Today, the Flannel Crew is premiering The Nomad, its first full-length movie, at home in Calgary. If you haven’t heard of either, that could be because they aren’t pros. In fact, between big sends and film sessions, the crew all work full time jobs. They’re just so stoked on bikes that they wanted to make a movie.
All of that is, of course, why so many people are excited for The Nomad to be released.
To find out more about what happens when you and your friends decide to make a full-on freeride movie, we talked to the Flannel Crew’s Austen Tanney.
Freeride and good times
If you’re of a certain age, you remember the time before Instagram clips, maybe even before YouTube short edits, when every year brought a new full-length movie and an accompanying premier tour. When freeride was freeride and when the scene was as much party as it was pro.
Calgary’s Flannel Crew is doing its best to tap into, that spirit of Freeride in The Nomad.
“We wanted to bring back the vibes of those old days. New World Disorder, metal music and rock, just capturing the Raw moments and essence of mountain biking without Instagram and Tik Tok getting in the way,” says Tanney. “I went down to Red Bull Rampage with Robbie Bourdon back in the day. He was kinda like the spirit animal of Rampage and he was always my idol. I always loved his spots in New World Disorder because they were always smiling, right? You don’t really see that anymore in the new films, they’re always really artsy.”
Filming from the other side of the Rockies
While no one wants to ditch quality production or bring back the days of giant helmet-mounted camcorders, Tanney thinks the industry is growing too focused inwards and might be losing something in the process.
“One person does one stunt and you see 15 people go there the next week and do the same thing,” Tanney says of what he calls the Squamish mentality. “You’ve gotta ride the same stuff as everyone else, you’ve gotta go prove that you hit it, take the videos. It’s a copy-cat industry now.”
The Flannel Crew did start to get sucked into that world, Tanney admits, but The Nomad aims for something simpler.
“We want to bring back authenticity to the sport. Just do your own thing and love it,” the Calgarian explains. “The goal of the movie is to get people really stoked on bikes. That’s always been our mantra from day one. We want to get people to go out there and ride for themselves, have fun, and not get caught up in the industry…” Tanney pauses to consider his word choice and continues, “… dramatics of trying to get contracts, trying to get exposure. Just go out and have fun.”
Being based out of Calgary helps the crew maintain some distance from the mountain bike mainstream.
“It’s a different sport out here, it’s a lot more laid back,” says Tanney, add But we spend most of our summers out in B.C. enjoying the bike park and getting around.”
It also helps that everyone on the Flannel Crew has a full-time day job. Tanney is a firefighter. Two of the guys, one police officer and another firefighter work out of the same station. Their schedules line up for extended weekends of filming, but they all still return to the 9-5 reality during the week.
Taking the leap
We all have the friend that watches the pros ride and thinks, “I could totally do that.” The Flannel Crew is that friend, if they actually went out and did the thing.
In fact, that’s exactly how The Nomad came to be. Flannel Crew have made year-end edits before. They’ve also hosted big premiers before, usually to raise money to put into the local Alberta trails. At the latest premier, they decided it was time to take their edits to the next level.
“We just looked around at each other and most of the guys we ride with were better than the dudes in the movie, so right then and there we decided to make our own movie.”
Making the Flannel Crew’s year-end reels gave them some experience with filming, but making a feature-length film on a strict budget came with a steep learning curve.
“Anything from film licensing, professional colour grading, we had no idea those things existed beforehand. And then just trying to capture the angles we wanted with the gear we had. it really is a budget film, we’re just trying to keep it raw and have fun and show everybody that aspect of the sport.”
Being totally new to filming, Tanney says they weren’t really sure what to expect when they showed up to shoot at new spots. The reaction, though, was overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve had a lot of support from everyone we’ve met. They’ve offered to come out and help us film, or the locals at the spots we’re filming renting us quads and ATVs, it’s been awesome, such a good experience,” Tanney explains. “It was super unexpected. We went down to the Rampage site in Virgin, Utah and we didn’t really know what we were doing or where we were going. We met this truck full of guys, Calvin Huth was one of them, Bas [van Steenbergen] was down there, and they pointed us in the right direction, showed us what we should start with. It was just amazing.”
That support proved clutch when a couple of guys were injured during filming. Local riders offered food, and a place to stay while sorting out injuries.
Riding the fine line of work-life balance
While injury is part of mountain biking, and you’ll notice at least one long-line rescue in The Nomad’s trailer, it is one that is trickier to manage when you’re not paid to ride. It requires a different calculus to find the line between progression and safety.
“That’s the hardest part, especially in our line of work. We’re with people on the worst day of their lives to live some of the best days of ours. It’s a hard balance. you’re trying to match these guys you see in the movies and on TV but we’re not pro. We have to go to work on Monday. It’s that ongoing risk assessment of what you can do to progress your abilities and still make it to work on Monday and,” Tanney adds with a laugh,” you know, have a life.”
Risk aside, the crew are still stoked to get out of Calgary and chase the dream at every opportunity they get. There, working together helps.
“We do have the same kind of schedule and we use our four days off,” says Tanney. “When most of the other guys are just getting off work, we’re usually a time-zone away setting up camp to film or ride.”
While they’re balancing work and living the dream, the Flannel Crew definitely aren’t holding back. While filming The Nomad, several riders landed their first backflips on camera. Another sends a big cork 720. There are a few more surprises, too, but you’ll have to watch the full movie to find out.
The Nomad premiers Friday night in Calgary. The Flannel Crew is already planning more screenings around Alberta, and hopefully further afield. After a year and a half spent bringing The Nomad to life, the guys are already looking forward to what comes next.
“Oh, 100 per cent,” says Tanney, when I ask if he’d do it again. “We’re already planning another movie.”
No matter what the reception is, The Nomad is already a success.
“I never expected it to go this far,” says Tanney of the overwhelmingly positive reception they’ve had to the project. “We just made it to show our friends and family just how much fun bikes are.”