Pacific Adventures: Mitch Cheek Q&A
You might be familiar with the Stund series, or the video segments he shot with James Doerfling for Kranked, or his magazine-published photos, or his numerous iconic builds; featured in The Collective, Roam, Seasons, and Follow Me, among other things. Mitch Cheek is nothing if not versatile. This Kamloops-based, big mountain shooting machine is the mastermind behind Solos Productions and he’s been killing it for years. 2011 was a breakout season for Mitch as he released consistently entertaining web edits and a plethora of stunning stills for us to feast our eyes on. He took time out of his hectic schedule to fill us in on shooting, digging, and the perils of riding with Matt Hunter. Watch some of his madness at work in the clip below and then read the Q & A from PinkBike that follows to get to know the man behind the lens.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I am 32 years young and based out of Kamloops, B.C., and I grew up on a ranch in Williams Lake. I feel fortunate to have had that space to grow up with and I believe it has given me the chance to appreciate what the outdoors have to offer!
What is your favorite thing to shoot?
Mountain Biking! As in fun, flowy, adrenaline-pumping action.
How long have you been shooting mountain biking?
The first time shooting for a major film was for Kranked 7 in 2007. But my first filming was with Matt Hunter’s Race Face video! The no-footer to throw the shoes… haha
Do you ride yourself? How does this affect your images?
Heck yeah I ride, who doesn’t! Having knowledge of riding and building is a huge advantage. I feel it gives me the ability to understand and anticipate what is about to happen.
Do you shoot anything besides mountain biking?
I have shot surfing, kayaking, and adventure racing. I am currently working with the Discovery Channel.
Do you have another job or is it just photo/video work?
Solos Productions full time!
Are you self-taught or did you go to school for photography/videography?
What kind of camera do you use?
Panasonic HPX 170 and a Canon 7D for secondary angles.
Is there any other gear that you use frequently?
I use a few homemade contraptions to add to the cinematography, but my favorite addition was the cable cam this year. It adds a whole new level of excitement when filming. Being an adrenaline junkie myself, it’s fun getting on the cable and hitting high speeds!
You’re recognized as a filmer, but you also build on a professional level. How did you get into that? What movies have you worked on and what stunts/lines are you most proud of?
When I first started riding it was in Kamloops and I was riding with the likes of Matt Hunter and Kyle Proznick (Suspect) on Rose Hill. Basically following these guys off everything on my hardtail with V-brakes. The infamous Rose Hill Road Gap was the talk of the town and with a couple months under my belt, Hunter says “put it in this gear, pedal out and you got it!” Stomped it a few times, so stoked on getting some real air! A few days passed and I returned to Rose Hill and lined up the road gap again. Knowing my rear wheel was not true at all, I grabbed an extra gear and pedaled out, thinking I was going to nose in, only to tag the rear wheel and fly to the flats on my head and shoulder. I was down and out for six weeks. My first biking injury! What better thing to do when you are injured, than roam the mountains looking to build a new trail to help learn to respect and understand what I am riding. From there it was history. The trail I ended up building with help of friends was featured on New World Disorder 5 with Joe Schwartz and Matt Hunter in the extras. I thought to myself, if the pros are riding the trail for the films maybe I could offer them prebuilt trails. Now my love for building is on par with biking. Nothing like riding a new trail or stunt!
I have built for Roam, Seasons, Follow Me, Kranked 6, 7, and 8, and New World Disorder 5, 6, 7, and 10. I am proud of all the lines and stunts ha ha. But I guess a few that come to mind are:
-Matt Hunter’s 75-foot gap in Seasons. Building that was crazy. Standing there being “okay this feels like it’s a reach,” then adding 30 feet to it. Hunter had always talked about jumping as big as possible.
-In Kranked 7 finding the Hoodoo Slash that James Doerfling rode. We never thought it would be possible, but we cut a sidehill and of course Doerfling hit it with style right away. I would go as far as saying it’s the most picturesque move that mountain biking has ever seen!
-In Kranked 6 with James Doerfling, I built a 20-foot gap to a double step up. The second step-up we piled dirt on the ladder bridge to make a dirt lip and then it went to a perfect 360 drop. It was one of my first unique builds and to link up a line like that is what biking and building is all about.
You shot the latest season of Stund. What were the best, and worst moments of working on that project?
The best AND the worst? The best moments are when everybody is riding and the stoke gets high! Makes me want to film and show the audience that this is what biking is all about. The main highlight to me was when we took a skiing approach to the big mountains. Without scoping on the ground the riders just chose their lines from the chopper! This is by far the most extreme (I can use this word) thing the action sports world has seen since the winged ‘flying squirrel’ suits. Just to give an example, when you are up in a helicopter and you see little ripples in the hill it’s different on the ground… that’s a two foot deep trench. Serious props to the Stund Crew for pushing the scene, and for living through it! I don’t think of the worst. Keep thinking positive.
You’ve had a Decline cover, a feature story, and stills in the Lizard Skins catalogue (as well as numerous popular web edits). Do you prefer shooting stills or motion?
I don’t have a preference, I feel fortunate to be out in these beautiful places no matter what tool I have.
Do those skills transfer from photo to video and vice versa?
I believe photo and video are from the same family, just two different ways of telling a story. One is for the imagination and the other is a true representation of that exact time and feel. I believe if you are a photographer you could enter the video world with confidence and vice versa!
I first heard about you through your work with James Doerfling in Kranked 7. How did you get involved with the Kranked series?
I was contacted by Chris Glew (who lined up the segment) to build for James Doerfling’s Kranked 6 segment. Bjorn Enga showed up and in five days we had wrapped up one of his favorite segments! I took some behind the scenes photos and showed him some of my travel photography with them, and not long after Bjorn had offered me a job. He had an extra camera for me to use and sent me out to help build, develop, and film for Kranked 7.
You seem to shoot a lot with Doerfling. How did you meet him and how is he to work with?
Haha. I just moved back to Williams Lake from Kamloops and I noticed some dirt jumps on the side of the road. I was just getting the hang of no-footers, and thought I would go dig on the jumps. When I showed up to the jumps, there were three local kids there riding and digging as well. I started to dig on this one landing and all of a sudden these three kids were training their jumps right towards me! It was Doerfling and a couple buddies and a “WTF you doing with our jumps man?’’ And I said, ‘’I just moved back to town and I wanna dig.’’ It was on after that! We then rode, dug, and partied all the time. James is the man, he is very modest and to this day I do not think there is any rider with as much natural skill on a bike! He makes mountain biking look good, does not matter if it’s an XC bike or a big bike!
John Wellburn (Pinkbike Photo of the Year winner) is another member of Solos Productions. What does he bring to the table?
John Wellburn and I have known each other since elementary school! He spends half of the year in Argentina making Malbec from the grapes on his farm; planning motorcycle travels around the world, and importing Land Cruisers from Down Under. John is one of the better photographers out there and his style and passion for adventure suits that of Solos. He has now developed a tour company called All Time Rides, taking mountain bikers into some of the most untouched areas in the world! Due to his adventures, I don’t get to shoot with him as much as I would like too, but he is part of my team.
The Solos Team has some pretty big names on it: James Doerfling, Graham Agassiz, Geoff Gulevich, Kurt Sorge, Garett Buehler, and Matt Hunter. Is there anybody else involved with Solos Productions? Any sweet projects lined up?
My computer graphics master is Ben Johnstone from moamedia.ca. “His finger is on the pulse” so to speak! I have been speaking with a few other riders, but nothing has been lined up as of yet! As far as the Solos team goes we are all best friends, so when the team is together it’s nothing but good times! Rock the Cariboo is a good example of that. I called up the boys and within a week they showed up with no planning and we just made it happen! I also believe their riding styles represent mountain biking today. Solos Productions has some big plans this year. I will be sure to keep you posted.
What was your most memorable shoot to date?
James Doerflings Unit Edit, we scoured every corner of the Cariboo to come up with that segment. So stoked on the turnout!
Last year you went to the Baja with Sorge and Buehler. Is that an annual trip? How are you spending the winter months?
About eight years ago Hunter and I drove to the Baja and since then I have been back five times! Over the years I had been wanting to film a video down there; that year Hunter brought his whole family to the beach so it did not work out to film with him. So, I asked Kurt and Garett if they were interested. I don’t even think they thought twice about it! I have not spent a Christmas in Canada since the first time Hunter and I traveled. I love to surf and this year I was in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, surfing and scoping the land for biking. I also became a partner in a hostel called the Lizard Lounge. So when the days get short and it’s cold I start to think south!
You went to France and shot Chatel Mountain Style with Sorge, what was your role in the Châtel Mountain Style?
My first ever film shoot was in Champery and Châtel. That was the first year of the contest. We ended up filming the comp and I started to talk with Seb (the man behind the contest) and offered to help build the course in order to hype the event in North America. When we returned next year we brought some more big names with us and Bjorn filmed with everybody while I worked for a week straight with two French guys on excavators building the course. This was a challenge due to the fact I don’t speak very much French ha ha! But when we were done, the course was fit for the world to come compete. Since then it has become one of the major events in biking and I believe is one of the two, true mountain bike contests in the world!
You seem to be a big mountain guy. Who will be on the podium at Rampage 2012?
Ha ha I’ve got so many friends competing. It’s hard to say, there is some serious competition out there! I feel like there will be some new faces on the podium this year for sure.
What is your personal favorite video you’ve made?
Rock the Cariboo if I was to pick one. That pretty much nails our life on the head while the sun’s up. Except I should be riding too!
From a rider’s perspective what was the most technical/scary line you’ve built? That you’ve filmed?
Filmed: Steve Romaniuk in the Williams Lake section of Stund Season 3. Dropping blind into that chute, 0 to 60 in a second. He is lucky to be talking about it today!
Built: The lines I have been working on recently will fall under that category!
What is your motto for building?
When you think it’s far enough, add 10 feet.
You seem to shoot Williams Lake/Kamloops desert-like terrain primarily. Do you prefer this to places like Vancouver Island where it’s often rainy and dark?
No I don’t prefer any location over another. I think it is important to shoot in all types of terrain! It keeps the mind fresh. I am from Williams Lake and home base is Kamloops. When I have a moment to myself, I head to the hills to find the next big move.
Where would you like to see mtb go? More big mountain events, X-Games coverage, more team edits etc.?
Wow, mountain biking as a whole, I like all of the above! In my opinion (and it’s only my opinion, I’m stoked on all the riders out there pushing it) it seems that the focus is contests right now. There needs to be more mountain bike specific contests out there. We need to show the world ‘Mountain Biking!’ Right now most of the contests could be ridden on a BMX. Serious props to the tricksters, I just feel like the most unique thing about a mountain bike is you can go huge and ride all types of terrain!
What have you got planned for 2012? Will there be a new season of Stund?
I am currently working on a major website in partnership with The Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium to promote mountain biking in the Cariboo. We are also looking to mix things up a bit with Stund! We are in the developmental stages of this upcoming season and I have a feeling viewers are going to be stoked on our direction.
Who are your main clients?
My main clients are: Stund, the Solos Productions Team, and Cariboo Brewing!
Do you have any advice for aspiring builders/photogs/videographers?
The little advice I can share is: follow your dream no matter how bumpy the road is, and be unique!
Anything else we should know about you?
I have really short legs and amazing stamina. Perfect for making videos!
Any final thank-you’s or shoutouts?
My family and friends rule so thanks for being the best! Shoutouts to James Doerfling, Kurt Sorge, Graham Agassiz, Garett Buehler, Matt Hunter, Steve Romaniuk, Mike Kinrade, Cariboo Brewing, Knolly, Adidas Eyewear, Monster, and Pinkbike for providing me work this past year. As well to the photographers: John Wellburn, Margus Riga, John Gibson, Harookz, and Ian Hylands. Last but not least, thanks to all the viewers out there!
John Wellburn on Pinkbike
Mitch Cheek – Solos Productions
Intro & Interview by: Scott Secco
Additional Stills by: Ian Hylands, John Wellburn, and John Gibson