Nitro Circus Live creator Michael Porra
After June's spectacular Nitro Circus debut in Las Vegas, I had a chance to catch up with Australian super-promoter, Michael Porra. From his rather sensible beginnings in advertising, to his creation and promotion of the Australian "Iron Man" series (like a surf triathlon with surf skis, surf boards, swimming and running), Porra eventually found his way into the world of action sports. His company promoted the Crusty Demons Australian and New Zealand tours to sell-out crowds, year after year, and this past year he worked a deal to promote Nitro Circus worldwide. I had a feeling that a guy with so much history would have a story or two to tell ...
ESPN.com: What first brought you into the world of FMX?
Michael Porra: I had seen a Crusty Demons DVD and saw the kind of the following it had, particularly in Australia and that sort of brought my attention to freestyle motocross. I thought that we could turn this into a live, choreographed show. So that was the first major thing that I did in this area. I created this new show, a Crusty Demons live theatrical show in arenas. That's where it all started.
When did you actually do the first Crusty show?
2003. I did that right through until 2010.
That was a pretty long-standing event. Do you remember the first time you met with the Crusty Demons guys and talked to these filmmakers about choreographing a show -- what was their reaction?
To be honest, with those guys from Fleshwound Films, they're very commercially oriented (laughs). Anything that they felt could see some revenue flowing from it, they were up for it. So long as we were guaranteeing some money and there was going to be good returns, they were into it. They really had no involvement whatsoever with the live shows. They came and filmed them and put them in the DVD's, but we ran the live shows completely independently, under a licensing agreement.
That's a done relationship now, right? You're not doing Crusty stuff any more?
No, no, that's right. We finished early 2010 and we decided that we had done everything we could with that brand and unfortunately, as part of the way that the brand was managed they took it massively into discount department stores and it kind of was the beginning of the end for the brand. I yelled and screamed as much as I could to not have that happen, but unfortunately it did and it kind of sent the brand spiraling downwards immediately.
We knew there was only a certain lifespan for the brand, no matter what we were doing with the live shows. We had done six new seasons of the shows and had re-created the show six times and took it to various countries. We had tremendous success with it in Australia and New Zealand and we had moderate success in the United Kingdom and we had catastrophic failures everywhere else.
(laughing) That's very honest of you!
The brand just wasn't known. In America the brand was super, super niche, even in its hometown. People rarely knew about the brand and in Europe no one had heard about the brand. So we tried and we put on big tours with big promoters in big venues, but no one bought tickets. For us to be a success we needed to be able to sell the tickets, we needed to be able to have people come and, you know, see the shows. That was the whole thing behind Nitro Circus.
So I went over to see Travis and his management and of course the Godfrey (Films) boys and I spent the next year with my team developing the show and building these mega ramps and putting them up in places like Pala (Southern Calif. race track). We began testing things and bringing people in from all over the place to test the contraptions we were building. Launching people off things that had no right to be launching and eventually over about a year, with a lot of money invested obviously, we had our first tour and it has been hugely successful. We obviously have very, very big plans for the future.
I'm sure people are really interested in what Travis Pastrana is like to work with as a partner and a workmate:
When I think about Travis, I think about when I made a speech at the wrap-up Tour party last year, down here in Australia. I got a bit emotional talking about Travis because I've never met anyone like him. For a guy that is who he is and does what he does, it's just so unusual. I have been around the blocks a while and I have just never met anyone as humble and as respectful -- and they're the main words, you know? No matter what the situation, he remains always incredibly respectful and so polite it's almost ... it makes you feel uncomfortable because he's so bloody polite.
But his influence on the rest of the team -- he really is like the captain of the team -- he just spurs everybody on to bigger things. He not only doesn't mind, but actually wants to be upstaged by everybody if they can. Examples like when we had the scooter rider, Andrew Broussard, first join us, who is very good at what he does, but because he was on a scooter, was copping a bit of flak from all the other boys. He never got any of that from Travis and any time he tried doing something new or a big trick, the first person over there to pick him up and swing him around was Travis. Where as some of the other guys (particularly the freestyle riders) would give him a bit of stick you know, because he was a scooter rider, but not Travis. He's like that with every other person in the cast and all the behind-the-scenes crew as well.
Could Nitro really work without Travis?
Nitro will work without Travis in the future. Would I have started Nitro Circus without Travis in the first place? Probably not, because he's the star and he's the reason people buy tickets to the show right now. But it is very much our plan and very much Travis' plan that eventually he will phase himself out of being the guy that is killing himself every night, to sometimes being a commentator and sometimes not even being there. That's what we have to do with this show, to turn it into a show that doesn't rely on one person and Travis wants that every bit as much as we do because he's an owner and he doesn't want a show that he has to come out and do every night.
Going back to the sport of FMX: Nitro's got a certain slant on it, in the US the Feld Motorsports guys have been doing the Nuclear Cowboys tour, but you have been involved with the sport for a long time, so what do you see as the future of FMX?
I certainly have some pretty strong views about it.
(laughing) I bet you do!
I think that freestyle competition is terrible. I think the format is destroying the sport and, again, for me it's almost unwatchable. You basically just have the same people doing the same runs over and over. They race around the place going so fast and getting points for how fast they ride around, how many jumps they do. You add to that the fact that now the whole thing is just about technical backflip combos and it's boring!
I've got some very clear thoughts of how I would like to see the competition run. After writing the shows my job is to sit in the stands and watch the reaction of the crowd, watch the reaction to everything every single night. I have done it all over the world. In Vegas, we just had probably the biggest response to a single freestyle trick in the whole show. It was Jarryd McNeil's turndown. Then he and Potter went back out and did side by side turndowns and the screaming and crowd reaction to that was phenomenal. When we had the backflip combos segment there basically wasn't a sound. Supposedly the biggest tricks in the sport, the ones that you see all the time at X Games, people were just basically not even responding to it at all.
If I was running competitions I would make it that you get a run where in a certain time there are not as many hits out there. Instead of eight kickers and landers, there's three maybe. You slow down so you get a chance to see a replay before you hit another one. I would make certain that you have to do ten tricks in a run and half of them have to be right-way-up. If they did some of those things I think we could be right back on track. I'm not sure it's going to change, but with X Games and X-Fighters I see my sport -- that I do for a living and I love it -- and I find it hard to watch that stuff.