PROPS - Don't Call It A Comeback
An Interview With Props Founder Chris Rye
Interview by Paul Robinson / Images courtesy of Props
"Props is back!?" Is what I’ve been hearing a bunch lately, so I wanted to know more – and the only way to know more is to get to the very heart and soul of Props which is Mr Chris Rye. I interviewed him over the very modern system known as email and he shed some light on the recent Props, why it’s come together and also some insight into the (amazing) new Jimmy Levan documentary that we're collaborating on with him too. Welcome back!
Hello Chris, so Props is back?! for a one off special right? Any chance this might re-ignite the flames and we might see more?
To get this right out of the way: there is no plan to bring Props back as a regular thing. The new issue is a special one-time project that we hope brings back the magic one last time for a good cause.
So how did it come to be?
In May, Bob Scerbo hit me up about the possibility of doing a new Props Issue as a way to raise money for Chris Hallman, who we had recently found out had surgery for colon cancer. Up to that point, Stew Johnson, some others and myself had already been talking about some fundraising ideas for Hallman, so when Bob came with this idea I said yes immediately. It seemed the perfect thing honestly, was a really great idea by Bob.
"Chris Hallman has influenced me in more ways than I probably even know. Plus he’s the nicest dude ever. The Dude."
Throughout the mid-late 90s I grew up hanging out with Hallman, lived with him, rode with him, filmed with him and travelled with him all over doing Props and Tread Magazine at the same time. He taught me a lot about all kinds of things back then. I had been to graphic design school a handful of years earlier and had a lot of experience using Photoshop and layout programs. So Hallman shows up in Chicago to be the editor of Tread Magazine (Editors note: Hallman was a very important part of the early days of DIG too) and had never opened Photoshop before, then learns it in a week and immediately starts banging out these incredible layouts for the magazine. I was blown away. He taught me about photography. He took me to a camera shop in downtown Chicago where I got my favorite camera of all time, a Nikon FM2. Life changing event really. He has influenced me in more ways than I probably even know. Plus he’s the nicest dude ever. The Dude.
Chris was the first person I ever saw cook tofu. We were living together at the Props house in Elk Grove Village, IL and I came home one night to him frying this stuff on the stove. I said wtf is that and he said, “It’s tofu.” I said, “What does it taste like?” and he said, “Nothing really. It soaks up the flavor of whatever you cook it with.” Weird how you remember little things like that.
My wife Ginia has had cancer three times and I know first hand how nasty this shit can be. So helping Hallman with a new issue was something I was really into as soon as Bob pitched it. All the net revenue from the sales of the Issue is being donated to Hallman to help him pay for medical bills.
Since we hadn’t done a Props Issue in nearly 7 years, “the band” wasn’t together like it used to be, but after some texts and calls we were able to fire up production again and sections started getting hammered out. We sent out the project to industry brands and opened up ads like used to be in the Issues. A lot of companies came through in support of the project and the Issue has a full slate of commercials with revenue being donated as well. Some brands even tailored their ads as throwbacks to older ads or in support of Hallman. So good. I really can’t thank everyone enough. It was pretty incredible to get so much support.
What kind of content can we expect in Issue 79?
Issue 79 is packed full of sections with a running time of about 70 minutes. The main sections are a Profile on Missouri-based Bobbie Altiser, a Day In the Life with Van Homan, an Empire Texas section, a roadtrip with the Relic crew who hit up a bunch of cement bowls, a short but sweet part with Cody Diggs killing it at Catty Woods, a session FBM had at the crazy backyard Lost Bowl, a classic Props-style interview with Florideah's Trey Jones, a little thing on the Gnar Barn in Iowa with a session from the locals there, and a Bio on Éclat’s Dan Coller who absolutely destroys on street. Then there is the Intro with the classic Props theme, all the ads and a credits section I think people will really love. As a bonus section there is the Taj Mihelich “Life After Pro” section that I worked on for the Ride website, thanks to Jeff Z for letting us include it!
Really can’t thank everyone enough who helped work on sections for this. Bob Scerbo, Steve Crandall, Darryl Tocco, Jeremie Infelise, Jerrod Glasgow and a bunch of others who contributed footage, photos, music or their time. BMX really is a community that helps their own.
Pre-orders are open now at propsbmx.com and it’s available on DVD and bluray with a ship date of approximately October 25th. We may be opening up a digital download option around the ship date as well.
It took about five months from start to finish to get the Issue done. Crazy we used to release these six times a year back in the day!
"The 90s were pure magic where something like this could be independently sustained but it’s not the 90s anymore."
In what ‘obvious’ ways is the process of putting together a BMX video magazine different today than it was when you first started props?
Well the most obvious is the computer. When we first started Props, and up to Issue 12, Marco and I were editing deck to deck without a computer at all, manually mixing music in real time as an edit of clips from one tape was played to the master tape while recording. Archaic by todays standards but that’s how it was done at first. Then non-linear editing on the computer came along and changed all that for the better.
"BMX really is a community that helps their own."
- Chris Rye
You are working on a Jimmy Levan doc with us here at DIG too..any further details about this you'd like to share? Hows the progress going?
Yeah we’ve been working on it for about two years now. Jimmy’s such a character you know, there’s a lot of intricacies and details to his story that I really want to try and bring out. There’s something like 35 interviews shot now and am capping it there, at some point you just have to stop. I knew a lot of his story going in but over the course of the interviews I found out a lot more that I had no idea about. So you start examining all these things in an outline and have to sort out which bits are worth exploring and spending time on crafting the narrative. I am producing this as a story about an interesting person…who just happens to ride BMX. I want to appeal to a broader audience than just BMXers, so in going that route you have to explain things more, like details any BMXer knows but some Netflix viewer might not. So it’s a lot of thinking about how to best present the material so the story makes sense to anyone and they understand the context by how it’s put together.
For instance something most BMXers know is when you start out as a racer you learn certain bike-handling skills on the race track due to the competitive nature of what you're doing. You learn how to hold yourself, how to squeeze past the next guy, how to pedal fast as fuck with force and precision. You’re there to cross the finish line first, period. So in Jimmy’s case when he starts doing all these crazy gaps in the late 90s he was able to do them, and had the confidence to even try them, because of skills he learned on the race track. And he was sort of the first guy to go that route having started as a racer. That kind of stuff is interesting to the average person when presented in a way that makes them understand the dynamics of things BMXers take for granted as common knowledge.
The project has proven difficult in that we have all these great interviews but you also need a ton of b-roll, photos and imagery to tell these kinds of stories and it’s scattered all over the place…all around the world really. So in a sense half the production time so far has been spent on tracking all this stuff down.
There was one clip that I searched for 18 months to find, a very specific jumping comp from a specific race from a specific year and all that. I found photos but the thing I was after wasn’t in the photos. Yet in one random photo no one had ever paid attention to before, you could see a row of people in the background and some you could see were filming with shoulder mount VHS cameras. So the footage was out there! Then this photo got circulated around to see if anyone might be able to identify anyone in the background holding a camera, but mind you this photo is twenty-seven years old so god only knows where these people even are now. I thought we'd found someone whose dad may have been standing on a motorhome roof filming, but then the person just stopped responding so that was a dead end. I thought we would never find it then one day out of the blue someone posted a pic from that race on Instagram and someone commented “I have footage of that” and someone tagged me. So then I went after that lead and sure enough, we found the footage on an old random VHS tape from 1990 which the person graciously shipped to me to comb through. Crazy things like that trying to dig up source material, and in this case it’s literally a 5 second clip in the documentary. A lot of time spent on this kind of stuff.
"I’ve reached out to a lot of Jimmy’s friends and acquaintances throughout the years and have been able to track down some never-seen-before things that are going to add a lot to the film."- Chris Rye
So many people have been helping out tracking down photos; Jeff Z from Ride has been a saviour and sent me Jimmy’s full archive of slides and negatives. Keith Mulligan has helped find a bunch of things as well. Joe Carnall from early Metal days, Sean Burns, Seth Holton and so many other people have dug up photos. So much history from these kinds of stories resides in magazine publisher's filing cabinets. We were just about to get a bunch of imagery from BMX Plus but then literally on my way driving out to look through their stash they ceased publication of the magazine and locked down all the archives. I’ve reached out to a lot of Jimmy’s friends and acquaintances throughout the years and have been able to track down some never-seen-before things that are going to add a lot to the film. Then I was able to go through a lot of the old Props tapes and found all kinds of footage, and of course all the material available from Dig’s archives that wasn’t lost on crashed hard drives or Will’s unorganized mess! (Editors Note: 'Unorganised mess' describes the 25 year DIG archives perfectly!).
I feel there are still some things that might need to be found yet, whether video or photos, but so far we’re looking pretty good on archive material. So now it’s just a matter of sitting down and putting it all together, digging through the interviews to piece the story together in a way that makes sense. Editing is finally started now and I’ll hammer on it all winter cramped up here in Wisconsin. It really needs to just get finished. The film is called “Go Fast Pull Up” and we’re really hoping 2018 can see its release finally. There’s little teaser trailer in the new Props Issue 79 so check it out if you get a chance.
Lastly, Jimmy is considering re-launching Metal to bring back some of the classic shirts they made throughout the years. There’s a new website up at metalbmx.com where people can sign up for updates if they’d like. Thanks all!
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