Few people in the game have a NORA Cup on their mantelpiece at home stating that yes indeed, they made the best video of the time. Stew Johnson has such a trophy, and for good reason – Anthem2 was long awaited and hotly anticipated, and the hype built and built all through the filming and production process. The resulting video definitely not only lived up to but far exceeded the hype. And the just rewards came – it sold well (bearing in mind the age we live in and how people consume videos these days), the riders involved enjoyed truly landmark video parts, and then it was unquestionably awarded a NORA Cup. Anthem2 is timeless, an instant classic, and if you don’t own a copy of it in your video collection then you need to examine your status in life. Having spent the best part of 18 years working on BMX videos, Stew now juggles various projects for brands and companies – “I’m currently working on full length DVDs for Dan’s Comp and Fit Bike Co.” – and is going from strength to strength: we caught up with him just after a Dans Comp trip and here are his FIRSTS.
First BMX bike you had:
The first real BMX bike I bought was a Huffy, probably around 1980. I bought it with my hard earned birthday money. I brought it home from the store and was so excited, until everyone in the neighbourhood pointed out that it had a slanted top tube. It was red, black and white, so how was I supposed to know that it was the girl’s model? I was bummed for a bit, but kept on riding it.
First BMX Video you watched:
I’d say that the first BMX video I ever watched was probably 101 Freestyle Tricks (VHS). But that was more of an instructional video. The first video that blew me away was Head First – that video was so epic, that thing was on repeat for a long time. It gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.
First BMX event / comp / show you went to:
I grew up racing, so I was always seeing – and sometimes riding in – dirt comps that happened in the racing scene. In the early ‘90s UGP put on these Flying Circus jump comps and I would see guys like John Paul Rogers, Brian Foster, and Taj Mihelich ride at those, which was awesome. The first real freestyle comp I went to was the first BS Finals in Chicago in 1992 and that was just insane. Hoffman, Mirra, McCoy… all the heavy hitters were there and the energy in the air was so wild.
First Video you watched and thought, ‘I’m doing this’:
First Pro BMXer you met:
I saw a Dyno freestyle show when I was fourteen in 1988, and I met Dave Voelker and Dino Deluca. Voelker was on crutches and couldn’t ride in the show… I was so bummed.
First camera you bought to shoot BMX:
For the first couple of years that I started shooting BMX, I just borrowed cameras from friends…The first camera I actually bought was a Sony Hi8 camcorder, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember the model name. I currently use a Panasonic HMC 150p and a Canon 5D MK III.
First rider you photographed:
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I always filmed local guys like Scott Yoquelet and Rich Hoppe, then the FBM crew moved to town and I was shooting with Mike Tag, Magilla, and Steve Crandall. As I started traveling more and more, I ended up shooting with all my friends around the Midwest and East Coast, guys like Ground Chuck, Punjab, Colin Winkelmann, Butcher and Weasil.
First trip you went on to photograph or film BMX:
In the beginning, they were all riding trips, and I would just film a little bit here and there, then they eventually turned into more filming than riding. It was a gradual thing.
First professional job for BMX photography or video:
I got hired to make a Trend Bike Source video in 1999. That was quite an honor for me. It was fun because I had just moved to Austin the year before and was really enjoying the scene down here.
First mess up:
I’m sure that I’ve made a million mistakes – and still do every day – but nothing too catastrophic that I can think of. This one time, I was filming Morgan Wade in Tyler, Texas, for the Etnies Grounded DVD. We were at a spot, and I put a new tape in my camera, and somehow forgot to put the full tape in my bag. It rained that night, and in the morning when I realized what I had done, I was so bummed. We went back to the spot, and luckily, I had put the full tape in a case and set it on a ledge, and there it was, covered with water, so I let it sit in a dry place for a few days. Somehow, when I checked it in my camera, it played fine. I couldn’t believe it, if that tape would have been ruined, we would have lost a third of Morgan’s footage for the video.
First video published / featured:
1201 was the first VHS video that I had a hand in making, along with Mike Tag. That was back in 1995, but it seems like yesterday. It’s funny because we had no idea what we were doing, but lots of people ended up liking it, I’m pretty sure that Van Homan claims it as his favourite BMX video of all time.