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Why the future of snowboard films is lo fi

Photo: Silvano Zeiter

The snowboard movie is a complex thing. It takes thousands of hours, endless energy and a whole lot of balls to film a full part, yet I can’t help thinking that despite all this effort, the big budget production houses are falling short and losing sight of what it’s supposed to be all about. In short, we’ve reached peak blockbuster; where do we go now?

Snowboarding, to be fair, has pushed the cinematic boundaries further than most. In a lifestyle largely shared with skateboarders and surfers, it’s the one aspect we have dominated. Shred filmers have delved into complex photography and editing techniques: carrying longer lenses; experimenting with the composition of mountain vistas; perfectly calculating sunset shoots; hanging out of helicopters; strapping POV cameras to every available limb, and now piloting drones into unchartered territory. When it comes to production values, they are always pushing one step beyond, utilising the most cutting-edge tech for the big screen.

Skateboarders, on the other hand, have stuck to a tried and tested formula which works: the fisheye lens pointed as close to the board as possible. It’s a distorted field of view that seems to reflect the way skaters have a different way of observing their surroundings, and it’s a filming style that won’t go out of fashion because – even though different movies use the same VX/fisheye aesthetic – each film adopts a unique artistic direction in order to stand out. Notable recent examples include Polar’s I like it here inside my mind. Don’t wake me this time and Colin Read’s magical Spirit Quest.

“The average snowboarder is losing interest because what they watch will never be attainable”

Snowboard movies have typically gone the other way, ignoring the opportunity to develop a visual identity or a strong character-led narrative in favour of getting those cutting edge shots. Stacking footy, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, it worked well for a long time and was amazing to see the progression in terms of cinematography, but I personally don’t see how it can go any further or any reason why it should.

It’s come to a point where the core snowboard media have almost become immune to anything that would have stood out four or five years ago. The level of progression just will not slow down, and the average snowboarder is losing interest because what they watch will never be attainable. Meanwhile, the snowboarders themselves are putting themselves in gnarlier situations all around the world in the hope of filming a trick that’s NBD to add another three seconds to their video part. Multi-year filming schedules, corny voice-overs, never-ending premiere tours, slower-than-paint-dry-slow-motion and computer game tricks only add to this current feeling of detachment.

Recent big budget productions have turned the mountain into a full blown movie set – but is the end result worth it? / Photo: Danny Zapalac

We don’t need mega budget snowboard films anymore because they’ve lost sight of the feeling of snowboarding. We need more movies that express the idea that you are free; free to interpret and use your surroundings however you can imagine. Movies that don’t try to reinvent the cinematic wheel but instead focus on capturing that magic sensation and sense of adventure that we all hunger for.

If snowboarding is ever to settle into a filmmaking formula that is instantly recognisable as its own (in the same way skating has) I sincerely hope it’s not the mega production ideal we have seen so much recently. It’s pretty clear that these movies are trying to be Hollywood – to create content for non-snowboarders and reel in a bigger crowd for a bigger cash return. In doing so, they not only alienate the core snowboarder, they also somehow manage to completely miss-communicate what makes snowboarding so fun. They’re lowering the barrier of entry, but by trying to blow the mind of the average person in the street, have somehow created a filming aesthetic which does not represent snowboarders at all. Snowboarding does not, and never will, belong in ‘Hollywood’.

“These mega productions completely miss what makes snowboarding so fun”

But despite many (even myself) looking back to Robot Food or The Airblaster Movie and saying ‘It was better back in the day”, I’m actually excited about what the future holds. It seems to me that we have reached a turning point, and are entering a new era in which countless grassroots crews are using the modern tools at their disposal to take up the challenge.

These kids aren’t filming their mischief and adventures in the hope of grabbing a few sponsors or making some big bucks; there isn’t enough of the snowboard industry pie to feed everyone, and they know that. Instead, their movies are passion projects, aimed not for the big screen but for bar-room projectors and smartphones the world over.

Above Necessity is the mother of invention: grassroots riding crews are making lo-fi movies themselves, and pushing the creative envelope in the process. / Photo: Daniel Tengs

One of London’s most respected skate filmers, Henry Edwards-Woods, explains that “footage and photos are the commodities of skateboarding. It’s not something to stockpile, it’s what we produce, like a harvest, it’s our crop and it’s never ending.” The same sentiment applies to whichever type of board you choose to ride, and it explains the motivation for this rise in budget shred flicks. To snowboarders, shooting our exploits is as natural as breathing. But at the same time, there has to be a little more creativity involved with a full movie if you want it to cut through the noise that is the media landscape of today.

There is no correct way to snowboard, to film or to take a picture. I’m not trying to claim I have all the answers, far from it. There will never be a perfect snowboard movie. What I do know is, the best snowboard edits or even Instagram clips – the ones that actually stand out and get me really hyped to strap in – do two things better than the rest:

The first is expressing the joy of movement you get from riding a snowboard. The ones where the camera is moving at pace with the rider. Think about the Peace Park follow cam intro, street lines from Taco Trip, or the powder pillow section from Glue, and how fantastic they were upon first watching them. All these clips were filmed by a snowboarder, riding alongside another snowboarder, sharing the interplay of movement that can only be expressed in the cries and yells of pure joy that come from the depths of your soul.

“If I can’t actually be snowboarding, I want to feel like I am when I watch a movie – even if it’s just for a moment”

What I’m trying to say is that filming like this is the most accurate representation of the feeling I get when sliding sideways – just like the fisheye in skateboarding seems to convey their view of the world. I know it’s not always possible to film like this, but heli shots and drones don’t make me feel anything, and if I can’t actually be snowboarding, I want to feel like I am when I watch a movie – even if it’s just for a moment.

Films like ‘Glue’ and ‘Yearning For Turning’ (featuring Nicholas Wolken here) have broken the mold by getting up close to the action in order to convey the feeling of riding at speed.

The second is having a unique concept running throughout. We need less of the high-end cameras and title sequences that pass for artistic style, and more of the DIY substance. Sparrow Knox and Niels Shack ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their Eastward adventure Loose Change (featuring memorable animation by their buddy Tom Guilmard); the Korua Shapes gang have reignited a passion for the humble turn through their series Yearning for Turning; and The Snackbreak Crew produced one of the most experimental and artistic movies so far this year in the form of Deviate, which had a strong sci-fi vibe and the sickest home-made titles. Elsewhere, Different Direction’s Gold for the Soul perfectly sums up the stoke that is a powder turn, while Ice Coast Kills Shit and Rusty Toothbrush have created instantly recognisable characters. There are so many crews producing incredible movies and series – all of which will impress the non-snowboarders so much more – I just hope that anyone reading this will take the time to discover what else is on offer, away from the mega production houses, if they haven’t already done so.

The wonder is in the people who ride, and it’s captured by those dedicated individuals who have a unique eye for everything rad. We see that everywhere – it’s commonplace in the scene because there are so many talented snowboarders, filmers and photographers in our ranks. Yet sometimes, I can’t help thinking that too many have been pigeon-holed into creating something safe that somehow pays the bills and satisfies the sponsors. The films often miss the mark because of this. In our world of insta-sized attention spans, it’s a struggle to get anyone to watch a full movie with total focus. There needs to be a break in all the action and that is the opportunity to create an art direction that cuts above the rest.

So, I say more of the budget cameras, more animations and artwork, more weird themes and concepts, more lifestyle b-roll, more adventure, more bails, more photographs, more home recordings, shaky iPhone shots and creative storytelling. Most of all, more movement. So yes, if the technicality and production costs of making a snowboard movie are represented as a mountain, we have reached the peak. Now we get to enjoy the ride back down to the bottom. That’s what we all came for anyway, right?

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