking ‘’’Hunter is KILLING it right now.’’ He was tearing up and emotional. Later I hear ‘’oh f*** I could barely see because of the bbq smoke.’’
It was a struggle; I was putting so much sage on to get the smoke.
What was your approach to making it look cinematic?Harry:
For action stuff we didn’t approach it differently than we normally would, although we did get some sweet Kowa lenses. Ian put the pressure on us, he said it had to be the best footage we ever shot. That was kind of our group mindset. We rolled up one morning it was milky, and the sun didn’t pop. It was all about the golden age, the perfect moment, and it had to happen when the light was firing. Harookz said ‘’there was 5-7 minutes we could shoot at sunrise.’’ I’d say more like 15, but we really only shot the first half hour of sunrise and sunset.
We also used a different camera package for comedy. Red and anamorphic lenses for riding, Arri Alexa Mini LF and Sigma Cine Primes for the old man footage. We tried to come up with two different looks for future and past. We didn’t do much in colour to make the riding look old or shot on film, but just subtle differences that hopefully help people subconsciously realize that it’s 43 years in the future.Ian:
Harrison said there was pretty heavy pressure. We’re gonna build this trail, film 10 days, every shot has to be on point, no wasted 0’s and 1’s - everything has to be a banger. We did talk about running longer shots, we didn’t want too many cuts. Wanted to stay away from being too cutty. I wanted to get Harrison and Liam pretty much whatever they thought would make some great shots. I wanted to remove barriers and asked them how do you want to do this? Dream conditions for the dream lap. I think the only thing we nixed was a heavy lift drone. Mullany:
We shot a good chunk of the action in slow mo, but since it’s a dream sequence I think it really lent itself to that. The idea of not having any b-grade is nice, we got two shots some mornings and we didn’t feel bad about it. It didn’t feel like we had any filler, it was nice. There was one shot that we put a lot of time into that didn’t work out, it was a bird’s eye angle and it was too windy, so it didn’t work. Full setup, full crew, 10 people involved in this shot and it didn’t work. Harry:
The wind was like 40 or 50km gusts. Hunter had every flag pinned into the ground, but there was no way you could ride, it was so windy that night. Miles:
We’ve only got 20 minutes of light, maybe we can guess the speed and ride? It’s hard with the pressure not to do something stupid. Harry:
Sometimes it’s windy and you’re like ‘‘can you make it work?’’ But there was no way it was safe to ride. In two weeks, we only had one window that was windy.Hunter:
We got so lucky.Harookz:
That’s a rarity usually there’s mega rain then wind. Things just fell into place.
Tell us about the build? The line looked amazing.Hunter:
We spent a couple weeks building, had Ron and Rico (from Landmark Trailworks) and Brad and they helped us with it, that was amazing to have them help build and be on set.Miles
: It took a few tries to find the line. Without the landscape really jumping out at you it’s tough. We were there a few times and finally it just clicked. We gotta follow the wave.Hunter:
The idea for the berm was a snowboard thing, we’d been talking about it for a while. Sure, worked well and was easy to ride, super fun. Come in, lean, ‘’wow I’m going the other direction now!’’Miles:
We’d gotten to the bottom of the line, we’ve built some cool shit, what’s different? I didn’t think it was gonna work that good. Nice to get weird. Ian:
People have been telling me that corner reminds them of the shot on the Enduro that Sterling Lorence got years ago, but this is next level.Mullany:
The first time you hit your elbow, the next one was like 1mm off the ground; precision. If you measured the elbow distance, the whole way around, it’s so precise. Miles
: It’s quite different than that other turn. Harookz:
How well built and how clean it was, it just takes such an experienced crew. There’s so much that goes into a photo. People are like ‘’it’s such a sick shot!’’ but it’s the result of like 8-9 people and I need to stress that over and over. It took a crew and everyone over delivered, I can’t just go and snipe that. I want people to know that without the initial build crew and the boy’s vision, it wouldn’t happen. There’s so much involved.Hunter:
The build crew is all-time! I watch the video and can see the whole line in one shot, and that’s my favourite clip.Ian:
It’s hard because video never shows how big stuff is in person. There’s no way on god’s green earth I’d hit that stuff.Miles
: There’s some cool moments with the flash shots Harookz was doing. It’s pretty experimental. Everyone knows Harookz needs to get some shots too. It’s a group effort. Takes 5, 6, 7 tries, then you get the one.Harookz:
The way the valley lined up with the path of the sun, it wasn’t about first or last light, it was about how it hit the backdrop and contrasted with the rider. You throw in lights or whatever and the sun and flash have to be in the right spot and we’re shooting during production, so I can’t grab the guys for 4-5 hours. So Harry and Liam would shoot their shot, I’d get a few trial runs not to blow it, and we luckily nailed a few of them. Miles and Hunter are always throwing down their input too. Takes a team to pull it off.
Who helped make the film happen?Ian:
It was cut in Vancouver by Matthew at Cycle Media, Harald Boyesen, based in Netherlands did the perfect lap music, Will Storkson who used to work at Lucas Film is doing all the sound design. Visual effects were handled by Cycle as well as a friend who lives in Santa Cruz near me, Olek Lyzwanski. We found the approach drone shot to the manor on Youtube, contacted the guy, bought the clip and then Olek futurized it for us with the Windmill, landing pad etc.. Seeing it for the first time makes me laugh. The ideas to me are ridiculous. The amount of time spent in post production is high, the bar is really high, and everyone is pushing really hard. There’s lots of detail put into it. We wanted to go as big as we can with the budget we have. And we can’t thank everyone enough, no matter what the film looks like. The effort is there and I can’t thank people enough.
There were a couple scenes we dropped since the piece was already 6.5 minutes. We were gonna build Miles up to be an international celebrity, but we just ran out of horsepower and time. As if it was a big loss that Miles disappeared not just to his friends but the world. We wanted to have the bike in a lab and brush it off like it was an Egyptian artifact, but we ran out of time.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?Hunter:
We need to thank the landowners, Ross Thompson and Brad Plowe.Ian:
The story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the people at Specialized. From green lighting the idea before we had a script (pitched over Zoom and with a hasty treatment), hustling to ship bikes out, and generally giving us that long leash Dustin referred to. Thanks to: Ben Edwards, Todd Cannatelli, Suzanne Jenkins, and Allan Cooke.Credits:
A Sabertooth x Boldly Film Production
Sabertooth - Creative Director / Writer / Producer
Dustin CookVancouver Unit
Producer: Geoff Manton
Director: Robjn Taylor
Director of Photography: Harrison Mendel
Cinematography / Drone: Liam Mullany
Production Manager - Mack Stannard
Special Effects & Prosthetics: Dallas Harvey FX
Make up Artists: Alisha Schmitt & Jordane Vrba
Hair / Wig Artist: Syiamack Eslami
Production Designer: Matt Prior
Art Assistant: Joel GagnerKamloops Unit
Production Manager: Mack Stannard
Director: Harrison Mendel / Robjn Taylor
Director of Photography: Harrison Mendel
Cinematographer: Liam Mullaly
Trail Builders: Landmark Trailworks - Ron Penny, Eric Rico Simmons & Brad StuartPost Production
Cycle Media Vancouver
Editor: Matthew Griffiths
Visual Effects: Peter Debay / Cycle Media
Color: Sam Gilling
Motion Design/Visual Effects: Olek Lyzwanski
Score: Harald Boyesen / Extreme Music
Sound Design & Mix: Will Storkson
Title Design: Luke Beemer
Additional Drone Photography: Lucas Stemler
Behind the Scenes Director & Editor: Christian TisdaleSpecialized Producers
Allan Cooke Special Thanks
Riley DayneActing Coach:
Harookz as Himself
Matthew Miles as Himself
Matty Hunter as Himself
Jaleese Green - DirectorExtras