The innovative Behind THE Barriers web series broke new ground last year when Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) showed that there is a lot more than racing at cyclocross races. Powers along with producer/director Sam Smith started off to do only a few episodes but they were so well-received that Powers & Smith ended up covering almost the whole season last year – with Powers mostly footing the bill. This year brought new sponsors, and a new plan as far as schedule, but the goal has not changed. The duo has continued to deliver an irreverent view of the scene all the while taking the whole business seriously.
Smith broke out on the scene with the smash hit cyclocross documentary Transition which focused on the 2004 American cyclocross season. He followed that up with Transitions 2, a portrait of the Belgian cross scene from the perspective of American racers taking on the 2005 Christmas race-blitz.
Behind THE Barriers a smash hit – deservedly. We caught up with Smith, on Sunday where he put down his camera to answer our questions.
podiuminsight: Whose idea was Behind the Barriers?
So he just called you and said do you want to do this?
Pretty much last September, two weeks before Vegas he just called me and said ‘hey I want to make videos’ and I was like ‘alright’. Initially it was supposed to be maybe three weekends or something. Last season, it would consistently be ‘alright last weekend was cool, let’s do another one’. And I’d be like ‘fine’. Then it would be let’s do another one, let’s do another one. Last year, we pretty much did the whole season except for a couple of weekends.
Aren’t you working or in school at the same time?
So you’re doing red-eyes do make it to the weekends?
I’m definitely going easier on myself this year than I was last year. Because last year by this time I was out of vacation days at work, so I was flying out early Saturday morning or late Friday night, doing the red-eye back on Sunday night, being at work. Instead of being a normal weekend and have two days off, it would be Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Monday turned into two 48-hour days essentially. That was my schedule last year. This year I’m definitely taking it easier, just going easier on myself because it kind of blew me out last year.
How does it compare to the work you’ve done before? Do you approach it the same way at Transition?
Not at all, it’s totally different because there’s no overarching story-line I guess. A lot of the other stuff I’ve done never really had like a Hollywood-style storyline where it’s structured in a certain way but they’re all 10 to 15 minutes long and it’s essentially what happened today is all it is.
When you’re at a race like today, do you have an idea before you start working on it? What the story will be?
Not at all. I prefer not to have any input.
Really. How does that work? How many hours of footage from today or this weekend?
This weekend? I don’t even know, I can’t count it in hours, I count it in gigabytes.
Okay, how many Gbs?
A lot (laughs) Way too many. I fill up 500 Gb hard-drives in two weeks. The file format size that I’m working with is pretty big too so that’s kind of a pain in the ass, but yeah shooting a lot of footage. Every once in a while, Jeremy has an idea for what he wants in a certain episode for the most part it’s whatever happens today.
You’re going to go home Sunday night or Monday, tell me how you approach creating the episode(s) for this weekend?
I just watch everything straight through, literally just sit there and watch it all. Then as I watch each clip, I pull out the gem of that clip and pretty much every clip I pull something out of. And then I line all that up and then I start whittling away at it.
Once you’ve whittled it all out, how much work is each episode?
I’ve spent a lot more per episode this year than I did last year. Last year was pretty quick, every episode maybe I’d spend four hours in editing. This year, for instance, the episode that we’re about to come out with, I lost track of how long I’ve spent on it at this point. Because it’s different. It’s different this year than it was last year, we’re more established. We’ve planned everything out whereas last year was super run and gn every time so I think I have more expectations of myself so yeah I spend a lot of time on them.
Does Jeremy have any input?
Oh yeah, Jeremy has a lot of input. I structure the episode completely and then we go through it together after I’ve made the long version because I always want to leave stuff that I know that he’ll probably want to take out but I’ll just leave it in there so he has the option basically. He’ll tell me ‘cut that, I don’t want this in there’, but also he’s super good at comedic timing and stuff like that I try to get the subtle comedy right but sometimes he’ll suggest things and I’m just like ‘oh crap that makes it way funnier’.
Is the goal to be funny?
No. Anything I ever shoot I want those comedic elements in there. If something’s funny it just makes it that much better to watch no matter what it is really. Usually it’s just happenstance, we’re not forcing any comedy into this stuff.
Who chooses the music?
Usually me. More recently, he’ll throw over suggestions. Last year, we used one song the whole year. This year, we didn’t want to use that song or one song at all. It’s probably 50-50, he’ll say ‘use this’ or I’ll just throw something in and it stays in.
Is there anything that you can’t show?
There have been a few things that we’ve cut. The thing is that it’s either borderline, and usually we’ll leave the borderline stuff in for the most part, or it’s just way too…. it’s like ‘no, no absolutely not, this is not going in’.
Do you keep those?
Oh yeah, I keep everything. (laughs)
What’s your equipment?
Pretty much throughout last and this year, I’ve shot with Canon Rebel t2i, Canon EFS 17-55 lens, Sennheiser EMI 66 shotgun mike and a set of ND filters, four batteries, two 32-Gb memory cards and that’s all I had.
Which software do you use?
Final Cut. The old Final Cut, not the new crappy Final Cut. (laughs)
Are you having fun?
Yeah. That’s the only reason I do it.