Try to keep up with Jill Kintner in Bellingham
© Bryn Atkinson / Red Bull Content Pool
Jill Kintner only knows one speed — fully pinned. Watch as she flys through her home trails of Bellingham in the latest installment of our Sound of Speed series.
Inspiration always seems to strike when least anticipated. Creativity can spark from a song, a walk in the woods, or for Jill Kintner, sometimes all it takes is the right bike. This past summer Jill got her hands on Norco’s new Sight, trying out 29er wheels for the first time, which seemed like a match made in heaven. The mountain biker immediately noticed a palpable difference with her riding, amplifying both her speed and control on this nimble new trail bike. When the five-time Queen of Crankworx says she feels on point, that means a lot. Unable to shake the impression, she reached out to her good buddy and cinematographer Clay Porter to help her capture the feeling for Red Bull's latest Sound of Speed. "I felt like I was on a new level with this bike, and I wanted to capture that," she explains.
It helps to have a world-class action sports filmmaker in your phone's contact list if you want to make an edit on the fly. Clay's directed and produced films with the bike industry's top athletes for the last 17 years. His creative approach and ability to pull focus on riders going at Mach speed are just a few reasons why he's retained an impressive list of clients like Red Bull, Nike, Lexus, and many, many more. The two first connected back in 2002, while Jill was in art school in San Francisco. This was before Jill was an Olympian, World Cup racer, and star performer on the Crankworx World Tour. At the time, Clay was just another bright-eyed up and coming filmmaker obsessed with all things mountain biking, and they'd bump into each other at NORBA races. Eager to help her friend, she introduced Clay to a few of her sponsors, and Clay's talent did the rest. Their careers paralleled each other, both finding success within the industry. "It's been exciting to watch her evolution as an athlete and reflect how I've evolved as well but differently," Clay explains. Aside from a small film project back when Clay was first starting, they hadn't properly filmed something together. It felt long overdue to collaborate and make something incredible.
Clay didn't need much convincing to get on board. "With these projects, we're all there to do work and make something we're proud of, but at the end of the day, it's also an excuse to spend time with people you like," he emphasizes. He still has to pinch himself every once in a while because projects like this one with Jill keep work feeling like a dream job. With Clay into the project, Jill Kintner assembled the rest of her dream team. She recruited her husband Bryn Atkinson—who's also a ripping mountain biker—to shoot the stills, and that was it. Bryn said, “I think it's fair to say that any spouse would want to be there for support, but to have the opportunity to put a new skill into practice and contribute to a Red Bull project, all while watching your wife tear it up on the bike seems so ridiculous! Jill has worked tirelessly to perfect her skills, and it's been reflected over and over in a dominating race career, so it's nice to see her push the boundaries and create something special with Clay.”
The production crew was spartan compared to most shoots she's been on, which worked in their favor. They filmed it entirely on her local trails in Bellingham, featuring the area's rich forests and glorious singletrack. Jill did her homework about where to ride, prioritizing singletrack where she could put the throttle down. "They're my favorite trails, and some of the fastest you can find in Bellingham," Jill explains, and not only are these sections fast, but they're super fun and challenging too.
While it's sometimes helpful to have all the bells and whistles of a full-blown production team, it can get cumbersome. Too many moving parts can be inefficient, whereas their small team stealthy executed the filming in just two and a half days. Talk about a swift turnaround. For Clay, it was a refreshing change from the circus show of huge film crews. "The project felt like I was getting back to my roots, you know. Just being in the woods with an athlete," Clay says. While operating with all the toys—drones, cable cams, and gimbals—can be appealing, it can also complicate things more than it needs to be. Sometimes you need to trim the fat and focus on the goal at hand. "I think the beauty of this project was the simplicity of it, and that’s why we're so happy with it," he says. Jill equally appreciated the streamlined approach. "As an athlete, you rarely get to have a major say in the production, and since it was just Clay, Bryn, and I, the vibe was lowkey, relaxed, and approachable," she says.
Advancing into the project, Jill had a clear vision for the creative. It was going to be a no-frills edit entirely focused on one crucial factor: speed. "Overall, the goal wasn't anything fancy, but to showcase pure riding, which is what I hoped to do," she reflects. Red Bull's Sound of Speed theme has some small artistic restraints. Most notably, each edit is left entirely raw to focus on the athlete's riding. Keeping this in mind, Clay brainstormed various ways to add cinematic flair without overdoing it. "I had this idea that after pressing play, it would immediately flash a montage of imagery to build suspense and hook the audience visually," he explains. Clay also experimented with elements like hyper slow-mo and spinning the camera as Jill flew past the frame. "He nailed it. The tension builds throughout the piece, and the spinning effect gives the viewer a chance to breathe and transition into a new moment." While slow-motion capture is used intermittently throughout the video, it's applied tactfully. "Jill's riding is so precise that a lot of things get missed from a glance. The slow-motion lets the audience take it all in," Clay says.
The real icing on the cake for the piece came from the post-production process. "Shooting aimlessly is a recipe for mediocracy. Know what you want the finished product to look like before you start shooting," Clay emphasizes and how he approached this edit. Then with RAW edits, there's the added challenge of audio; it's more than just capturing native sound. The audio needs to encapsulate all the nuances of her riding to pull the viewer into the moment. Clay closely worked with sound designer Keith White to nail the little sounds—the bike in motion, tires impacting with loose dirt, and the subtle whoosh of Jill flying through ferns—to communicate this idea of velocity viscerally. "The sound is so critical for driving emotion and the story, especially when you have a piece like this that is relying on natural audio," he says. What he didn't expect from the post-production process, however, was to collaborate with Jill through each step. "It was cool to see how much she put herself into the edit. She was dialed and did her research when it came to the shoot. When it came to the post process, out of any athlete I've worked with, she was the most critical of her riding, which was cool to see her level of detail," Clay explains. Given Jill's drive as an athlete, this kind of work ethic is nothing different from preparing for a race. "It was a dream project. I got to work with a good friend who also happens to be a phenomenal athlete, and the concept artistically challenged me. These are the kinds of projects that drive my creative energy moving forward," Clay says.
With the COVID-19 pandemic altogether canceling all events for 2020, Jill relished the opportunity to dive into a project of this nature. Unexpectedly, it brought back the nerves of racing. Even though she wasn't waiting at the start gate, waiting for the cue to drop brought the same kind of exciting pressure to perform. "Race results come and go, but videos have a lasting impact. I wanted to create something that would be permanent to inspire people," she explains. Part of the reason she pursued this project was to convey the sense of control and power she felt riding. While the industry has progressed significantly for women in the last decade, filmmaking still has room to grow. Jill hopes that athletes like herself can proactively fill the void by creating inspiring content for the next generation of young girls. “I personally get really excited and inspired watching other ladies ride at a high level, and just want to see more of it!”
Like most athletes during the pandemic, Jill found herself adapting to the challenges. Typically her career has three main pillars: racing, community, media. But in 2020, the racing pillar virtually collapsed. Turning adversity into opportunity, Jill found herself asking what she could be doing with this newfound independence. "Through COVID, I've felt the need to help people more than ever. Small acts of positivity felt like the best way to take on big problems. Races are amazing—and I love to train and work hard for myself—but this period has taught me how important giving back is," she says, and it's driving her to become more involved with her local community, specifically through coaching and her artwork. She's also approaching her sponsors more—like Red Bull and Norco—to pitch new and exciting ideas.
In fact, the Sound of Speed project wasn't her first creative endeavor this summer. This past June, she launched her Mind Maintenance contest, a coloring challenge to encourage creativity and mental wellness during the pandemic height. For four weeks, Jill released custom-designed coloring templates and awarded lucky artists with some irresistible prizes. However, the grand prize was by far the most compelling: A Norco bike custom painted by her close pal Tony Baumann. Her contest was such a hit that she's already plotting next year's iteration. The exciting thing is that projects like Mind Maintenance and Sound of Speed are only the beginning for Jill. Moving forward, expect to see big things on and off the bike from the mountain biker.