SUNSHINE COAST, CANADA
Brandon Semenuk comes from Whistler in British Columbia, Canada, a world capital of action sports. He first rode a cross-country mountain bike when he was six years old and soon discovered the delights of downhill and freestyle. He puts his reputation as a child prodigy down to his revolutionary riding style. In 2008, when still just a 17-year-old rookie, he took victory at Red Bull Rampage, a prestigious event on the international big mountain freeriding calendar that unfolds in the unforgiving terrain of Virgin, Utah, USA. Since then, he has regularly won more coveted dirt jump, slopestyle and freeride titles. After the success of his YouTube series, Life Behind Bars, he spent a year making an ambitious full-length mountain biking film, Brandon Semenuk’s Rad Company.
Rad Company showcases the talents of a group of remarkably skilled riders, including Cam Zink, Cameron McCaul and Stevie Smith. They’re notable for their array of competition wins and the incredible manoeuvres they pull off. One of Zink’s records is for the biggest backflip, which included a 26m drop. Semenuk matched each rider with the most suitable location for his talents. In Utah, he showed what he was made of.
Semenuk’s ability on the bike is matched by his way with a mountain bike course. A standard slopestyle track prepared for competition has dirt jumps, ramps and drops. After the Rad Company crew roll in, such a place ends up looking like a junkyard. Stunts become XXL in scale; approaches and landings are perfect; unusual components, such as old logging equipment, become integral to the course – and the resulting footage shot there. Riders were given a week to practise on Semenuk’s creations. Filming would turn out to be as tough as anything they had experienced. No one came away unscathed.
The production team had an arsenal of high-end cameras that would not be out of place on a Hollywood film set. Not a single moment was missed; every move was captured from multiple perspectives. Drones, Steadicams and cable cams – remote-controlled cameras strung on steel cable systems – were also employed. The crowning glory was the use of an HD camera system installed on a helicopter, to get incredible aerial shots.
Episodes in the second season of Life Behind Bars, Semenuk’s successful YouTube series, are devoted to the making of Rad Company. They show the extent of planning required for even the simplest shot. Lighting and electrical rigging were transported through rough terrain on foot. Weather was observed weeks in advance to find optimum filming conditions. On the other hand, rain systems were installed in the middle of forests. Before all that, months of work with excavators and shovels was needed to create perfect trails.