Kyle Cowling | Holler for a Dollar

Discussing the Value of Film Making



Photos Courtesy of Phantasos Media

If you've watched motocross films over the past decade, chances are you've seen a lot of Kyle Cowling's video work. His media company Phantasos Media's most recent endeavor "The Spectrum Series" (an in-depth look at different athlete's lives through multiple episode releases) and their work with American Honda's REDefined Series have been well received, and they certainly keep busy. With the release of their latest documentary last week on Daytona aptly titled “Daytona Supercross ft. Team Honda HRC” I wanted to reach out and chat about the value of creative work. The $1 price tag may come as a shock to some, but to anyone living the creative life it is more than justified when it's a passion-based project. We gave Kyle a call to get some insight from an established videographer working in the trenches (or tracks) day-in and day-out. Read on, and then check out the Daytona piece!

Let's talk about this Daytona documentary on Vimeo on Demand and how it came about.

So we loaded up a sprinter van, drove from Southern California, and used our own money all the way out to Clermont Florida. We spent a few days shooting with the factory Honda guys at the Nest which is Villopoto’s old place, just kind of documenting what goes into prep for Daytona because it's a little bit different than the other races. Also one of the big things for us was that Daytona is the only race that we can actually shoot video on the track. Feld is pretty strict about letting videographers shoot at the races and Daytona is it's own event. So we were able to get credentials for that and do our thing. We originally had other plans for the Daytona coverage and where we were going to release it but unfortunately those plans didn't quite plan out –nobody's fault, it just didn't work out. So we decided to go ahead and create a Vimeo on demand page and monetize the video for a whole 99 cents and try and recoup a little bit of travel costs and time on the road going from California to Florida and back. But for us too, we're doing this out of our own pocket and we're not just going to give it away just for clicks and views. At the end of the day we have to make a living and we're not in the business of just giving away work for free. The Vimeo On Demand platform is easily accessible to you or I, and you can just load your video, set a price tag and a release date and boom there you go! The hardest part is trying to get eyeballs on it and attention, especially for us because we don't have an advertising budget or marketing budget. It's all word of mouth and social media.

I think it is a great idea for a project that's a self-funded deal, because if you want to be in the business of making a living in the creative industry – photo or video – it's tough to see things being given away so frequently.

Yeah, I think originally it was all about iTunes. That was a big deal if you could get something on iTunes. For me, when we started this company my head was already heading in that direction thinking, "Alright, there's only so much money to be made within the motocross industry." And I know before I got my foot in the door I thought, "Oh my gosh this is such a big sport, with all these factory bikes and teams – there's gotta be all kinds of money floating around!" Then once you're in it you're kike of like, "Hmm, not quite what I thought!"

I agree, that's common looking in from the outside but the reality is everyone has a budget and the supply is often greater than the demand. What brought about the initiative to utilize Vimeo on Demand?

So once I had really started getting into the video world I was thinking, "How can I get my stuff up on iTunes?" and I had looked into that and it didn't make sense with the percentage that Apple takes and the workflow of getting the content on ITunes. Unless you're a heavy hitter production company putting out Superman of Avatar or whatever it is, you kind of get shuffled to the back of the line – understandably. So it just didn't make sense for us, and there was no other platform out aside from iTunes. So then Vimeo on Demand came out around 2013, and it was something I looked into – then the whole idea actually came in 2013 on a drive out to Andrew Short's house in Smithville, TX. We were shooting a video for Vital MX called "A Test of Time" and we had kicked around the idea of monetizing it then through Vimeo on Demand, but ended up going the route with Vital so we had a guaranteed paycheck. Then six months later I'm like, "We gotta do something…we gotta do something and try this avenue of creating our content and distributing it and monetizing it how we want." So that's how the whole Spectrum thing came about – we went back to Shorty's house six months later and filmed a 30-minute documentary that was just going to be it's own individual episode. I had this dream job at a creative agency with salary, the whole nine-yards, all kinds of room to move up – it was killer. I got to a point where it was sucking the life out of me because I wasn't happy, and it just became routine and I was struggling on how to be creative and just have fun with it. So I ended up quitting there to finish this Shorty project and that's how my business partner Nick Thiel and I got together. It was kind of his idea, like "Hey, let's do six episodes and see what happens!" Now we've kind of created this monster and we're on season three.

So your media company is called Phantasos Media for those that don't know, right?

Yep, owned by Nick Thiel and myself.

And you're creating your prices/everything to whatever you want on the Vimeo on Demand platform?

Yeah, it's so easy. You could do it right now – you could go shoot a video on your iPhone right now and decide, "I want to sell this for 50 cents or a dollar" – you could go on Vimeo on Demand and sign up for a yearly subscription and then you just upload it. I personally see that being the way of the future for the industry if you're trying to make a living producing video clips.

Thiel (left) and Cowling (right) in between shoots in Daytona.

It makes it possible to take the initiative and monetize on your own ideas, which makes sense for the people aiming to produce original content for a living.

Another thing you have to take into consideration and I think a lot of younger kids don't – everything that you do has a price tag. The second I walk out of my door with my camera gear and turn on my car, there's a price tag for that. You have fuel, you have your food while you're on the road, all your camera gear…we have ten's of thousands of dollars in camera gear, editing software, and hard drives. That all has price tags, and you can't invest in all of that and be doing it for free. At that point, you're just beating your head against a wall! [Laughs] I sometimes feel like people look at it like, "You live the dream, you just travel around shooting dirt bikes – what are you complaining about?" and at the end of the day even though it is a dream job, there are still aspects of it that suck and it's still work. It's still a job, and you should know that you need to be compensated for it. That all takes time, and you learn what your value is worth. I mean, your workflow will get better, and there's a value in learning who to work with. But the Vimeo on Demand platform has been great, because we can do what we want with it – monetize it how we want, market it how we want, and no one can say anything about it.

For the younger videographer reading this, do you think it's wise to remember that being versatile and remember it's ok to make money in multiple realms is very common?

Yeah, and this year we are actually making a push to reach more outside of the dirt bike industry. For me I think we're reaching a ceiling on what we are doing within this industry – and I'm not saying I'm the end-all moto god or anything like that because I'm not, at all! Another thing, and no one knows this, I've been writing a comedy script – like a short-film comedy script based off just some of the things my best friend and myself have gotten into. That's one of things that I want to bring to life this year and shoot, just to show we're capable of doing much more than dirt bikes!

Tell us how the Honda REDefined Series came about, that has been enjoyable to watch.

Honda has been such a fun group of people to work with and be around, and they've been supportive and understanding of our creative process and actually trusting us. I was worried going into this thinking, "American Honda, that's the end-all-be-all!" and was kind of nervous having worked with other big manufacturers in the past and how the process has gone. Sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen, like "Why is the janitor giving input on this video, give me a break!" [Laughs] But having American Honda on the resume is a big deal, and they hired us based off the Spectrum Series. They saw what we were doing with that and they really enjoyed it and how we pieced it together. So that was one of those things where the gamble of the Spectrum Series paid off by landing a client like Honda. Like I said though, they've been very free and open in letting us do what we think is right without much question.

They have a solid squad of riders and staff going right now for sure.

It's been fun and it's been great to spend time with Kenny and Cole, and it's gnarly to be around the team those couple months prior to the season to see all the blood, sweat, and tears they're putting in to go out and win a title. Then to see it all disappear within a few seconds with Kenny's crash was a pretty gnarly thing to witness first hand. Kind of that rise and fall, and now we're documenting his rebuilding process so it's been fun, and interesting – really can't complain, it's been badass.

So to wrap everything up for the people that are wondering, "What am I paying a dollar for?" – Summarize this Daytona piece up in a few words.

It's an eight and a half minute long documentary with a behind-the-scenes look of Cole Seely and Jeremy Martin testing out at the Nest. Then from there we transition into race day at Daytona and talk about what Daytona is – it's the home of stock car racing and how it is a big deal to say you've won the Daytona Supercross. So we highlight Jeremy and Coles main events, with Jeremy doing so well and how Cole's last lap battle all the way up to the checkered flag where Dungey passes him in the last corner.

Highs and lows right there…

Yeah, we kind of killed two birds with one stone on that which was good and bad – obviously we wanted to see both guys kick ass. Cole still got fifth, but obviously running 4th for 20 laps and ten feet from the finish line you get passed is frustrating. So it's the highs and lows – perspectives from those guys, Dan Betley the team manager, Andrew Short who's the brand ambassador – he has some interesting insight and stories from when he used to race Daytona. So it's a bit of a recap video with a lot of highs and lows, and it's a whole 99 cents – it's cheaper than anything you'll buy at Starbucks in the morning on your way to work. Support your local small business owner for 99 cents! [Laughs]

We will place the link below, thanks for your time Kyle. Keep creating!

Thank you guys!

The Daytona Supercross ft Team Honda HRC from Phantasos Media on Vimeo.