Inspiration-Life Cycles and the Cycle of Life an Interview with Derek Frankowski

Life Cycles OFFICIAL Trailer from Life Cycles on Vimeo.

Life Cycles is the brain child of mountain bike photographer Derek Frankowski and film maker Ryan Gibb. It is a movie that is going to take the current action film market by storm, proving the point that story and plot have much more validity than, logos and fully sponsored athletes showing off to just good music. Our story begins:

Ryan Gibb and Derek Frankowski

Ryan Gibb and Derek Frankowski © Derek Frankowski

“Life is a river, that’s what grand dad always use to say, a beginning, an end, a million different ways in between. He used the metaphor my whole life, how it ebbed and flowed. Following the path of least resistance. Barreling straight through the impossible, clear as air and black as night. But no matter what direction, or how it moved, or what it looked like, the point according to grand dad, was that the river always moved forward.

What kept him running the rapids until he was old and gray? The mystery of what lay around the bend.”–Graham Tracey, Life Cycles.

The Ground Work of the Film by Derek Frankowski

The Ground Work of the Film Rider Mike Hopkins © Derek Frankowski

Um, you had me at…Life is a river. As you know, I often write about creativity and inspiration. I feel that those two concepts run hand-in-hand and can fuel any artists’ portfolio. This week’s post takes the concept much further, because these two film makers are trying to connect multiple disciplines of creation with multiple disciplines of inspiration, in addition to multiple aspects of life and nature. I do not care if you are not a mountain biker, I do not care if you are not into nature (although if you are reading this you are), head over to iTunes and download the film, if for no other reason than to curb your own curiosity. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed with the few dollars you spend on the purchase.

I received my DVD copy of Life Cycles last Thursday and after watching it about 10 times, I decided to send Derek a congratulatory email and a request for an interview. Here is what transpired.

Jay Goodrich : Derek, thank you for taking the time out of you day to answer a few questions with me. For starters, tell us a little about yourself. Where did your career begin?

Derek Frankowski : I grew up in the prairies of Canada, Regina Saskatchewan. It’s not where you would expect a mountain bike photographer to come from, but I was into biking and skiing and started shooting our mini hills and valleys mostly.

I was fortunate enough to get the cover of the 1998 Bike Photo Annual as my first published photo (it was a prairie shot). I was hooked from then on.

The Prairies that Derek Grew up On by Derek Frankowski

The Prairies that Derek Grew up On © Derek Frankowski

JG: The footage in Life Cycles is as inspirational as your still imagery. In every sequence I can see a still photograph brought to life through motion. Is this why you made a transition from still photography to motion? Because you could now convey more? Are you still photographing? And will you continue to photograph or is film where your heart lies now?

DF : It definitely was exciting to see what the process would be like and the result of shooting motion. Really what made me want to make a film was that films are what I was inspired by at the time. Films like Winged Migration, Baraka, Deep Blue, and Planet Earth were all these epic documentaries. I really was compelled to explore the filmmaking world from them. And since I was a bike photographer it was a natural starting point.

I haven’t shot very much over the past 4 years or so. I am not sure if I will continue. I’d like to continue and I have had some ideas of how I could mesh the two disciplines further and push myself more, but I am trying to take some chill time to ski and hang with the family.

JG : Life Cycles covers the full spectrum of existence. It tells a story of the cycles of Earth’s seasons, the variety of weather, the life of the bicycle, and even the life of a trail. It broadcasts the thought that humans are losing their unity with nature. Was one of your goals with this film to make your viewer realize that a connection with nature is one of the most important aspects of truly living? And, although this film is about how mountain bikers connect with our natural world, do you think this ideal can transcend any aspect of life? Find something to do out there where humanity is the minority and you will come to life?

DF : It was about a two-year process to a final script for Life Cycles. It went through a lot of ideas being tossed around until it was pared down to the film you see. It was kind of weird because we started with the name very early but really didn’t focus in on the life cycle aspect until a bit later.

We did want to connect with the most people possible and bring people closer to nature. How deep we took them, we didn’t even see until we had a completed film. The entire way along the film changes until the very last piece is placed in. Actually it is still changing which is a cool thing.

Mountain Biking the way Derek Frankowski See It by Derek Frankowski

Mountain Biking the way Derek Frankowski Sees It © Derek Frankowski

JG : This film appears to draw inspiration from the Planet Earth series in the way that it connects mountain biking to the environment and seasonal change. The level of the editing is superb. How big was your part in that aspect of the film making process? Or did you give your editors the basic concept and let them go to town?

DF : We were deep into Life Cycles before seeing Planet Earth, but it was a great source for us to draw on. We had an idea for a seasonal change but once we saw them do it we knew it was possible.

Creating the film was a constant collaboration between Ryan and myself. We both wore a lot of hats and I enjoyed creating a film from start to finish. It’s much different then photos, because going out to capture the image was only one part, then you get to edit it and add music and also place in context. Very cool and I was involved in all aspects.

JG : Most current adventure sports films, especially those in the mountain biking and ski disciplines, are entertaining through great action and music, but in my honest opinion are lacking in story and plot? This film brought me back to my childhood and the days of ski film makers like Greg Stump. He was a master at drawing the viewer in even through the simplest of ideas. What is your opinion on this?

DF : It was our goal from day one to tell a story and that was probably the most difficult to create.

I am going to take some heat for this, but I have never seen a Greg Stump film, although I am very aware of whom he is.

I would agree 100% and add that action sport films have been very complacent and need to push it further. Many have turned into hour-long commercials pushing product.

JG : This film focuses on the cycles of life and the life of cycles. A simple and overlooked idea. My experience tells me that you need to step out of the box a little bit and approach creativity from a more abstract perspective to be able to see  those concepts that are right in front of you and often overlooked. Do you have an overall approach to the way you create?

DF : Once we had the concept, it was a bit of “I can’t believe this hasn’t been done”. We were a little worried, because it took years to come to fruition, that someone might come out with film that followed the same idea.

I used to be more of a reaction type shooter and liked to go out and hunt good light and see what happens. For this film we scripted many of the shots. So finding a balance between having an idea and being able to see what’s happening, I think, is important.

JG : You assembled some of the most talented people to help in the creation of Life Cycles. Mitchell Scott, Ryan Gibb, and Graham Tracey (who’s voice I just heard on a commercial here in the U.S.). Not to mention all of the pro-level riders. How did all of you inevitably get together to create this cohesive piece? Are you all friends or did you seek them out?

DF : We are pretty tight friends with all of the people we got to help (and made some great friends along the way) and they deserve all the credit for there skills. If you watch the opening credits those guys are the reason we were able to create such a solid film.

Our jobs as creators were made a bit easier because they could see our passion and commitment to the project. They all wanted to hit a home-run and we just had to help see what our vision was. Collaboration is key.

JG : Let’s give the nerdy techno geeks some info to froth about. What cameras, lenses, and other equipment did you use to create the film? Did you use an HD SLR for any of the sequences?

We shot %98 of the film on a single Red One Camera The other %2 was on a Redlake Super high speed camera.

DF : For glass we used my Nikon lens. I have 10.5mm, 16mm, 17-35mm, 50mm, 60mm micro, 80-200, 300 and a borrowed 500mm.

We also had some pretty cool camera rigs. We bought a Panther crane that can be built up to 35ft long, a quality Panther x15 Tripod, home made dolly (wish we had a good one) Basson Steady Cam and when we needed it we hired a friend of my Ambrose to operate a cable cam.

JG : Your imagery and film has a very strong level of graphic design and simplicity to it. What and who have inspired you over the years?

DF : I think the biggest reason for my simplicity would be growing up in the prairies. It’s such a clean landscape and I am attracted to that I guess.

Mike Hopkins Dropping in Southern Utah by Derek Frankowski

Mike Hopkins Dropping in Southern Utah © Derek Frankowski

JG : So what is next?

DF : A deep breath and see this to the end…which includes getting as many eye’s on it as possible. Then re-load and continue to work on projects that I am excited to work on…that’s the dream. I am attracted to meshing a documentary style to what ever I do.

Figuring out Camera Angles in Canada by Derek Frankowski

Figuring out Camera Angles in Canada © Derek Frankowski

JG : I know more creative individuals that live in Canada than anywhere else? You, Jordan Manley, Edward Burtynsky, and Darwin Wiggett are just a few. Is there something in the water up there? And can you ship some of it down to me?

DF : You are doing just fine, I think you must be buying some bottled water already from the great white north. No…I’m not sure, I think it might be a situation of you are a product of your environment and we happen to have a whole lot of it with out people.

“When creation overrides destruction…that’s living.”–Graham Tracy, Life Cycles.

Now tell me about your own inspirations in life.