My first Ragnar Relay was on a team with a group of mostly strangers. I came in with very little expectation, but wanted to break the ice and engage with everyone, so I decided that morning of the race to do a lip-sync video. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” seemed an apt theme song and I took the couple of lukewarm nods as a good enough yes. Without much of a plan, I figured that I would just shoot anywhere and everywhere we went and ask people to mouth along a couple of lines at a time along while the song played on my phone.
Filming My First Ragnar Relay
What ensued for the next 30+ hours was some very off-tone singing in the vans, at an REI, an IHOP, at the pit stops, after naps and before naps. We did some impromptu choreography at the exchanges and we sang into a 7-11 CCTV camera and recorded that. Somehow, everyone was awesome enough to not get annoyed with hearing the same song over and over and over and over…I think. There was a lot of laughing and some yawning, but we eventually crossed the finished line and a day later I put everything together into the video below.
Everyone was almost perfectly on point, which made the editing was easy, so it was just a matter of picking out footage from every part of our race and to get everyone in. I watch in every time with fond memories and it’s been quite hard to top since.
Ragnar Las Vegas: The Winning Video?
And then there came a last minute text asking if I can fly to Vegas to join in another Ragnar. Ask me to commit to a race months in advance and it’s nearly impossible with my schedule, but ask me a couple of days before an event and there’s a good chance I’ll make it. On the flight in, I read that there was Ragnar video contest and the winning video gets a free team entry plus a boat load of other prizes, so upon meeting up with everyone, I cockily declared that we were going to win the #innerwild video contest.
Copyrighted music was not allowed, so another lip-sync video was a no-go. Instead I followed the same principles that I use for all my travel films and shot a little of everything. Starting with the flight in, I kept a small camera on hand at all times and just filmed any chance I could (when I wasn’t passed out in the car). I even got to take out my new drone for a maiden flight to add some different angles. We filmed little clips day and night, capturing everything from the recovery massage and pre-race taping to our quick little detour through the Vegas Strip mid-run. Even the port-a-potties served as a scene, because c’mon, how many times did you end up using those things right before your exchange.
Once again, a day later, I produced a short film according to the guidelines of the contest.
I was pretty happy with how everything turned out and I held my breathe for a few weeks waiting to find out the results of the contest. I woke up on December 8th, 2016 to see our video up on the Ragnar Facebook Page. We had won. Time for another Ragnar. Bear with me, I’ll get to the “Tips” part in a bit.
I can’t speak for the judges, but I felt like our video had a solid chance because it had a good pace and variety of shots for a 1:30 minute video. I held each scene as long as it took to get the visual across and not a second longer. The slightly higher BPM of the song also encouraged a slightly faster transition from scene to scene, which meant I could include more. While I did capture us running, that was only a small part of what a Ragnar Relay is about. We each only run for a total of 2-3 hours, the rest of the time is spent on the road, at exchanges, sleeping, recovering, eating, rolling out, and of course, dancing. We also interacted with other teams, so I wanted to capture some of that too. We huddled in the cold at night. We peeked down dark streets at bobbing lights wondering if our teammate was coming up. We cheered each other on, and we took a lot of selfies. I made sure to include all of that.
So flash forward half a year later, the core group has flown up to Seattle to take part in the Northwest Passage Ragnar.
Northwest Passage Ragnar: Two In A Row?
I’ll start with the video first.
For this one, I had to try to top my last video while sticking with much of the same principals of trying to capture a glimpse of everything. I came in with more of plan this time and decided to do a whip-pan style video that would whip sideways from scene to scene with a seamless transition.
I had tried out the style earlier in the year while shooting in Cuba, but had yet to actually edit the footage so I still wasn’t sure how it’d be turn out. Knowing that each scene would only be about 1-2 seconds long, timing the whip into the scene and then the whip out was very important. For anyone who saw me filming, it feels as ridiculous as it looks when I do it. I once again had the drone, but didn’t want to overuse that sort of footage. While drone shots are pretty and great establishing shots, they don’t do as good of a job capturing the real action up close.
Once more, I was very pleased with the results, but winning two in a row just wasn’t in the card. I can’t speak for the judges, so you’d have to judge it yourself.
So now to sum up the things I’ve learned from making these videos and how you can employ some of the same techniques as a pro or amateur filmmaker to make your own video.
Top Tips For Making A Ragnar Video
1. Have a camera with you at all times. Good storytelling does not require expensive gear. I know I have the luxury of shooting with equipment that many may not have, but believe it or not, most of my footage was shot on a tiny point and shoot camera and some on my iPhone. For my first video, I shot with a Sony NEX-6 (this is a cheap and more updated version for today) and for the latter two, I shot with these this one and this one. This was the drone I used.
2. Keep it stable. Shaky footage is hard to watch. With most cameras, you can now shoot at 60 frames per second instead of 30 or 24 frames per second. I choose this option because it gives me the option of creating slow motion footage if I so choose. In a pinch, slow motion footage can smooth out a slightly shaky shot. Still, it’s better to just hold the camera very still for about 5-10 seconds at a time when you are filming something. If you must pan, do it as smoothly as possible. Both of my cameras also have a built in stabilizer, which helps tremendously. There are a lot of hand-held gimbal options out there right now that help to give you smooth cinematic shots as well. I personally like this one if you want an all-in-one camera and stabilizer and this one if you’re using an iPhone. For mirrorless cameras like my bigger Sony’s, I use this, but I suggest not carrying around too much gear for a Ragnar.
3. Capture tight and wide. Variety is important for a number of reasons. We have such short attention spans that it will get dull really fast if you are watching the same types of footage for even a couple of minutes. Get wide landscape type shots to establish the locations. Mix it in with close up of your teammates, and details of the things you see. That could everything from food and funny signs to the close jiggly shot of your teammate’s knee skin flaps after it’s been taped up. And this one is very important: don’t only show just the exciting bits because we know it’s not exciting for 30 hours straight. Show the ordinary and even the mundane because it’s a part of the show.
4. Show the human element. Don’t be afraid to get up in people’s faces and capture them in all emotional state. Laughing, crying, smiling, and hell, even sleeping. People are more interesting to watch than just pretty landscapes (sometimes). Don’t just shoot the running. We get it, you ran a race. Capture the fun behind the scenes stuff that makes the Ragnar experience unique to your team.
5. Find a theme. This doesn’t have to be too complicated. Find a thread that connects your choice of footage or sets the tone for the video. Sometimes you can know in advance based on the group you’re with, or sometimes it comes from what actually happened during the race. For my winning video, we showed a lot of movement. Centrally, it was capped off by the scene of one van going from place to place on the Vegas Strip and taking selfies and a little random dance sequence we did in a tunnel while cheering our runner and everyone else that came through while we were there.
6. Pick a good song. This is very important for me. I pick a song first and match the footage to the music. Find a pace that you like and look for something that has multiple parts to it. A short 10-15 second intro, a 30-40 second main body, a pick-up, a bridge, and some kind of ending. Sometimes I will have to clip a song at a point that feels seamless so that it can be under the time limit. One more tip here. Don’t pick an overly dramatic one. It just doesn’t go well with the lighter tone of a Ragnar Relay.
7. Include yourself. Just because you’re filming doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be in the video. Hand the camera off and just ask someone to hold it for a few seconds. Turn it around and film yourself. It adds yet another perspective and angle and you get to show your wonderful mug.
8. Don’t overplan. There were a few shots that I had in mind and suggested to the team, but the rest was more of a documentary style shoot. Just capture what happened and pull the story out from the footage you have. And have fun.
I hope that was useful. There are many other great videos out there, so get some ideas from past videos, but try to find your own style and voice in the process. Make something you can look back on years from now that will bring a smile to your face.