Adventures in America – The Great Biker Build Off: The Martin Bros. vs. Matt Hotch

In this post, I’m going to map out the ride I chose for this episode shot in 2004, between Matt Hotch, whose shop at the time was down in Fullerton, CA, and The Martin Brothers, Jason & Joe. Their shop was just outside Houston.

To this day, Matt is still one the best guys I met during the year of working on the show; and we had a blast out in Texas with the Martins as well. In addition to coordinating & ap on this ep, I also took all the show stills.

BBO Ride - At the Grand Canyon
Matt Hotch & Joe Martin, South Rim of Grand Canyon

This is one of my favorite shots from our trip that started in a dump of a motel in Gallup, New Mexico, then went West into Arizona, where we went up into the Navajo Nation, through Window Rock, and past Canyon de Chelly (where we didn’t get to stop, unfortunately).

We went up the 191 and into Utah for a minute, before heading back SouthWest on Highway 163. The rock formations and stark beauty of this area is something that should not be missed if you ever get the chance. When I got near Mexican Hat, I remember thinking about how much the strip mining had really screwed up the hills – until I found out that was how they were, no mining had been done there.

This was also a scout I encountered an honest-to-goodness sandstorm I had to wait out in a service station somewhere North of Monument Valley for a while; and it was also a drive where at one point, I drove 70 miles an hour for nearly 2 hours without ever seeing another car or person. It was amazing.

Scouting this ride was a special treat for me, for a couple of reasons, one of which that I had grown up in the Phoenix area and had never returned after leaving for good in 1992. It was weird to go back there, but growing up we’d had a lot of opportunities to go up on the Rim and to Payson, Flagstaff, Sedona and a few other places up above the Valley floor and I’d always found it beautiful.

This ride was nothing if not that (though apologies that my Google maps path drawing isn’t precisely on the roads…).

Before we got to the Grand Canyon, the best place we could find to stop was a little joint called the San Juan Inn, in Mexican Hat, Utah. Right on the edge (and I do mean the edge) of the river along Highway 163.

In Monument Valley, Arizona
In Monument Valley, Arizona

Another one of my favorite parts was arranging our helicopter shots in Monument Valley. It was nearly impossible to get a permit from the Navajo Nation folks, and literally, the only way I got one was during my scout, to track down the guy responsible and pay a fee in person. After weeks of trying via phone and fax, it all came down to getting on the ground and making it work.

Funny enough, when we came to shoot, and had permit in hand, the Rangers in Monument Valley had their own set of problems with us, and didn’t care about our permit. The good news is, they showed up after we were in the air, and we got the hell out of there before we got in more trouble.

The other good news was, we were at the very edge of the flight range for this helicopter, which was a rescue helicopter from the Grand Canyon. The closest we could get to Monument Valley area at that time, without bringing in a fuel tanker. If I remember right, our budgets for the helicopter portions were literally around $2500. So we had an hour. That’s it.

This guy was an amazing pilot – at one point he was flying sideways down the highway so low that Joe or Matt (I don’t remember which) reached up from his speeding motorcycle to tap the skid of the helicopter with his hand… right before the dust up went crazy. The shots we got on this stretch were so worth it.At Gouldings, Monument Valley

From this point, the journey went South a bit further, then West again to drop into the east end of the Grand Canyon and wind our way along the rim before dropping down to stay the second night at the glorious Holiday Inn Express near the Grand Canyon park entrance.

Next up came the second reason I loved this route. I grew up loving trains. I kind of outgrew them I guess (or just don’t have time anymore?), but the Williams Grand Canyon train folks had been kind enough to work with me to arrange timing a shoot with our riders with the Southbound morning train for some cool shots you see in the finished episode. Though it was raining, and cold, it was still awesome. And the folks at the Grand Canyon Railway were really a pleasure to work with. It made the fact that liked the train part just that much better. If you take this ride, I’d say skip staying by the Grand Canyon, get down into Williams and take some time off your bike to ride the railway.

From Williams, head over towards Flagstaff then South towards Phoenix, but don’t miss the turnoff to drop down into Sedona (also, do NOT take a large trailer this way, the hairpins will do you no favors), before coming back to join the main highway leading into Phoenix. We wrapped this ride up at the world famous Rawhide where we had out vote-out (I won’t spoil the outcome if you haven’t watched the episode).


Last thing to note about this ride – there are some very, very long stretches with no gas or services. Luckily, we had Matt’s Hummer with a full set of tools, some parts, and our lead and chase vehicles with extra gas. If your bikes have smallish gas tanks (Joe Martin’s bike had a tiny tank! We had to fill it by the roadside at least 3 times if I recall correctly and Matt’s at least twice), make sure someone along with you has some extra cans of gas their keeping handy.

Of the three rides I got to put together, this one ranked second only the last ride, which I’m not quite done mapping out, and never actually happened, but is worth sharing all the same. I’ll try to finish and post that in the next few weeks.

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Adventures in America – The Great Biker Build Off: Eddie Trotta vs. Russell Mitchell

Many years ago, my first foray into reality television was working on a show called The Great Biker Build Off.

The concept was simple, find two motorcycle builders, give them thirty days to build a bike from scratch and have them ride the finished bike to a motorcycle show and let the fans vote on which one they liked better. I’m not a motorcycle guy, but even I loved this format.  We worked literally, clinically insane hours, and we flew every four days when we were shooting builders who were far apart. It was challenge to keep up with.

BUT, as luck would have it one of the jobs that fell to me for three episodes (all in the same year) was to work to figure out which bike show would be the best one to for our two builders to take their bikes to given the date we figured we’d be done shooting, draw about a 300-400 mile radius circle around that show location, and map out a motorcycle ride that we thought would be the most beautiful *and* still offer an opportunity for us to get a helicopter into a particularly beautiful portion of the ride for our aerial shots.

The best part was that after we mapped it out, I would get to take 3 or 4 days to fly to the starting point, jump in a car with my camera, and drive the route; stopping to take pictures of places I thought were really great and assessing things like fuel availability, places to stop with cast and crew for the night, and a place for the aforementioned helicopter to land, pick up our cameraman and producer or myself, get our shots, and get out – hopefully without having to bring in an avgas fuel tanker.

This was almost a decade ago now, and for years I’ve been meaning to share a Google Maps route of the rides we took that year, and one ride we mapped, but didn’t get to take.

BBO Ep 7 - Leaving Ft. LauderdaleFinally, I’ve gotten around to making KML files of the rides for my episodes and wanted to share them with the broader world. If you loved these shows, or if you’re looking for a good 2-3 day ride in some fun parts of the states, stay tuned, here’s the map from the first episode I ever worked on that took us from Fort Lauderdale, across Alligator Alley, up across the Sunshine Skyway bridge (where we did this episodes helicopter shots – great fun chasing seagulls between takes!) through St. Petersburg and up through Atlanta to Norcross, GA to the Great American Motorcycle Show.

Below is an embed of that route on a Google map; and I’ll be posting a couple of more from New Mexico, through Monument Valley to Tombstone, Arizona for Matt Hotch vs. The Martin Bros; and the route never traveled but mapped out for Mike Brown and Billy Lane

Without further ado, I give you the Great Biker Build Off, Episode 7 Ride Map.

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Copyright, Chain-of-Title, and Making Sure You Can Actually Sell Your Movie

Most posts in the Production 101 series require a deep breath before diving into them, and this one is no different.

While copyright in the United States is technically awarded “at the moment of creation” of something, that really matters very little to the commercial world of  any financially meaningful means of media distribution.

An aside, none of this really matters if you’re not ever going to distribute commercially *and* won’t ever have a need for Errors and Omissions Insurance.  E&O in media specifically is an insurance against getting sued for not having properly cleared certain parts of your media.  Most specifically it applies to insuring against lawsuits from musicians, people appearing in your film, or other people who may claim your film was their idea.

You can only get insurance policies for this kind of coverage if you’ve properly done all the contracts and releases for your media, and the aforementioned elements (though some distributors will require you to go further in certain cases).

The very first item on the list if you ever go to apply for E&O, or to commercially show or distribute your work on any medium or large commercial network (cable, satellite, etc), will to prove you own the copyright for the property.  And not just you, but specifically, the corporate entity that owns the copyright with whom the potential distributor is doing a deal.  I’m assuming here you’ve got an LLC or other entity you’re already using to limit your own liabilities.

So, if you’re in the US, you go to, get the right forms, and fill it out, send it in first with a copy of your script.  Make sure you’ve assigned the copyrights themselves to the company you’ve set up.  This is as simple as typing up Blank Assignment of Copyright that says you assign the copyright of your “titled” piece to the “name of the company,” and date and sign it.  I’ve actually included a sample doc you’re welcome to use.

Then you also send in a description of the copyrighted media. Blank Copyright Description

And lastly, if you need to reassign the copyright to another entity or person for any reason over the life of the intellectual property, you can use: Blank Transfer of Copyright Agreement

These documents are going to at the top of the list for commercial exploitation of your media, and once you understand the principles behind them, it’s really not that complicated; though I’ll admit it’s a bit of a pain-in-the-butt.  I’ll follow this up in a couple of weeks with the other parts of satisfying the maze of requirements for delivering a film or media project to a commercial distributor that includes things like location, appearance, and materials releases, and music cue sheets.

Lastly, footnote: I am not a lawyer, and my posts shouldn’t be considered substitutes for professional legal advice, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your rights.

Shot Lists, Shot Planning & Storyboards

Some years ago, I remember hearing that director Gary Ross had a shot list for the film Seabiscuit that was triple the length of the screenplay itself.  While it may be overkill (and then again, maybe not), it can’t be overstated enough that failing to plan is planning to fail.

In any visual medium, the foremost job of the leaders behind the project is to make sure that everyone working with you is clear on exactly what you’re all trying to create together.  You have to get your vision, out of your head and into the heads and hands of others on your team.

To return to the Gary Ross example, I remember his saying that his shot lists explained shots in emotional terms as well as general filmmaking terms.

Seabiscuit-exampleSo instead of just saying “Long shot,” he would say things like, “They’ve just lost their son, and feel utterly and absolutely alone in the world.  Their pain is so deep that they need that isolation, for now, and we need to respect their pain.

And this shot in the film reflects that.

So for directors and producers who feel like shot lists and storyboards might paint you into a particular shot, at the very least describing how you want people to feel at key moments in your media can be a great way to get your team on the same page with you.

Now, personally, I like to plan; I also believe that having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from the plan.  Having a plan means you have thought about the purpose behind each part of the plan, and have a firm foundation upon which to assess possible changes to your plan when you get your boots on the ground.

Changing your plan mid-game is fine, and can even drive better results than having stuck to your original plan.  But you and your team need a place to start.  Shot lists, and shot planning aids are a great way to do that.

Below are some old school templates I’ve used over the years, feel free to download them and use them for your own productions!

Blank Shot Planning List

Overhead Layout Template

Blank Storyboard Frames

I will also note, that since pre-visualization tools have gotten much, much more accessible (Sketchup, Blender, anyone?  Or Maya, or 3DS Max on the paid route), there’s no reason you can’t setup rough scenes in full 3d, and export stills or even animated sequences so your crew knows what you’re going for.

Make a plan, or plan to fail, it’s your choice:)

The Five Rules of Media Creation

As I work to create more videos in my spare time (ha!), I wanted to post my current thesis on new media creation; and what Producers need to do in order to compete with television. I’m assuming those reading this actually would like to make money off their video products one day. If you’ve no intention of ever showing your videos to a wider audience, then really, none of this applies;)

But for the rest of you, make no mistake, if you are making new media, television (and quite possibly theaters too) are your competition.  So are games, and the web at large.

The question is, how do you grab the attention of your intended audience and keep it?  Let’s get the obvious point out of the way, that is:

Tell a Great Story.

But beyond that, there are five things that we must learn from our competition as we attempt to wrest audience and maybe even dollars away from them and to our own media and/or sites.

  • Plan ahead

Far ahead.

Networks and Studios both engage their “investors” (in the case of television, it’s ad buyers, who attend each year’s upfronts, in the case of Studios – it’s their investment bankers) far in advance in order to gain their investments.

Brands plan their ad buys for Fall, based on what they see from the networks in Spring; a 6 month lead time.New Media producers looking for brands to help fund their already-in-progress shoots are way behind the curve.

Figure out how to create your up digital upfront package and get brands or companies behind you, with a coordinated plan as to how they will benefit from the final media release; OR make a plan to self-finance your content until you have enough traction to attract either ad dollars or a fanbase loyal enough to patronize your content production (via subscriptions, donations, Kickstarter, etc.)

  • Become Technically Proficient

New media, and low cost programming in general, means that you yourself are going to be wearing a lot of hats.

It means you can’t be the person in the corner office *just* coming up with ideas.  The things you should be minimally proficient at:
– Creative formatting, writing outlines/beat sheets or scripts to follow
– Operating a camera
– Editing, Compressing & Uploading video

Bonus points for learning motion graphics software, and website building platforms.

  • Be Brand-Safe Aware

You serve two masters.

One is whoever is helping your media stay afloat financially, and the other is your audience/traffic.

Like love and marriage,  you can’t have one without the other (go ahead, sing it to yourself); so Brand “safety” answers the question;  Is your content creatively safe for the brand?

A lot of major brands shy away from content that contains swearing/nudity or violence.  So make an assessment or ask your brand what their comfort levels are.  If you don’t know, assume that their tolerance for those elements is pretty low, and move up in conversations if your creative demands it.

  • Be Covered Legally

Networks spend a lot of money on lawyers.You don’t have to.

They do this primarily because litigious individuals out there will always sue those with the deepest pockets, and you as the producer need to help legally protect the distributors and the sponsors.  However, there are basic things you can do to lower your liabilities and protect third parties you do business with in creating content, including:

– Clear your music, and/or do not use music you don’t have clearances for
– Get signed deal memos from people working with you, and appearance releases for those on camera, at minimum

Just those two things will put you on the road towards being somewhat covered for E&O insurance; or meeting your sponsors and distribs minimum protection requirements. There’s a few others to learn about; my advice, hire someone who knows if you can.

  • Be Prepared to Advertise

I found out something I kind of knew, but didn’t really think about last week from an Ad Agency.

Their brands (and they have some huge ones) care more about how many eyeballs you’re going to get to see the content, and how you’re going to do that, than the content itself.

Just putting up a piece and hoping it goes viral or gets seen because it’s out there is not enough.You’ll need a strategy that pushes your content in the right places to reach your audience and get the viewership up to make your sponsors happy and be able to make more content.  It may involve Facebook, or Twitter, or a website, or an ad-buying campaign or all of the above.

Have a plan, and be sure to factor it into your time and budget.

So, there you have it; my five rules of media creation in the Brave New World.

No go forth, and make stuff!

You want to create professional media? You’re going to need some help.

I’ll be the first to admit it; there was a time not too long ago that I thought I could create professionally deliverable, full-length video episodes pretty much by myself.  (By “professionally deliverable” – I’m talking about media that you can deliver and/or monetize to third party distributors and be able to get E&O insurance on.  If you just want to distrib on your own site, or someplace that won’t take down your video, and don’t care about takedown notices or lawsuits, then you can just ignore the rest of the post!).

You’d think that after 13 years in the business, I would know better; but apparently it was a lesson I needed to relearn.

Making professional media is a team sport. Sometimes your team might be small, but it’s a very difficult and time-consuming proposition to do it all on your own.

There’s some exceptions to this rule, for sure. Especially if you are young, have very low personal overhead, and no spouse or children. And even better, if you don’t need much sleep.

Making professional grade media is all about focus, and time. The tools are pretty much all accessible, but how much time do you personally have to learn about deliverable formats? Or legal clearances. Or deal memos with the people who help you. Or learn a motion graphics program so you can create your own good-looking titles.

The list of things to handle on your own grows pretty fast when you want to produce quality content in a time and cost-efficient way.

Which is why you need a team.

You can be smart about who and when you have help, and totally crush it (as Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say); but if you’re dead set on doing it all on your own, have a ready supply of coffee, and be willing to wait a long time for a finished product.

I think there’s a few mission critical places in the development, production, and post processes where focused help will get you along much faster, and much further; in particular:

  • Development – have a pro review your script or beat sheet (docu/reality document outlining what it is you’re actually going to be shooting) and schedule and compare it to your budget – making sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure.  Also, the pro should ask you how you plan to distribute, and help you make a list of deliverables accordingly so that you account for the time and/or cost of each deliverable.
  • Production – Either hire a pro to handle, or to teach you/your team how to properly clear your media.  This is hugely important.  Also have them review your equipment lists and that you’ve answered all the questions you needed to, and tested things you don’t know about (for instance, if you need to cover a scene with more than one camera, how are you synchronizing them in post?  Are you slating each time you roll? Or are you getting cameras that can jam sync timecode? Or are you planning on spending lots of time in Final Cut trying to sync things up manually?)
  • Post Production – Start checking off deliverables.  Marketing elements, still images, the video. Metadata. A binder of your clearance items.

It’s doable that you can have a pro just kind of “check in” and give you guidance along the way, rather than hire a producer full time to do this stuff for you.  Point of reference, hiring a Line Producer, who usually brings in 2-4 more production staff to help with this process on a regular tv show, runs between $2000-3000 per week in reality, and anywhere from $3k-12k per week in scripted tv.  Some feature film Line Producers/UPM’s at studios are between $15k-25k per week.

At any rate, you CAN find folks (I’m one of them) who know the waters of media production in a wide variety of formats, and their knowledge and experience will more than make up for whatever it costs to have them on board.

It can mean the difference between being able to distribute your content at all, or not.