What Goes Into the Making Of a 509 Episode
In particular, there has been a noticeable story-telling aspect to the web series that we’ve really enjoyed this winter, and we wanted to learn more about the planning and execution of the story-driven content.
The episode crew is stacked, featuring Reagan Sieg and Brett Turcotte, with Brock Hoyer making a cameo appearance as well. All three athletes have featured prominently in the pages of Mountain Sledder magazine, and both Sieg and Turcotte have landed cover shots in the past. Meanwhile, producer Mike Reeve has provided many epic images featured in our pages.
Wanting to take full advantage of the possibility of some killer shots from the crew, we reached out to add some fuel to the fire of the athletes by offering the opening spread of a future Mountain Sledder photo gallery to the rider who comes away with the best shot of the trip.
AND, it should be said that the cover is always up for grabs for any athlete and photographer who can snag the very best shot of the year.
Be sure to enjoy the latest 509 Fueling Your Passion web series episode, and check out the Q&A about the making of a 509 episode, with producer Mike Reeve, below.
Photos by Mike Reeve
The Making Of a 509 Episode
MS: We’ve noticed that the 509 episodes this winter have featured a more prominent storyline than in years past. How was the decision made to put more of a focus on story-telling this year?
Reeve: Tom (Delanoy), David (McKinney) and I wanted to do something like this for a while now. More behind the scenes, longer mini-movies launched mid-season. And best of all, free for everyone to watch. With COVID keeping everyone at home more, it really worked well to launch this Fueling Your Passion web series for the ’21 season.
MS: How do you come up with a concept for each episode?
Reeve: It really comes down to working with the individual riders. They generally have specific locations they’d like to ride and a style of riding they want to portray. Then it’s just a matter of finding an interesting challenge around that—what will show all that and really challenge us while filming it.
For Nadine Overwater’s episode, the challenge was about linking together some distant zones. With Riley Suhan, it was about seeing if we could access a completely new zone. And for the latest episode with Reagan Sieg, it’s about showing really how far the snow bikes have progressed over the years and how they’ve closed the gap between sleds more than ever before.
MS: What goes into the planning of each storyline? What external factors have to be taken into consideration?
Reeve: We have to always consider the location, group we’re riding with, avalanche forecasts and weather.
For Riley’s episode, we were on the tail end of a polar vortex and got hammered with that for the first couple days. (Editor’s note: it was the coldest few days all winter, which make for very difficult filming conditions.)
MS: How much time has to be blocked for the shooting of an episode (including planning, shooting, travel, post-production)? How to you manage to line up schedules with everyone involved?
Reeve: Managing schedules is extremely difficult. All the athletes are full throttle all winter, so booking off days is really tough and allowing each rider enough time in the prime of winter is really challenging.
Basically once I get back to the studio from filming, it’s full-time editing until the episode goes live. Then back on the snow again for filming the following episode.
Thankfully, episode production alternates between the Canadian crew and McKinney and the US athletes, which gives us all a break between episodes.
MS: How do you work around weather and snow conditions?
Reeve: In the past decade of filming, we’ve always tried to work around the weather. It’s a really toxic relationship as all sledders can relate. You can rush to travel thousands of kilometers only to have the weather forecast change and get rained on for four days straight.
This season has been nice in that we all knew going into it that we would just have to work with the weather we’re given. So no matter if it’s -30˚C, we’re going filming regardless and that adds to the challenges of real backcountry riding that a lot of riders can relate to.
MS: Does chasing a more story-driven episode (as opposed to just focussing on nailing banger shots) affect the shooting process?
Reeve: It does requires McKinney and I to be more involved in the episode to help tell the story and keep it on the right track.
In years past, McKinney, Clark and I have always just been behind the camera, but now we’re more involved in front as well. Going into the shoot, both the athletes and myself have to know the end goal and all try to achieve it together.
MS: How long is a typical shoot day? What time to you get started and wrap up?
Reeve: Most filming days begin at 6:00 am or earlier and we’ve been finishing past dark.
On Nadine’s mission for example, we left home at 5:15 am and returned at 11:15 pm. Then we have to scramble to dry gear, dump footage and get ready to do it all again the next day. They’re longer than most typical backcountry riding days, for sure!
MS: What are some of the issues that you’ve run into while shooting? Does this become part of the story, or do you just deal with it and move on?
Reeve: Yeah, that adds to the story for sure. We really want to portray the realities of backcountry sledding, so viewers can say, “Oh yeah, been there,” when Brock Hoyer drives into the ditch for example, or whatever hardships they come upon. Haha.
MS: Do you strive to use a typical plot or narrative arc to structure the story when editing?
Reeve: I really strive to have a challenge. I try to take what the riders really enjoy and add some sort of a challenge to it.
With Riley, we really didn’t know if we were going to get into that new zone. And with Nadine, we weren’t sure if we were going to make it down to the trucks until we finally hit the logging road.
It’s a true, challenging adventure.
MS: What are some of the techniques you use to manage the tempo of the edit?
Reeve: That’s tough. Sometimes it feels like a portion of the episode drags on, but you have to remember that not everyone watching is familiar with the challenges of riding, or the backcountry in general. So this season has been about really trying to tell the story well and not rush it.
The Making of a 509 Episode
MS: What’s some of the feedback you’ve received from the more story-driven episodes this year?
Reeve: So far I think these webisodes appeal to a more general audience. You don’t have to be a really good backcountry rider to get into watching them and appreciating what the athletes are doing out there.
MS: You’ve been producing episodes for 509 for a long time now. Is there an athlete that you really like shooting with, and why?
Reeve: The cool thing is that we’re all good friends. Even past athletes like Alford, Evans, Wood, KJ, I still consider good buddies. And each rider excels at different parts of the mountain, and they all have unique personalities so it keeps it fresh every time I go out, which is a lot of fun.
MS: What’s been your favourite part of the whole process this year?
Reeve: Having a set schedule has been a game changer for myself. It’s nice to know that you’ll be working with a specific athlete at a specific location at a specific time.
Beyond that, it’s been great launching content mid-winter. That way, athletes can have a bit of a say in their individual launches, help promote it and fire the stoke on to their friends, family and sponsors while they’re all still riding. That’s been really, really cool.
I know myself and my buddies watch the episodes and get the itch to ride locally, so I’m hoping others do as well.
I also like the fact that the athletes are sharing their own unique storylines. This is just year one, but I’m already brainstorming with athletes on what stories we can share next winter and beyond.