Screenshot from Toyota commercial filmed in Alamitos Bay.
On a hot Friday morning in August of this year, Horny Corner in Belmont Shore was converted into a bustling Hollywood-style movie set. Star trailers, makeup tents and a catering booth were all set up on the small piece of bayside beach.
But instead of actors from Dexter or CSI Miami—which are both often filmed in the area—the featured celebrities were some of the world’s top extreme sports stars. And instead of capturing perfect shots of a bloody palm tree-laden crime scene, crews watched as six-time X-Games Gold Medalist Jamie Bestwick and 2011 BMX Ramp Rider of the Year Drew Bezanson rode their bikes down the U.S. Sailing Center’s pier, hit a ramp at the end and launched into back flips before landing in the water.
Later, workers covered the pier in fake snow and other extreme athletes (such as U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix Champion Louie Vito) took turns riding into the water.
The day was organized by Andy Bell, a freestyle motocross rider and former star on MTV’s Nitro Circus who—along with partners Jonny Zeller and Colt Seman—founded Long Beach-based production company Sweatpants Media earlier this year. Footage from the snow-filled summer shoot soon became a commercial for an extreme sports tour presented by Toyota—just one of the many global clients Sweatpants Media has worked with during its short time in business.
“In 2002, I retired from competition,” says the surfer-looking Bell during a rare moment of free time. “And doing the two seasons of Nitro Circus—being involved in the filming process—was a good precursor to starting my own production company.”
Originally from Canada, Bell moved to Long Beach after meeting Roland Sands, a custom motorcycle designer who lives in Naples. On 4th of July last year, Bell met Zeller and Seman at a party and discovered that they were a young and eager editor/videographer team from Minneapolis.
When the idea to start a production company crossed his mind, Bell immediately thought of the two talents he had met and asked them if they were willing to move to Long Beach and start Sweatpants with him.
With a production team in place, Bell began looking for work for his new studio. Admittedly knowing little about the film industry, he made a few phone calls to corporations he had previously worked with through Nitro Circus and his motocross career—Red Bull, Dodge and Toyota.
All of them offered him work. Red Bull signed up for 21 episodes of a reality series about Bell’s good friend and motorsports stuntman Travis Pastrana (who jumped off of the Pine Ave. Pier on New Years Eve 2009/2010). Toyota wanted Sweatpants to make commercials for its extreme sports team. Dodge offered a competitive contract to the new company for the launch of its Dart rally car.
“All that I did was put the bait on the hook and a whale jumped in my canoe,” Bell says, laughing.
Two weeks into business, Bell, Zeler and Seman were in Chelsea, Michigan with $1 million in rented equipment talking to the CEO of Dodge and filming a commercial that would be proving grounds for its future work. Since then, the Sweatpants team has traveled around the world filming spots for clients such as Panasonic, Team Radio Shack, Schneider Optics and BBC. Zeller and Seman live in the Downtown Long Beach loft that doubles as Sweatpants Media headquarters. Bell refers to them affectionately as “the kids.”
Because of its proximity to Los Angeles’ many studios, Long Beach’s picturesque waterfront and urban cityscapes have been used as backdrops for Hollywood movies and TV shows for years. But rarely is the production company itself based here.
Using Bell’s connections in the extreme sports industry and Zeller and Seman’s creative drive, however, Sweatpants Media is putting Long Beach on the map for an entirely different realm of filming opportunities.
“The Film Commission here has been great,” Bell says. “They are the foremost reason why we set up here and they are excited that we are bringing new kinds of work to the city.”
With additional reporting by Chris Livingston.
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