Preserving 'Road Fools'

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Original tapes and production notes from Props "Road Fools '98."

In the fifteen years the first "Road Fools" video was produced, video technology has transformed in more ways than one. For starters, "Road Fools '98" was produced before the age of digital video, not to mention the advancements made in audio, visual and simple workflow equations. For the fans out there lucky enough to own an original VHS copy of "Road Fools" or the DVD compiling the first two trips, the videos are still viewable. But Props owner Chris Rye recently decided to start over, beginning with the first "Road Fools," and produce a box set and book compiling all 18 of the "Road Fools" trips, in addition to the two Rock N' Road Fools videos.

His mission, already underway, is to produce a more pristine version of the first video. During the re-mastering and re-editing, we caught up with Chris to discuss the process. What prompted you to want to re-edit/re-master the original Road Fools?
Rye: After a lot of requests over the years I'm putting together a RF box set on blu-ray with all the trips 1-18 and the 2 RNR tours. The only SD one that's not on a DV master is RF1, which is on S-VHS because at the time in '98, we didn't have enough drive space to save everything and we couldn't output to DV yet.

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So for this box set I thought it would be awesome to present the first trip in it's pristine, native DV format for the first time ever. But to do that I have to re-edit it from scratch in Final Cut, capturing all the clips off the original DV tapes (which surprisingly seem to be in pretty good condition) and re-creating all the AE graphics, map animations, etc, which will get re-rendered nice and sharp this time.

All the songs and background audio were originally captured at crappy 22khz, so I'm getting 48khz versions off iTunes and CDs and then re-mixing the entire audio track along with the re-edit. It's gonna be awesome, no one has ever seen it looking and sounding this good before. It will be a cool addition to the box set. It's something I've thought about doing before but never had a good enough reason to actually do it.

I have the S-VHS version in track 1 and am building all the clips above it, so it will be a perfect frame by frame match with the exception of a few new clips here and there, but nothing that should upset the purists like Doyle and Biz. I already had an issue with a song ("Web In Front") that I think came from a vinyl record from Jimmy or someone during the trip, and the speed doesn't exactly match with the iTunes version. So there was a little song drift on that one but it's more less still exactly the same.

Can you explain in layman's terms how difficult the project is to undertake, and how many man hours it might take?
It's not all that difficult per se, just time consuming and tedious to make sure every single clip and element is in the exact same place down to the frame. I started on Monday Feb. 18 and am pretty much through half of the video tonight which is Thursday Feb. 21. Then doing the full new audio mix is another huge job. In total we're talking 2-3 weeks to get it 100% finished.

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The new version of "Road Fools '98" should take some years off Jimmy Levan's face.

What can the viewer expect from the finished project?
All the original copies of RF1 were dubbed onto VHS from the S-VHS master at the dupe house, so we're talking quite a bit of analog generational loss going on in all the copies out there. The new version will be 100% digital from the DV footage tapes, edited in a native DV timeline, then transcoded to an H.264 at about 15Mbit for the blu-ray. It'll be a night and day difference in the picture and sound quality.

Did you keep the original tapes and edit notes in order, or did you have to search through the Props archives to piece everything together again?
I was obsessively diligent when logging all the tapes and have all the original handwritten sheets, and of course also all the original footage tapes we shot on VX1000s. I moved in 2005 and had all the tapes in boxes stored in my garage, and had a biodiesel fuel spill on the garage floor which soaked into some of the boxes housing the tapes. Biodiesel can react with plastic like a solvent, and it actually melted the outsides of some of the cases holding the RF1 tapes. They miraculously survived and seem to be playing back fine as I've been capturing the clips off them.

And this is going to include all of the Road Fools trips?
Yeah the box set will have the entire Road Fools series up to this point on a couple blue-ray discs, 1-16 and the two Rock Tours (which are in SD) and 17 & 18 (which are in HD). Hopefully I can dig up some extras to throw on there as well.

When can we expect to see the finished product?
Shooting for a few months out from now, say May/June-ish but maybe earlier. Learning all the blu-ray authoring stuff is taking a bit of time.

You mentioned that there's a book project on top of this, can you explain what that entails?
The Road Fools book is something I've been thinking about for a few years now, and this year I had some time to start working on it for real. Self-publishing tools and technology have never been better, so I'll be able to make the book available in two versions. One a traditional print book, sort of like a large coffee table book, and the second a digital iBook version for iPads that will feature interactive photo galleries, short video clips and fun things like that. People can choose which version they want, or both to get the full experience.

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Re-editing in progress.

I'm sort of still figuring out the format, but likely each trip will be a chapter with a bunch of excerpts and funny stories as recalled from riders from the trips and industry people as well. I think it's gonna be pretty amazing when finished, a real solid piece of BMX history. Everyone I've talked to about it so far has been really excited about the project. I'm shooting to finish everything by year's end but that may be a bit optimistic so we'll see.

Why do you think Road Fools left such a huge mark on the state of BMX riding and BMX videos?
At the time we randomly decided to take a road trip, just a group of friends, with not much of a plan except wanting to ride, film and have fun on the road. I think for the first time in BMX, and in a specific way, it presented a tight-knit group of personality-rich riders perfectly in their environment. All the guys, Joe, Jimmy, Taj, Robbie, Dave, Sandy, JPR, Derek and the crew dudes just clicked on the road, where everybody could be their true selves and it translated on camera. People felt like they actually knew these dudes after watching the video. Then combine the groundbreaking riding that happened and you end up with what people say is a classic video in BMX history. It was cool to be a part of it, and I feel honored to have played a role in creating it. Definitely seems crazy it was 15 years ago already.

What are some of your favorite RF1 quotes?
Pretty much anything Sandy, Jimmy or Robbo said. I've been laughing my ass off going through the re-edit at all the funny quotes, some of these things are like nursery rhymes that people actually starting repeating after seeing the video. I've been posting funny quotes on the @propsbmx Twitter, follow us there and on Instagram @realpropsbmx for all the good stuff and to keep tabs on what's going on with the box set and book. Thanks!

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