Q&A: STEW JOHNSON / RealBMX

The action packed 2019 X Games RealBMX videos dropped yesterday. 6 videos total. If you haven’t seen them yet, click HERE to watch them all and to cast your vote for fan favorite.

Putting together a project like RealBMX for the web and network TV surely involves some hard work and diligence. To learn more about RealBMX and ALL that goes into it behind the scenes, I hit up Stew Johnson (BMX legend and overall producer/project manager of the show) with some questions about it all.

Click below.

For those who might not know, please explain the concept behind RealBMX.  

X Games RealBMX is a video competition. Six riders get invited and team up with the filmer of their choice to help them produce a 90 second video part. All terrain ridden must be “Real”….nothing man made with the intention of riding. The teams get six months to film and edit before submitting their videos to a panel of judges. Medals and prize money are then awarded at the end of it all.

What is your role in the whole thing?

I guess I’m technically the sport organizer, project manager, director and producer.

What does that entail?

It’s a lot of hats. I pick the invites, I also meet up with the teams and film the Behind the Scenes segments. I filmed the judging portion of this year’s show and edited everything except for the actual rider parts. It’s a 1 hour show (44 minutes after commercial breaks), so after you subtract six 90 second video parts, you have 35 minutes of content that needs to be shot and edited. That’s my responsibility. Along with making sure photographers meet up with the teams and get enough photos for the online gallery and social media needs of the contest. I handle the budgets, pay the riders, filmers, photographers, post production house, etc. The teams actually plan their own trips, but I’ll need to come meet up with them at some point to shoot “Behind the Scenes” footage. I basically oversee everything and make sure that it all gets checked off the list. For the first time in my life, I’ve enlisted the help of spreadsheets. I guess that means it’s a big time project, ha.

Overall, who works on RealBMX?

Besides the obvious six invited teams, there’s a handful of photographers who deliver images for the online gallery and social media end of things. Mark Losey was field producer for the first 3 years and gave me a ton of advice about heading up a project of this magnitude. Chris Rye was the director of photography for the 3 prior year’s judging panel discussion. He also masters the show once I’m done with the initial edit, handling the audio mix and color grading.  Brian Tunney is the associate director of digital programming for X Games. We’re assisted by the remainder of the X Games digital video (Neil Bandoni, Shawn Brunoli, Shawn Howard) and social teams (Jason Krutzsch, Cesar Lopez) and digital production (Melissa Larsen), who work across all of the Real Series projects as well as X Games events, the remainder of the World of X Games shows on ABC and anything that falls under the X Games radar. Each Real Series (skate, moto, ski, snowboarding) also has a producer that’s tied to each sport so that we pick the right athletes and things run smoothly. We also have a music licensing team that consists of  Caitlin DelVillano and Kevin Wilson. It takes a lot of people to make a project of this magnitude happen, and they all do a great job of stepping up to the plate. A huge thank you to everyone involved, and sorry if i forgot anyone.

How do the riders get picked each year? 

This year, X Games has instated an automatic invite rule for the prior year’s RealBMX Gold medalist and fan favorite.  When it comes to filling the other 4 spots, I come up with a list of riders that I think would make entertaining video parts and an interesting Behind the Scenes segment. I’ll share that list with Brian Tunney and get his thoughts. Once we’re in agreement over the line up, we’ll share that with Jason Krutzsch and Neil Bandoni at X Games and tell them why we think our picks would make a great video part. They’re usually in agreement with our choices. Once we have the green light, I contact the riders and ask them if they’re interested. Then we’re off and running.

Are the teams given certain stipulations/restrictions, or are they open to produce what they see fit?

The riders are pretty free to do what they want, but there are the obvious restrictions that come with producing content that is going to be seen on major network television. Obviously, no vulgarity, violence, promotion of drug use, etc.  We try to keep large background logos to a minimum in order to avoid the kind of legal entanglement that can result from riding and destroying property. But as far as riding goes, they can do whatever they want. They can make a straight up riding video, some kind of artsy concept piece or a mixture of the two. It’s their 90 seconds to do what they want. 

Regardless if they win or not, everyone gets paid to participate correct? 

Yes! It feels good to invite guys to work on a project where everyone gets compensated for their hard work, regardless of their placings. These guys really bust their asses to make an incredible representation of BMX and they deserve it. As a matter of fact, that’s the only downfall to making the show… I wish everyone could win the first place prize money. They all deserve it.

Its rad that network TV puts this on for BMX and skate. What are the expectations from their end from the show?

Honestly, the end result of showing Real BMX on TV for the World of X Games is to showcase the best BMX riding in the world that you might not see at an actual X Games event. If we can make that translate to new fans that might watch and say, “This is nuts,” all the more better. Yeah, ratings and new demographics matter but we’re also just trying to serve the fans (endemic and casual) as best as we can, and 45 minutes of crazy street riding from a human interest angle seems to work across new demographics.

What’s the hardest part about RealBMX, what stresses you the most, ha?

Really the most stressful thing is that looming deadline. It’s not like I can say “hey, call ABC and tell them that we’re gonna push the air date back a week”. I’m sure there are times when these teams get sick of me hitting them up, wanting updates on their progress and info on trips, etc.., but I think that they all realize what a huge undertaking something like this is, and that you really have to be on top of all these different tasks to make sure that they’re getting done. It’s a very different style than most BMX projects that have deadlines that are constantly getting pushed back. I’ve definitely lost a little sleep over it. Also, we’re technically showing guys trespassing, destroying property and then airing it for the whole world to see, basically the worst idea ever, if you were to ask my lawyer.

Things always happen during the production of something, give me a “you gotta be kidding me” moment.

It’s weird, things have gone relatively smooth. That is, until this year. 3 of the 6 invites had major injuries midway through the filming process, all fairly close to each other. That was a bit stressful, but these guys are animals and they pulled through. No one had to drop out of the contest. This was the first year we didn’t have an alternate team in waiting, so that made it a little stressful. 

Is there a memorable situation or story you can share about your time working on Real BMX? 

Nothing crazy pops into my head. I think just sitting down in front of a TV the first year and watching a show that I had a hand in helping become a reality, that was a pretty surreal moment that I won’t soon forget.

When this is over you’re gonna start on Anthem 3 correct? 

Something like that. ha.

Thanks Stew. Anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to thank anyone who’s been a part of these projects. It’s a giant group effort from a lot of really talented people and I consider myself extremely fortunate to work with them on such a great project. And an extra shout out to Brian Tunney and Chris Rye. Brian is the one who entrusted me to head up this project and Rye is the glue that keeps me together from a technical standpoint. I can’t thank them enough. And I’d like to thank Defgrip for shining a little light on the whole project. It is greatly appreciated. 

* Click HERE to watch all the videos and to cast your vote for fan favorite. *


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Source: Q&A: STEW JOHNSON / RealBMX

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