Visiting with Greg Villalobos

September 21, 2015
Greg Villalobos' short documentary

Greg Villalobos’ short documentary “The Coast to Coast Relay” screens on Thursday, Sept 24 at 1:30pm.

Last year “The Green Lane Relay” showed in the MFF, and this year you have “The Coast to Coast Relay”. Both of these document some pretty grueling off road rides. Can you tell us what attracts you to this type of motorcycling?
Motorbikes mean different things to different people. For some it’s about the speed, for others the individuality of customisation. For me I like the physical challenge and adventure. Riding Green Roads (which technically speaking in the UK are not actually ‘off road’ they are unsurfaced roads), gets you out to some of the most inspiring and remote locations in the country across terrain that you wouldn’t really believe a vehicle has the ability to cross. You get hot, sweaty, fall off, stuck in mud, drowned in rivers – huge adventures that you would imagine you need to go to the most remote parts of the world to enjoy, but it’s right here on your doorstep! I get to have a ‘micro adventure’ every time I take the bike out. And of course there is the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with it. There’s not many other pursuits where your mates will happily jump off their bikes and wade waist high into a river to help you out!

Can you tell us about your filming technique? You’re really right in middle of the action, how do you capture all this with all the unknowns?
Well, there’s two aspects really. There’s the technical stuff and then the storytelling aspect. A good film really needs a story, so that’s where I mostly start – what’s the story? In this case it’s a simple cross country ride on inappropriate vehicles. A great starting point.
I’ll have a rough outline of what I want to capture before I leave, sort of a mental storyboard, some key shots that will link everything together. For example, shots that show the bikes travelling from left to right across the screen so you get the idea of moving from point A to point B, a recurring theme that also shows the landscape changing.
For this trip I used a GoPro and a DLSR. I was going to take more fuel with me but that got ditched in favour of the big DSLR, we were travelling light! I’m a big fan of making stuff rather than buying it so I built custom GoPro mounts, the most effective of which was a simple one that allowed me to hold the camera in my mouth. A really quick and easy way of getting that POV shot that meant I could literally just grab it and shove it in at short notice. I also just used elastic bands to attach the camera to the chest strap on my rucksack.
As far as the unknowns go, well sure stuff happens that you don’t get to film. But I would rather be tight on the filming and have a manageable amount of material to edit than simply hit record and film everything – 3 days for footage, what a nightmare! And of course, with this kind of trip, there was a lot of action so you are guaranteed to get some of it on camera. 

What do you find to be the more difficult aspects of filmmaking?
The biggest challenge is actually just enjoying the ride. When you are making a film as you go, you’re mind is always on, like you are stitching your mental storyboard together as you go. ‘What would that shot look like?’ ‘Have I got something to link this bit with that bit?’ ‘Was I wearing my rucksack in that shot?’
So there’s a certain irony that for this kind of film, the most enjoyable ride would be the one that you leave the camera at home for! But that doesn’t make good TV does it…

What about relay riding? In your film last year you mentioned that the UK is losing its green lanes. Has there been any development in the difficulty of finding places to ride?
The trail riding community in the UK is constantly in ‘battle’ with authorities who are trying to reduce vehicular rights to the countryside. I am part of the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) the national organisation that exists to conserve Green Roads and make sure that we can ride now and into the future. This year I was part of a campaign to raise funds to take a local council to court and force them to re-open a green lane that we believe was unfairly closed. We managed to raise over £13,000 in a month. As you might expect, I also made a little film to help convince people to donate – Green Running:
Land access is a complicated and emotional issue, and both sides of the argument have valid points. But at the end of the day the countryside is for everyone and if all users show respect for each other then there must be a way forwards. If you are interested take a look at the TRF website/online magazine – which incidentally I am editor of : )

What have you been riding and where? What have you been up to in the interim year?
Well, not long after The Coast To Coast Trial I became a dad so my riding has been somewhat clipped short of late. I still get out on the KTM 450 once a month but I also bought a project bike to work on at home. Cover your ears, it’s a road bike! A Honda Bros 400 which I’m slowly chopping up and customising. I have no idea what I am doing but it’s fun.
I have also picked up a mountain bike so expect next years film to include some human powered propulsion. 

A custom roadbike! That’s a shift from what we’ve seen from you. That’ll be exciting. What’s in the pipeline?
Raising a tiny human being is the big project at the moment. Juno is only 4 months old but I’m hoping that surrounding her with mud, oil, carburettors and knobbly tyres will give her the best start in life.
There’s a few of us who have become Dad’s recently so I’m thinking there’s ingredients for a motofilm adventure there somewhere. I guess you will have to wait till next years festival to find out. 

Are you coming to NYC this year? If not, we’ll have to try to work something out for us to come to you!
As you may have guessed, the party will have to go on without me this time. I had a blast in 2014 so I’m sure that you guys will be bigger and better this year. Well done to all the film makers who made it, it’s great to be part of the MFF family with you all. 

Thanks Greg and we certainly look forward to your submission next year. Until then congrats with fatherhood!

Individual screening ticket available here HERE
Included with VIP Passes available HERE

A Parley with Paolo Asuncion

September 18, 2015
Paolo Asuncion at the Dirtbag Challenge

Paolo Asuncion at the Dirtbag Challenge

Last year “Dirtbag” screened in the MFF, and this year we have “Dirtbag 2: Return of the Rattler.” These films document builds for the Dirtbag Challenge, to build a bike in a month for under $1,000. After filming other teams, your sequel documents your own team’s build. What were some of the challenges you encountered both in the build and in filming yourself?
Because we decided to join the contest a week after the “go” date had already been announced, we got a late start. We only had three weeks to build a chopper, and since all of us had full time jobs and families, that meant three weekends and the odd weeknight here and there. All in all, we built a chopper in eight days. With no experience. As such, as we were building, it was a heads down type of thing, where we were completely focused on the build itself. In the beginning of the shoot, I was both building and directing my camera operator. On the nights that I was building alone, I took the time to set up the camera and shoot from different angles. That changed around day three as I realized how complicated the build process was and how unprepared we were. There was so much I did not consider when we decided to join the contest. Wiring. Gussets. Bungs. Where to mount the fender. Spacers. Every 10-minute task stretched out to an hour, and then we would discover something else we had not thought about after that. Camera direction and placement became secondary – you can see this in the movie: there are entire sequences where the camera doesn’t move. For the most part, I picked my battles, focused on the bike and hoped that Phil (my cameraman) gave me enough coverage.

Can you tell us about your filming technique? You’re right in middle of the build and filming, how do you manage to be on both sides of the lens?
I’m not. For most of the build, I was in front of the lens, checking in with my cameraman from time to time. When we were done with the build, I went and filmed the other builders and all the interviews of my own team, as well as the finale. That was when I could flex my muscles so to speak. At that point the contest was done and my only deadline was the MFF submission date. I mean the short answer is there is no technique. When it comes to shooting, I just try to gather as much footage as I can. It’s in editing that I feel most at home and have the most fun.

What do you find to be the more difficult aspects of filmmaking?
Knowing when you’re finished and keeping in mind who you are making this for. I ended up with over 90 hours of footage that had to be distilled and whittled down to an hour. That’s hard to do when you are in love with most of the images. Same goes for the music. I wrote the score, and while recording it I found myself adding more layers and rerecording drum parts or perfecting that one certain guitar riff. I had to keep reminding myself of the finished product. I usually start these projects with a clear vision of the final in mind and I plow ahead ’till I get there, adjusting along the way when there are elements I cannot control. But for the most part, it’s a complete movie in my head before I begin. If I start thinking about how to market it, or who the audience is, or what someone will think of the bass line…then it gets muddy. At the end, I make these movies for me and my friends. If it makes us laugh, it’s in. If I’m being honest with what I’m saying, it’s in.

Maybe I’m not doing it right because, apart from matching everyone’s schedules, I don’t find any of this difficult at all. This is fun! I mean in “Dirtbag 2,” I got to hang out with my best buds; I got to build and ride a bike; I got to edit and film; I got to write and play music; I got to USE music from my band and from my friend’s band (he’s in the movie also); my 4-year-old daughter even makes a cameo in it…basically everything I love in life is in that movie. It would be ungrateful of me to consider any of this ‘difficult’.

Meeting the Dirtbag Challenge with 'The Rattler' in

Meeting the Dirtbag Challenge with ‘The Rattler’ in “Dirtbag 2: Return of the Rattler”

One year you filmed, then you built and filmed. What’s next?!
There are a couple things in the works.

Filming “Dirtbag 2” and building a bike made my friends I want to get our own shared garage space. We did and every time we hang out it’s always a good time. So we’ve decided to just film what happens as it’s happening and make a web series out of it.

Another project that is the third installment in the “Dirtbag” trilogy – the founder and some of the builders have been wanting to take their home built choppers on a cross country trip via the Trans America Trail (maybe even down to South America) to prove that one does not need an expensive adventure bike to have an adventure. It’s an homage to “Cycles South” in a couple ways: this is how it used to be done as far as both riding and filming. The challenge is finding the time to do this.

I’ve also been wanting to get away from the documentary format and try a more narrative approach to the same subject matter, so I’m currently in the storyboard stages of developing a music video about what it is that connects us to these machines and how we give them their souls.

What have you been riding and where?
I’ve a couple bikes, but my favorite one is the DL1000. I use it to commute to work because after splitting lanes for 50 miles, you get to work wide fucking awake. The last long ride I took was a 900-mile weekend jaunt to Highway 36 in Northern California – THE best roads around here.

What have you been up to in the interim year?
Workin’ my 9 to 5 as a graphic designer for a video game company, wrenching when I can, and getting away with my family whenever I can. Speaking of family, there is one reason I like to present these films in public. At the beginning of our films, you see a quick montage of a certain person that fades and becomes a logo that says “Vargas Films.” My dad was an actor in the Philippines, and his screen name was “Vic Vargas.” I grew up on movie sets but I never really caught the film bug until after he passed away 10 years ago. Getting our films screened in theaters is my way of putting his image and his name up on a big screen again. It’s an homage and a thank you, and a way of making him live forever.

Vic Vargas, the patronym of Asuncion's Vargas Films

Vic Vargas, the patronym of Asuncion’s Vargas Films

Last year you and a number of people in “Dirtbag,” including Turk and Poll Brown (who appears in “Dirtbag 2”), attended the screenings. Will we be seeing you this year?
Almost everyone you see in “Dirtbag 2” will be at the MFF – except Luis who has a 6-month-old baby boy. A few other people from all over are also coming out to support us and the MFF.

“Dirtbag 2: Return of the Rattler” screens on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7pm
Buy Tickets HERE
Included for VIP Pass holders. Buy yours HERE

Talking with Todd Huffman

September 17, 2015
Todd Huffman with John and Jack Penton at AIM Expo

Todd Huffman with John and Jack Penton at AIM Expo

Last year “Penton: The Story of John Penton” showed in the MFF, winning Best Feature Documentary, and this year you have “The Carlsbad USGP: 1980.” Both of these films document men revolutionized Motocross in drastically different ways. What was it about these two that drove you to make these films?
Well, I have more of a motocross background than enduro/off-road so I knew about the Carlsbad USGP because as a kid I watched it on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Back then, it was the only motocross on TV and you had to wait seven months after the actual race to see the TV coverage. But, I missed the 1980 race on TV as I was into other things at the time. It wasn’t until about 2007 when I saw the race on a crappy DVD copy that I realized that this was like motocross’ “Miracle on Ice” story (1980 Olympics Hockey, USA vs. USSR). Because Marty Moates took his own life in 2006 it made the story all that more special. For Penton, reading Ed Young Blood’s book “John Penton and the Off-road Motorcycle Revolution” in 2007 made me sit up and say, “Wow! Here’s a story to be told that many will find hard to believe”.

What draws you to Motocross, over drag or landspeed racing and time trials?
I grew up riding and racing motocross and dirt bikes so most of the historical figures I’ve covered were all heroes to me as a younger person. And, once you get these guys talking, their stories are like fine wine. It only gets better.


 “The Carlsbad USGP: 1980,” featuring Marty Moates, screens on Friday, Sept. 25 at 5pm

Both films rely on extensive archival footage and editing? Can you tell us about how you went about researching the footage and incorporating it into your particular narrative?
For the USGP we heavily relied on the actual TV footage that we licensed from ESPN/ABC. It was great story telling at the time with the race announcers really getting excited as the day unfolded. Plus we used a lot of family pics, movies, etc. from the Moates and other families plus stills from magazines, etc. This was also the first time we had to produce re-creations for footage and archival materials we didn’t have. Shooting a Marty Moates stand in and replica bike in the middle of the pits of a 2010 race for what was suppose to be 1980 was really fun and we did more of this in Penton. We always try to find the most accurate picture or archival film clip that matches the era of the particular story. It’s lazy to drop in a picture of John Penton from 1969 when you really need one from 1968. The bikes are different, clothing, etc. You lose the audience when you jump back and forth because a lot of our audiences are enthusiasts so they know…”Hey, that’s the not the right year BMW motorcycle”.

Documentaries are more than an objective relay of facts. What were your visions and goals of these unique stories?
It’s one thing to do a play-by-play of an event or someone’s life, but you need to create emotional threads that anyone can relate to whether they know anything about the subject or not. Big topics like family, determination, fear, anger, despair, triumph, etc. relate to all humans, and you look for stories that have those big themes that will make anyone smile or tear up. We like to say if we made some folks get a little choked up, we did our job.

What do you find to be the more difficult aspects of filmmaking?
Raising money. Hah! No that’s always hard. I think the hardest part with docs is knowing what and how much to cut down to a manageable length. It’s a brutal process and feels like you are cutting limbs off your children.

You were a professional BMX racer in the ’80s. Has that translated to motorcycles? What have you been riding, motorized or not, and where?
It only translated in that I got into BMX because we were too poor to afford motorcycles so BMX was new and the next closest thing. I ride motorcycles today and have a Yamaha 1200cc adventure bike that we travel with and a 450x Honda for playing around out in the desert. As far as pedaling goes, a mountain bike that doesn’t get ridden enough. Hah!

“On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter” screened at MFF 2014

You were also a producer of “On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter” which also screened last year at the MFF. How did you come about and what was it like to be involved?
I had produced and directed an episode of our TV series “The Motocross Files” and met Bruce Brown for that in 2007. I asked him if he ever considered doing another OAS film and he said, “Only if Dana (his son) does it”. When the 2010 Catalina Grand Prix event was going to happen I thought what a great event to kick off a new OAS. I contacted Dana Brown and he said, “Yeah, Let’s do it.” We shot there and eventually Red Bull took it over with Dana directing but we know we were the ones who got it going. Super neat to see if finally get on the big screen!

Are you working on anything now that you can share?
We just finished producing a TV commercial for Lucas Oil with the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck and we are getting another Kickstarter campaign going for our Catalina Grand Prix documentary which we hope to have ready for MFF 2016. Plus other things.

Will we be seeing you at MFF this year?
Possibly…a lot going on right now, so the film may have to speak for itself on Friday night.

“The Carlsbad USGP: 1980” screens on Friday, Sept. 25 at 5pm
Buy tickets HERE
Included for VIP Pass holders – available HERE


Chatting with Cam Elkins

September 16, 2015

Last year you had two episodes of your series Stories of Bike in the MFF, and this year you have two more. Can you tell us a little bit about how you selected the titles that you submitted?
Both of these films are pretty special to me and are about self-discovery and how a motorcycle is the most amazing tool to have in the help of this process. However, both episodes are kind of on the extreme of the discovery spectrum. One is an exploration to the opposite side of the world, and the other is the re-discovery of a city and the new experiences within it that a motorcycle helped to uncover.

So for the festival this year I submitted two episodes from Season 2, which I was still in the process of making while I was in NYC for the MFF last year! The first episode is “Answers.” The second film, “Discovery,” only became possible because of the MFF itself, because of you wonderful people! So, I had two episodes last year.

Through the generosity of your community in Australia you were able to attend last year. While you were here you filmed “Discovery,” which is screening this year. Can you tell us about that experience because I understand that it was quite different than your normal process and it is the first outside of Australia?
The filming of the “Discovery” episode was, quite simply, magical. Already, I was on a high before arriving due to the spirit and generosity of the Sydney Café Racer community that raised the money to send me to the MFF, and I wanted to make the most of my time in NYC. I also reached out to Corinna to help me find a suitable subject for an episode, and we found Kristen and her story of rediscovering New York once she started riding again. Coincidentally, just before I left, a New York based cinematographer, Brian Stansfield, reached out to me saying he loved the Stories of Bike series and wanted to offer his services to shoot an episode somehow. I said I was actually going to be in New York for the MFF, so why don’t we shoot something together!

“Stories of Bike: Discovery” screens on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2:15pm

What about “Answers,” the second film in the MFF this year, how did you and Jonathan meet and are you working on a follow up now that he has completed his trip?
“Answers,” came about from Royal Enfield asking if I would be interested in submitting a film for an event they were organising. I said sure, so I went on the hunt for a local Royal Enfield rider and came across this guy, Jonathan, who I was going to be riding from Sydney to London on a ’69 Royal Enfield Bullet 350, the same year and model of bike his grandfather used to ride. When I finally met Jono and he told me about the reasons for his ride, personal loss and the meaning of modern manhood, I knew he had an amazing story to tell. “Answers” was planned to be a three-parter, with this first part covering his preparations and lead up to leaving.

“Stories of Bike: Answers” screens on Friday, Sept. 25th at 8pm

It seems that the episodes have become a little bit longer in general, are there aspects of filmmaking – narrative, directing, editing – that you are experimenting with or trying to consciously develop?
The episodes are tending to get a little longer. I’m not exactly sure why this is. I probably ask too many questions during the interview. But each episode is just the length it needs to be to tell the story it wants to tell. And also, it’s always hard to trim a good story.

What do you find to be the more difficult aspects of filmmaking?
The hardest part is always getting into the edit, reviewing all the footage. It always feels like a slow start and that I’m never making any progress. But sure enough, the story and the tone of the video begin to reveal themselves and take shape. Then it becomes fun again.

What have you been up to in the interim year?
Since the last festival it’s just been about keeping the work coming in. In the last 12 months I’ve really focused on my video work full time to improve my skills. It was a slow start to the year, but now I’ve got some regular work happening that always seems to push my comfort zone.

What’s in the pipeline?
I’ve got a couple of cool moto related projects in the pipeline. The first one had me back in the States last April to shoot Shinya Kimura, which was really special. His first video was the one that definitely inspired me to do this whole thing and clinched my love of telling motorcycle stories. I can’t say too much about it, but hopefully you’ll get to meet some familiar and new moto scene faces from around the world in a really interesting way.

I also got to shoot the lovely MotoLady (aka Alicia Elfving) up in Ojai. This will be the premiere episode of Stories of Bike: Season 3, when I get around to editing it and finishing season 2!

What have you been riding and where?
Actually, I’ve been riding a lot of other people’s bikes. I got to ride an old ’48 of Shinya’s up in the San Gabriel Mountains and even took Alicia’s Ducati Monster for a little spin. Back in Sydney I had the pleasure of riding Mark Hawwa’s (founder of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride) custom Triumph Scrambler for a couple of weeks while he was in Japan. So much fun.

Are you coming to NYC this year? If not, we’ll have to try to work something out for us to come to you!
Unfortunately no, but I’ll hopefully have Brian and Kristen representing for me. I’ll definitely be there in spirit!

“Stories of Bike: Answers” screens on Friday, Sept. 25th at 8pm – buy tickets HERE
“Stories of Bike: Discovery” screens on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2:15pm – buy tickets HERE
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