I recently got the chance to hang out with Terrell Gordy during my last few days at Woodward before I headed back up to New York. We had made some plans to link up one morning at the coffee shop when he was working on a project with Haro Pro Seth Klinger. They were filming for an upcoming how-to feature that I’m sure you will end up seeing sooner than later. Terrell has been in the filming game for a while now and knows what he is doing behind the lens. He spent about five years working pretty much exclusively for Haro so I’m sure that most of you reading this are familiar with his work. It’s not easy to stand out as a filmer in 2013, but the truth is that Terrell works hard, knows his shit, and puts a huge amount of effort into each project no matter how big or small. That’s how you make a difference and that’s how you stand out from the crowd. Check out what we got into and take a few minutes to learn about one of BMX’s well-respected filmers.
Go ahead and fill everyone in on the basics.
Name: Terrell Gordy
Hometown: Wilmington, North Carolina
Current Residence: Austin, Texas
What is your history within the BMX industry for those that don’t know?
I’ve been filming adults do tricks on little kid’s bikes now for the better part of a decade and lucky enough to be a part of some cool projects and companies to allow me to make a living doing what I love.
How long have you been filming for and how did you get your start behind the lens?
I think I started like most of the guys who film in BMX. When I was younger I picked up a camera. Back then; much like now, BMX consumed my life. So BMX seemed like the most logical choice for the camera to be pointed at first. I’m also the type of person that if I start with something, I need to know as much as I possibly can. Such was the case with photography in the beginning. From the moment I picked up the camera I was hooked. By the time I got to high school I swear I knew more than the photography teacher (who’s main job was the yearbook and I think got stuck teaching photography). I was infatuated with the idea of creating images. I always had a video camera but back then but I thought of myself as a photographer, even though I enjoyed shooting video as well. One day I would pick my photo camera, then next a video camera. My high school senior project was actually a BMX video with all my friends. The video was really bad, but amazingly awesome at the same time. I started college with the idea of being a broadcast communication major. I soon realized I hated the courses I had to take and I switched my concentration to photography in the art department. I took all the classes, shot a ton of film, spent too many long nights in the dark room. I loved every minute of it. I still had a video camera and enjoyed filming, but never thought of it as the kind of thing I wanted to “go to school for” after I left the communications department. One day I found out the art department had this ‘revolutionary’ HD video lab. I mean back then HD was around, but no real university’s had a state of the art HD video lab with cameras available for students to readily use. I signed up for the class and within a couple weeks I had switched my focus from photo to video. I’m not really sure why it appealed to me so much more at that point where it never had before, but there was no going back for me. I love photography and even I still have both my medium and large format cameras. I encourage anybody that shoots video to take as many photo classes as you can. It will do nothing but help your filmmaking. By then my mind was set and I kept on with video for the remainder of my college days. After school I just stuck with filming. And just as when I was a kid beginning to take photos, I was a BMX rider, so that’s where I just naturally started to build a career in filmmaking. I was fortunate in the aspect that I just happen to go to school and afterwards live in the same city as some of the top BMX riders of the time. So I was able to learned quick and made some great connections and friends along the way.
What is it about filming BMX that keeps you coming back for more?
I’ve always been a rider. I might not get to ride as much these days as I used to or would like to, but BMX is in my blood. I don’t think that will ever change. I’m pretty much wired to have BMX and bikes as part of my life.
What kind of gear are you shooting with these days?
For the longest time I was always a big fan and user of proper video cameras. By proper I mean a camera with a zoom rocker. For BMX over the past years it just seemed to fitting. The HPX/HVX with an X-treme fisheye is one of the most versatile HD cameras you can own for action sports and up until recently I was never big on using a DSLR to document riding. I loved having them for b-roll and interviews, but I thought the fisheye was just “ok”. At the time DSLR just didn’t seem to be the best option. Well the day I saw the Canon 8-15mm fisheye on a 5D I had to eat my words. To me that fisheye looks just as good as a X-treme fisheye and is half the cost and 1/3rd the size. It was the first real viable option as a replacement for the X-treme. Soon after I happened to make a connection with one of the guys at a camera sales company here in Austin called Texas Media Systems. TMS allowed to me “borrow” a Panasonic AF100 on a few projects and trips. That camera seemed to answer all the problems with DSLR’s that I had. It felt and looked just like my HPX with the exception of having a removable lens. The camera even had the option to record 1080p/60, which I had never had up until that point. The AF100 has its fair share of quirks that had to be worked out, but for the first time I really thought that you didn’t really need a zoom rocker to film BMX. At the time I was traveling and doing a ton of BMX work, but when I was home I started on some “corporate” gigs on the side. As my non-BMX work continued to grow, I seemingly out grew my equipment, which over the years just happened to be tailored to film BMX. I started to really look into what equipment would be the most beneficial to my work as a whole and not just for BMX filming. That’s when I really started to look into the RED camera system. For the first time having a RED really made since for what the work I had going on. The stars aligned one day and I pulled the trigger and haven’t looked back.
Did getting the RED camera change the game for you as a filmer?
It really changed how I thought about filming completely. The resolution, dynamic range and all the nerd stuff makes the images feel more like an actual still photo. It made me approach situations differently than I would have previously. Not only does this camera create this beautiful cinematic looking image, but you can throw a Canon 70-200 IS on and zoom just like a ‘normal’ video camera, or put the Canon fisheye on and film lines with a skateboard. Then go right back and put a proper cinema lens on and go handle high-end production work. It really is the most versatile and exciting camera I’ve ever used. The fact that it shoots Raw video is one of the things I never really knew how much I’ve missed having since shooting digital photos. No longer are you worried about white balance, colors, ISO, etc while out shooting. Just don’t clip the highlights and you can literally change everything in the computer. It really puts you in the situation where you don’t have to sweat the small things and you can concentrate on shooting.
What was the main motivation for getting a camera that most filmers only dream about?
Really it was just seemed like the next step for my work. There are tons of new amazing cameras out now, but none of them are as established and versatile as a RED. With everything I’m doing outside of BMX it just seemed like a no-brainer. Then being able to bring it in on my BMX projects now is just an awesome bonus. I love seeing BMX portrayed and in a way that isn’t just the normal run and gun that it has always been. Not to say it’s bad, I love raw riding footage, but I guess as I have gotten older I enjoy some variety from time to time.
How do you deal with traveling and being in sketchy places with such an expensive camera?
Hope and pray nothing happens and just incase take out a good insurance policy! Really if someone were to know nothing about cameras, a Panasonic HPX with a whale-eye looks like it costs more than the RED with a fisheye. I was in Durham NC on a Premium trip a few months back. We ended up at this little rail spot right in the middle ghetto. Honestly at first I was a little hesitant to pull any equipment out, much less the RED. After a while though you begin to realize everyone there was watching the riders and just in the moment watching the Chad Kerley show. Me having a camera out seemed kind of like an after thought to them. Don’t get me wrong though, I always had one eye open and ready to take off at any moment if things got sketchy!
What are your top three favorite pieces of equipment that you use on a regular basis that you can’t live without?
These days my three favorite and most used might not be camera equipment per se. As much as I hate to say it, my number one would be my phone. Unfortunately I live by it, as most people do these days. Between emails, calendars, maps and the insta-net, I’d be pretty much lost without it. My second choice, in an effort to un-link myself from my phone, has been to proactively carry a notepad and pen pretty much everywhere I go. If it’s not on me it’s at least in my bag. Once I got use to always having real paper handy it’s become pretty awesome to have. It’s nice to have the ability to jot down notes or ideas, even just sketch when I’m bored. Having something not technological would have to be number two just to offset numbers one and three…Three being my laptop. I spend too much time on the road to not have it with me pretty all the time. If there is a 4th, I almost always carry a wine bottle opener in my clothes bag. I know it sounds weird, but you never know when you might need to open a bottle, or a beer, or just have a random little knife handy.
How about editing software. What’s your go to program?
These days I’m pretty much all Adobe. I was a FCP user forever, but I made the switch after the release of FCP X and life has been good. For me having the Adobe cloud just works. I have access to pretty much everything Adobe makes. It makes life easy, and I that!
If there are people out there looking to get their start as filmers what kind of camera would you recommend for them?
The quality of cheap cameras these days are incredible. Any cheap Canon DSLR is a good place to start. The Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera that was just released looks incredible for the price. It would take a little rigging to get one up and running, but once you have it supported it looks like a little $1k monster. If having a zoom rocker is your thing, look for a used HMC40 and if you have a little more to spend go for a HMC150. Both are great cameras that a lot of working video guys use and rely on everyday.
What advice do you have in general for any up and coming filmers looking to get into the game?
Film, film, film. Film your friends riding. Film random b-roll around where you live. Shoot time lapses. Shoot anything and everything you can, both in and out of BMX. Take as many jobs as you can possibly afford to, whether they are paid or not. The more you shoot the better you get and the more fun it gets! Also don’t be scared to ask questions. If you have a real question that’s not easily found with a Google search, most people will be more than happy to help you out. Read as much as you can. There are so many amazing resources available on the web these days that I wish I had when I started out. But really just spend as much time with the camera as you can. The more work you create, the more chances of it being recognized and eventually that will lead to a job. Don’t let bad criticism get you down, take it and just work harder next time. Also don’t be the guy to write a crappy comment, you never know who is going to read it. Be friendly with people. Nobody wants to ride and hangout with a filmer who is a downer who is no fun to be around. Most importantly be professional. You’d be surprised how far in life that will get you.
With so many people filming these days, how do you manage to stand out from the rest?
I just really enjoy creating this stuff. I’m a pretty tough critic on myself. I know if I put the time and effort into a project so that I walk away happy with a project there is going to be at least one or two other people who like it too.
Would you say that BMX is a solid industry to work in?
BMX has been good to me and I couldn’t be more psyched to be a part of it. There are always ups and downs to any industry, you just have to learn what those are for you and roll with the punches and keep moving forwards. The one thing the BMX industry isn’t is boring. It will always keep you on your toes and if you become static, you’ll get left behind.
Can you make a living off of BMX alone?
Absolutely. There are guys who every penny they make has been earned through BMX. There might not be as much money available as skate, surf or snow, but the opportunity is there, you just have to work a little harder for it.
What is the best part about working in the BMX industry?
Being able to travel and see the world with friends doing something you already enjoyed doing. What more to like is there than that?
What’s the worst part about working in the BMX industry?
All of the hate. People are just ruthless to each other for no reason. The amount people just openly (or anonymously) rip into others for something is just crazy. Especially considering at the end of the day we all do the exact same thing. I’m sure I’ll probably get some hate just for bringing it up!
You worked for Haro exclusively for a few years creating video content for them, how was that experience?
Working for Haro was a dream. I couldn’t speak more highly of all the guys involved with the brands. They aren’t just amazing riders and people; they are some of my closest friends. There aren’t many companies that have the history in BMX the way Haro does. It was an awesome opportunity to be part of what they have going on.
You spent quite a bit of time with a wild crew, give us a good Haro story from the road.
The first wild story that comes to mind is from the Haro UK Tour a few years back. We were kind of winding down and on the last couple days of the trip in Liverpool and went to what seemed like a chill ledge spot. The spot is literally on the edge of the ghetto and as we soon found out the area was pretty sketchy. There was even a point where a cop stopped us, not to tell us to stop riding, but to tell us we were crazy for even being there to begin with. Guys were riding, I was filming, nothing really out of the ordinary. I didn’t see it happen, but apparently Nasty exchanged a few not so pleasant words with some of the troubled youth of the area. A few minutes later they rode by on their bikes yelling all sorts of stuff at us and then took off down the road. Realizing nothing good is going to come of this situation, I put my camera back in my bag. Moments later we see this army of hood dudes and English gangsters running down the street with baseball bats, bricks, and probably whatever else they could pick up along the way that would cause bodily harm. We all just take off pedaling up the road as fast as we could. At one point a brick hit a parked car literally feet from me. I’m pretty sure none of us have ever pedaled as hard as we did that day. We were literally pedaling for our lives, or at least I felt like I was. Somehow we all got away unscathed and regrouped a few blocks away. It was a pretty wild moment in my life to say the least. All because of Cory…Thanks buddy.
Where are your paychecks coming from these days? Are you full freelance right now?
Yeah since I parted ways with Haro I’ve been fully freelance. I have actually teamed up with my wife Lauren on pretty much all my work outside of BMX. Having her onboard has been amazing. I went from what seemed like never getting to see her, to having her as the project manager and a part of everything. Not only does she keep me in check, she is extremely creative and comes up with some pretty awesome ideas.
What are three things about you that might surprise some people?
1. I’m a huge fan of wine. I’m almost a snob about it. Not quite there yet, but close.
2. If you’ve ever been on a trip with me you know this, but I’m pretty much addicted to coffee. It might actually be a problem; I seriously drink it all day, every day.
3. I’m a nerd. It used to be just Mac stuff, but now I’m pretty much just a full-blown nerd across the nerd board. At one point I think I was even in Nyquist’s phone as The Mac God.
What are your top three BMX videos of all-time?
1. Criminal Mischief
2. End Search
3. Any of the older Road Fools
What are three things every BMX filmer should know?
1. Which way a rider spins and which side they normally grind on.
2. To never tell a rider one more try.
3. Always make sure to have plenty of charged batteries. If your battery dies in the middle of something gnarly, there is nobody to blame but yourself.
What does your future hold? Are you looking to make a living with filming/editing and see where it takes you?
At this point I just really enjoy what I have going on. I’d love to keep going and progressing with all aspects of my life and filmmaking. I mean if I won billions of dollars in the lottery tomorrow, I’d probably go off the grid and learn how to surf on some remote island somewhere. Maybe start a dog farm too.
What’s next project-wise?
There are a couple cool projects in the works. I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but they should be pretty fun and hopefully enjoyable for BMX.
Well that wraps it up, why don’t you give some shout-outs and thanks?
First and foremost, thanks to my wife Lauren. She’s just kills it on a day-to-day basis, and keeps me motivated. Thanks to my brother Rich and my family. Thanks to all of my friends that I get to see, hangout and have the joy of being part of their lives and them in mine. The awesome companies and brands I’ve had the chance to work with and for over the years. And of course all of you reading this know who you are!
If you need a jump in the morning try a quad espresso over ice with a teaspoon of agave nectar mixed in. If that doesn’t get you moving and ready for the day I don’t know what will!
That’s it for this week. It was an awesome opportunity to get to interview someone other than a rider seeing as how it’s been a while. I like trying to keep things mixed up and hopefully this offered some good insight to what it’s like to be a current day filmer working within the BMX industry. Also, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the eightieth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.