Revisiting Revelation 199

I’ve been at this long enough now that I’ve covered a number of films that left their imprint on my developmental years. Terrafirma 7, The Great Outdoors, anything and everything Fuel TV… even projects I wasn’t at first obsessed with like the original Terrafirma’s and The Motocross Files, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss. Today, however, I’m finally knocking off another milestone in the form of Revelation 199. I couldn’t say anything about this film that I haven’t already said about my previous loves like T7, so I’d like to preface by saying this isn’t my standard view through adoration. This is more a piece of nostalgia and reminiscence with those that were there.

In continuing this video indulgence, I called up some of the main players behind this film. I wanted to understand what it was like capturing Travis Pastrana in arguably the height of his powers as a national motocross champion and world freestyle icon, all at the hardened age of 17. You’ll hear the gamut from producers Rob Wickens and Jason Pennington, cinematographer Rich Van Every, and talent coordinator/everyman Malcolm McCassy.

Understanding the story of Travis Pastrana often starts with his family. Yes, I’m saying often because the chronicle of Pastrana isn’t one veiled in secrecy, shared only amongst the “in” and elite… it’s Travis fucking Pastrana (sorry). You know him, I know him, we all know him. It can’t be understated the impact this madman had on an entire generation of motocross kids. His rise, running parallel with the Action Sports movement of the late 1990’s, catapulted Pastrana into the spotlight at a young age. Coupled with the newfound intimacy and immediacy of home video, alongside a healthy and active motorcycle industry, the sport’s newest star was born on television screens all across the country. Whether he was jumping into the San Francisco Bay on ESPN, or throwing heel-clickers and no-handers with Mike Metzger in Terrafirma 3, Pastrana was large and outspoken, even if it was his riding that did most of the talking. It’s his riding that got most other people talking, too. Every kid in America wanted to be Travis Pastrana, but where did this golden boy wonderkind grow up?

The squeaky-clean, albeit a bit lanky, all-American from Maryland didn’t forge this image by means of finding sponsorship, nor by being die cast in a mold for certain success, it was simply his roots learned in a quaint neighborhood off the beat of Annapolis.

Revelation 199 producer and cameraman Rob Wickens, who now resides in the hills of San Luis Obispo, California, began, “The unique thing about the Pastrana household was that it felt private, and a lot of Travis’ relatives lived on that road. His Grandma lived next door, his Aunt’s and Uncle’s all around him. It was like a secluded playground for Travis to grow up in, because all of the properties [were] connected and they used every inch at their disposal.”

In the back, Travis’ father Robert used the extra space to house his construction company, which employed a number of Robert’s six siblings. Imagining a wooded northeastern paradise, insulated from the jarring pace of relative eastern spots like New York or Philadelphia, it’s not surprising that a jovial, polite child emerged from his surrounding family.

Fellow producer and cameraman, Jason Pennington, adds, “Travis was so respectful to everyone around him. He was kind to every stranger that came into his sphere, and his excitement and energy were so contagious that anything seemed possible when working with him. If I had to guess, his family had a big influence on his nature, because his mom and dad were just like him.”

Pennington continues, “When we first met Travis and his family while filming for Mini Warriors 2, Travis’ grandmother invited us to stay with her. My wife and I took a bedroom upstairs. She lived next door to Travis and his parents and in fact, somebody from the Pastrana family seemed to own every house on the short road they lived on. It was really cool. They had no fences, so it was like having one big backyard where Travis could play on his bikes. During our stay, we enjoyed a family crab boil New England style.”

A place for Travis to grow.

“We’d roll up with the camera crew and other athletes to hang out,” Wickens provides. “Each day [we would film] we’d go off and focus on a different adventure. We’d hit up a motocross track, go ride in the forest, swim in the lake, all of that stuff, but each night we’d end up back at the Pastrana house for a BBQ. We’d all be doing backflips into the pool or playing on the trampoline with modified BMX bikes. The whole compound was a great place for Travis to grow up in and to create a video like Revelation 199.”

“It was time for somebody to document what was about to happen.”

Though the crew had met and seen the Pastrana compound firsthand filming for Mini Warriors 2, there are still some perspectives to reminisce on from Travis’ youth. As Malcolm McCassy, No Fear Athlete/Marketing Manager and Talent Coordinator for the film provides, “I started working with Pastrana when he was about ten years old. He wore Fox gear at first, but we got him on No Fear through our clothing line pretty early on. I’d receive these handwritten letters from Travis thanking me for the clothes we’d send him. They were written in crayon! I didn’t even really know who Travis was, he was so isolated in Maryland at the time that we hadn’t even met in person.”

Before any meetings for the new film were even a thought, the crew had already garnered a liking towards Travis and his talents, as well as a respect amongst each other, Wickens and Pennington in particular. The two were high school chums addicted to anything action sports related. Jason recalls Rob becoming “the coolest person in the world,” after taking a few friends for a ride in Rob’s 1966 Mustang Fastback, with no license! “We were all 15, Rob, my friend, and I. Rob and I were friends ever since.”

While Wickens was more of a BMX and mountain bike inclined individual, Pennington was a pure motocross junkie who continues to ride with his family in Texas. That adrenaline addiction led to the two eventually starting the west coast action sports site, “Point X Camp.” This is important, because Point X Camp originated simply as “Point X,” and before that as “Shepherd Films,” an action sports filmmaking company that birthed the Mini Warriors series pioneered by Pennington. This set the gears in motion to bring us towards Revelation 199, as Rob explains,

“Point X Camp was amazing. I lived on the property and can remember wakeboarding almost every night before dinner, then after checking on the counselors and campers I’d ride the park courses on my BMX bike. It was an awesome time but, yes, that all originated from Shepherd Films and Point X productions. Jason was the owner of the company and the guy who was the brainchild for videos going back to Mini Warriors. Jason was a producer and came up with the idea [for Revelation 199].”

Point X Camp opened shortly after the film’s completion in 2002.

Jason is quick to share that defining credit with McCassy, whom the crew met through No Fear sponsoring the Mini Warriors series. As Malcolm says, “I went in to sponsor the first Mini Warriors movie with No Fear, so I was around Rob and Jason a lot during that time. Outside of being one of their sponsors, they eventually noticed I could ride and asked about getting some clips of me which, once they started filming, I promptly crashed and knocked myself out. After I came to and started cracking jokes, they asked me to be the on-camera host for the video. That’s how I became involved with those guys, and from there I started to get my feet wet lining up some locations and producing, while also securing the kids for the videos (most of whom I was already sponsoring).”

Jason relays, “So, we had already worked with Travis to film a segment in Mini Warriors 2 when he was 14, but Malcolm really helped put [Revelation 199] together for us. Malcolm was the reason Revelation 199 came together as quickly as it did.”

“By the time Travis turned 17 and was about to go pro,” Rob adds, “it was time. It was time for somebody to document what was about to happen.”

Armed with their subject and crew, the boys got to work and penned out a summer for the ages. Rob provides, “From day one, we knew we’d have supercross and outdoor nationals coming down the pipe. Travis was heavily heading towards becoming a racer exclusively, but with his involvement with freestyle, we knew he was going to do X Games and other freestyle competitions. The Motocross of Nations was always a potential as well, even before he was chosen to be on the team. From what I can recall, before our first day of shooting we had a list of locations and events that we’d want to cover.”

With the supercross and outdoor national schedules on their roster, coupled with X Games in San Francisco, the MXoN in France, and freeride spots around the country, the crew were geared up for a world tour with Travis. As the film opens, we’re hit with a manic montage of Travis and company slaughtering the various locations, set to the first of many outlandish (but absolutely head-bobbing) rap-rock anthems, “Doperide” by Saliva. As we’re hit with clip after clip of pre-backflip FMX maneuvers, the pace seems to illustrate the speed at which the crew was traveling. Malcolm explains,

“I don’t feel like [Revelation 199] debuted Travis as “The Travis Pastrana Show,” because instead the movie really showcased Travis’ unselfish and genuine drive. It’s the fast pace of a kid that’s going after his dreams, but I don’t believe we got really scientific trick-wise or whatever. We didn’t go deep into the physicality of motocross. We wanted to approach the movie differently by showcasing the laughter, the smiles, and the humor. We got to showcase that on this six to eight month journey with Travis, a journey that most people wouldn’t accomplish in a lifetime. This is just a glimpse into Travis’ life, and it looks like a documentary that was years in the making…”

He continues, “Travis wasn’t a party kid. There was no alcohol or anything else involved. He was taking online classes at the University of Maryland, continuing his racing and freestyle… he was so focused. He would always get his sleep, though. We’d be traveling on the road and he’d tell me, ‘Alright, Malcolm, you’re going to drive for a tank of gas, then I’m going to drive for a tank of gas.’ He’d go in the back of the car and just pass out. He could sleep anywhere. Even though he was like the Energizer Bunny, I have a ton of photos of him on road trips just passed out. Totally asleep!”

In a year where Pastrana competed at the 2000 X Games in San Francisco, then flew across the country to Millville, Minnesota to chase after his first professional motocross title, the pistons pumping inside Travis’ body were revolving at an indescribable pace. After posting up a 1-1 moto score on the day and inching his way towards 125cc points leader Stephane Roncada, the world was slowly coming to grips with the fact that this was a kid realizing the absolute limit of his potential. On the freestyle course, on the race track, and on camera.

Rob Wickens was no stranger to this realization. “Travis pushed everyone beyond their limits, including ourselves. You get used to a whole other level of danger and what’s expected of you. Travis’ danger and our danger, they aren’t even in the same ballpark. Before you go on the road with Travis, you literally take a deep breath and get ready for the madness.” Malcolm McCassy concurs, “Travis was one of the biggest influences on me to grow past limitations and self doubt, to push life to the biggest belief and potential.”

Rich Van Every, a freelance filmmaker from California, entered this project in various stages to lend his cinematic talents to the regular crew. McCassy adds, “Rich was awesome, he was such a strong character. He was the heartbeat and pulse of any event he captured.” Moreover, Rich had his own Pastrana origin story from days gone by. As he explained,

“I met Travis on a film trip for Crusty Demons when he was 15 years old. I was instrumental in getting Travis on [that trip]. I think he was on one other trip with the Crusty guys, but this was one of the first times his Mom let him go away somewhere. We took him to Canada and it ended up being an incredible trip hanging out with Travis. Coincidentally, it was the same trip he met Andy Bell on, whom he’d form a greater relationship with through Nitro Circus years later.”

“[He] could hardly walk, he was hunched over. I was like, ‘Oh my god, he’s not acting!'”

Rich had no shortage of love for Travis. Having been at the epicenter of the freestyle motocross movement through his relationship with Standard Films, even Rich was impressed with Travis’ demeanor and skills.

He was super energized and polite on that trip. He was just a kid, you know? He didn’t have the cool guy thing going on at all. I was so inspired by his talent that I just bowed down to the guy, basically. It was insane to me how much better he was [at riding] than everybody else, to the point where it almost bummed those guys out. They thought, ‘Shit, we haven’t even hit this jump yet and Travis is already doing Indian Airs over it?’ He was fearless, and it was hard to keep up with him once he turned loose because he’d just start going crazy. We got some cool filming done that trip.”

Pastrana in Canada, from Van Every’s archives.

“I also remember [being surprised] at how broken he was at that age, too. He had already dislocated his pelvis from his spinal column the year before, and I remember watching him get up. It was like he was an old man… could hardly walk, he was hunched over. I was like, ‘Oh my god, he’s not acting!’ His body really was mangled from his recovery. He blew my mind, though. It was super cool getting to know him and become friends.”

Despite the injury Rich mentions, which occured early on in Travis’ career at a primitive freestyle competition in Lake Havasu, Arizona, Pastrana continued to solider past that, directly into the whirlwind that was filming for Revelation 199. Even though freestyle had reared its ugly head at Havasu, Travis and the crew turned up at the Vans Triple Crown event in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2000. Sporting a fluorescent orange windbreaker during opening ceremonies, a large “199” silk-screened on its back, Pastrana was poised to take the contest.

“I’d bring options for Travis and other athletes at big events. It’s cool to see Travis looked so hip, even that long ago, taking that windbreaker and making it his own style.” McCassy said.

Rich adds, “I still have that jacket! I pretty much begged him for it.”

Orange jacket vibes. Some Van Every 16mm.

Rob recalls the contest, though one of the largest events in the early development of freestyle, as non-sequential, “Though we marked all of the large races and competitions on our calendar, that one in particular wasn’t part of the plan. I remember while on the road to go shoot in Texas, a producer got in touch with me and asked us to bring Travis to that contest in Las Vegas. At the time I knew some people at Vans, so we decided to turn around after almost reaching Texas (coming from California, mind you) to hit that freestyle comp. Travis changed his plane ticket, flew into Vegas, and we picked him up a pair of boots on our way to the competition. That ended up being one of the main competitions used in the video. Situations like that would happen from time to time, where we’d be halfway across the country and backtrack 1,000 miles… just to get some footage!”

In typical Pastrana fashion, he dominated the event, and the romp continued onward and outward. As fate would have it, Travis had fulfilled yet another gargantuan task by winning the 125cc Outdoor Motocross Championship in his rookie year, which put him on track to represent the United States at the Motocross of Nations in Saint-Jean-d’Angély, France. At 17 years old, Pastrana had the world in the palm of his hand, and the film crew by his side.

Wickens remembers fondly, “We had a solid crew that year heading into the Motocross of Nations. I believe it was Malcolm, Jason, Joe Nell, and myself. We had radio communication throughout the weekend, keeping track of the racers and finding out which shots we’d need to get.”

But before they could even worry about nailing shots for the race, the crew ran into a minor inconvenience. An embargo plunged France and neighboring European countries into a fuel crisis, which affected gas stations across the region.

Malcolm recalls quickly, “I flew in and had to hitchhike to the track because of the madness regarding the gas crisis. I ended up in a car with Taichi Yoshimura (1967 All Japan MX Champion, founder of RS Taichi superbike gear)… it was just chaos. I didn’t speak French, my credit card at the time maxed out at $800. Pure chaos!”

Even worse, the rest of the crew were dealing with their own travel issues in the form of an “upgraded” van rental. As Wickens explained to me, their dealer at the front desk had offered them an alternative to their original diesel-fueled van, one that was much larger and would easily accommodate the crew’s camera gear.

Rob agreed to the new deal, but continued, “The only problem was that we didn’t understand the fuel situation at the time. As we drove across the countryside out of Paris to Saint-Jean-d’Angély, we saw more and more gas stations weren’t offering standard fuel. Our van was luckily on a full tank, so we didn’t pay too much mind, but what we started to notice was that the stations continued to sell diesel fuel for local farmers. They needed it for their tractors to continue harvesting crops. Had we stuck with the diesel van and not been tricked by the rental clerk, we’d have been fine. Instead, once the trip was over, we had run the gas tank completely empty and I told the rental company where they could find their non-diesel van. I don’t normally have a temper, but if I ever ran into that guy I’d pop him one right on the nose!”

Rob elaborated that the fuel strike not only affected the media and fans, it also affected the riders and teams as well. With fuel in the country on limited supply, many teams feared they wouldn’t be able to secure enough fuel for their own race bikes! Though teams worried, media were disgruntled, and race fans stranded their empty vehicles on the side of the road, the event offered an extraordinary end to the 2000 racing season. Team USA clutched the Chamberlain Trophy once again after a four year drought, winning over Team Italy in no small part because of Pastrana’s grunt work on the 125.

Pastrana stretches it out over the circuit. Tony Blazier archive.

“We had all of our guys set up for that last moto,” Rob begins. “I had noticed a pattern throughout the day, one where Travis was making up some ground on the competition by jumping this huge downhill double. It was tricky, because it wasn’t a guaranteed pass if the guy behind you nailed the inside of the following corner, but for a guy like Travis it was working. Knowing him and how he operates, I instructed all of my guys to watch out for this jump as the final moto came to a close. Sure enough, on the last lap, Travis came sailing over Stephane Roncada’s head, and helped Team USA win the title. We could barely contain our excitement watching until the end of the moto, it was that cool. Especially with all of the fans, the atmosphere at the Motocross of Nations is like no other. Seeing Travis perform on that stage was incredible. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

With the world tour all wrapped up, the ebb and flow of the film’s sequences charging towards their end, I asked Rob and the rest about their overall experience working with Travis, and what it was like to attach themselves to that wide-open lifestyle. Wickens began,

“With Travis everything is turned up to 11 at all times, and there wasn’t a day where we didn’t do something that wasn’t fun or worth filming. If we weren’t filming moto, we’d be jumping BMX bikes or hopping off a boat with his Dad. We’d have competitions to see who could torpedo themselves off the boat going the fastest. Every day there was something going on.”

I inquired if that meant they jumped off some of the bridges, too.

“Almost all of the ones you see in the video I was a part of, even if I wasn’t singled out. You can see me sitting next to Robert [Pastrana] at times. There would be a lot of instances where we’d get a shot of somebody doing a crazy jump, circle back to pick them up, then it’d be one of our turns to do the same jump!”

Wickens and the elder Pastrana, a day at the lake.

For all of the ways Travis amazed and shocked the film crew, there had to be an issue with desensitization to danger. I mean, how many times can you watch this kid defy the odds before you start to believe he’s invincible? What type of stunt or situation could possibly rattle these guys at this point? Evidently, the film’s zenith, a long-jump session at the infamous Castillo Ranch, provided such a scare. In a link through Shepherd Films co-founder, Brian Staben, as well as Pastrana’s relationship with the Castillo family, the crew set up to create one last epic shoot.

I thought, ‘Travis could really kill himself today, and it’d be my fault.'” 

Rob says, “When we were setting up that Santa Ynez Valley shoot at Castillo Ranch. We had a bunch of D6 tractors cutting jumps into these massive hills. As we were building them and testing them out, the average distance on these jumps was about 175 feet, and that was to the absolute shortest landing point. Back then, the world distance record was barely over 200 feet. Even on some of the test jumps with [fellow freestyle rider] Chuck Carothers, he’d pull 225 feet. This was just during practice.”

Jason Pennington, who was on hand shooting footage from the helicopter, validated Rob’s claims.

“The footage did not do justice how extremely sloped the downside of that jump was.  If you overshot the landing, you would fall down the mountain side dramatically. Timing was critical, and they were planning to do tricks while jumping it.”

Rob continues, “So, we were all at this hotel down the road getting ready for the shoot that morning, and I felt sick to my stomach. It was the first time in my career I thought, ‘Travis could really kill himself today, and it’d be my fault.’ We were setting up the film and getting ready to put jumps to use that hadn’t been fully cleared yet. The criss-cross jump where we had Travis and Chuck going over and under each other, we had never completely attempted. I was so scared that anything could go wrong, and it was too late to stop it. We had built everything so big! I had known Travis for four or five years at that point, so above all else, the time it took to build the jumps, nailing the shoot for the movie’s ending… I really just didn’t want to hurt my friend.”

“Travis Pastrana being that friend though, you knew he was going to go for it and huck it as far as he could!”

Wickens and Pennington with Travis and Chuck Carothers, Castillo Ranch.

With Wickens’ anxiety at an all-time high, and the rest of the crew on edge to see if the jumps they had manifested were even possible to clear, the morning had come and gone. It was time to see the film’s ending to its completion. As the crew gathered to discuss what to shoot, and who would be jumping first, the faint sound of a motorcycle is heard clicking through its gears in the distance.

Pennington explains, “We were all setting up for the day on the hilltop between the take off and the landing. Across the way we could hear a few bikes idling in the hills, Travis and Chuck. Then, we hear someone go full-throttle while shifting gears heading our way. Our first thought was that they were taking warm up runs at the jump. We never imagined someone would be attempting to jump the entire hilltop on their first run. Seconds later, a bike takes flight and we all duck. Above us is Chuck, flying through the air higher than we imagined the jump could throw someone. It looked massive! He disappeared on the other side of the hill, apparently down-siding the landing without issue.”

Carothers goes big in California.

“He told us afterwards that the jump scared him so much that if he didn’t do it right away, he might have become too scared to try it later. Even Travis jumped a smaller, low-lying version of the jump next to it before attempting. I remember Travis being very impressed with Chuck that day.”

In talking with Rob, Jason, Malcolm, and Rich, it was evident that Travis’ ultimate character trait was lifting up others around him, through his infectious all-or-nothing, go-for-it attitude. In a film branded around Pastrana, he took it upon himself to introduce others into the fray, freestyle pioneers and friends who took it to the limit just as he did. His sphere and legacy only grew because he allowed it to. Pastrana could’ve accomplished everything as a prima-donna teen from the east coast, but he wouldn’t have become the beloved, respected, and celebrated phenom that he was destined to be. His close-knit familial upbringing in the woods of Maryland wouldn’t allow that. The greatest thing Travis ever did was show us that the energy and courage we idolized him for, existed within us and our own friends. I believe this is the essence of Travis Pastrana, and the essence of Revelation 199.

Thanks to Rob Wickens, Jason Pennington, Malcolm McCassy, and Rich Van Every.