BACO - The Whole Story
PUSH IT TO 11 - The most overlooked BMX film of 2014, and our favourite BMX documentary of all time...
Intro and Interviews by Rick Wagner Photos and captions courtesy of Baco / Chris Rye
BMX is at a pivotal time in its short history. For the first time ever we have multiple generations of riders remaining involved in what some call the “sport”. Whether it is through manufacturing and selling of the actual bikes or the photography and videography of the events, more and more riders are refusing to give up on the activity that they grew up with. The Baco videos showcase countless riders of that nature, all of which have left their respective marks on BMX 'freestyle' (as it was once known). They all started riding for one reason: it was fun. They started filming themselves because it was fun, they built shitty ramps because it was fun, they made videos because it was fun, they traveled the world and met new friends because it was fun. This connection between BMX and the pure joy of doing it should never be forgotten. Riding and growing up alongside the Baco guys, first in Wisconsin and then during my time in Iowa, I have seen a lot of the mayhem from the front row. I got the chance to ask the following questions to the five core Baco crew members – Chris Rye, Chad Degroot, Mark Hilson, Mark Fluette, and Dave Freimuth – about their roles in the Baco saga that has been documented and released recently as the Baco box set. Have fun!
The Baco box set contains an 80-minute documentary called “Push It to 11: the Bits of Baco”. Why did you decide to spend a year working on a documentary?
Chris Rye: Chad DeGroot, Dave Freimuth, Mark Hilson and myself all love documentaries and watch them all the time on Netflix and what have you. I had already worked on a high production-level documentary back in 2008 about a non-BMX topic, and gained a lot of experience from that project. So after that one I had been thinking about what I wanted to do next, and thought maybe Baco would be a good one, but I never really took it serious enough to actually start working on it. Making documentaries requires a lot of really tedious and dedicated work if you want to get them right, and they’re not something you want to jump into half-assed if you’re not really passionate about the topic. You also lose a lot of time with your family during the process, and I have a young son now, so it was a tough decision. Then after seeing Stew Johnson’s “BF-It” I kept coming back to the Baco story and had been thinking about it a lot, trying to piece it together in my head and figuring out what it would take to produce a documentary that wouldn’t suck.
When we started talking about putting out a box set we could’ve easily just released it with all the Baco videos, and people probably would’ve been happy with that, but it seemed like there was something more that needed to be done. There were 10 Baco videos up to that point, and we needed something new, an 11 of sorts. I had the majority of all the original Baco footage tapes in my possession, which had been packed away for years, and it was just a matter of getting all of them out and organized to see what was there, then tracking down some footage Hilson had. Once I had looked through all the logging sheets and started to refresh my memory on the details of the timeline, I knew a documentary would work.
Soon after, we started shooting interviews with people and then it was on. One year and a lot of work later “Push It to 11” was done. The box set feels way more complete now and people are more stoked than ever about the new movie.
The title is obviously a Spinal Tap reference. When you need to go one louder than 10, you go to 11, which really summed up the whole Baco storyline in some ways – just doing things other people weren’t doing and pushing the boundaries all the time to the point of making people uncomfortable. We lived for that. Krt Schmidt has a line in the movie saying, “Baco was about seeing how far can you take it.”The subtitle is a play on how people thought Baco came from the bacon-flavored BacoBits you sprinkle on
What was it like working on the video after taking a break for so many years?
Dave Freimuth: Helping with the box set was weird... For almost every video since Baco 3, I was literally sitting behind Chris helping the entire way. But with us living so far apart now, my input was limited to contributing photos and video, seeing each section online, and sending Chris my little list of tweaks and whatnot. He has always been so open to input and always took our opinions seriously, but the distance was hard to deal with. Somehow he still managed to include us in the process and it still really feels like we had a lot to do with it, even though this is Chris' baby, top to bottom.
Chad Degroot: It was a blast from the past going over thousands of hours of tape; sometimes it was tedious and you can get wrapped up watching old tapes when the task at hand was to find the original footage or clips not used. Chris did the bulk of the work and he slaved it and slayed it in the best way possible.
Is “Push It To 11” a BMX video or something more?
Rye: To me “Push It To 11” is not ‘BMX video’ per se, but a documentary film that just happens to be about BMX riders who have an interesting history. Certain filmmaking techniques went into it – not just editing tricks, some music, and then throwing it up on the web to be forgotten about tomorrow. We took it very seriously, spent a long time working on it and weren’t rushed for the sake of pumping out content. We wanted to make something that solidified the Baco story and told it in a specific way to make it fun, engaging, and interesting, and appealing to non-BMXers as well. That’s not an easy thing to do, which could be the reason you don’t see more projects like this being done in BMX.
Why haven’t there been more BMX documentaries?
Rye: I’m not sure there’s really too much interest to be honest. Going into production on “Push It To 11”, we knew there had been very few proper BMX documentaries done, ever.
You have Eaton’s “Joe Kid on a Stingray” and more recently Stew’s “BF-It” about Brian Foster, and that’s about it as far as I know, which is sort of sad. BMX is now a huge part of culture all over the world and there is virtually nothing that tells its history. Why is that?
Rye: We’ve definitely had a lot of positive feedback about the film though, which seems to be mostly coming from people our own age who were riding when Baco videos were getting made in the 90s. That makes perfect sense, since they were around then and loved seeing the Baco story told via a documentary. We’ve also gotten good feedback from some of the younger generation kids who can appreciate the history, seemingly kids from the Midwest who have at least heard of Baco and have maybe seen some of the later videos. But it does seem like the vast majority of kids riding bikes today don’t really give a shit, which is sort of a bummer. It seems a parallel industry like skating appreciates their roots more than BMX does.
What was it like to premiere the video in NOLA at the Voodoo Jam?
Mark Hilson: I was blown away that these younger riders were legitimately knowledgeable about the history of flatland and respected those that were part of it, especially considering that their level of riding is beyond anything I could ever comprehend doing myself at this point.Monco Mee Cero!!!!
Chad Degroot: It was an honor doing it there with a worldwide crew to watch, and since a lot of Baco’s earlier days were focused on flatland, the reactions from the crowd were incredible. I didn't mind standing up and introducing the doc, I felt I could explain it, thank everyone for supporting us, warn them that they would cry and cry from laughing, and that is Baco. It felt good.
In addition to cutting edge riding and wild antics, Baco videos are famous for their amazing soundtracks. How did you approach music for the documentary?
Rye: Sort of threefold actually. Back when we made all the original Baco videos, we never cared about music licensing and would use whatever we wanted, just no fucks given whatsoever. For the documentary we had to be careful, because we wanted it to be available on iTunes all over the world, but yet we still wanted to use some of our favorite songs from the videos in some parts. So to get around that, we picked some of the more obscure songs from the Baco vids and didn’t use anything too popular, like classic rock or anything really mainstream.
Also, some fall under “fair use” as we’re re-using songs from historical videos to tell the story of the people who made those videos. Fair use is a bit of a grey area, but the fact that this is a documentary helps to get around that problem. Secondly, there’s new music in the doc that was never in any Baco vids before, tracks that were used specifically for emotion or to spruce up sections with a lot of dialogue or whatever. Those were chosen based on the mood I wanted to convey with certain parts of the story.
Thirdly, we wanted to feature some songs actually made by BMX friends and fans of the Baco series.
Adam Banton was fresh off publishing his new album Escapism, and was kind enough to let us use two songs, “Nano Rock” and “Before You Go”. Then I met this really awesome musician Conan Liquid through the Baco Facebook page, who opened up his entire library of original music to us. Conan’s songs “Piano Mellow 2” and “Maya Rolls” actually open up and close out the doc when Jimmy’s voiceover is heard. I’m really stoked on how everything came out with all that.
“Push It To 11” features some voiceover segments from BMX legend Jimmy LeVan. How did that come to be?
Rye: We had shown some rough cuts of the documentary to a few people early on, and one comment was “It needs something in the beginning to grab your attention.” The co-producers and myself agreed with this, and we struggled for a while to decide on just exactly what was needed. After thinking about it for a month or so, I realized there was information missing in the beginning of the film, namely something that spelled out a little backstory about Baco, its founders, and that BACO is actually an acronym, which would set up the section that followed in which no one knows what the letters stand for. I generally don’t like using voiceover, but this was a really good opportunity to write exactly the information we needed to convey and then deliver it via a narrator, which would help grab people’s attention with good writing and a rad voice.
At first we had this crazy idea to get Bob Ritchie, aka Kid Rock, to do it (laughs). We had known him back in the early 90s before he hit it big, and we actually did get through to his manager with the request. But at that time there was no trailer or much to even show, and I’m sure the manager was just like “What the fuck is this wacky shit, no way will Bob do this.” I’m fairly certain it never even got through directly to Bob though, because we thought he might at least entertain the idea, but nothing ever came of it.
So with that hitting a dead end I thought, let’s use a famous BMXer with a recognizable voice. We kicked around a few ideas, but ultimately hit on Jimmy as the one. When he was four years old he choked on a walnut shell and it scratched his vocal chords when the doctors pulled it out, giving him that unique and unforgettable voice. I made a call to Jimmy and he was down, and oddly enough had been recently told by Kiefer Sutherland that he had a voice for this kind of thing thanks to that walnut shell!
We flew Jimmy out to Wisconsin in late June, where he went to the Baco Jam with us over the weekend, got drunk, and jumped off a 2nd story balcony into a sea of people below.
I remember seeing that and thinking, “Great, he’s going to break his damn leg and we won’t be able to do the recordings.” Ha, but fun was had that weekend and all went well. Then after the jam, he came back to my studio to record the voiceover. It was a bit stressful; we still hadn’t locked the dialogue for him and were scrambling to get every word perfect right until the last minute.
Recording voiceover is difficult to do, and if not done well it sounds cheesy and like shit. Luckily everything fell into place, Jimmy didn’t hit the bottle until after we were done, and his golden voice came through exactly like I had envisioned.
He laid down a handful of takes for the intro and outro, and I then edited together the best parts, which would bookend the beginning and end of the movie. It worked perfectly.
Can you pick one video from the series that was your favorite?
Freimuth: My favorite video by far was Baco 6, mainly because it was such an amazing period in our lives. Chad was already a big deal, I was finally breaking out, and we all lived in the same house, which in itself was kinda mental. Hilson started his own skate park, Rye was working on Props, the Springer show happened and really fucking cool dudes just started migrating from all over the globe just to visit and live with us because the previous vids were so unique and exceptional. I can't begin to describe how much fun the process was from top to bottom. My riding career could have ended there and it would have still been one of the greatest things that I ever stumbled into.
What appeal do the Baco videos have to riders under 30 years old who may have no idea what they are? Riding? Philosophy? Filming and editing? Good times with friends?
Mark Fluette: The biggest appeal the Baco videos have to young riders in my eyes is the variety of riding. Lots of content to draw inspiration from! Tons of funny shit and randomly mixed ramp and flat that keep the finger off the fast forward button.
Degroot: I really don't think riders under 20 will give two shits about this, other than that it’s a new video and has some history. Those over 20 will give one shit. The ones closer to 30 will give a lot of shit, they’ll want to know the whole story and laugh because a lot of people in this age group were around for one of these events or videos. Riders over 30 and up will have a true appreciation for what we did and will relate, but they were also around during the transitions of the sport and saw our videos growing throughout the years.
To some people who haven’t seen any of the Baco videos, there may be some scenes in the movie that are quite shocking. What do you think is the most shocking thing?
Rye: Ha, probably the scene that explains and shows what a “musket shot” is. But it’s done in a funny way, so in addition to being either shocked or grossed out, you’re probably going to laugh your ass off as well.
Dave and Mark, what impact does your past involvement with Baco have on working outside of the BMX industry? Any funny stories about people recognizing you?
Freimuth:I don't get recognized nearly as much as I used to, but if it happens now it's almost always locally, and it's by dudes that used to ride at Area 51 or grew up on Baco vids. It's always cool, they are always fans, and never have anything bad to say.
They always have a quote or a favorite song or part that they’ll bring up and it's always interesting hearing exactly what parts last for certain people. It's always different, and it's across the board. Without a doubt there are parts of the old vids that are memorable for everyone, but it's the random stuff I barely remember that always surprises me.
Hilson:I’m a consultant of sorts and make monthly visits to accounts.Recently a younger employee at one of my stops approached me and inquired, “Everyone else was afraid to ask, but I have to know… Have you ever been on TV?” Of course he was referring to the Springer Show.I admitted that yes, it was me who he and his co-workers had seen on the show. I went on to fill him in on all the details of the experience, except that I’m not actually gay! I had packed up and was on my way out of town when it dawned on me what had just transpired. I had essentially just confirmed I was gay and wouldn’t be back for another month to set the record straight.
What was the best part about working on the box set project as a whole?
Rye: Without a doubt, rekindling some friendships that had been sort of pushed aside for whatever reasons throughout the years, and also meeting new friends along the way. It was crazy realizing how much Baco really influenced so many riders from so many different areas.
What does the future hold for Baco?
Degroot: I would love to do more jams or at least one a year, done really well with a huge focus on fun, like the one we did this year at Jellystone in Warrens, Wisconsin. Baco will last forever. It’s always been a brand that anyone can relate to, and anyone can rock a sticker or wear a Baco t-shirt.
Fluette: More of everything I hope! I’m really stoked to see more local riders progressing. As a bike shop owner, I’m doing my best to help inject the current BMX scene with a healthy dose of that good-times Baco vibe.
You can pick up a copy of “Push It to 11: the Bits of Baco” over on itunes right here. Enjoy!
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