Weird & Revered - Vagabond Squad Interview
Bringing people together and making things happen.
Images courtesy of Weird & Revered /Justin Schwanke
Weird & Revered has been contributing to DIG BMX for a few years now with edits and photos. Dig wants to support BMX in more ways then just being there for the industry, because BMX is more than that. It is all those riders out there riding for themselves as well as the ones that bring people together, the people out there making our bit of a weird underground activity fun and enjoyable. Justin is one of those guys, bringing people together and making things happen. After the release of their DVD Vagabond Squad, Justin asked about doing an interview to talk more about their big project and we were interested to hear more about it, check it out below or see the link to buy the DVD HERE.
"That changed in December 2014 when I was on a trip to California. I was inspired to finally create some sort of brand."
Let's open with what Weird and Revered is and how it got started.
Weird & Revered is a BMX crew loosely based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. There are a few parts to our “origin story.”
Growing up in rural Alberta, I spent much of my childhood and youth riding BMX alone or with my brother. Once I reached driving age, I started meeting people in the city and slowly integrated into the Edmonton BMX scene. There were a few people I rode with regularly, but we did not have a formal “crew.” That changed in December 2014 when I was on a trip to California. I was inspired to finally create some sort of brand.
For the crew logo, my friend, Henry Young sketched a creepy face composed of raw flesh with large, beady eyes. Meanwhile, my friend, Dominic Ennamorato and I came up with the name, "Weird & Revered." The "weird" piece represents the unconventional riding and personalities of everyone involved. The "revered" piece is more focused on the idea of being a role model to others. We are all extremely dedicated to BMX and aim to represent it in a positive light. I want kids to watch the videos and not only be stoked on riding, but also be comfortable with who they are. Be yourself. Stay weird.
In January 2015 we released the first Weird & Revered video with footage I had from the previous Fall. So rider wise at the time, the crew was really just Thomas Henderson, Colin Reimer, Dan Gosselin, and myself. Since then, it’s obviously evolved into a much larger, inclusive group.
Tell us a bit about why you wanted to film a full length DVD.
The project was an attempt to strengthen the Edmonton BMX scene, showcase local talent, and push our riding to the next level.The DVD also gave me an excuse to travel more.
Most importantly though, I feel obligated to capture memories on video for my friends and for myself. As a three-year film project, “Vagabond Squad” documents some of the most joyous and difficult moments of my early-twenties.
How many trips did you go on for it?
The film’s footage spans 9 countries, 8 American states, and 4 Canadian provinces and territories. There were riding trips and some non-riding trips in which I collected b-roll.
Yukon and Alaska in July 2016 (no riding footage used in DVD)
The Balkans in June 2016 (non-riding trip)
Hawaii in November 2016
The Deep South in May 2017
California in December 2017 (no riding footage used in DVD)
California in June 2018
Panama in February 2018
The Pacific Northwest in August 2018
Mexico in December 2018 (non-riding trip)
Israel in February 2019
So I guess that makes 10 trips outside of our home province. I also had some footage submitted to me from Jonathan Hausmann and Simon Bierfreund in Germany, and Brodie Gwilliam in Saskatchewan.
What was your favourite trip that stood out for productivity and good times?
Our final filming trip to Israel definitely stood out. Jesse Baraniuk, Thomas Henderson, and I toured a large portion of the country. We met so many awesome locals and gathered a solid amount of footage for the DVD. My favorite experience from that trip was our day in Palestine. We ended up pedalling our bikes from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, crossing the Israeli/Palestinian border in between. Getting even a small glance into life on each side was eye-opening. This experience was also a profound realization about how valuable a Canadian passport is. Upon entering Bethlehem, the Palestinian border guard asked in broken English, “Are you Jew?” We said, “No.” He quickly looked at our passports and then let us cross. Upon returning to Jerusalem, we butted in front of a line-up of 20+ vehicles. The Israeli border guard signaled for us to see him, glanced at only the front of our passports, and said, “Go ahead.” Neither Israelis, nor Palestinians can cross that border as freely and easily as we could.
Was there anyone that was hard to motivate or get in the zone for the video?
Some people were averse to filming in the first place. Not everyone is comfortable with having their riding documented, and others just don’t really care. I did manage to coax some people into it though, and I think they were happy with the outcome.
There were other riders who were quite fixated on filming clips for social media. The instant gratification provided by platforms like Instagram was a significant challenge while working on the film. The attention spans of humans have declined dramatically with the prevalence of social media. Most of us have also experienced the addictive qualities of these platforms; we’ve been conditioned to receive a quick dopamine hit or self-esteem boost from likes, comments, and follows. At times, it was difficult to convince people to film a stunt for the DVD, rather than for Instagram. I also experienced instances where the camera would be out for a DVD clip and someone would sneak in a phone to document the trick for Instagram. There were other cases when a rider would want to film something specific for the DVD and then not long after, that trick would be posted to social media. This is the age we live in. Unfortunately, these societal shifts are not conducive to working on a long-term video project.
Anybody you wanted to film, but it just didn't work out?
Jaumell Campbell, where ya at? Hahaha.
Since you were the lead producer, filmer, and editor on the project, how did you rope everyone else into helping make your dream a reality?
Creating a full-length video began as my personal dream. However, I wanted the DVD to become a dream for other people too. For many of the riders featured in the film, this may be the only DVD project they ever work on. With long term projects, people often struggle to envision what the finished product will look like. What is the significance of the project? How will you feel when it’s completed? How will you feel 5 or 10 years from now when you look back on the film? It’s the job of the producer to fill in those blanks for people. Articulating a clear vision is key.
Another thing that helped get people motivated was the continual flow of web videos. For these web videos—filled with footage that did not make the cut for the DVD—we would have little “crew premieres” at someone’s house before the online release. This allowed the riders to see some of the stuff they’ve been working on and get stoked for what’s to come in the DVD.
Furthermore, I set up a private Instagram account for street spots in the Edmonton area. This account helped inspire some of the riders to come up with ideas for filming. In the description of the posts, I would sometimes include a sentence about DVD clips that were filmed at that particular spot. This highlighted riders who were putting in work for the project and hinted at some of the tricks being documented.
Towards the end of the project, I also created a clip list. This was a long document with peoples’ clips listed for the DVD. When a project goes on for three years, it can be difficult to remember what was filmed in the past. The list made it clear which riders were on track for a full part.
What was the most time spent on a single clip or trick? And why did it take so long?
The answer to this question might be surprising because it may not seem like a standout clip in the film. The footjam rear tiregrab to crankflip to fakie in my section took approximately 25 hours over the course of multiple days. The completed clip in the video is only 7 seconds.
I would try the combo for hours and hours until my body or mind reached peak exhaustion. My emotions would range from optimism to apathy to pessimism to rage. It was such a mental battle. It became one of those things where I kept saying to myself, “If I don’t see this through, what does that say about me as a person?” Internally, I kept questioning my personality and behaviour: “Am I crazy for trying something this long? Am I too persistent? Is this unhealthy?” Despite it not being an extraordinary clip, I at least had to document it for personal closure.
Eventually, obsession prevailed and I landed the first one. After viewing the footage, I wasn’t happy with how it looked so I tried again. Once more, I landed the combo, but still needed to clean it up. Repeat again. Land again. Good enough. Done. It’s so funny that after 25 hours of failed attempts, I landed three of them in a row. Was it luck? Was it confidence? Was it muscle memory? I like to think that I mentally allowed myself to land the trick at that point, but who knows.
What is the story with the ender section and final banger?
Derek Bolz listens to metal and rides his bike off of buildings. From early on, it was clear Derek was a worthy contender for the ender section. Although he may be calm, respectful, and successful off his bike, Derek lets lose when he’s atop two wheels. He is constantly seeking out crazy set-ups. Most of us are observing our environment at eye level. Derek, however, is always “looking up.” His final riding clip in the DVD is no exception. I will let Derek explain….
Derek Bolz: My ender gap was something that lurked in the back of my mind for a long time. The spot is a double set with eighteen stairs coming down from the back side of Edmonton’s snazzy new hockey arena, Rogers Place. I knew I had to gap over the railing and land at the bottom for the DVD.
I ended up doing it on November 13, 2018 under conditions that were not even remotely close to perfect: snow on the ground, temperature hovering just above 0 degrees, nightfall rapidly approaching, a small crew of two other guys, and a run-in bustling with hundreds of hockey fans ready for game night at the arena. I’ve always held onto the belief that desperation can be the best motivation, and since winter was already taking hold and I would soon lose the chance to film anything else for the DVD, I was desperate to get this stunt done.
"under conditions that were not even remotely close to perfect: snow on the ground, temperature hovering just above 0 degrees"
After setting up the cameras, taking some practice runs, and doing some warm-up hops, I went for it. I expected it would be a “one-and-done,” but that was not the case. On the first attempt, I jumped and put a foot down to avoid crashing into some ridiculous fruit sculptures. [Editor’s note: Edmonton is known for having some very silly public art. See “Talus Dome” on Google]. I figured I would land it next time if I just hopped off at a different angle to avoid the fruit. I thought wrong. The impact of landing caused me to explode off the back of my bike which sent it flying into the snow. As a result, I had a brutal case of throttle grip. After yanking the grips off, cleaning the snow and moisture off with our shirts, and then struggling to get the dry grips back on, I was ready for a third attempt. Once more, I sent it and went straight to my ass. We retrieved my bike to find moisture under the grips again. The growing crowd of people arriving at the hockey game got to witness the sight of three men wrestling with a small bicycle to put grips back on. I can only imagine what their impressions were. Eventually, the grips were fixed and we were gifted a brief opening in the crowd. This attempt I rolled away successfully… only to find out a pedestrian had walked in front of Justin’s camera, causing it to go out of focus. The shot was ruined. What had started with nearly nailing it in a single try had now spiralled into me sitting on my bike in soaking wet pants amidst a crowd of hockey fans, and waiting for a break to give it a go for the fifth time. An opening later emerged and with a few hard cranks, a big hop, and a solid landing, it was all over. Success. One of the scariest things I have ever done was documented on camera. Now, it’s immortalized on a real, physical DVD.
"Not everyone is comfortable with having their riding documented, and others just don’t really care"
Can you talk a bit about the music used in the film?
I used cleared music for this project. During the filming process, I compiled a list of bands/artists that I thought might be approachable. Generally speaking, these artists were local and/or not on a label. I would find them by browsing hashtags on Bandcamp, combing through Youtube “related videos,” or listening to our local independent radio station, CKUA. Once my list swelled to a few pages, I then went through it again, picked out certain songs, and tried to matched them with riders or footage in the video. If I thought a particular track could fit, I would reach out to the artist or label. In most cases, the musicians I contacted were very supportive of the project. I feel that musicians and filmmakers have a lot of empathy for one another. There are similarities between producing a full length album and producing a full length film; both are typically passion projects. Overall, clearing music increased my expenses and workload, but it was worth it in the end. I’m happy with the final soundtrack.
How did you decide on where to put everyone’s sections?
I tried to organize the sections based on riding style, music, and b-roll. Given the length of the film (57 minutes), I didn’t want there to be back-to-back sections with similar styles of riding or music. I also tried to use some of the b-roll in a way that flowed from section to section. For example, at the end of Thomas Henderson’s section, there is a clip of him dancing at a skatepark. Jesse Baraniuk is in the background struggling to land a trick. Jesse says to Thomas, “You’re way too distracting.” The next clip is the two of them breaking drywall over their heads. It then cuts to a clip of Jesse waking up from a deep sleep, and his section starts. Letting that footage flow from one person’s section to the other made the most sense. However, I didn’t always have the b-roll clips with both people to make that work.
So do you really only have part of a finger? Or are you missing it? I am referring to the intro of your section.
Haha. I will keep the context behind this question shrouded in mystery. The readers will have to view the film to get the full story.
Anyways, my fingers fully recovered. Other than some lumpy and oddly shaped scar tissue from being stitched back together, they are fine. Life lesson from Justin at five years old: “Don’t touch the wheel!”
Did you see anything change within the scene from start to finish of working on the DVD (2016 to 2019)?
I will let the other guys answer this question:
Duke Thomson-Kurz: I definitely noticed a sense of unification within the scene as filming for the DVD came to a close. This project provided a platform that brought a lot of riders closer together to support and encourage one another, as well as to push for personal progression. The main goal is always to have fun, but working with such a good group of dudes really heightens the experience. I do believe that the process of filming for the DVD facilitated an environment of cohesion towards a shared end.
Joe Weidman: I feel like we have gained a bigger riding community. It definitely has grown from a few of us to a lot of us. It’s good to see the riding scene still alive.
Tyler Horness: Personally, for me, I found the BMX scene getting better and better each year. The amount of progression is truly amazing.
Andrew MacLeod: People started to come together more for the DVD as they realized the size/scope of the project. Lots of guys were in it so they wanted to help.
Derek Bolz: It really made the scene feel like a tighter community because we're all working on this one project. When one person did something rad, the rest of us saw it as progress in reaching a common goal. I think everyone involved progressed their riding a ton over that time period. There were several instances where one of us would be contemplating trying something until Justin would say, "It's a DVD clip if you do it." You could just see a switch flick inside the rider’s head.
Jesse Baraniuk: We started to ride with more people consistently. I can’t really think of any new riders that became part of the scene though. The whole thing just brought everyone closer together.
Weird & Revered - Vagabond Squad DVD Trailer
The weekend is fast approaching the premiere is almost here! - More Info
Let's close things out with the classic question, who would you like to thank?
First off, I would like to thank my partner, Janelle. She probably sacrificed the most during the project, especially for the last few months. I would go to work, go home, work on the project, sleep, and repeat. I was pretty checked out. I would like to thank my colleagues, Jane and Andrea for sponsoring the film premiere at our local theatre. Thanks to all the sponsors who provided prizes for our street jam. Thank you to the shops that are stocking the DVD. Thank you to my Mom and Dad. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the project in terms of riding, filming, and promotion. And lastly, thank you Colton and Will for this interview. I appreciate all of the support we’ve received from DIG over the years. Long-form BMX media is not dead!
Weird & Revered - DVD Premiere and Jam
Vagabond Squad the real ones out for street ride and a go to the theatre - More Info
Stop 3 of the 2019 FBX X DIG DIY World Tour
BOOK OUT NOW!