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Behind the Story, In Front of the Screen: Storytelling Experiments on ‘Being Evel’

The documentary film combines fresh interviews and archival material to present a more comprehensive look at the man.

Shooting Johnny Knoxville against greenscreen

The story of stunt rider Evel Knievel has been told many times, but director/co-writer Daniel Junge and editor/co-writer Davis Coombe wanted to come at the subject from a different angle. The documentary film Being Evel—which was produced by Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine of Jackass fame, among others—combines fresh interviews and archival material to go beyond the crazy stunts and flamboyant self-promotion and present a more comprehensive look at the man and his era.

“We wanted to minimize the interview ‘talking head’ feeling,” Coombe explains. “The concept we came up with was, What if the archival material is screening in a movie theater and when we go to an interview subject, they are sitting on the corner of a stage in front of the screen?”

With the dimensions of the imaginary screening room mapped out, they shot more than 60 interviews all over the country. The shoots were carefully diagrammed because the effect of the theater and the screen would be used throughout. “We shot interviews wherever we could,” says Coombe, noting that few editors get the opportunity to be present during production. Junge, Coombe and a minimal crew shot the interviews using four 2.5K Blackmagic Cinema Cameras in film (log) gamma mode and recorded audio both internally to the camera (as a guide track) and to any of an assortment of digital audio recorders.

Coombe and Junge edited the material at production and post company Milkhaus in Denver, where the former is a partner. “The format we’d come up with made it a challenging project to edit,” Coombe observes. “It was a heavily composited show from beginning to end, with the interviews and archival material frequently on screen at the same time. It was sort of like cutting two films at once.”

Archival Evel footage

“We cut Being Evel in [Adobe] Premiere Pro,” Coombe says, noting that the system (the fastest available iMacs with 32 GB of RAM) was able to hold the many audio, video and effects layers they created and play them back nearly flawlessly for most of the editing phase of the project. They built rough composites of the greenscreen work in Premiere and applied color correction using Lumetri Looks.

“We would crop shots and move them around to put them on the screen or create the effect that one of our talking heads was in front of the screen. We didn’t have to get it perfect because we knew we’d re-create the effects for the final version in [Adobe] After Effects”—on Apple Mac Pros—“but we wanted to be able to get the basic look down while we were editing so we could show it to people.”

Being Evel “Official Trailer” from Futuristic Films on Vimeo.

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