From Anthem to Props to Holy Fit, Stew Johnson has had his hand in some legendary productions in BMX… His latest contribution is being the main guy behind X Games RealBMX. From choosing the riders, filming the behind the scenes, and editing the actual show that airs on ABC, Stew has been holding it down and making sure BMX gets a proper representation. This year, after the trailer dropped, I sent Stew a few questions to get more info on the process behind what’s now turned into one of the more respected parts of the X Games…
Hi Stew. What’s your official title for X Games Real BMX and what does your role currently entail? Stew: There are probably a bunch of official titles that apply, but I’ll just stick with RealBMX sport organizer, director, and producer. I think that would cover most of my bases. I pick the athletes, let them know of their responsibilities and film them for their Behind the Scenes segments. I pick the judges and film them, and then I edit everything in the show except for the six 90 second video part submissions. There’s a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want to bore everyone with all the mind-numbing details. I basically have to make sure that we have a killer 44-minute show at the end of it all.
You’ve produced countless segments/DVDs for Props, I’m going to assume this was your first entry into producing a TV show… What was the learning process like for you? I’ve worked on lots of projects that have made their way onto television—we had a lot of Props content on Fuel TV and I’ve made segments that have aired during X Games. But, this is definitely my first project where I’m sitting in the captain’s chair and heading up a monster of this magnitude. The first year was terrifying. I remember being on the first couple of conference calls and thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” Especially when I read the contract; it may as well have been written in Japanese. I didn’t understand a lick of the legal mumbo jumbo that I was reading. Luckily, I had Marco Massei (of Props) and Mark Losey to help me wrap my head around what I needed to do. I had to officially start my own production company and form Special Purpose Productions, LLC. It was intimidating, but I somehow managed. After that first year, it was much easier since I had already laid the foundation. It’s one of those things where the opportunity was there and I knew I’d regret not jumping on it. They always say that you have to step outside your comfort zone if you want to grow. It’s totally true.
X Games Real BMX is in its fourth year, correct? How has the show progressed and what have you learned a lot along the way? Yes, this is our fourth RealBMX show. The show has seemed to really make a name for itself over the past few years. All the riders promote the hell out of it and the BMX public knows that they’re going to see some really incredible riding. This year’s trailer was all over the place and got a really impressive amount of views on social media. People seem excited see what these teams came up with. There’s lots of hype around it, but I think these parts will live up to that hype. I mean, it’s hard not to with that cast of riders and filmers. As for what I’ve learned, it’s mostly to just trust the process and not compare it to anything else. You’ll have lots of hurdles along the way and you can’t let those get you down. You just have to keep chipping away at the project and trust that it will all come together in the end. Easier said than done, but that’s something that I’m constantly learning.
I assume most people are curious about how riders and filmers for the show are chosen…any insight? I have an ongoing list of riders that I think would potentially make great invites, for a multitude of reasons…great riders, interesting personalities, good talking on camera, easy to work with, etc. Once I get my invite list narrowed down, I share it with Brian Tunney and he gives me his thoughts. Once we’re in agreement, we run that list by Jason Krutzsch and Neil Bandoni at X Games and tell them why we think these guys should be invited. They are usually cool with our picks. Then from there I start making the calls and inviting the riders. The riders then pick the filmer they want to work with.
How hard is it to not choose people like Garrett, Nathan, and Chad every year? In the same vein, why is it important for you to include people like Colt Fake, Dave Krone, and Jordan Hango? When it comes to the invites, of course we want riders who are progressive, creative, stylish, gnarly or any combination of those aspects. And if they’re big names, that helps get the word out about the show. But, it’s also important for me to show a broad spectrum of riders to such a mass audience. That’s my top priority. We all know that those top riders put out amazing content, but we also know that there are a lot of unsung heroes in BMX that, given the chance, can bring a lot to the table in a video contest format. Video parts kind of level the playing field in that respect. It’s your imagination that dictates what you put out. I want all types of riders involved with the show: big names, underdogs, and everyone in between. I want BMXer’s and everyday people to watch the show and realize that you don’t have to be a big name or ride BMX any one specific way to still be relevant. For instance, maybe there’s a kid watching the show and he’s thinking about getting into BMX, I want him to see Chad Kerley, or a Colt Fake, or a Dave Krone and say “I like the way that guys rides” or maybe the kid can relate to that rider’s style or music choice more than the others. And hopefully that’s the little push that kid needs to get a bike or start riding. I want that kid to see that BMX is for anyone and there are no rules and you are free to make it your own. Guys like Colt Fake and Jordan Hango have just as much talent as anyone, and they deserve to have a shot at a project like this, if they want it.
What about the judges and host? We want judges that are experienced, opinionated, articulate, good on camera, funny or any combination of those qualities. We also need to keep the judging panel fresh and bring some new guys in each year. It’s not easy though, talking on camera and having to articulate all your thoughts on these videos is easier said than done. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. And same for a host, you want a friendly face that is recognized as a BMXer and is engaging and upbeat and can steer the ship. I think all of our guys have done a great job on the past shows.
What’s the judging format? Do the judges come to a decision as a group or do they vote individually? What’s the riding/filming scale? The judges each vote individually and put the riders on a scale of first to sixth place, with first being one point and sixth being six points. The scores are then added up and whoever has the lowest score is your gold medalist. The riding/filming scale is a suggested guideline, with 70% of their score being the riding and the remaining 30% being the video production. But more importantly than that, it’s comes down to overall impression.
How was the 90 second length decided on? Do you think the relative short length makes it easier or harder…particularly on the filmer/editor? X Games gives me the option of picking either a 60 or 90 second run time for the videos. I’ve watched the skate show and I’m not a fan of the 60 second format, I feel like those videos are over just as they’re getting started. Obviously, a 60 second video is probably easier to produce, but I just don’t think that you get the feel of what a rider is capable of and who they are in a 60 second video. I think making a short video and having a solid deadline can be a good and a bad thing. Obviously, normal edits can get dragged out and take forever, so with this project the teams have to be really focused and get shit handled. The downside to having a short video/filming period is injuries and sometimes the riders wish they had gotten some more stuff filmed. But that’s natural for just about any kind of project.
Also, I’m allowed to invite up to nine riders, but I like to keep the invite list at six so each rider really gets a good chunk of air time on the show. Obviously, the more cooks in the kitchen, the messier it becomes, so I try to keep it as simple as possible. And the more athletes invited, the more the prize purse gets divided up, and I don’t want to do that. I want everyone to walk away with something to show for their hard work.
Outside opinion, but I’ve heard that the skate dudes approach the X Games Real Street segments a lot more mellow than the BMX guys. Any truth to that? I always thought that some of the skate videos have seemed tame, in prior years. I would say for each show, there were usually two or three parts that really stood out to me. That being said, this year’s RealStreet show really blew me away. I thought all of the parts were pretty killer. You can tell that those dudes really went all in for it. I think there are a lot less of these types of opportunities in the BMX world, compared to skateboarding, so when a project of this magnitude comes up, BMXer’s take full advantage of it and really give it their all. I can honestly say that all of our invites truly appreciate the opportunity to work on a project like this, and I think it shows in their edits.
In previous years, the teams have gotten around four months to film…this year they had, what, six months? Why did they get more time this year? The filming period has varied a little bit each year, but that was just more a reflection of scheduling. I know it’s incredibly stressful to film a video in such a short period of time, so my goal is to give these guys as much time as possible, to account for injuries and other obligations. Last year I knew X Games was really stoked on the show and how it performed, so I put the pressure on them pretty early, to give us the green light for this year’s show. Once they confirmed, I started reaching out to the riders and letting them know. This way part of the film period happens at the end of summer and fall, which allows for the riders to film basically wherever they way. I don’t want six videos that are all filmed in the same three states, so this extended film time ultimately helps us get more rider/spot variety in the show.
The trailer this year looked crazy…seems like the wildest one yet. Is that a reflection of the extended film time? Yeah, these guys are bonkers! I think it’s probably more a reflection of the lineup. Unfortunately, half of the field was out for half of the filming period, so it was a blessing that the guys had longer to film, or else a couple of the guys might’ve had to drop out.
How (and how often) can people vote for the fan favorite? You can vote for fan favorite once per day, per browser, per device on Xgames.com/RealBMX. I believe the last day to vote will be May 26th. The winning Fan Favorite teams gets announced on Monday the 27th and will win $5K in prize money.
How and when can people watch the show/find out who won? This year’s RealBMX show airs on ABC Saturday, May 25th at 2:30pm Eastern Time /11:30am Pacific Time. The show will also be released on YouTube, in the following weeks. We will also announce the medalists and fan favorite on Xgames.com and the X Games social platforms.
When does filming start for 2020? Any hints on who will be involved?Well, we haven’t been given a green light for 2020 just yet, but I’d like to think that there’s a good chance that it will happen again. I’ll put the pressure on ESPN to give me the go head about a week or so after this one airs. Ideally, I would love for the teams to be able to start filming on August 1st. As for who’s getting invited, since the automatic invite rule for Gold didn’t start until this year, the first couple of guys on my list will be the Gold medalists from the first two years. Other than that, I’m trying to keep a tight lid on the line up, because you never know, it could change due to injury or unforeseen circumstances…