Composition – The DBK Interview

[Above: (Desktop) Slices of DBK’s cameo in GLUE. Watch GLUE here – it’s awesome. (Mobile) Chillin. Photo: Cyril Mueller]

Photo: Matt Georges

David Bertschinger-Karg – or DBK as he’s often known – has never been what you might consider a stereotypical snowboard pro. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he was a bit of a late bloomer in terms of being showered with free product, travel budget and filmers training their lenses on him, but from the get go it always seemed he got the ‘professional’ part of ‘professional snowboarder’ as much as the ‘snowboarder’ part, and when he got his opportunity you sensed he wasn’t going to let it go by taking it for granted.

DBK got his break when a chance meeting led to him being drafted into the Isenseven crew, and he grabbed the it with both hands to quickly become an integral member of the iconic European film production’s later years. When Isenseven called time he had a standout part in True Color Films’ release, before tackling things on his own terms and producing last winter’s acclaimed projectDETOUR series.

Not only this, DBK has a cultured eye for the aesthetic, be it in his snowboarding or – more recently – in his work behind the lens. Partly due to his natural desire to immerse himself in things beyond a snowboarder’s regular cliché of powder, parties and girls, and partly due to the people he’s worked with encouraging him, an interest in filmmaking was sparked and he’s no doubt found success in this field too.

If that all sounds a bit too fawning, he’s also the kind of man who’ll miss a flight to get a tattoo, and went to a Rhianna concert last summer. True story.

– Interview: Sam Oetiker – 

Let’s start with the basics. For the people that don’t know you, how did you get into snowboarding? 

I started riding in Stoos – a super small resort in the middle of Switzerland. I always went on ski vacation there with my parents and my sisters. I sucked at skiing but then I tried snowboarding – I also sucked at it at the beginning, but I didn’t complain about it, kept riding, enjoyed it more and got better – and so we kept on being a winter sports family. My sisters snowboard, my parents snowboard now. Everyone. Then I grew up with the NBC crew – a crew from Hoch Ybrig, my home mountain – met Howzee [photographer Dominic Zimmermann] and when he had his “hype” he just took me with him, and that’s how I got my first photos. I had some contest stuff happening, not too much but I did some and did not too bad at them, and that’s how I got my sponsors. Just some magazine coverage, some contests.

How long ago was that?

[Thinks] I was… 17 maybe. I was pretty late. Maybe 16 was my first sponsor, like I was a shop rider super early but stayed a shop rider for ever. Then I think my first real sponsor was Bataleon Snowboards. I’m the rider riding the longest for Bataleon, now Gulli [Gudmundsson] kind of stopped. I remember my first Bataleon shoot was in Avoriaz, I was there, an 18-year-old kid, first time going somewhere for a shoot with Bataleon, and I remember how I admired all the riders and of course Julien [‘Larrogs’ Haricot]. It’s kind of funny to look back now when I meet the team and Dennis and Danny, I’m like the guy who’s been on Bataleon for ever, you know?

As a Swiss kid growing up at the time you did, there were some sick guys making names for themselves from your homeland, like Nicolas Müller. Did their riding influence you?

They definitely influenced me a lot, though I got into the whole ‘sponsors, media’ and all that quite late. I didn’t watch all the movies when I was super young because we didn’t have a TV, but whenever I looked at mags and stuff, Nico was always one of my big heroes. Gigi [Rüf] also, but I was always a big Nico fan. I met him back in the days but I never really knew him, it was just for me he was like a superstar. They were my fucking idols, I went to Freestyle.CH, I was so into snowboarding, and now I hang out with them, go skating in Zurich with Nico. That’s pretty cool.

Streaching the legs in Bariloche, Argentina. Photo: Matt Georges

You filmed with Isenseven for several years. How did that come about?

I was doing high school, and finished when I just turned 19. The season before, when I was still in school, Isenseven came to our home resort because of Howzee. They wanted to have a local show them around, so I teamed up with them and rode a couple of spots, and Alex Schiller [Isenseven director] was really stoked apparently. He called Howzee a couple of days later and wanted to have my contact, my sponsors’ contacts, and luckily the next season just when I got out of school I was able to film with Isenseven. I’d waited for that moment for soo long. To be done with school, to just snowboard, do nothing else. It was also cool that my sponsors were supportive. I’d had coverage and stuff before, but they really believed in me and funded it and made it happen. So that was sick.

What was it like to film with those guys? I feel those movies and that crew was really loved by everyone in Europe.

Really, I’ve been filming only with Isenseven. I filmed with True Colours for a year then I did my own thing, I’ve been on an Absinthe trip for a month, and all those experiences were really good, but Isenseven always just really felt like family. Most of the guys are really good friends now – I see them more off snow than on snow now. It didn’t feel like ‘I’m with this film crew, we’re in competition or have to deliver next to the other guys’, it was just go ride with your friends so that was really cool. Then after the first year they said they want to have me as like the pow rider and I had my own filmer, my own crew, we had [filmer] Tom Elliott all season with us during the second year. It was just way easier to work having the same team all the time. Those guys definitely helped me out a lot, they’re the reason that I’m here I guess.

Dragging the hand off a Japanese avvie barrier. Photo: Matt Georges
Nothing quite light sending it through the trees into some prime Japanese fluff. Photo: Matt Georges

Recently you’ve become much more involved in the filming side of things. It seems like you have a good eye for creativity. How did you get into that side of things?

There’s kind of two reasons. One reason: I really loved – I still do but I just don’t see him much any more – to hang out with Tom Elliott. And he’s a super film nerd and really into filming. When I look at snowboarding I look at opportunities how to ride and stuff, not how to film it. I don’t want to be the filmer in snowboarding. But he was really into filming, all kinds of short films, cinematography, not just snowboarding. I feel like a lot of snowboard filmers are snowboarders who’ve become filmers, because of injury or whatever, and I think Tom has a similar kind of story but still he was really interested in the craft of cinematography. I talked about this with him a lot, and I think a lot of what I said made a lot of sense, so he was like ‘Hey, you should pick up a camera and try it yourself.’

At the same time I was kind of a bit… not over snowboarding, I would never say that, but I’d had four seasons kind of exactly the same: filming all winter, go ride in summer, working for a full part; that narrow view… I realised I was not in to that. And I was a little lost. I knew snowboarding was not something forever. So with what Elliott said and how I knew I wanted something I could focus on later, it made great sense to me to buy a camera. So I bought one, made a promise to myself to film every day for the next 100 days… just because I’d spent a bunch of money on a camera and I was afraid I might not use it. ‘100 Days’ was also the first edit I put out – I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. But what I put out made sense, I guess, as people liked it, and shortly after the ‘100 Days’ I did the Indonesia video which got a Vimeo Staff Pick. Two good friends of mine from Zurich have a film production company and they asked if I want to be on board, so since then I’ve worked with them all summer, and sometimes in the winter, on other projects. I love it. It’s awesome. I did projectDETOUR but that was more production and editing everything, I filmed a little bit, but I mainly hired filmers for that. I didn’t want to be the filmer guy in snowboarding, I wanted to focus on snowboarding. But other than that I really enjoy directing or being a DOP on projects and just have that whole different environment. It’s really nice to have that other side to balance.

Were you stoked on how projectDETOUR turned out?

Yeah, I’m happy. Really stoked, and apparently we had way more momentum or output [engagement] than I thought. We had newspapers write about it, they actually found it on [laughs]. It’s been so sick to see people repost the stuff. I was stoked on all the views and all the response, but just also seeing who shared and who was stoked made me really happy. Because having a lot of views is one thing, but stoking out the people you actually really like is another. So that was worth more than the rest. That was really sick.

Below: DBK produced last season’s projectDETOUR series. The alps episode will certainly get you hyped.]

What about plans for what’s coming up? Anything in the pipeline?

Yeah, maybe! Basically doing a movie, or something like a movie, was way more work than I expected. I was just not prepared for it… like we were on a trip and I was suddenly the guy who has the responsibility, of course, but I hadn’t thought about that part actually because previously it had always been someone else. That definitely helped to understand a lot of people in snowboarding, like understand why Schiller was always stressed out. But I knew I wanted to have a different season again, so I enjoyed filming but not filming for just one project – filming a little bit for Hitsch’s movie, GLUE, the Vans First Layer project, filming with Bataleon… And for next season it’s all in the loop. Nothing’s sure yet but I wanted to go to Iran this past season, however it didn’t work out with visas and timing for other people but what I would like as an output in the future is to go somewhere – it doesn’t have to be crazy exotic – with a crew you like, focus on creating something and put something out. I think that’s also really in line with how it can work with sponsors. Right now it’s hard to get budget for your movie or for something big, but I think it’s always possible to just use those synergies and work with sponsors for a certain goal. These days you can put out a three-minute thing that has a lot of impact, and you can put out a 25-minute long thing and nobody cares.

What are you thoughts on the way that’s going? How movies are less common compared to shots clips. Is there too much content?

There’s definitely too much crap [laughs]. Of course everyone has different tastes, but I think snowboarding is… if you compare it to skating and surfing, we’re kind of really not innovating a lot on the movie side of things. You can’t really hate on it, it’s not like I invented anything new last season [with projectDETOUR] so I’m not saying I’m innovating way more. There’s just a lot of caveman advertising – big logo in the beginning. It’s just the whole concept, you need more organic reach to people… at least when I watch something. Online I look at what are the newest things in ads, I consume a lot of that, and there are definitely ways to make content more interesting for people than just ‘This is your sponsor *BOOM*, these are the riders, the tricks.’ There are definitely other ways. It’s also hard to move that around, I guess.

GoPro is a funny example. They have a lot of that over-branded stuff but as well they have a product and they just try to find ways to shoot everything in an interesting way owning their product, which is the way to do it without showing the product. In snowboarding, that’s what it is: everyone uses the product – the boards, the bindings, the clothes, whatever – but still you need to have the fucking energy drink in your hand and put it into people’s faces. We have way more opportunities or possibilities than we use, I think. But I don’t have the solution either.

Face shot! Photo: Matt Georges
Avalanche barriers always provide ample opportunities to get the shot. Photo: Matt Georges

Who are you hyped on in snowboarding right now?

I’ve always been and always will be a big fan of Nico. I always like what he does. It’s weird, but I always like it. To be honest I don’t consume too much snowboarding media anymore. I watch all the movies, and most of the movies I’m always really impressed with the performance but a lot of the time I feel the movie was not something to watch over and over like back in the days. This doesn’t really happen any more.

I like what Alex Tank does with his edits because it has its own handwriting, you know? Its own style. There’s not that many productions that have their own… like whatever the Helgasons did they had their own style, which was sick. And Tank does things with his style. I try to have a similar feel through our edits, you know? I think that’s just important – to be really authentic. I think that’s how you can be valuable in the long term; not just go with trends.

What’s your favourite snowboard movie of all time?

Probably Lame, just as a kid I watched Lame all the time, but if I compare them now I like Afterlame a bit more just now. But just because of that whole nostalgic thing, it’s probably Lame. My all time favourite segment is probably Nico riding Japan in Neverland, that’s the opener. Nico just makes that whole section, it’s a super cool soundtrack. It’s not crazy cinematography or editing, but it just all comes together in this edit which is really cool.

And I just realised, we were on a three-hour drive on the way here and we watched a bit of Subjekt Haakonsen. I haven’t watched that movie for ages, and it was cool to see that again. Just the little things, he rides, does some trick, slams, rag-dolls, gets up, continues riding, and does another trick… it’s sick. Or they revert all the time but they do the craziest things out of nothing and they revert, but they still put it in.

Now these days of course the whole level rose and of course you need to land stuff, or [at least] it needs to make sense – like you can’t just put in all bails, but today it’s really just I feel riders go out snowboarding and they’re like ‘Ok, I need to do this, this, this and this so people will talk about me so my sponsors will be happy.’ But there are a few riders who think ‘I want to do this, and this, and this because I want to and that’s all there is. If people like it, cool; if sponsors like it, cool, the I can keep doing what I want.’ If they keep trying to please people without themselves being into it, they’re not going to be happy for a long time.

That’s how I turned it around for myself, too. Now I’m way more stoked with what I do and I would say I had more technical parts back in the day, but now I have more feedback and I’m happier as well, so it’s a win-win on both sides.

Seems like a nice way to wrap up. Thanks for your time, David!

It's all about flow and getting low, yo. Photo: Sam Oetiker
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