20 Years Of Mack Dawg Productions
A Legacy Of Influence
By Jesse Huffman
"Decade was monumental. To call a video Double Decade is a bold title—it better be bolts."—JP Walker
Ten years ago, snowboarding was still ragged around the edges, the limits of the possible broken down and redefined each season by the likes of Peter Line's backside rodeos or Kevin Jones' dizzying rotations. Decade fell square into this era as a milestone in progression, featuring a new guard of soon-to-be legends like Devun Walsh and JP Walker going past simply inventing new tricks to stomping them, consistently, with style, and on terrain that would find your average pro throwing a method, at best. Decade was the stamp of ten years of influence by Mike McEntire's Mack Dawg Productions on snowboarding's history, encompassing some of the heaviest sessions and showcasing the best riders pushing themselves and our sport to new limits.
That was 1998. Fast-forward ten crazy years—the jib revival fully ensconced, snowmobiles providing unparalleled access to backcountry terrain, and the level of rider talent at an all-time high, and MDP is at the apex of influence with its final classic—Double Decade.
Stocked with an all-star cast of today's best riders, including Ettala, Mathes, Wiig, and Oksanen, DD also features full parts from several Decade alums—Walsh, Jones, Walker, and Yli-Luoma. Filmed in supernaturally crisp HD by MDP Director Brad Kremer, DD has everything in place to be the movie that freaks out the next generation of rippers, just as Decade did ten years ago.
The film company that started out in 1988 as Mike McEntire, traveling out of his car, scraping money for his next reel of film, has become Mack Dawg Productions as we know it today. As of 2008, MDP has now shot over 1,250 hours of footage. He has produced 25 films, and Double Decade is evidence that McEntire, Kremer, and the Mack Dawg Productions Company have tapped more than just a fountain of constant enthusiasm—they've created a living legacy of snowboard history and progression.
Transworld Senior Photographer Andy Wright has been shooting stills for MDP since Decade. An early-90s pro himself, he's seen the impact that all those MDP films have had. "In the early days, there was nothing that compared to Mack Dawg movies," says Wright. "They influenced a generation who took it to the next level and are now inspiring the next generation to do the same. Mike McEntire has been in it for over twenty years, and most of those years were long before there was any kind of money or mainstream appeal—without his vision I really don't think snowboarding would be what it is today."
Case in point, current MDP rider Darrell Mathes talks about the film that got him stoked on going snowboarding: "I remember the first Decade—how much of an influence it had on my life, and how it gave me the passion to snowboard. So with this project, I put more pride and hard work into making Double Decade, hoping the new wave of kids will feel the same way as I did and be inspired."
JP Walker grew up watching MDP originals like The Hard, The Hungry, And The Homeless. As one of the key riders in Decade, he says that filming the follow-up was a strange experience in influence coming around full circle. "When Decade first came out I was tripping on Dawger," says Walker. "I was just thinking, 'Man this guy's been making snowboard videos for ten years!' Now all of a sudden, I'm that dude I was tripping on … "
Progression: Part 1
While filming the original Decade, McEntire predicted that the level of riding would become "ridiculous" in the next ten years. "And now it is," he continues. "The tech and the scale of things are really, really ridiculous." Seth Huot summarizes the change between Decade and its follow-up: "Drop-in ramps, sleds, and helis." Add to that quicker, more-reliable jibbing, easier and further access into the backcountry, and flights to the steepest mountains in the world.
Now 1080s are the new 360, back lips are the new boardslide, and spinning off cliffs into powder, backward, is average. MDP has always focused on the most progressive shredding, and Double Decade is no different—the roster is stacked with riders who exemplify just how far things have come from the neon-spangled beginnings of modern-day snowboarding. And if you look close, the evolution of the movies themselves are woven right into that trajectory, from crusty resort outcasts to today's flash and mainstream appeal.
"In the early days of snowboard films," explains MDP Director Brad Kremer, "just about anything the riders did was progressive because it was so new. To me, the movies were more about the lifestyle and exploration. That was the beauty of the New Kids On the Twock era—they had a lot of feeling and emotion."
The Decade years documented the warp-speed velocity of snowboard evolution—tricks being invented left and right, riders taking their boards to limits no one had ever seen before. "Videos changed from being about the lifestyle to focusing on the progression," says Kremer. "They became very fast paced, and a lot of the creativity on the production side was put in the back seat because all we cared about was the shot, shot, shot."
Since then, Kremer observes, there has been a second resurgence of innovation, in the films themselves. "Because the sport is not progressing at the lightning pace it used to, you see a lot more people exploring the story they can tell with a snowboard film. It's almost like we have come full circle back to the focusing on the creativity and production of snowboard films."
Not to say that snowboarding has leveled off these days. "When a double-pump frontside air off a bump could make the cut," adds Kremer, "you didn't need to worry about getting up at 5:00 a.m.—but when people expect you to do a perfect switch back nine over an 80-foot gap into powder, you might want to be sober and get a good night's sleep."
Progression: Part 2
Riding has progressed and so has filming—the latest change being the quest to track down new terrain, be it an undiscovered rail, a perfect wallride, or a new backcountry zone. Kremer was hired on in 2003 as MDP's new director in the middle of this shift toward fresh locations. Formerly the director for Kingpin Productions, Kremer hoped to liven up what he saw as an overly serious film company, capitalizing on MDP's high production quality while pushing for new angles, edits, and filming styles.
Double Decade marks a major production shift—the second year since Kremer shelved the 16mm cameras in favor of HD. The decision to switch formats came during 2006/07, while the company was gearing up to film for Picture This, a season that would prove to be the worst snow-wise of almost any on record.
"Luckily for us we had a plan to try some new production techniques," recalls Kremer. "We wanted to experiment with shooting HD and getting a more cinematic feel to the movie, so when the snow didn't happen the way we were used to, we just dove deeper into our plans for the filming side of things." The results speak for themselves: moving dollies, heli-mounted cameras, night powder and pipe missions—what Kremer says were "some of the absolute hardest shoots I have ever done." He continues, "And as much as I wish we'd had a better snow year to complement Picture This, it did give us an excuse to go all out and learn what was actually possible."
The effect was immediate—a smoother, cleaner, eerily vivid picture. But was something lost in the digital translation? The riders don't think so.
"I do miss the old videos," says Seth Huot, "but you can't keep doing the same thing over and over, everything has to progress or it gets stale. It's funny, the snowboarding pushes the production and vice versa—I'll see something that wouldn't even be a shot a couple years ago, but since the production has changed, things are looked at differently and it could end up being amazing for the movie."
Walsh is more outspoken: "I really like the new look and think it brings more personality to snowboard films. Grunge is dead!"
With the cameras dialed, fresh faces and returning veterans, the MDP crew set out to film a "classic" MDP film, in the vein of the first Decade— "A bit updated and polished, of course," says Kremer, "but classic nonetheless." An early-season Utah jib session with Jones, Walker, Mathes and Hout was a standout for McEntire and Kremer, while Lauri Heiskari, Iikka Bäckström, and Wiig all mention a few heavy Whistler backcountry days with Walsh, Ettala, and Walker. For Wright, the banger was in Alaska, with Walsh's monstrous backside 180 over a rock gap—the Transworld September cover shot.
Mixed in with all this, McEntire personally edited some historical pieces. "It shows the progression of riding through the years," says McEntire, "bringing back a lot of killer memories for the older shredders and at the same time teaching the new shredders about the roots of the sport."
As for some salty punk-rock soundtrack, that's probably not going to happen. "That was ten years ago," says Eero Ettala. "I am sure kids wanna hear some electro pop these days."
Keep It Lit Up
With Double Decade, MDP shows no signs of slowing down. The company has built and maintained more momentum than any other outfit, but even McEntire says, "I actually did not think it would last this long."
So what's kept them in the game? For Kremer, it's constant pursuit of perfection. "It's simple: I want to make the best snowboard film ever produced. Period. One day I will get there. But it's the journey and the experience that keeps it exciting." McEntire breaks it down to the craft of pushing each project further and further: "Filmmaking is an art. Art is fun. Fun is inspiring." And what an experience that's been. As Walker notes, "Think about how many bangers Dawger has witnessed go down with his own eyes over the last twenty." But brace yourself, kiddos—next season there ain't going to be another part-for-part Mack Dawg shred video breakdown.
In August 2008, McEntire announced that he's going to put aside the annual snowboard movie formula in order to focus on longer-term and more in-depth projects. Peter Line will be the first subject in a series of documentary films, along with a history of snowboarding feature, commercials, and 3-D pieces. It's a shift McEntire has wanted to make for a while, but couldn't while the season-to-season snowboard movie production machine was still in place.
McEntire doesn't rule out another rider-part film sometime in the future, but for now he's moving on and glad to have put out the best follow-up shred movie to date—Double Decade: all-time shredding and a fitting cap for the twenty-year reign of Mack Dawg Productions.