The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Athletes

How to Make a Killer Whitewater Video

You don’t need vanloads of equipment or even years of training to become a professional adventure filmmaker. You just need a decent camera, some innate talent, and guts. Rush Sturges is proof. The 28 year-old professional kayaker and filmmaker started his career when he was in high school, shooting paddling groups on the Salmon River in California with a Canon camcorder. In 2009, he started his own production company, River Roots, which has since produced three full-length paddling films. He has worked on projects on almost every continent, most recently in Mexico directing aerial footage for a kayaking, surfing, mountain-biking, and BASE-jumping video for the Mexican Board of Tourism.

We caught up with him in-between edits and asked him what it takes to become an adventure filmmaker.

1.  It’s Not Your Equipment; It’s How You Use It

In the modern era of (relatively) affordable digital SLR’s, the playing field has never been more even for aspiring filmmakers. “Take the fact that the Canon 7D, which only costs $1,500, has been used to shoot Hollywood movies,” Sturges points out. “The reality is that, to the average eye, the difference of quality between top-level cameras and consumer/prosumer cameras has become increasingly thin.” According to Sturges, “It’s not so much what you shoot with, it’s how you shoot it.”

Good Options for Starting Out:

High-End (Read: “Expensive”) Options:

2. Listen to the Music, and Keep It Eclectic

According to Sturges, music is the root of all of his projects. “It’s the heartbeat and driving force behind cinema,” he says. “The best directors also tend to have the best soundtracks.” (Think Tarantino, Scorsese, Anderson, etc.). Sturges tries to find songs that are not yet popular, or underground enough that he can afford the rights to them. “There is a real art to this,” Sturges says. “And it often requires countless hours on music blogs or programs like iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify, or Pandora.” If you are having trouble finding music you can afford, Sturges suggests getting a composer to create something original. “For my DVD projects, about 40-50% of the music is original,” Sturges says. “This will also make your project more unique.”



3. Tell a (Good) Story

“Storyline should always play a role in your filmmaking,” Sturges says. “I’ve always been a fan of action-sports porn, which is generally just epic footage set to a bumpin’ soundtrack. There is a time and a place for this, and God knows I’ve put in my hours making these kinds of movies. However, as you mature as a filmmaker, most people tend to go in the direction of being more story-oriented. This is the trend in action sports, too, and it’s exciting to see it move in this direction.” In a nutshell: You need a beginning, middle, and an end. “The three-act structure has been a tried and tested format since the dawn of entertainment,” Sturges says. It works.

4. Create a Solid Team

When Sturges selects the people he wants to work with on projects, he tries to pick out the ones that he knows are going to be efficient and fun. “When creative people are having fun in the field, they are usually doing a good job,” Sturges says. ”As the director, it’s your duty to choose a group of like-minded and positive individuals who can get the job done. “It takes just one big ego in a group to throw off the balance,” he says. “You need to be able to accept your own faults and also point out the faults of others in a way that is diplomatic and favorable to progress.” It simply won’t work if you have everyone on your team working on a different film.

5. Prepare Yourself for Postproduction

Sturges often spends more time editing his films than being in the field shooting them. Get ready to spend a lot of time at the computer. “I tend to be meticulous about making sure my shots are all on the right beat within my edit,” Sturges says. “This is easy to overlook, but if you watch your edits enough you will start to see your faults. If you are just starting out with editing, your best bet is to learn Adobe Premier. Adobe has a few more options and also enables you to mix most formats.”

6. Fake It Till You Make It

If you feel like you’re not sure what you’re doing or that you’re in over your head, there’s a good chance you are. “The best thing you can do is roll with it,” Sturges says. “From my experience, this is a big part of filmmaking in general. The reality is that, like any art form, there is no exact science. The best you can do is to maintain a positive attitude, and do your best.” As long as you remain confident and open throughout the creative process, you will probably be fine. “Work hard to make the best product possible with your team,” Sturges says, “And chances are you will get hired the next time.”

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The Olympic Superstar Next Door

My plan to treat Julia Mancuso like an Olympic superstar is falling apart. I rented a red Porsche Cayman at LAX and made brunch reservations at the Ivy. But it’s already 10 A.M., I have to get her to a photo shoot at noon, and she hasn’t showered after her morning beach workout of sprints, tuck jumps, and stutter steps. Fortunately, Mancuso’s throwing audibles and solving problems. She knows this great little organic non-GMO spot on Abbot Kinney. “I showered last night,” she says, both simplifying things and confirming the basic nature of her appeal.

Mancuso is the Olympic champion you’d want to drink a beer with. The 29-year-old Lake Tahoe, California, native trains for skiing by surfing and paddleboarding, appears untroubled by minutiae, and then, like Big Papi, comes through when it matters. This pattern first emerged at the 2006 Turin Games when, as an obscure 21-year-old, Mancuso won gold in the giant slalom. She wasn’t quite a favorite at Vancouver, either, but she won two silver medals, making her the most decorated Olympian in U.S. Women’s Ski Team history.

Going into the Sochi Games, most of the chatter has focused on Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old American phenom, and Mancuso’s training partner Lindsey Vonn, who reinjured her surgically repaired right knee in November. Maybe it’s because of Mancuso’s relaxed demeanor that observers continue to underestimate her. But to hear Mancuso tell it, the laissez-faire attitude isn’t a strategy; it’s all she knows.

“When I started, we weren’t wearing our race suits to training,” she says. “We didn’t have concepts like the 10,000 hours”—the idea, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, that it takes that long to master anything. Though the idea strikes many critics as oversimplified, it has gained messianic status among overbearing sports parents. “I was just self-motivated,” she says. “Nobody ever told me what to do.”

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That hasn’t changed much. Right now, 86 days before the opening ceremonies in Sochi, the rest of the U.S. Ski Team is at Colorado’s Copper Mountain prepping for the World Cup season kickoff at nearby Beaver Creek. Mancuso, meanwhile, is crossing Ocean Avenue, chatting on the phone, and taking my keys. “We’ll drive,” she says, by which she means she’ll drive.

She pilots us through Venice, pulls a U-ey, and parks down the street from Axe Restaurant, where we find a quiet table in the shade out back. Mancuso orders bacon, eggs, and French toast, and makes easy small talk. Well into our conversation, I ask about her relationship with Vonn, whose World Cup wins, crashes, and personal trainwrecks have dominated ski headlines of late. Despite reports of an alpha-female rivalry, Mancuso tells me that the two have grown closer. They share a coach, and Mancuso insists that their would-be rivalry was mostly made up by the press. “If it was anything, it was just girl stuff,” Mancuso says. “Me saying ‘I’m so free!’ and her rolling her eyes.”

Mancuso’s love life has also been public, but she isn’t much fun to gossip about, mostly because she doesn’t make a show of guarding her privacy. Before anybody ferreted out the news of her recent breakup with two-time overall World Cup champion Aksel Svindal, she posted it herself on Facebook. Her Instagram account is full of bikini-clad selfies: swimming, surfing, and drinking tall boys in hot tubs. Somehow, none of this feels like a big deal.

“I have a really good family and a lot of support around me,” she says of her ability to both win races and cut loose without going all Shaun White at a Nashville wedding reception. Then again, it would be hard to outdo her own father, Ciro, who spent four years in federal prison for running a $140 million drug-smuggling operation.

“You grow up in Squaw, where the cool people are the ones breaking rules—like Shane McConkey,” she says, referencing the deceased action-sports star who made his name (and died) BASE-jumping on skis. “How can you grow up thinking that skiing is super serious when there’s this guy pushing the limits on every level?”

After the photo shoot, we rush to LAX so Mancuso can catch her flight to Colorado. She’s back in black skinny jeans, Jordans, and a trucker hat. With her super-G skis and boots crammed between the tiny sports car’s two seats, Mancuso suddenly becomes a disembodied voice hashing out the next day’s training plan with her coach—which boots to wear, how many runs she’ll do.

And that’s when it hits me. Mancuso gives the appearance of playing fast and loose, but she’s a driven and focused athlete, just not in the way you’ll read about in a book on how to become a champion. And she doesn’t see herself slowing down, even after Sochi, despite the fact that no woman has won a World Cup race after age 32. “No, I think I’ll keep going,” she says casually.

Then I make the same mistake that so many others have: I underestimate her. “So you’re not one of those athletes who need to retire on top?” I ask.

She flashes a brief look of confusion before displaying her secret weapon: the absolute confidence that separates skiers who win races from those who win Olympic medals. “I don’t really have any doubts that I’ll be on the podium.”

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Ultrarunner Hal Koerner's Secrets to Happiness

What makes Hal Koerner so damn happy? Ask him that—or any question, really—and you’ll get an answer that betrays the simple truth. He speaks in meandering run-on sentences that defy the normal rules of grammar yet somehow always cross the finish line, concluding with the same, infectious takeaway: I love to run! And you should, too! Indeed, an image search on Google yields hundreds of photos of the 37-year-old flashing his hundred-tooth grin while suffering through grueling races like the Hardrock 100 (2012 winner) and the Western States 100 (champ in 2007 and 2009). He’s turned that passion into a career, opening a retail store, Rogue Valley Runners, in 2006, that has helped make the tiny town of Ashland, Oregon, a training epicenter for the booming sport of ultrarunning. Young phenoms like the Skaggs brothers, Anton Krupicka, and Jenn Shelton have all moved there to train with—and often work for—Koerner, hoping to soak up the secrets of a man who has stayed competitive for nearly two decades. Shortly after his second win at Arizona’s Javalina Jundred last October, he shared some of that wisdom with Christopher Keyes.

Traditional shoes, minimalist shoes, Hokas—there’s a place for all of them. The most important thing is to run on trails instead of roads. That will do more for your longevity than worrying about how much cushioning you’ve got.

Before every race I wake up, have a bowl of oatmeal, eat a banana, and down some kind of sports drink.
It’s simple, but it works for me and I haven’t changed it.

Smiling is infectious. Even when I’m suffering on the course, when I see people out there, I always want to smile. It gives me a little boost of positive energy.

I like to go to the start line thinking I’ll win.

I kind of cringe when I have to tell people I’m an ultramarathoner. I just know I’m about to get pummeled with questions. But I understand the curiosity. There’s still a wow factor, even for me. I ran 100 miles. That’s pretty ridiculous.

I’m notorious for being late. A couple of times I’ve pulled into the parking lot at the start line and the racers have already left. But I don’t get too worked up about it. I figure I have 100 miles to catch up.

Swing your arms on long uphills. That generates momentum for each stride.

Some of the greatest thinking I’ve had about life and work happens on runs. But I need to remind myself to write things down immediately, because I get back and the bliss stops flowing to the brain and I’ll think, Dang, what was all that great stuff I was thinking out there?

When I first started out, ultrarunning was still tiny, and I mostly trained alone. Oddly enough, when I would ask someone if they wanted to go for a four- or five-hour run, there weren’t many takers! Then I started running with Scott Jurek and others, and that’s when things stepped up for me. You have to push yourself when you see what others are doing.

Our house is ultra talk all the time. My wife, Carly, runs ultramarathons, too. She had an off-year being pregnant, but I imagine we’ll be ­running together a lot more now. Get the baby jogger and see how it goes.

I’ve run enough ultras to know that it takes all shapes and sizes and you can’t discount anyone. After we opened the store and we started our 100-mile race, the Pine to Palm, I had people signing up who you would never identify as runners. I remember thinking about this one woman, There’s no way that lady is going to ­finish. And then I was at the finish line handing her a medal. That really hit home for me. Racing changes people’s lives.

After a big win, University of Oregon track coach Bob Bowerman used to tell guys like Steve Prefontaine and Phil Knight, “The next day, you just start again. Nobody cares what you did the day before.” I think about that after big races.

People say I’m crazy, but I think selling shoes is the ­best job in the world. You never really know what’s going to walk through the door. Whether I’m talking about someone’s blister issues or their first marathon, every day I love it.

I used to get up early each morning and fret about making a certain amount of mileage. Now it’s not such a big deal. Getting older and feeling the miles a bit more makes you realize it’s OK to take days off.

If you’re disciplined about what you eat, that carries over to other aspects of your life. That said, I’m a sucker for popsicles. Give me one and I’ll eat the whole box.

I do more weight training than most guys in the sport. Push-ups, sit-ups, dips, biceps curls. I’ve always felt that you need to be all-around strong to run 100 miles.

Ride on the edge and see what happens.

Young runners look up to me, and it’s one reason I work so hard. I should probably give more advice, but, you know, I still want to compete, maybe put them in their place.

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