I try to refrain from accepting interview requests from others, and I can’t say that having Avery Rost pop up in my DM’s was initially an exception. The last thing I want this site to be is a handout or “gimmie.” However, I don’t brush off requests without context, and after a few minutes of research I had realized that Avery’s work made its way to my screen a few times before. And it was good, sometimes even really good. His polite demeanor put him over the top, and I decided that I ought to learn more about one of Wisconsin’s prominent up-and-coming filmmakers.
Avery didn’t demand I interview him, or even that I “check him out.” He said he’d just like to be considered, and that was enough for me. He’s a great kid, and I hope you have the time to learn more about him.
Thanks for the time, Avery.
Discussion includes: Interning with Kyle Cowling at Phantasos Media, discovering motocross (and its two-moto format) with his family, traversing hillside mansions in Hollywood, purchasing his first RED camera, and venting frustration over cropped Instagram videos, among other things…
World of Echo: On the technical side of things, I think [Kyle Cowling] blows people out of the water. I’m sure you learned a lot from him. How’d you guys get in touch?
Avery Rost: I was his intern for three months, September through December of 2017. I knew of his work through the Spectrum series, as that was something my buddies and I would watch back here in Wisconsin, and one day I just sent him a DM on Instagram. It was either him or the Phantasos Media page. It took them awhile to get back, but I pleaded my case, “Let me come out! I’ll do anything to intern and learn from you.”
I pretty much landed that thing through a DM!
Really? And they asked you to come out to California right away?
It took a little bit of convincing on my end. At first they kept telling me that they didn’t really do that type of thing, then they told me to try again next year, and after bugging them a third time they finally gave in.
Persistence is key! What type of projects did you work on with those guys?
We were doing some Spectrum stuff at the time, but honestly it was mostly client work that I got brought on. The first shoot I actually went on with Kyle… I remember texting him the day before and asking him where we were meeting and what I was supposed to bring. He just told me to meet him at Pala [Raceway] at a specific time. I pressed him further and asked who we’d be shooting with, thinking that we’d be covering one of the current pros. Nobody too crazy. He sent back, “McGrath,” and I said, “Wait… what!?”
I remember sneaking photos of Jeremy’s bike and sending them to my friends on the down low, because I was trying not to be the typical intern drooling over somebody. That was a fun experience, for sure.
A lot of people I’ve had on the site have extensive backgrounds in filmmaking or motocross, but you seem to be a relatively new face that I don’t know a lot about. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Green Lake, Wisconsin. It’s a little tourist lake town, a destination for all of the rich Illinois people to visit in the summer. The middle of Wisconsin, basically.
How does a kid get into motocross within a seemingly remote location? Relative to other geographical hotbeds like SoCal or Florida.
I might’ve seen it on TV first, but the origin story starts with my mom going grocery shopping at Festival Foods. They have a little daycare center in those stores where you can dump your kids off for awhile and take a break while you shop. The lady running the daycare had a son who happened to be selling a Honda 50. I started talking with the daycare lady about the bike, and by the time my mom was ready to pick me up the daycare lady had a whole sales pitch ready! That’s how I got my first bike. I don’t personally remember it, but that’s what they say. “We dropped you off, and all of the sudden you wanted to ride!”
How old were you?
I think I was in first grade at the time.
And you’re haggling with this lady and your mom about buying a dirt bike? Wheeling and dealing at the age of six. That’s an interesting “how I got into riding” story.
It was different!
Did your parents know anything about the sport, or did they jump in with you?
They had no clue, as did I. The first race I went to, after the first set of motos were done we started packing up. A couple of people around us spoke up and asked, “Is your kid hurt? What are you doing?”
We shot back, “No, we’re done. Right? That was the race.”
And they had to explain to us that there was a second moto later in the day. “It’s two races for each class?” We asked.
We were clueless.
How long did you race for? You mentioned to me that you haven’t ridden in awhile.
I rode until I was a sophomore in high school, because that summer I broke my leg and had to take a couple months off. I got back into it for a little bit after I had healed, but once my bike blew up after that, I was over it. Before I broke my leg, I was your typical local kid trying to go pro and all of that. Breaking my leg was a harsh wake-up call, and convinced me that I wasn’t actually good at riding. I realized there’s more to life than riding a dirt bike.
How’d the break happen?
It was at Sugar Maple in Wisconsin. I got a little sideways in some rollers and swapped out. I felt it snap, and while laying on the track I blacked out. Somewhere in between all of that I made it off the course, though. I woke up with people all around me. I had no family with me that day, so my buddy’s dad put me in the back of his pickup truck and drove me to the hospital. They put some titanium in my leg, which I just got taken out a year or two ago.
For a lot of people, riding a bike is their escape. It certainly sounds no different for you, as you seem shaped by motocross even after your riding days have come and gone. Filmmaking can often fill the void that people might miss from riding, so I’m curious how you found that other side of yourself.
It was really all of those GoPro videos that were popping up back in the day, those ones from around 2012, those really inspired me. I had a buddy who lived in Princeton, he’d come down and film and ride with me all of the time. We’d just film each other and edit the footage at the end of the day.
More recently, you were at County Line MP with Blake Hansen. You guys shot a video out there that recently went up on YouTube. Talk about that trip a little bit. I’ve heard great things about County Line from riders, but I’m not sure if that sentiment is shared from a filmmaking standpoint. It looked like a good time though, and the video turned out well.
Thank you! That trip was a few weeks in the making, actually. Our original plan was for Blake and I to visit Club MX in South Carolina, but last minute Blake pulled out because something had come up. I was a little upset, because I was super hyped to make a video and it didn’t end up happening. Blake got back to me pretty quick after that, suggesting we hit up Alabama the next weekend. I agreed, and emphasized to him that this trip was actually happening… until Blake texted me the Friday we were supposed to leave explaining how he might have to work. I said, “Nope. We planned this, we’re going!” I was getting really upset with him!
We ended up driving straight through Alabama and ended up at County Line. The track is awesome, but it sucks to film at because it’s so big. It’s a bigger track that offers awesome footage, but you get a workout, for sure.
RedBud is similar in that regard. Amazing track, but kind of a bitch to get footage on.
You’re waiting three minutes each lap to get one shot, and if this next one is out of focus, that’s it! I’m packing up and going home! [laughs]
You have to play that game! Do I camp out for one more go at this shot, or do I move on?
…And then you lose track of time, and the checkered flag comes out while you’re halfway across the track. [laughs] It’s always a game.
So that video with Blake at County Line was just you trying to get out and make something?
Yeah, because you can’t really get anything done outside in Wisconsin right now. Everything is frozen solid. That was a, “we need to do something” trip.
I noticed you shot this on a RED as well. Recent purchase?
I got it in November of last year, so pretty recent. I still can’t believe I have it.
That’s definitely a landmark purchase for a lot of people, so I’m sure you were hyped.
Oh my gosh, yeah. When I was out in California working with Kyle and his crew, he had a RED and I was scared to even touch it. I had no clue I’d ever own my own RED. I’m really grateful.
…So you’re broke as fuck now? [laughs]
Basically! [laughs] Saving up all of those years from client work had me feeling pretty good, and once I pulled the trigger on this camera and clicked, “buy,” it was a heavy moment. One hundred to zero real quick.
I think the handle that attaches to the top of the camera is listed for one hundred bucks on B&H Photo right now!
Oh, yeah. It’s nuts. It’s just a little top piece. You’re paying for that little RED skull logo.
You get what you pay for though, and the RED is no joke. The footage looks really great.
Something about 4K really just blows me away. I really like the SHIFT videos that have been coming out in 4K, have you seen those? Those are some of my favorite videos. Ricki [Bedenbaugh’s] stuff is amazing, I love his work.
A lot of the work coming out of the SHIFT and FOX camps, while incredibly well done, are pretty short. That’s something I’d like to ask you about as a newcomer: How do you perceive the shift the role of video is playing in our lives? Everything seems to be getting shorter and shorter, and the amount of times we interact with video on a daily basis continues to increase.
I think our attention spans are really taking a hit. If something doesn’t grab the viewer in the first three-to-four seconds, they go, “Eh…” and scroll past it. I’m trying to do more Hollywood narrative type of content, that’s where my aim is. I’m trying to apply some of those narrative techniques into the moto videos that I’m making. Having to structure the timeline to sustain viewership for over a minute is… well, I don’t know. I don’t know what the deal is with people not wanting to watch anything that’s over a minute.
I’m glad that you brought up the narrative relationship, I was going to ask you about that. You shoot a lot of stuff in the anamorphic 2:35:1 aspect ratio, with a very cinematic tone and style. I wonder if some of that style rubbed off on you in your time with Kyle Cowling and Phantasos Media?
I think it did. The main thing that I learned from Kyle was to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. In the moto industry there’s a few people, like Kyle, who put more effort into their videos than just finding a rap song and putting random clips over it. I think the viewers… I don’t really know if they want more cinematic stuff, or if they’re ok with the generic edits, but either way that work ethic rubbed off on me when I left Phantasos.
You hinted at this earlier, and correct me if I’m wrong, but do you use motocross as more of a backdrop or “tryout” for your narrative tendencies? Do you plan on leaving motocross to pursue a career in traditional filmmaking?
Yes, definitely. I’ve been using moto as a stepping-stone to help pay the bills and develop my skills. I would say to help my skills directorially, but even then you’re not really “directing” anything in most motocross videos. You can explore a theme, but you can’t control the story unless it’s a documentary-style project. I’m definitely trying to transition into the narrative world of filmmaking. I can’t even tell you how many short film scripts I have lying around on my computer.
You write scripts? How long have you been doing that?
Ever since I visited Kyle. He took me to Hollywood one day and I was in awe, I knew right then that I had to get my stuff figured out because I had to be there. I don’t know how you could go to Hollywood and be like, “Eh…”
If you’re doing anything creative, I see Hollywood as instant motivation.
You brought a little Hollywood flavor back to Green Lake with your production company, Meraki Cinema. How’d you get in touch with the other half of Meraki, Mike Williams?
I met Mike when I was going to college in Florida last spring, and he did the score for the Truth documentary, as well as the audio mixing. He does certain projects with my, but there are times where I’m too impatient and I’ll just work on it all by myself. It’s nice to have him taking care of audio on some of my bigger projects, because I hate dealing with audio. When working with video, you can tell if there are glaring mistakes right away. With audio, I can’t help but think, “What the hell is wrong with this?”
I’m certainly a visual guy.
Take me through running what is, essentially, a production company. What are some benefits and drawbacks?
One of the benefits of having a company is name recognition. Right now, I can get local clients because I have a business name. I feel like if I was running around asking people, “Hey, my name is Avery! Can I make you a video?” They’d pull back and think it was weird. If I can pull up with a business card, official email accounts, and a website, they’ll be convinced this is a real thing. That’s a definite advantage to having a “company,” which I hesitate to even call it that because it’s really just myself and Mike.
Some disadvantages to having a production company is that people confuse us for a Hollywood-style team. We just call it a production company because I don’t really know what else to call it! I’ve been trying to rebrand it as a production “house” so it sounds a little bit less Hollywood.
The production house is literally just your house!
Exactly! There’s nothing special going on here, this is just me.
Does it get frustrating at times being in central Wisconsin? Are there times when you want more?
Definitely, especially from a narrative filmmaking standpoint. I feel like I’m the only person in my area exploring narrative filmmaking in the way they do on the west coast. There’s other people out here who do promotional videos for a local restaurant, or produce something for the tourism board, but it makes you feel blocked off a little bit.
Do you feel trapped?
Yes. For sure. I’d love to just break out and leave for Hollywood, but you can’t do it like that. You have to have a pretty hefty savings account before you consider making that move. You can’t say, “Alright, I’m moving to Hollywood tomorrow and figuring my life out!” You can’t do it like that. I’m trying to reverse engineer their process and figure it all out before I go.
When you’re staring at $1,000 a month to live in a closet, you start to re-evaluate things pretty quickly. Seeing those houses in the hills doesn’t help, either.
I have a funny story about one of those houses! Blake [Hansen] and I took a trip to California and stayed with Spencer Owens for a few days. We went to Hollywood one day and took a hike through the hills, where we got stuck on a reservoir. We didn’t want to go down the hill we came up on due to how steep it was, so we caught the attention of a lady in one of those mansions. We asked her if we could cut through her yard to get back down the hill, and she gets off her phone and goes [in a thick Cali-chick accent], “Yaaa, come right in!” There were four huge country guys with Duck Dynasty beards standing on the porch. It was intimidating.
You guys were just climbing in the hills?
Yes. Spencer, Blake, Antonio [Calvano], and myself. Blake had never even been on a plane before this trip, so we went all out showing him around California.
I’d like to talk about the Truth documentary for a moment. First of all, it’s listed as episode two, but I couldn’t find the first episode. Is there a first episode?
We did an opening episode with Andy Kost, who lives in Oak Creek. I had just gotten out of high school and I had a lot of energy to go out and make something. I thought, “I can do this.” This was before my internship with Phantasos, so I was still at that point where I was looking up how-to videos on YouTube all of the time. That’s definitely not my favorite video ever, but it did go slightly viral. I think it got one hundred and fifty shares on Facebook and sixteen thousand views without sponsors. It gave me a boost of confidence and made me believe in myself even more.
I hate to continue comparing you to Kyle Cowling, but Truth: Episode 2 with Carter Biese watched like a Spectrum series video. Was that your intention?
It was definitely styled like a Spectrum series episode, yes. That was what I had learned for three months with Kyle. He taught me how to organize everything, he taught me about timing within videos and how to let things breathe. Letting the people involved tell the story, basically. It was definitely like a mini Spectrum episode.
How did you get linked up with the Biese family? Did you have to sell them on your idea?
Getting the video made wasn’t too difficult. Basically, I texted Carter while I was still out in California. I was really inspired by the work going on around me, so when I got home I wanted to make something of that caliber on my own. I texted Carter and told him about my idea to do a video, and he was just as excited as I was, but unfortunately we lost connection for a bit and I ended up leaving Wisconsin to go to college. It was there that I started to get super bummed out, thinking, “I need to make something. I need to make a video.”
Carter and I started talking again, and the day I got back from college we started shooting that episode. The process wasn’t difficult because I didn’t have to secure any funding to get it off the ground.
I really loved Carter’s dad in that episode. He got a little emotional! How did you get that out of him?
He just went off, really. That wasn’t me at all! With Carter, I had a ton of questions and he answered them all pretty quickly. With his dad though, I flat-out told him, “I don’t have any questions for you.” I blame Kyle for that, because he taught me to not go into interviews with written questions. He said, “It’s going put too much pressure on the interviewee and they will shut down.”
I thought, “No problem, I can come up with questions on the spot!”
When I sat down with Carter’s dad, I had nothing. To cover for myself, I told him to just go for it, and everything you see in that video is all unprompted. I got super lucky with that.
Any motocross-related videos planned in the near future?
I’ve been toying with the idea of a third episode of the Truth series, but I’m not sure how I would go about it. I could go the Vimeo OnDemand route again, or I could just release it for free on YouTube.
How did the last episode perform using the OnDemand platform?
It did pretty well. It surprised me, for sure. I wasn’t expecting anything since it was the first video I ever sold on demand. I saw through the account billing that some guy rented the video enough times to buy it out-right three times over! [laughs] Can’t really complain about that, though!
Were you afraid people weren’t going to buy your video?
Yes. It’s a different way of presenting your content where you have to be constantly selling yourself. I can’t tell you how many messages I sent out with links to the trailer, links to posters, links to the actual page when it was released. It was exhausting, honestly.
I think that sentiment can even be shared when releasing stuff for free. You really have to be on the message boards and on social media selling the crap out of your content. You can’t just put anything out when you don’t have a following. Even though what you’re putting out is free, you still have to bend over backwards to get the audience’s attention. Like you said earlier, you only have five seconds with these people!
The video I just released with Blake, I feel like I’m begging people to watch that! It sucks. Is there a thing where if somebody sees a YouTube link, they just don’t want to click it? Do I really have to upload it directly to Facebook so you can play it there?
People can’t be bothered to use the mouse, I suppose.
All you have to do is tap with your finger! That’s all I want you to do!
…just go in the other room and make a sandwich. You don’t even have to look at the thing.
Don’t even watch it! Just play it for me.
The riders need to promote the videos they’re in as well, those guys ultimately have the audience that we’re looking to reach. I’ve had some people botch social media rollouts when I send them content packages to post.
That’s the worst. When you’re trying to help riders out, you have to say, “Listen, I need your help too! I can’t just make this thing blow up. You’re the subject of the video so you have to carry some of the weight!”
Then you send them a tailor-made trailer cropped and ready to be posted, and they just straight up don’t do it. It’s so frustrating.
When riders do the crop [on Instagram]… oh man. [laughs]
When you send them a 16:9 video and you see it on their feed in that ugly square… I lose my mind every time that happens! I’ve told riders to take them down before. They get confused and I have to tell them they did it wrong! [laughs] I don’t know how you figured out a way to post something wrong on Instagram, but you did!
I hear you! That seems to be a good chunk we recorded there, though. Anything else you’d like to add?
Not really! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, this was fun.