Fuel for Life: Behind the Scenes with Blake Hansen & Katie Bennett
Fuel for Life: Behind the Scenes with Blake Hansen & Katie Bennett

Fuel for Life: Behind the Scenes with Blake Hansen & Katie Bennett

Blake Hansen is a gravity-fed, speed-loving mountain biker. Out of Utah, she is a seasoned desert rider and enduro racer. She’s known for being pretty fast around the western US and has made many appearances in catalogs and brand videos. With a recent invite to dig at Red Bull Formation and develop her freeride game, she is an up-and-coming rider proving to be someone to watch for.

“Fuel for Life: Blake Hansen,” a Gnarly Original film created by Katie Bennett, uncovers Blake’s relationship with bikes and her own acceptance of her role in the mountain bike community.

Photo: Katie Bennett

We went behind the scenes with Katie and Blake to uncover more information about Blake, the filming and screenwriting.

When we first approached Blake about this project, she said she'd only do it if she could work with a team she's most comfortable with, considering how personal this film is. can you both describe your relationship?

Blake:

Katie and I have been friends since we were 11 years old. According to my calculations, that’s 20 years now. She was one of the first people I came out to and it was immediately followed by her coming out to me. We were like 26 years old and had hidden that stuff from each other our whole lives. Since we also both work in film, it felt right that we would do this one together.

Katie:

There’s always that one friend you’re allowed to hang out with even when you’re grounded. That one friend who is running back to your house to get help when you break your arm doing something stupid. That person in my life was Blake. … Blake was just the perfect buddy to have around.

 

We went to the same school, played the same sports, and although we had different groups of friends, we always remained close. It wasn’t until college that we seemed to have drifted apart, not because of anything in particular but just because life happens. I never stopped keeping up on Blake’s life though. I’m not exactly sure how it got brought up one day but I do specifically remember we were on messenger and Blake told me she had some news to tell me. I remember her prefacing that I couldn’t hate her if she told me. Really? Like there was anything she could ever do to make me hate her. But that’s when she told me she was trans, and after hours of talking, catching up, learning what life was really like for her growing up I remember feeling SO many things. I was so proud of her for making it to this point in her life, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t be a safe place for her before that day, but ultimately I was just so incredibly happy for her.
Sophia Lei / @thesophialei
So to answer your question, I think I’m one of the few “OG” friends of Blakes. I’ve seen her through so many phases of her life and ironically we both ended up in filmmaking. We had always talked about when and how we would share her story so I was honored to be the one to help tell it. Of course, she was an equal contributor in all aspects of the film and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This is just the beginning of Blakes story so just you know….watch out for it.

Watch the trailer

Blake, You ended up writing your personal reflection, which then turned into the video script, pretty quickly. Tell us about that process. Is this something you've been wanting to share for a while? Was it easy to write?

I write a lot actually. It’s a form of therapy for me and this was no exception. I feel like this particular piece is just scratching the surface on the whole story, so while it’s scary to be vulnerable, starting off with telling small pieces of the story feels good right now.

Katie, as lead on this project, how did you decide to run with blake's writing as the main script?

There’s no one that can tell her story better than herself. I asked her to write a script about the story she wanted to tell. Here I was thinking she’d take a couple of weeks and get back to me. Pretty sure I had something back in under 12 hours. We didn’t even tweak it THAT much, it was so beautifully written, so raw and so Blake. Everything I could have asked for.

You could have filmed this video in any style: interview, all voice-over, and so on. How did you determine your approach?

Katie:

We actually considered having it be a VO throughout the entire film. Blake was confident in her story, and knew what aspects of it she wanted to tell. Ultimately we decided it would be best for the viewer to see her communicate these things. They needed to see her facial expressions, her emotion, and really just her personality. She’s got a lot of it if you couldn’t tell.

Sophia Lei / @thesophialei

Katie, Tell us a bit about the visuals of the film. Why did you shoot in the locations that you did, and with the others who are in the film, too?

There were a couple of things we were really passionate about and knew we needed to include in the film. First was showcasing a little bit of Salt Lake and the riding that Blake does there. It’s where she calls home, it’s where her people are and it’s the terrain she knows. But we also wanted some epic landscape, and that’s where Green River came in. I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into because I had never been to that location, but I trusted Blake and damn, did she pull through or what?
Blake never directly said this to me, but in communication with her, I could tell she didn’t want to be the only one in this film. It was important for her to have her friends involved as much as possible. For her, biking has always been about the community, building relationships, and just having fun. It just made sense to have her friends, her partner, and most importantly her dog, Louie, along for the ride.

Katie, How did your own artistic approach influence the visuals and storytelling of this piece?

I love big, epic scenery. One of my biggest hobbies is landscape photography. So the little scenes with Blake in her garage and riding around locally was fun, but getting out to Green River was really where I felt in my element, creatively.

Katie, Blake is a fun person to be around, but also can be serious when the topic or event calls for it. What was it like trying to capture Blake's personality in a video?

If there’s anything Blake lacks, personality is not on that list. Blake is unapologetically herself, of course putting yourself out there in this capacity is a very vulnerable and scary thing. But I think if either of us had insecurities about anything regarding the project, we were able to vocalize it and either find a solution or work around it. We make a really good team.

You both have production experience. What was it like working together to create a story about one of you?

Blake:

Working together was honestly pretty effortless. There are always stressful moments in production. Logistics can get hairy, especially when you’re also doing a lot of your own producing, but we are stoked to keep working together, so that speaks for itself. I think there were definitely unique stressors in telling my own story, vulnerability is something I’m a natural at now and even with that said, sitting in front of a camera and talking about a very personal topic is never easy. Major props to Katie for putting up with me through all of those anxiety provoking moments.

Sophia Lei / @thesophialei

Katie, why was it important for you to create this film and share Blake's story with the world?

The truth of the matter is people are simply uneducated when it comes to this subject matter. I remember when I first told someone close to me about my best friend Blake and I will NEVER forget their response. This person looked down, shook his head and said “Wow….He’s going to ruin his life”. I was in shock. My only response was “Really? You don’t think the battle Blake was fighting internally was just about to kill her already? Oh wait. Because it actually almost did.”

 

Oh, was I SO mad. From that point on I knew how important it would be to a) become more educated myself and b) be an advocate for Blake and help get her story out there, however she wanted to tell it.

Katie, how would you describe blake in your own words?

Blake is the bravest person I know. She is confident in who she is but isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. I would say that didn’t always come the most natural to her, but she’s put in the work to get there. She really sees things from the bigger picture, and is SO good at communicating thoughts, ideas, and ways to execute. She’s funny, beautiful, and literally the goofiest person I know. Homegirl is NOT afraid to put herself out there if it’s going to get a couple laughs out of you. I really am a better person because of Blake and am so grateful for the lifelong friendship I have with her. I’m proud to know her and so stoked for the things she’s done and is going to do.

Photo: Katie Bennett
Photo: Katie Bennett

Blake, what are the few main takeaways you hope people walk away with after watching your video and hearing your story?

Well, I hope people will be able to see the human in me. A good friend of mine once said “We’re all just a bunch of meat sticks in skin suits on a floating rock, anyway.”

 

I may have different life experiences and challenges than the “regular” person next to me but that doesn’t make me any less of a human. No one’s getting anywhere by putting others down, even if they think they are, so we should listen to and value each other’s life experiences.

 

I also hope that the representation this video provides does something for the people out there looking for it. I hope this film gets spread far and wide so that people can see that trans people are out here! We’re everywhere, we hold value and we deserve to be authentically seen and supported in what we do, just like anyone else.

Were there any major challenges for the production throughout the process?

Blake:

You know, we interviewed for about 90 minutes and we ended up with soo many important moments that we had to try and condense into about three minutes of dialogue. It was an impossible task and we ended up with something we’re happy with. But, telling a viable story of this nature with a 7 minute runtime was definitely the most difficult part of the process.

Katie:

There are challenges to every production and there are certainly obstacles you come across when you’re directing with your best friend, who’s also the subject of the film. Filmmaking is all about problem-solving, though. I am still learning and growing in that aspect but that’s where Blake made up for it. Her experience with the sport, with the LGBQT+ community, and being part of bigger film productions all lead to a really great learning experience for me.

Photo: Sophia Lei / @thesophialei

Blake, how would you describe your fuel?

Progression is a big piece of what drives me. In terms of skill, I’m not anywhere near the best mountain bikers out there, but I’m very driven by the step-by-step process that is doing a little better, going a little bigger, and pushing just a little bit harder every time I ride my bike.

How did your "fuel" influence the way the visuals were incorporated into the narrative?

Hmm… I’m not necessarily sure it did other than a couple of the lines I rode being first descents for me.

What does it mean to you to be a representative for women and LGBTQ+ folks in the mountain biking, and outdoor, communities?

It actually holds a lotof weight. Not negatively, it’s just really important to me because I never saw someone like me growing up. I literally spent my entire youth wondering what I was because I never saw anyone like me, anywhere.

If you could speak to other women and/or LGBTQ+ individuals who are hesitant to get into mountain biking or outdoor sports, what would you tell them?

I would say don’t be! Mountain biking can be intimidating and painful, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Step-by-step dedication to progression will not only teach you a lot about yourself, but where it’ll take you will surprise you, too.

I feel like a fortune cookie writer right now…

What is your favorite Gnarly product that keeps you fueled?

Gnarly Protein (both forms and flavors) is something I use every single day. Don’t get caught without your brotein, bro.


Any final thoughts or comments?

Katie:
I’ve always been kind of a one-man-band when it comes to filmmaking (I know, I’m trying to break that habit), but we needed more hands on deck for this. I knew I couldn’t be the only one on camera, operating drone, taking photos, etc. Plus, I knew I could only get Blake and the others to hike up that damn mountain with 40-pound bikes on their backs one time with somewhat of a good attitude. So we needed multiple people capturing multiple angles. That’s when I recruited Jeff and Sophia to help with the project.
Jeff is my brother who is early in his filmmaking career and Sophia is my partner who is a master with the stills. There’s no way we could have executed without them. We were all on the same page with the overall vision of the project and it was just one big happy family that was making magic out there!
Blake:

I would like to remind you to be nice to people, especially when it feels hard. We can all learn a lot from watching other people move through life differently than we would.

 

If you’ve made it this far (through life as well as reading this interview) I applaud you.

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