A chat with Bryan Smith
Well I’ve had dreams enough for one
And I’ve got love enough for three
I have my hopes to comfort me
I got my new horizons out to sea
– moody blues
I first met Bryan Smith a few years back in Bodega Bay, California when he was teaching at the BCU Symposium there. He among many other coaches that fall, changed my whole perspective of sea kayaking and of coaching. Their love of the sport was so infectious that addiction to kayaking just seemed like a normal part of the progression. From those guys I first leaned that fun & inspiration were just as important to coaching as teaching braces. These days Brian has turned to filmaking to spread the kayak gospel. He has been busy over the last few months promoting his new film, Pacific Horizons and will be attending Canoecopia here in Wisconsin in just eleven days. I asked Brian if he’d do a little interview for us as a warm up. So, here we go. . . .
d – I want to talk to you a bit about your DVD, “Pacific Horizons” but first I wondered if you could just share a bit of your paddling background?
b – I grew up and lived in Traverse City, Michigan until I was 18. I did quite a bit of flat-water canoing as a kid, but didn’t start kayaking until I moved west. The San Juan Islands hooked me on kayaking. I started as a guide, then moved onto teaching with Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme, started training in the BCU, and it just kinda blossomed from there. I gained a solid set of fundamental skills by pursuing sea kayaking and then I took my passion to the river. I can’t say enough about using different disciplines to advance skills. It has been the key for accelerating my learning curve and keeping paddling very diverse and exciting.
d – You were with Body, Boat, Blade for quite some time. Could you tell us a bit about that and what you do when you’re not making videos?
b – Shawna, Leon, and I all started BBB out of a true passion for sharing the sport with others. We had so much fun teaching programs together, developing our coaching and paddling skills, and trying to squeeze as much personal paddling into a season as possible and still keep the business floating. I miss Orcas Island, but I had good reasons for moving on. It had nothing to do with not wanting to teach or continue building BBB. When a single American guy meets a beautiful Canadian women…well let’s just say it changes everything. I moved up to Squamish, British Columbia to be with Lise-Anne and it gave me the opportunity to reconsider what it was that I wanted to do with the sport. I decided to pursue making videos. That is what I’m doing full time now. When I’m not working on a video project, I’m out paddling for myself!
d – Do you have a background in filmmaking? What was it that started you on the path to making Pacific Horizons?
b – No real background per say. I have always had an interest in images, photography, and video. I got started with video when I traveled to India in 2003 for the first descent of the Lohit River. A lot of the team members had still cameras, so I purchased a video camera and decided to film the trip. I’ve learned a lot sense then! I’ve just honed my skills by working on short whitewater videos, learning the editing software, asking lots of questions, and going for it. By the time 2007 came around I was ready to make a go at a feature length film and DVD. Since my roots were in sea kayaking and I felt like I had a line on some of the best locations here in my backyard, I went for Pacific Horizons.
d – I wanted to give you a moment to talk about what it takes to see a project like this through. Obviously it takes a lot of time and money to get from that first shoot until the time you get it on the shelf. What was the most difficult part? Did you ever feel like it was not going to come together?
b – You keep telling yourself the whole way through the project that you just finished the hardest part. Then it gets a bit harder! It is a massive undertaking to get the project to a finished product sitting on the shelf. For me, the most stressful part is the shoot. Until you have the shots and story nailed you have nothing. While it is certainly the most fun, it requires super long days and you have to stay really focused and driven otherwise the shot slips out from underneath you. For me editing it is the part I actually like the most because it is when it all starts to come together and you start seeing the product. Then you have to master it to DVD, create the artwork, replicate the DVD, advertise, submit to film festivals, get distributors on board, promote, and then start it all over again for next project. It is a never-ending cycle that I think few people really understand until they have tried it themselves. There is always something to do. I can see why a lot of films take longer than people imagine or never get completed. You have to see it through and keep the ball rolling every step of the way. There was never a moment that Pacific Horizons felt like it would not come together, but there where plenty of moments that I was thinking “what in the world have I gotten myself into!” I owe a lot to all the sponsors and people that stood behind me on this project…P+H, Kokatat, Werner, Snapdragon, Yakima, Alder Creek, BBB, Lise-Anne, and countless others. That collective support goes a long way in making it happen.
d – The digital revolution has make video pretty commonplace these days, hundreds of clips on YouTube and so forth. Do you think that affects more commercial projects like this?
b – I think it is affecting the viability of DVD output projects for sure. Mediums for media are changing quickly. There is so much entertainment out there for free on the web that people are getting a lot of satisfaction out of web-based media. Just the way it is in 2008. I’ve tried to keep pace with that by offering tons of whitewater media for free on The Range Life, You Tube, and others. I think the next revolution is happening right now for DVD media. Blue ray is becoming standard now and that move will shift DVD duplication in the High Definition direction as more and more people invest in new DVD machines or chose to play them off their computer. You can view all kinds of things off the web, but you can’t get the high quality HD image.
d – On my blog we’ve talked a bit about how people may either emulate what they see on a DVD like Pacific Horizons or push their abilities just to be “on film”. What are your thoughts on that?
b – Nothing we did in Pacific Horizons is a “stunt” and unachievable. Everything is real paddlers with real skill using real judgment. If people choose to emulate that I think it is great. The trouble is when people emulate it without all of the boxes on safety and judgment ticked. Overall I think it is good for the sport to have media that pushes others to try new things and become better paddlers.
d – Now you’re traveling quite a bit to promote the film including coming to Canoecopia here in Wisconsin in a couple weeks. How’s that been going? Do you enjoy the “marketing” side of things?
b – The best part about traveling around to promote the film is hanging out with all my friends in the industry and meeting new ones. The kayaking community is a great group of people to be around in general. We are all pretty spread out and events tend to pull the paddling community together. I enjoy the marketing side of things and have always felt that putting that energy in always pays off. If you are not out there marketing and promoting what you do, people don’t find out about it. It’s fun because the stress of production is over and it is your chance to be out there showing it off.
d – What do you have planned for Canoecopia?
b – I will be showing Pacific Horizons and talking about the film on both Friday and Saturday as well as signing copies of the DVD at the Kokatat booth on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Other than that, I’ll be trying to take in as many other things as possible. It is the first time I have ever been and some people have warned me to bring my helmet. I have not decided if I’ll bring the full-face helmet or just my regular. Should be a great time. I’m really looking forward to it.
d – Ok, here’s the spot where I ask you what’s next on the ah, horizon? New projects?
b – I will be spending most of my spring and summer on the east coast. Lise-Anne and I are busy working on script, story, and locations right now. Off course it would be easy to say the next project is “Eastern Horizons”, but I think this one will have a different style than Pacific Horizons. We are really looking to step it up even further with this one and develop the story line around the Atlantic’s strong history. It will move away from the travel log style of film that Pacific Horizons and TITS have utilized and be a more complete story from start to finish. Georgia, Virginia, New York, Maine, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Newfoundland have a lot to offer! We’ll be launching a new website and keeping everyone posted as we get closer to leaving.
d – Alright, last question. For those of us who have not been there. Is the Skooks as scary as it looks?
b – It all depends on the size of the tide! It is never seems that scary at slack. Put 13 knots of current into the equation and it starts to get a little intimidating in a sea kayak. The smaller tides are more manageable and less intimidating, but Skooks demands a healthy respect and solid skills no matter what speed the current is running.
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Thanks Bryan! See Ya Soon! Btw, stay tuned the rest of this week as we look at a couple new kayaks and have a couple more chats in store as well.
For more information about Canoecopia Go Here.
For more information about Pacific Horizons Go Here.
*photo provided by Bryan