The BMXer behind the MacAskill Videos

Fred Murray

Barspin on home turf from Dave Sowerby.

Chances are, if you've been on the Internet in the past year or so, you've seen or heard of the Danny MacAskill trials riding YouTube videos. They've been embedded everywhere, and to date, the first five-minute video has been viewed over 22 million times. It's not exactly BMX riding, but it's BMX inspired, and what's more, it was created by a BMXer: Edinburgh, Scotland's own Dave Sowerby, who rides for Proper Bike Co. and BSD.

In his own right, Dave is an incredible BMX rider, but his skills don't end there. Dave builds skateparks, designs and code Web sites, designs ads and graphics for BSD, judges BMX comps and films and edits for projects such as Nike 6.0 Standby Bacelona. In simpler terms, everything Dave does, he does well. Following the release of the recent Danny MacAskill Red Bull "Way Back Home" video (which has close to 4 million views in less than a month on YouTube), I caught up with Dave to learn about the production of the MacAskill videos, and how this unexpected union of trials and BMX inspiration came to be. Here's Dave Sowerby, who in terms of YouTube views, could be considered one of the most successful BMX videographers to date. How did you and Danny MacAskill come to know each other?
Sowerby: Danny took a spare room in an apartment me and a friend were living in in Edinburgh, Scotland about four years ago. My friend knew Danny because they were both working at a local bike shop together and I was happy to have another bike rider as a roommate.

Do you guys ride together?
We have rode street a few times but Danny generally rides on his own.

You filmed and edited his first edit. How did you feel about the overall reaction to that video?
We were both really pleased with the results we were getting while filming in Edinburgh, and were happy with the final outcome as we knew it was the best video we both could have made together at that time. But I did not expect anything like the reaction the video got. I was interested to see what the trials riding scene thought of the video, but I did not anticipate that it would reach such a wide audience. It's great that so many people have watched it and enjoyed it, but I'm most proud of having made it, not the views or the reaction. That was just an added bonus.

And the follow up video from Red Bull, can you explain what went into the production of that?
The idea for "Way Back Home" has been brewing for a while ever since Danny was picked up by Red Bull. Because he was injured with two successive broken collar bones, it was a while before we could start filming for it. During that time, Danny scouted lots of spots throughout Scotland that he thought would be fun and different to ride. When he was recovered, Danny, myself and Mark Huskisson (who was along to help with filming) went out to visit all the spots and shoot the things Danny had imagined might be possible. It was really different to filming a street edit because the spots were often hard to access (especially with all the camera gear.) Danny was riding these spots for the first time and it was a huge task to come up with some of the riding he did on such different and unforgiving terrain. We spent around three months during the summer traveling around in the camper van and going to each spot. The amount of traveling and setup involved was so high some days we would only nail one shot. I hope the amount of work and effort put into it shows through in the final video. Mark was also along to help document the trip and the production company Gramafilm came along on a few of the locations to film interviews with everyone, which will all go towards a documentary of the journey that Red Bull will release early next year.

How different is it to film a MacAskill video from a BMX video?
It's only as different as I want to make it. Of course, the more trials-oriented riding Danny does took me a little while to adjust my filming style to at first. With the Edinburgh video, what I wanted to do was film Danny in exactly the same way I would approach a BMX street edit. That for me was what interested me about filming with him initially. But with "Way Back Home," it was entirely different as the filming style was more influenced by the locations and the video SLRs I was shooting with. I made the conscious decision to shoot in a more cinematic style than I normally would so that the location and the background plays just as big a part in the shot as the trick Danny is doing. That was the point in making the effort in traveling to these remote spots after all: to try and come up with something different and fresh both in the riding and the locations.

Is Danny MacAskill a one-take rider, or does the stuff he does take a long time to pull?
Both. The big stuff tends to be one take shots obviously. Some of those lines are not things you want to be getting wrong, so it has to be one-take. But Danny also does a lot of technical riding and that stuff can take countless attempts to pull. The way I look at it is the riding that is really worth getting on camera is the stuff that takes the most work and commitment. The shot I have spent the most time trying to film out of anything I have ever filmed is still the first shot in Danny's Edinburgh video where he rides the spikey fence. That took about eight hours over four separate days to get the line pulled and on camera. And it was so worth it as it had never been done before and makes the intro to the video.

Were you surprised that BMX was so receptive to the videos?
I had hoped that people could look at the videos and appreciate them for what they are -- simply good bike riding. But there was the inevitable backlash from some BMXers who were not prepared to like it as some of the riding was so close to BMX riding but on a mountain bike. But on the whole, BMXers seemed to react favorably to the videos, which is cool. At the end of the day, I am going to film the riding that Danny wants to do on his bike and present it as that, regardless of how people may react to it. And when all he wants to do is go out and enjoy riding by doing the tricks he has the most fun doing, how can anyone argue with that?

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