Rise Of The Signature Video Project
Why the Full Part isn’t Enough Anymore
This story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding and has been updated with photos.
Words: Andrew Sayer
How a Few Pros are Moving Beyond Traditional Movies and Full Parts
Interviews, magazine covers, podiums, Olympic medals—for years these accomplishments have paled next to the full video part—the most legitimate measure of what makes a pro snowboarder. Since the advent of part-based movies in the early ’90s, the full part has been the foundation of any lasting pro career and the term has become shorthand for the best two or three minutes of tricks a rider can muster over a season. The formula has built legends. Many of the highest-profile contests riders aspire to one day leave the confines of the judged run behind and hit the streets and backcountry to film. Take a name like Jed Anderson, add In Full, put the video online, and you can guarantee views will spike. Each fall the promise of parts in traditional videos draws crowds to video premieres and computer screens to witness the progression of the sport. This has long been the engine that drives core snowboarding.
But for pros at the top the full part alone isn’t enough anymore. Whether mixed in with 10 other riders in a traditional crew movie or headlining an online full part that’s on a homepage one day and pushed off the next by a 16-year-old doing a new triple cork, it’s harder than ever to stand out. Enter the Signature Video Project—movies built around, and driven by one headlining pro.
Remaking The Super Pro
Stylish, progressive riding will always be the backbone of a pro snowboarding career, but riding is only half the battle. Telling a story centering on one main rider is increasingly becoming a key ingredient in building the type of super pro that dominated the ’90s and early 2000s like Terje Haakonsen, Peter Line, Ingemar Backman, Jamie Lynn, Daniel Franck, and JP Walker.
Signature Video Projects are nothing new. Craig Kelly had Smooth Groove in 1989. Terje had Subjekt Haakonsen in 1996, a Dave Seoane directed masterpiece that still influences the influencers to this day. But to carry an entire project the rider has to be larger than life.
More recently Jeremy Jones has lead the charge into uncharted territory while lending in his name to the Deeper, Further, Higher trilogy. There was Jake Blauvelt’s Naturally and Bode Merrill’s Merrill Time. And although Brainfarm’s That’s It That All and Art Of Flight didn’t directly have Travis Rice’s name attached to the title the two are nearly synonymous—when filming for the new Brainfarm project was announced it was called Travis Rice’s new movie. Torstein Horgmo’s Horgasm: A Love Story was another widely viewed film with over two million views on YouTube.
Outside of contest riders like Shaun White, Mark McMorris, and Sage Kotsenburg who have received boosts from mainstream media attention, there are few riders today with as much recognition as Travis, Jeremy, and Jake.
This season a few more riders with deep roots added their names to the Signature Project list. Pat Moore told the tale of his season through his Red Bull-backed Blueprint webisodes, then built off that with Volcom’s Mr. Plant to be released this fall. Featuring predominantly Volcom riders, it could be considered a team video that Pat curated and anchored on his talent.
Another big release slated for this fall has Signature Video pioneer Dave Seoane back in action. After creating movies for Terje, Shaun White, and Kevin Jones his latest subject is Danny Davis.
There’s also Sage Kotsenburg’s Holy Crail, which followed Sage’s road to Sochi and features five episodes on TWSNOW.com.
To get a better understanding of the rise of the rider-driven project, the pros, cons and the future of traditional crew videos we sat down the with the riders heading them as well as directors past and present.
Snowboarding is full of teams, but it’s not a team sport so getting top riders curate their own projects makes sense over having them in a crew video. The question is why did it take over a decade for these to become the norm?
“There were so many snowboard porn videos released there was a need for more information behind them. Red Bull wanted a series, but regular webisodes are boring and overdone. I wanted something different that highlights my personal style, especially during an Olympic season. Snowboarding has changed from a generation of larger than life characters into a bland ‘sport’ with training and coaching. I went the opposite route and showcased some legends of snowboarding as well.”–Pat Moore, Blueprint, Mr.Plant
“The evolution to projects on one rider mirrors the way our need-to-know-everything-now culture has grown with the Internet. We no longer only see that little snippet of Jamie Lynn for example. Now if you don’t know what a person is doing every day you start to forget about them. It’s kinda f—ked up.”–Jeremy Pettit, director of Pat Moore’s Blueprint and movies including Forum’s That and Burton’s Standing Sideways
“I was tired of seeing all the little moments never get the chance to see the light of day. It was all about the bangers, which is cool to a degree, but that’s not all there is to snowboarding. It’s more about a feeling you get during a slash or the way the rider enters a line, not just the line itself. That is snowboarding to me—all the little moments in-between. When an editor has to cram 15 riders all with different visions into one video and make it sellable, those moments are the first to go. I couldn’t let that happen any more and so that’s why I chose to start doing my own thing.”—Jake Blauvelt, Naturally
“We live in an age where people want stories. They want to connect with the characters on a human level. The action sports media model as a whole had been stagnant for a long time. There is a mix between two mindsets—one, if it worked last year, then it must be a winning formula, and two, brands simply need a project to keep their sponsored athletes busy.”–Greg Martin, Friday Management who helped legitimatize webisodes through the Cooking With Gas and Naturally projects
“Looking at it from a rider’s perspective the promotion on traditional videos focuses on the movie itself and crew line-up whereas Signature Video Projects put the emphasis on the rider. It’s their own brand that gets marketed and grows their status if they can carry it. This type of project doesn’t make sense for every rider, but when the riding is strong enough to handle a solo feature, and they have an active fan base, that combo can really catapult a rider to mega pro status.”–Nick Hamilton, Content Director, TransWorld SNOWboarding
“Now everybody has their own audience. Things used to be an adventure where a story was told. That’s what inspired videos back in the day. They’d go to a location knowing nothing about it and make a story about the adventure. Snowboard films lost the travel adventure part to go to individual parts and now that’s being broken up. There are a handful of people doing their own film now. The question is, does everybody deserve that?”–Dave Seoane, director of Subjekt Haakonsen, The White Album, and Danny Davis’s forthcoming documentary
For fans of snowboarding there are many positives to the rider-driven, Signature Video Project. New footage is released almost daily from around the world centered on a single person. Even if it’s not all hammers it gives a unique perspective to who is doing what and where.
“The thing that is sick about making webisodes is that it gives everyone an insight of how it all goes down even when you don’t do good and also when you do great. The ups and downs are what make it cool to see, how a certain person deals with going from the top to the bottom or vice versa.”–Sage Kotsenburg, Holy Crail
“Once you have the freedom to not follow everyone else and spin 180 degrees more than the last guy, snowboarding has so much to offer. We document such a small part of it, but it is an amazing culture that is full of insane things.”–Marko Grilc, The Grilosodes
“Change is always good. Breaking out of structure and mixing it up—for everybody involved it’s more fun like that. The viewers get bored of the same formats.”–Nicolas Müller
“There is more pressure [making your own project] and I have struggled with it at times, but you can use it to bring out the best in yourself and the crew. Your sponsors wouldn’t have given you the opportunity to release a rider-driven feature if they didn’t believe you could pull it off. It’s your opportunity to let your inspiration and creativity shine. It’s like anything in life, don’t focus on the pressure and what could go wrong, just focus on the present, set your goals and see them out!”
“The audience is watching it for the riders, not for the brand. Focusing on one guy simplifies things. There’s a greater opportunity to reveal an individual’s character that’s hard to show when you’re cramming 10 people in an action-based video. We’ve tried every way to tell their stories in an intro, but there’s only time for snippets of their characters.”–Jeremy Pettit
With the trend in rider-driven projects catching on, many riders are now trying to do the same thing but they don’t all have the skill to tell compelling stories. Being able to film great snowboarding is only part of the job. And threat of injury can always derail in-season releases.
“It’s an insane amount of work. For my episodes there are two filmers and a photographer and I am in the back organizing everything—riders, places we go, flights, and hotels. Just that is a full time job.”–Marko Grilc
“Rider projects are everywhere and only a few names have done it right. The people behind them are as important as the rider—Dave Seoane, Curt Morgan. The mix of filmmaking, story telling, and snowboarding is what makes it special.”–Pat Moore
“Pat’s old school in that he wanted to save all his best footage for the Volcom project. Not using many tricks created a conundrum with his Blueprint series. It’s an interesting topic because does it even matter any more? For years we kept things a secret, but now riders put out epic on-line parts and then re-use tricks in their video part later.”–Jeremy Pettit
“There are some days it definitely feels like work more than others, but this is what I do. You can’t make it to a professional level in snowboarding then sit back and chill out.”–Sage Kotsenburg
“The reason we started Robot Food in 2002 was because we felt snowboard videos were at a stand still. I think snowboard videos in 2014 also have become stagnant—great production value, but lacking a bit of realness. The organic feel around independent video projects goes missing and filmmakers have less freedom to get their vision out when controlled by marketing people.”–Pierre Wikberg
“Its going through a phase right now and for one rider to come out with a film it’s good, but not everyone can do that. The guys producing these films have to come up with a different concept. It’s important to have a different angle, the glue that holds it all together.”–Dave Seoane
Days Numbered For Traditional Movies?
There are still team videos on offer like Capita’s Stay Badass, which drops this fall and companies like Absinthe and VideoGrass continue to release killer crew videos. So are traditional videos going to stand the test of time? Mainly it’s just the distribution due to technology that’s changed.
“It’s good to have the traditional flicks that entirely focus on the action and showcase the riders lining up the best stuff of the season.”–Nicolas Müller, currently working on a two year Signature Project, Fruition.
“There is always room for some pure action snowboard movies, but they also need to evolve and bring a new style, message, story, or production value each year.” –Greg Martin
“There’s no going back now. People want real time action and the romantic notion of snowboard videos past is just us 30-year olds talking about it.”– Jeremy Pettit
“We learned by growing up watching amazing films by MDP, Standard Films, FLF, and Veeco what the master guidelines are to what makes a snowboarding video. The experience in today’s modern approach to snowboarding films only enhances what we’re trying to showcase.”–Jake Price
“The ‘who we are’ part of snowboarding is immensely important. Snowboarding has always been about more than the activity itself. The style and personalities associated with how we do it matter. Team movies are about who we are, and CAPiTA is about more than one rider. We have a strong team and through their diverse personalities and styles we hope to share our version of where snowboarding stands at this moment.”–Blue Montgomery, President, CAPiTA Snowboarding
Should traditional videos be mourned?
With brands spending more dollars to get across a singular message is it time for traditional videos to be buried and focus entirely on building up riders worth? Signature products, like a pro model boot or snowboard, sell because we believe that the super powers of the pro will rub off, but before this can happen the rider must rise to the top level.
“If every rider had a video it would be too much. A project around one rider—with his friends—has to offer more than the usual action bangers and lifestyles. Traditional movies are good to build a reputation and then if you have the chance to make something bigger that’s focused on your personality you can elevate yourself to an iconic shredder that is really building our culture.”–Nicolas Müller
“Single rider projects aren’t a must in the future. Trends come and go and it’s a nimble process to switch things up these days. There’s no telling what the videos will look like in five years. Hopefully some ambitious filmmakers and creative snowboarders will dictate the future.”–Pierre Wikberg
“Let snowboard videos take any course they want and let them figure themselves out. Let’s just make sure that they still matter.” –Lance Hakker
“Anyone willing to dedicate themselves to create something original for the sake of stoking out snowboarders around the world is doing the best thing possible for snowboarding.”–Jake Price
Rider-driven projects are trending but whether it becomes a true staple of snowboarding remains to be seen. Either way, the current passion both in front and behind the lens is dedicated to keeping the culture of snowboarding on track. Those in charge are not only freakishly talented, but also have snowboarding’s best interest in mind–Pat Moore, Jeremy Jones, and Travis Rice ruling the mountain and stylish riders like Sage Kotsenburg and Danny Davis standing on podiums. With riders like that at the helm snowboarding is racing into the future without losing sight of what’s in the rearview mirror.
Behind The Bibs
In the search for ways to get more out of contests than podium results the Signature Video Project. Leading up to big events like the Olympics, these webisodes follow the path of the competitor, gambling that he or she will find success. Ideally the rider goes on to win a gold medals—like Sage Kotsenburg—after documenting their run to the top.
It can be difficult to make contest coverage exciting, but Sage proved it’s possible. His series focused on keeping fun and style in the game. He openly talked about practice being too early, coaches wearing ski boots, and shared his opinion on how contests are getting stale. His attitude made him a snowboarder’s snowboarder and a worthy champion. The fact that he went on to win gold at the Sochi Olympics was icing.
Check out the full Holy Crail series here.
Last season a few girls got in on contest webisodes as well. Two of the biggest projects highlight the largest pro and con. Jamie Anderson’s Living The Dream series and Elena Hight’s Hight Hopes both documented their roads to the Olympics and while Jamie went on to win gold in the first women’s slopestyle, Elena—a favorite going into the Games with tricks like an alley-oop double backside rodeo—crumbled during the intense weeks prior and failed to qualify.
Busting The Pipes
The longstanding rule when it comes to filming a part is that tricks should be kept on the low until the part drops. Until recently, any leaky pipes—talking about or showing footage beforehand—quickly got clamped down on. Jake Blauvelt’s Naturally release in 2011 was the first major webisode featuring tricks as Jake got them throughout the season. At the end of it all he still released an online full part that had just as much if not more hype than a part with completely unseen footage. Following that, Eero Ettala, Heikki Sorsa, and Lauri Heiskari were the next to tell their story through their monthly Cooking With Gas series, another that didn’t hold back any of the banger tricks.
“The first Terje film, Subjekt, was put together by Richard Woolcott, from Volcom, Terje, and I. The three of us sat down and thought we should do a film. Terje wasn’t like ‘I want to do a film about myself.’ He was the wonder boy. Luckily I had a relationship with Terje and he trusted Richard, so it worked well and was perfect timing. When that film came out other snowboarders weren’t having films made about them. It was standalone. That’s what happened with Shaun White as well. He was a little kid and then there was a period where you knew he was going to be huge so I wanted to make something happen before the transition. This was right before his first Olympics, so the timing of The White Album was really good too. That was another stand alone that I thought worked really well.”–Dave Seoane
Want more? Read more stories from the magazine here.
Check out these Signature Video Projects on TWSNOW.com
Sage Kostenburg’s Holy Crail
Pat Moore’s Blueprint
Marko Grilc’s The Grilosodes
BYND X MDLS
Download your favorite snowboard films here!