This feature appeared in the October issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine and has been updated with the gallery and text. Subscribe here.
In the winter of 2007, TransWorld SNOWboarding sent a group of riders and filmers around the world to make a movie. That summer the footage was edited into a film called These Days.
When the premiere tour started in the fall we began scheming on the next project—the one we'd embark on when temperatures dropped and snow began to blanket the mountains and cities. Each season we've repeated this process, seeking out peaks and streets the world over with an eclectic cast, documenting diverse talent united by a love of going sideways fast. Making snowboard movies is, for the most part, fun, which is why we keep doing it. We broke the process down into 10 steps, with input from Theo Muse, director of our latest project, Insight.
Decide on a Concept
Conceptualization will set a film's direction in motion. From the earliest snowboard films that sought to highlight an emerging way of sliding on snow to Mack Dawg movies that showcased the most progressive riding at the time, any good snowboard film has had at least a loose conceptual element to it. The concept is the intent and often the derivative of the title.
When Insight was in its early stages—before its very literal title was decided upon—we knew that we wanted to delve into the personalities behind the action. TransWorld has always featured the highest-caliber snowboarding in its films. Of course we were looking for hammers, but for the first time, the story each rider had to tell sat equal to the action delivered. We wanted to provide insight into the motivations of these riders, hence the name we landed on. "If we can get everyone as hyped on a rider as I am after a year of working them, that is the goal. After learning about someone, you gain more appreciation for their riding," explains Theo Muse, Insight director.
The riders who comprise a film should be on board with its concept and embody it. At the end of the day, snowboarding is what a snowboard film is about, and the snowboarders will dictate the caliber of it. If your objective is to make a backcountry-oriented movie, you don't want riders who prefer shoveling stairs to digging test pits. If an artistic film is your goal, this vision will translate better with creative riders—imagine if the casts of Love/Hate and Burning Bridges were comprised of X Games medalists.
With Insight we sought out riders with a story to tell or a unique objective for their season. Josh Dirksen wanted to ride windlips in his Oregon backyard because that's what made sense for his place in life and within his snowboard career. Perfect. He was in. Jason Robinson wanted to build a home he could tow with his truck to Alaska, saving as much cash as possible for heli-drops. Great. We'd be there to film it. We knew from the beginning we wanted Victor De Le Rue in the movie, after his ender last year in Origins.
Victor wanted to travel to two locations, Japan and Russia, and spend a month in each, riding resorts with locals and immersing himself in their cultures. This fit with the goal of the film—giving riders a platform to snowboard the way they want to.
We also knew we wanted to offer Red Gerard the chance to film his first video part, and when the then 15-year-old Red got the call, he couldn't believe it: "I'm just so happy; I couldn't be more happy. I wanted this to happen so bad. This is a dream come true.”
Money: the topic no one wants to talk about. Incredible films have been made on shoestring budgets, but they weren't made for free. Everything costs, and if it doesn't come from a sponsor, it comes out of someone's pocket. Financial support allows the riders to focus on riding and the filmers to focus on filming. The way movie funding traditionally works is this: A brand writes a check to the film company in exchange for their rider being in the film. It's called a buy-in, and it's the way all large-scale films operate. In an ideal situation, everyone wins.
As Kevin Stevenson, Salomon Snowboards' global marketing manager, puts it, "With so many movies coming out each season, we're looking for something special. For riders that are established, I'm interested in projects that show their personality and tell the story behind what they do. I think balancing that with progressive riding edited well to good music is the Holy Grail. It has to come across natural and rider-driven, which is the hardest part in the end.
Insight made sense for Dirksen and Daviet because there was a concrete plan to showcase a super diverse roster of riders and tell their individual stories. At the end of the day, if the rider is happy with the outcome, I'm happy. You elevate the rider, and it elevates the brand organically."
This is often dictated in part by the riders in the film. A healthy rider/filmer relationship is critical. With small crews this happens by default—one of the homies picks up a camera and a group of friends make a movie. With larger projects like Insight it's important for riders to have input as to whom they'd like to work with instead of being stuck with a filmer with whom they don't mesh, like some sort of arranged marriage.
Petrus Koskinen has been riding with Toni Kerkelä since they were kids, and now Petrus is filming full-time. Easy. Dylan Alito wanted to work with his longtime friend Zach Rawles to film his Insight part. Done. Rawles says, "Alito and I would hit spots and not even tell anyone. Some days we'd set up quad kinks by ourselves and film for hours. If Alito wasn't feeling a trick I always had some other idea in mind for the spot that I knew he could make happen. From time to time, Alito would even get behind the camera and film clips of me. His filmer alter ego is Infrared because he says he "only films heat.'"
Equipment is the other component to consider in regard to filmers. Having a part filmed standard-def on a VX1000 sitting next to another filmed on an 8K-capable RED is going to create quite a contrast. If aesthetic consistency is of concern, each filmer needs to be capturing on similar equipment. The higher the standard, the smaller your pool of potential filmers becomes. We decided to film Insight in 1080p as not to limit the project exclusively to filmers with state-of-the-art equipment. Much of the footage was filmed on the trusty Panasonic HVX.
Decide on Locations
This could mean driving around in the off-season and finding a handrail too big to hit on your skateboard, or it could mean scheming up a trip to the most exotic locale in a far corner of the world. Whatever the case, having a general idea of where you're going to film is a critical step in the moviemaking process. Sometimes these locations are decided long in advance, while other times they happen spur of the moment based on weather forecasting.
With Insight we sent riders to unknown big-mountain destinations in Russia while others were bagging shots within five miles of their front door. Everywhere there was a rider we needed a filmer, so Insight crews were scattered across the globe for the duration of the winter. "So much of making a movie like Insight is making sure people are in the right places for what they need to be doing; the rest will happen on its own," Theo says.
Get the Shots
We all know the acronym GTS. Your dad might be using it at this point. If the crew and conditions are right, this isn't an issue, but as increasingly odd weather patterns leave regions dry, this problem becomes ever-more present. Injury is another obstacle that can inhibit the stacking of clips. Perhaps partying is part of your concept, but in excess it poses detriment to the amount of shots a rider gathers in a season, though plenty of crews—think Whiskey and the Wildcats—have proved a balance of boozing and boarding can produce some of snowboarding's most entertaining films.
Film crews dispersed internationally necessitate continuous check-ins to ensure clips are being logged and the project is on track. Fortunately, with Insight we ran into few problems here. As Theo puts it, "It's not just TransWorld making a movie. Every rider is putting their all into their video parts, so for the most part you don't have to worry about people slacking off because you know it means just as much to them as it does to you." Theo continues, "You'll get a text message from someone at four o'clock in the morning like, 'Just stacked a banger; I'm really hyped on this!' And you're like, 'Sick, it's coming together.'"
Collect the Footage
If everything is in order throughout the season, there should be few concerns when it comes to footage collection. But this is where disasters can emerge, often with no remedy. Lost hard drives or corrupted files can mean a dramatically different outcome for a rider's part. The proper steps need to be taken in advance to mitigate catastrophes in the end.
Footage should be dumped daily, ideally saved on different drives, stored in multiple places. Two backup drives in the same backpack as the primary do no good when that backpack gets stolen. Cloud storage is useful when it comes to keeping footage safe, but movie files are large and can be expensive to store. Aside from a scare with some footage logged in a new version of Adobe Premiere, we thankfully experienced little hiccups when it came to collecting everyone's shots for Insight.
Edit the Footage
Everything up to this point is gathering ingredients. The edit bay is where it all comes together; it's where decisions are made. How long is the film going to be in its entirety?Do you want back-to-back action, or how much b-roll do you want to splice in to let each shot breathe? How well does each part transition into the next?
The issue of part order leads to the big question: Who gets opener and ender? Often these questions can be answered by referring back to the original concept decided on.
"At the end of the year you end up with timelines for each rider that are two hours long with all their footage. Obviously you want all the best tricks, but you still have to ask yourself with each clip, 'Does this help communicate the original concept of the film?'" Theo explains. Give Insight's intent to explain the identity of those involved, it was important to let each part offer a perspective on the personality of the rider.
License the Music
Most small snowboard films skip this step. For large-scale films, neglecting to pay for song rights isn't an option. The bigger the artist, the bigger the price tag, and anything licensed from a major label will cost some coin. Music from independent labels usually comes cheaper. Often the best music-sourcing option for films both large and small is to work with friends who are musicians. Got a buddy in a band? Hit them up and make a deal—if you're lucky, in the form of a 12-pack. There's a fine line between ripping someone off and offering exposure; it's important to stay on the right side of it.
Pay attention to the credits of most major film releases in snowboarding, and you'll see the name Lory Vincent. Lory has made a career off licensing music for action sports films specifically. She knows all the people and all the tricks.
The Insight soundtrack is an eclectic mix of songs by artists ranging from friends' bands to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The accompanying price tags are equally diverse.
Plan for the Premiere
This is where more questions arise. Do you premiere the film in the mountains or in an urban location with greater potential for attendance? Is it in a location where many of the riders live? The premiere is, again, where cost comes in. Theaters charge for use of the space, so if money is a concern, it's often best to find an alternative option, which could be your backyard or a bar a buddy works at.
The Insight cast is scattered worldwide, so there is no one geographic region with a concentration of riders in the film. We decided to premiere Insight in Southern California, where our offices are located, offering those involved in the film a chance to come down and catch a few waves before the snow starts flying and we're all back in the mountains, stacking clips for next year's movie