The Edit

BRANDED CONTENT WITH SAM CRAVEN, HEAD OF FILM AT RAPHA

Sam Craven Rapha Interview

Will 2021 go down as the Summer of Sport? We’re definitely hoping so, as we’ve got a huge amount of fantastic music to tell sport stories – from the anticipation to the victory, determination to the heartbreak of just missing out on a podium place.

With the cycling calendar re-starting – including, of course, the Tour de France and the Giro D’Italia, we caught up with Sam Craven, who makes documentary films for Rapha, to find out how the pandemic has changed who they’re talking to – and how. Plus why our track ‘Bossy’ was perfect for his Rapha 100 film and how he finds music ‘to get your arm hairs to stand up!’

Hi Sam – tell us a bit about yourself and your career in the industry

I’m Head of Documentary Film at Rapha. I graduated in 2010 and since then I’ve worked in film and advertising in one way and another.

I started as a runner on music videos, and worked my way into post-production, doing work for charities and advertising agencies. I moved to Rapha two or three years ago as a film creative. Last year I was promoted to Head of Documentary Film.

What was your break into the industry?

When I was at uni, a friend was an extra in music videos – I went to set with him one day, approached the producer and said I’d like to be a runner for the week. The producer gave me a role on set, where I learned a great deal. Two or three months later, the producer got back in touch, and got me onto another couple of music videos.

I didn’t realise that running on set and running at a post-production company were different! I applied for a job as a runner at a post-production company – initially I’d do a morning shift and then stay late to repeat the shots that the VFX guys had done. For example, if there was something they were doing to the sky digitally in a shot, then I’d try to repeat that, to teach myself how the software worked.

The head of the department caught me at it one night and offered me a job! I then moved agency-side, to an ad agency called Brothers and Sisters, where I worked on short-form content; I shot and edited for them, and did the same in the charity sector.

The thing I realised was that I loved telling human stories, rather than telling stories about a brand or a product. So I left the charity sector and worked for Tui, the travel company, and then on to Rapha. 

What are the key elements in telling a story that speaks to your brand’s audience?

We did a huge piece of work called the Rapha Road Map, which identified ways in which the sport lacked in lots of ways – about its team sponsorships; women being paid less than men; diversity; reliance on sponsorships and TV broadcast over online streaming. We were identifying the issues and so now I work within that framework to better present the sport. Our goal is to make cycling the most popular sport in the world!

We look for ‘personality over performance’ to make it compelling to viewers – it’s cycling with character. We’re looking for interesting, diverse people with a broader range of perspectives on the sport. It’s people who enjoy bike packing, commuting, mountain biking – not just the guys who wear head-to-toe lycra!

We also think, ‘what is Eurosport not showing about the sport?’ What about the behind-the-scenes action? We give the riders handy-cams to take on the team bus, to show us their home lives – they’re documenting their time through the race, but also their family life, etc. It’s giving a broader picture of cycling, not just what they see on the TV in the Tour de France!

Rapha used 'Sneakers' from  Kelly Mac's high energy album Running Time

What is the Rapha’s Festive 500 event?

It’s an annual event where participants are challenged to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. They can do it any way they want; at the Herne Hill velodrome, someone cycled the 500km all in one go round the track. In 2019, our Seattle clubhouse followed a brevet-style event; the participants rode the event in a single ride, all in one go – with teams riding through the night! A team documented that journey to encourage 2020 sign ups – it wasn’t our commission, but we wanted to make it into one of our films. So we created our first long-form film about the Festive 500 (using Audio Network music!).

Last year was obviously really different, with Covid 19, so it was particularly important for us to get sign ups to the event. Lots of people now have exercise bikes at home, so you can do it virtually. In terms of the sign ups, we were able to increase participations by about 20,000 people over a regular event and the film was definitely part of that. 

A lot of what we do in terms of our films is about inspiring people to ride their bikes – particularly if it’s something really challenging, like the Festive 500, or our 48-hour Ultra Distance race through the Spanish wilderness. People are inspired by the stories they don’t see on TV.

Check out these tracks featured in  Rapha's 'Sleepless In Seattle' film:

'Patterns by Alex Arcoleo

'Witchfork' by Nightgames

'Quiet Rise' by Alex Arcoleo

What is the Rapha Women’s 100 and how did it come about?

Similar to the Festive 500, every year we run the Rapha Women’s 100, which is a group event where we’re encouraging participation with female cyclists. It’s something we’ve struggled with historically – championing women and making the sport appeal to them. Last year’s film with Emily Chappell’s Peloton was a testament to her story. She had this idea of an invisible peloton who she imagines are with her on really tough rides, like the Transcontinental race – an ultra-distance race for bike packers across Europe.

It’s a non-stop, self-supported race – which means there are no stages or mandatory rest stops. You ride for as long as you’re able, resting when you need to, and the first person to reach the finish line is the winner. (Racers’ mileage can be anything from 250km to 400km per day.) The year Emily won it, she got stuck towards the end of the race, unable to continue, and she was thinking of women who inspired her – from friends to riders that she’d met on other races. Every kilometre, she’d think of someone new to get her up the mountain.

So we wanted other female cyclists to think of their own invisible peloton; whether it’s their mum, who’s new to cycling, or someone who’s done triathlons, or a character from history like Beryl Burton, who bikepacked her way round India in the 60s.

You guys chose Lil Yamaha’s track ‘Bossy’ for your film of Emily Chappell – can you tell us a bit about that choice?

For that film, the lyrics from ‘Bossy’ really spoke to the idea we were trying to push – this group of really confident women, both inspiring and also tough. With Bossy, we were able to get stems, so we could separate out the music and the lyrics, so we could really emphasise the points in the lyrics that resonated with the video. The idea is that the women undertake the challenge together; there’s a lyric, ‘all my girls together, all my girls with me’, which totally speaks to that. I loved it, it’s a great track, really cool!

With the pandemic, how have you adapted with regard to bringing Rapha’s brand to life?

When Covid hit in March and everyone retreated indoors for lockdown, we were really lucky – Rapha has a vast archive of footage going back 10 years that we could re-edit and re-appropriate, so that’s what we did! We re-cut footage to tell stories that are appropriate now – it was really useful in those first few months, when nobody knew when things would go back to normal. We created retrospectives, and behind-the-scenes films with unused material to get people coming back to the YouTube channel.

One thing the pandemic highlighted was that you could still exercise outside; it was an activity you could do on your own and carry on doing regardless of the situation, as long as you did it within the rules. We saw a lot of people taking up cycling at that time, and that’s where the ‘Choose Cycling’ campaign came from. We wanted people to convert people to cycling who had a broken bike in the shed, or wanted a change from walking!

I think we’re trying to understand why people love riding bikes and we’re telling their authentic, compelling stories, rather than saying, ‘here’s why Rapha thinks bikes are great’.

With regard to me personally, in 2019, I was away for about 250 days of the year shooting; I’ve really enjoyed being at home with family and friends over the last year, when I only did two shoots! We’ve had to learn how to work from home, and work remotely with filmmakers; there’s been lots of things to learn both from a production standpoint and from a brand perspective. Cycling as a sport is different; we’re talking to different people now – those who are new to it – so we’re adapting our tone of voice.

What are your tips for getting the perfect shot?

Shooting has usually relied on us being in a car and following a cyclist for six hours a day! We’ve changed that; from the outside, as a company, we look larger and more resourced than we are (certainly in terms of our filmmaking.) We’ve found ways to do it both better and more safely; and with the pandemic we’ve had to find ways of working remotely and for sports that we’ve never shot before. Eg, off-road, bikepacking, mountain biking, adventure – it’s not just road-cycling any more. We’re constantly learning the best ways to do that and I think it’s only benefitting the content!

What events are you looking forward to this summer?

This year we have a calendar of nine or ten races that we’ll be following with our documentary crew; I’m looking forward to doing the Giro D’Italia again this year. It’s still uncertain as to what’s going to go ahead, so a lot of our films are going to be about individuals and their self-initiated goals – people riding from Canada down to Mexico, for example, or bikepacking in the off-season.

Are there any music genres that particularly work well for your content?

A lot of the music I’m drawn to for our content is combining something minimal, or sparse with great sound design, like the sound of air passing when people cross the screen and whip up dust as they’re going round a corner. Music that allows that to shine is important to us.

Rapha’s aesthetic has changed too – we use a lot more DIY-looking footage, shot on handy-cams, iPhones, photography on-screen; the music and sound design needs to reflect that too. With phone footage, we want to incorporate music coming from the phone – that kind of thing.

Listen to more of our great sports music tracks with our Spotify playlists:

Historically, Rapha’s been a brand that shows ‘white men climbing hills, accompanied by opera’ – now we’ve established a tone that’s different from that.

In the comments on YouTube, the biggest questions are always, ‘what track is this?’ – it’s the second-biggest share of the comments! So it’s really important to us; it helps to carry a film from the opening, where you want to grab their attention to keep them watching till the end, and inspire them to dust off their own bikes and take to the road. We’re always asking, when we’re looking for music, ‘what gets our viewers’ arm hairs to stand up?!’

What’s the track, album or artist that’s been keeping you moving over the last year?

I’d say ‘Attitude’ by Leikeli47. It’s one that you put on, and you feel like an absolute badass! It’s great to lipsynch to! It’s the only thing that I can put on and I feel: I’m ready to go.

What’s your iconic sports movie?

Spacejam!

Raise the trophy or take the gold place on the podium with our victory playlist, or for the heartbreak of just missing out in a split-second finish, choose from this selection.

Training Day playlist
Summer of Sport playlist
The anticipation playlist
The Heartbreak playlist
The Journey
Victory




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