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The Merrell Barefoot Videos: Behind the Scenes

Posted by on Feb 2, 2011 | One Comment

In early December, I wrote about my decision to work with Merrell to develop educational materials to help educate people about barefoot running.  The first element of this educational material has been released on Merrell’s website.  The first wave includes four videos… this is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of these videos.

The videos can be found here: http://www.merrell.com/us/en/BarefootConnection, my intro video is here:

Pre-Production

The videos started as a collaborative effort between Merrell and myself.  Merrell had been doing a ton of research on the best known practices for teaching barefoot running form.  They asked for my input… essentially how I would teach people to run barefoot.  These two sources were combined to create the basic framework for the videos.

I was pleased Merrell was accepting of the idea of having people begin barefoot, then add shoes later in the process.  This is a fundamental aspect of my barefoot teaching philosophy.  Anyway, Jeff the creative director , Jason the interactive designer, myself, and a few others discussed the basics in a conference call.  They wanted the video to be spontaneous which suited my lackluster acting abilities.  As a high school teacher, I am well-versed in the art of winging it.

The filming was planned for early December.  Originally all filming was supposed to be completed in one day.  As the date neared, they decided to extend it to a second day.  I was a little worried about the early December date.  Snow and/or cold was a real possibility.

Before filming

The night before the first day of the shoot was cold.  I checked the forecast: 20° and snow.  Damn.

Sure enough, the next morning was both cold and snowy.  About two inches of snow blanked the ground.  This would hamper our plans to do a lot of barefoot running… more on this later.  I showered, gathered some running gear, and headed to the park where half of the video would be shot.

I arrived early before the rest of the crew.  After a few minutes, a caravan consisting of an SUV, minivan, and RV rumbled into the parking lot.  I introduced myself to the crew, hopped in the RV, and we drove to the shoot location.

Getting ready

Once we arrived, the RV was parked and the crew began unloading their gear.  I chatted with a few of the crew members and changed onto my Merrell clothing.  I was pleasantly surprised; the Merrell gear was comfortable, warm, and looked much better than the rest of my gear.

Next up was makeup.  It was a strange experience… the first time I’ve been airbrushed.  Let’s hope male makeup never becomes popular. :-)

During makeup, I covered the “script” (which I later found out was more of a shot list) with Jason and Andrew (the producer).  The first part would be an interview where they would ask me questions and I was encouraged to answer as naturally as possible.  No problem!

The final preparation came when Eric the sound guy fitted me with my wireless lavalier microphone.  To ease the awkwardness of fishing the mic cable through my clothes then attaching the transmitter on my compression shorts, Eric instructed me to “…turn my head and cough. ”  That was just the humor I needed to ease my nervousness.  I responded with “No problem.  I wrestled in high school.”

Action!

The crew indicated they were ready.  As I made my way to the pavilion where the interview would be shot, I noticed the temperature seemed to have dropped a few degrees.  I took my place on the concrete ledge of the pavilion, the crew adjusted the lights, sound, and cameras, and we began.

I’ve been interviewed for local news stories before, but this was an entirely different animal.  Instead of a single camera and a reporter, I was surrounded by two blindingly bright lights, a boom mike covered with what looked like a dead beaver, several cameras, and about ten people.  On top of that, everyone referred to me as ‘the talent.”  Little did they know my “talent” is about as much as you could expect from a love child between Keanu Reeves and Mariah Carey.

The first questions were rough.  Jeff would ask me questions, I would respond.  I did pretty much everything wrong.  I looked at the camera.  I tapped my foot.  I forgot the question before I started to talk.  Luckily, the entire crew was patient and reassuring.

Eventually I started to find a groove.  There was a sweet spot that lasted about 15 minutes before the cold started to take over.  My face was so cold, I had a hard time enunciating.  My nose started to run.  I was powerless as I could feel the snot slowly creeping towards my nostrils.  It was difficult to concentrate on describing the merits of barefoot running when your mind is preoccupied with a runny nose.

We took a few breaks to warm up and allowed the crew to make a few adjustments.  I was grateful.  I was sitting on a cold, hard, concrete ledge.  Between takes, the crew would cover me with a blanket.  I felt like a bit of a diva at first, but eventually came to welcome the brief reprieve.  At some point, the crew gave me some pocket heaters.  While my hands and feet were cold, it was my ass that was especially frozen.

Play time!

Eventually we got through the questions.  The vast majority of the footage is the voice-over you hear throughout the four videos.  After we finished, we began shooting “b-roll”, which is the action footage.  This is when the fun really began!

One of the first scenes we filmed was me running across some jagged rocks.  In warm weather, this wouldn’t have been an issue.  Even in the sub-freezing snow, it wouldn’t have been an issue.  The problem- filming anything requires a lot of setup and retakes.  During the down-time, I was just standing around.  For anyone that has ever experimented with barefoot running in the winter, you are familiar with the “motion principle”.  Feet generate eat as long as you stay in motion.  The moment you stop, numbness sets in.

This is exactly what happened.  After about ten minutes of standing around on a blanket, I could barely feel my feet.  On the second barefoot take, I slipped on an icy rock and cut my foot.  If you look very closely at my right foot, you can see the cut on my big toe.

Barefoot or shod?

After that shot, we decided it might be a good idea to use shoes for the rest of the shots.  Of course, this presented the obvious problem- we’d be making a video highlighting barefoot running, but I’d be wearing shoes for the vast majority of the shoot.  I assured everyone experienced barefoot runners would agree with my decision to use the shoes.  After all, shoes should be used as tools that allow people to run in conditions that are not favorable to barefoot running.

This decision brought up another issue- the Trail Gloves I wore were not designed to be winter running shoes.  They are well-ventilated.  As such, they are neither insulated nor waterproof.  For me this was not an issue; all I really need is some insulation between the ground and the sole of my foot.  I was sockless for the duration of the two day shoot.  For those that prefer warmer shoes, I think Merrell will introduce a winter-friendly version in the future.

Other fun bits

The rest of the day was spent running in this park and another park in an urban setting.  This was an absolute blast!  I spent about six or seven hours running and playing in the snow. Here are some highlights:

  • While wearing a head-mounted camera and running through the woods, I tripped and fell.  The first phase of the fall can be found around the 30 second mark of the intro video.  Luckily they decided to cut out the REALLY bad part. :-)
  • Wayne, one of the camera operators, wanted to get a truck shot (camera moves with me) while running.  To accomplish this, I ran behind a car with two of the guys filming from the hatchback.  Wayne asked me how fast I could run.  I told him to stay at about an 8-9 minute pace.  He nodded and hopped in the car.  As he drove away, I wondered if he did the “pace-to-mph” conversion.  My answer came when he took off at what must have been a 5:45 pace.  I may have set a two mile PR after that shot.  My most prominent memory- the taste of blood in my throat when we stopped.  I think Wayne enjoyed it. :-)
  • In a few shots of the river, you can see two dudes fishing.  This amazed me for several reasons.  First, it was about 20 degrees and they were standing in the spray from the river.  Second, the current was extraordinarily strong at that point, and they were standing on wet, icy rocks.  Wearing waders.  In a near-freezing river.  People call us barefoot runners crazy?!?
  • After listening to me tout the benefits of barefoot and minimalist shoes all day long, four of the crew members asked for advice.  Apparently I was pretty convincing.  More accidental converts!

In part two, I’ll talk about the REALLY fun day when I had the opportunity to work with Sloan (in pink) and Jon (in green).  Note the fact that none of us could successfully hide the fact that we were freezing. :-)

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Plea for help- If you happened to have read my barefoot running book, please consider writing a review on Amazon because the person that wrote the “61 page” review for the first book is dragging down the average rating.  Just click on the “Create your own review” button on this page:

http://www.amazon.com/Barefoot-Running-Book-Second-Minimalist/product-reviews/0615376886/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

A huge preemptive thanks to all those that post a review!!!!

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1 Comment

  1. Mike M.
    February 2, 2011

    Your videos for Merrell’s Barefoot collection are great. I am really anxious to get my hands on a pair of these soon!