Carbon Chameleon: Behind The Scenes

How do you celebrate your amazing staff and launch a new bike all at once?

When working for a leading MTB brand like Santa Cruz, notorious for always doing something different, we knew this was going to be one hell of a ride.

The brief? Create a music video spoof of the 1983 Culture Club hit record “Karma Chameleon” to launch the brand-new Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon.

Set inside the Santa Cruz factory and using all true Santa Cruz Bicycles employees, the aim was to highlight the real humans behind the brand and who make riding the awesome Santa Cruz Bicycles possible. Working under one roof, the SC staff design, test, assemble and ship the bikes themselves and the film was a celebration of their hard work and staff ethos just as much as it was a launch film for the Carbon Chameleon.

Why? Why Not.

This was not just a product launch. It was, and was important to be, so much more than that. The concept was technically complex but an easy decision to say yes to. As the creation of the do-it-all hardtail’s sibling came to light, the SCB staff found it difficult to refer to the ‘Carbon Chameleon’ without automatically bursting into the song ‘Karma Chameleon’. And so there it was, a crazy idea that was both a huge opportunity to promote the launch of a new bike and a chance to celebrate the people that made it all possible.

The infamously rebellious Santa Cruz Bicycles are always up to new tricks when it comes to promoting their products and this brief was certainly no different. It’s a rare thing when a product launch video is less about the product and more about the staff behind it. Everything that the Santa Cruz brand stands for became a reality in the making of the film. They are a company made up of mountain bikers for mountain bikers. Everybody loves what they do and the aim was to portray the camaraderie and fun factory vibe throughout but also the real people behind the Santa Cruz brand.

Finding Our Boy George

With the help of around 50 SCB staff and one very keen Boy George impersonator, also a staff member, we were able to create our parody-style music video.

JT Barse, our very own Boy George, was the genius face of the film. He also has the perfect story to compliment the overall energy of the film and what is was all about.

Living in Washington DC and bored of the city life, JT took off for California, dreaming of working at Santa Cruz and having that laid-back Cali lifestyle with endless trails to ride his bike on. Being the wise fox that he is, he decided his best chance of achieving his Santa Cruz dream was to ride all the local trails in the hope of meeting some SC workers and getting a foot in the door. His plan worked! He bagged himself an interview and landed himself a job. In little over a year, the Boy George of Santa Cruz became head of the wheels department at Santa Cruz HQ.

So, when you inevitably pick up your all new Carbon Chameleon, it’s good to note that ‘Boy George’ himself will have had the final scope at it (unless your wheels were built during his week-long stint as an A-list celeb!)

He was the perfect personality to lead the video. So up for it and willing. An absolute legend who made our job easy and fun. He was a natural in front of the camera. Unfortunately for us, the only thing he couldn’t do very well? Sing!

Making It Happen

Getting to the sunny coastline of California with all of our kit was the least of our worries. The challenge? Shoot a high-quality, choreographed music video with a large cast of non-actors in a fully operational factory. We had to be as non-disruptive as possible to ensure the production line still flowed and SC wasn’t going to be out of business for the duration of the shoot!

The pre-production phase was essential to making this shoot work.  We wanted to squeeze as much of the Santa Cruz ‘story’ into the film, showcasing as many of the teams involved in the process as possible, along with some ‘easter eggs’ for the avid SC fan to pick up on. This involved bringing a lot of moving parts together!

Brainstorming, scripting, storyboarding + re-scripting was an on-going process which had to be fluid to allow access to certain people and areas of the warehouse. One of the most useful tools we used during pre-production, was an animatic storyboard.  This was to help bring the script to life alongside the music and communicate our vision to the wider team. This was particularly useful for our on-the-ground choreographer who worked with the Santa Cruz teams to turn their everyday movement on the production line into a fun, synchronised extravaganza, fit for an 80’s classic!

Our ‘Boy George’ came to life with the fantastic imagination and work of Santa Cruz’s (newly established) in-house wardrobe and make up team (rumours that they’ll now be touring with the Syndicate on the World Cup circuit are yet to be confirmed.)

One of the things which was most enjoyable throughout the process, was the close collaboration between Santa Cruz and the Cut Media production team. The line between factory and film set was well and truly blurred, and a lot of the off-screen production crew were made up of Santa Cruz staff, as well as the cast.

Click through some of our animatic storyboard that helped massively in bringing the film to life.

Californication

By the time it came to shoot week, we had a fully dialled shot list and schedule, and we were confident that everyone knew what they were doing and when. All that was left to do, was leave behind a cold and dreary December Glasgow and head for sunny California. Tough break, we know.

We spent 5 days in the SC factory, shooting in different areas of the factory each day.  There was a buzz around the factory all week which really made our jobs so much fun!  Everyone got involved and helped out when needed. The week culminated in our final ‘party’ scene with a crowd-surfing Chameleon!  We also had a display of the ‘unique’ talents of certain staff members including juggling, body popping, chin balancing and an incredible music performance on the harp.   

It Brings A Glow

What we hopefully achieved with the Carbon Chameleon film is a perfect marriage of the people behind the brand and the brand itself. The energy throughout creates a sense of dynamic togetherness that leaves the viewer toe-tapping and smiling at the screen as they witness the fun unfold. That is what makes Santa Cruz a stand out from the rest, perfectly encompassing their ethos and quality bike-building skills. The passion that built amongst the staff as the week went on was electric. Everyone immediately jumped on board and were happy to sing and dance around the factory like one big, crazy family. This was what was so special about being there, experiencing all the hype whilst capturing it all for the final release.

We based the success of the film on the reaction from the staff – they bloody loved it, every single moment from pre-shoot to the finished product. It was certainly the most fun we’ve had on a shoot in a long time and we knew we were onto a winner before even setting foot in the edit suite. Certainly a project that none of us will ever forget.