LEADING LIGHT – DAVE ERB
Words by Jeff Schmuck “The concept of being connected to something is what fuels me to be invested in protecting it,” responds...
One of the main ingredients of any sure-fire ski and snowboard movie is travel. Due to the ever-present danger of climate change, Mother Nature has a tendency to be an increasingly fickle mistress when it comes to snow sports enthusiasts’ favourite season. It’s this reality, along with an unquenchable thirst for adventure, that prompts production companies to travel far and wide, each and every winter, in an endless search for snow. But is it possible to remove that key equation from the movie-making formula, and still produce a feature-length film that doesn’t fall flat on its face? It’s a question that Whistler Blackcomb set out to answer with Magnetic.
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Evan McEachran. Photo by Mike Helfrich
Conceived by Origin Design + Communications, who have been strategizing and producing Whistler Blackcomb’s thought-provoking marketing campaigns for years, Magnetic came about as a result of the resort’s desire to follow up its 50-year-anniversary documentary and The Big Picture web series with something even more memorable. Origin’s Director of Video Production Jeff Thomas, a revered figure in the world of ski filmmaking following his game-changing stints at Theory-3 Media, Poor Boyz Productions and Switchback Entertainment, pitched the plan of attack: to produce a throwback, action-based ski and snowboard porn filmed entirely within the resort, rally the all-star roster of professional athletes that reside in the Whistler valley to strut their stuff for it, recruit a who’s who of filmmakers to shoot it, convince Whistler Blackcomb to give the thumbs up… and pray for snow.
“Everyone looked at me like I was slightly cross-eyed and crazy,” says Thomas. And for good reason. As anyone who’s made a long-form film of this nature can attest, documenting skiing and snowboarding in multiple locations is not only a luxury, but in many cases, a must. So to shoot at only one resort, in one season, seemed harebrained. But Thomas convinced them that if there’s one resort where it could be done, it’s Whistler Blackcomb.
“There are a lot of great resorts out there, but in all my travels, and in my opinion, Whistler is the only place that has the right type of terrain, creative talent, and athletes, both ski and snowboard, male and female, young and old, that could pull this off,” he says.
Jeff Thomas. Photo by Mike Helfrich
With Whistler Blackcomb on board, Origin began putting the wheels in motion to make something that, in order to capture the spirit of both the community and resort, strayed from the usual norms.
“We modeled it after ski movies from the early 2000s, but we didn’t want it to be just athlete segments,” says Thomas. “It needed a story that would showcase what Whistler is all about. So we came up with what we began calling a visual distillation, surrounding what draws people to travel here, move here, live here, and stay here, which is where the title comes from.”
After agreeing on the theme, and getting quite possibly the most stacked lineup of snow sports athletes in history signed up, Thomas then set about assembling his dream team of shutterbugs, including Graeme Meiklejohn, Thomas’ right-hand man at Origin and the co-founder of cult ski and snowboard production company PYP, and Darren Rayner, of the gone-but-not- forgotten Voleurz, and now Magnafire Media.
Darren Rayner. Photo by Mike Helfrich
“The first person I wanted to partner with, because I knew he’d be the yin to my yang, was Darren,” Thomas says. “We both grew up in Vancouver and Whistler making films, and were somewhat competitive in a sense, so I thought it would be fun to combine our efforts and make something cool together, since we look at filmmaking differently.”
“I idolized those guys when I was young,” Meiklejohn says of Thomas and Rayner. “I grew up on Theory-3 Media’s films, and had the opportunity to work with Darren a bit towards the end of Voleurz, so getting to do a full movie with the two of them was a dream come true.”
Graeme Meiklejohn. Photo by Mike Helfrich
Once all the pieces were in place, the trio began staring down the biggest question mark of the project: Could it actually be pulled off?
“The first thing that came to my mind was how much of a challenge it was going to be,” says Rayner. “Producing a ski and snowboard movie is already a challenge in itself, with weather, snow conditions, athlete injuries, operating camera gear in the cold, etc. But shooting a full-length movie on only one resort is a whole other can of worms. But ultimately, the challenge is what drew me to be a part of it, because when you’re challenged as a filmmaker, and there’s that extra element of risk, that’s when you produce your best work.”
“In ski and snowboard filmmaking, generally whoever has the most budget to chase storms around the globe wins,” says Meiklejohn. “So the constraints of having to do it all on one resort and not being able to travel for snow was a different beast.”
KC Deane dances in the dark. Photo by Blake Jorgenson
While the weather was the thing that Thomas says most kept him up at night, fortunately, Whistler Blackcomb was blessed with one of its most bountiful winters in years, to the point that filming continued well into May.
“We had horseshoes up our ass,” adds Meiklejohn, “otherwise you people would have been watching a 40-minute long giant slalom movie.”
And while some may think that shooting entirely in-bounds during a snowy winter would actually be easier than the backcountry, Thomas concedes that it only added to the challenge.
“The hardest part about the project ended up being that because it’s a ski resort, and it was a good winter, there were so many people around, and therefore more things to worry about. We had to be both smart and creative while working around the public, and everyone—from operations to avalanche control to patrol to athletes to filmmakers to photographers—all needed to be on the same page. But in the end, the best part about the project was how well everyone worked together.”
Alexi Godbout flies by night. Photo by John Entwistle
The end result is the type of old-school, action-packed film that you play while putting your boots on in the morning. Clocking in at around 30 minutes, it’s not too long, or too short, and boasts one of the most high-energy soundtracks you could hope for. The skiing and snowboarding itself is superhuman, courtesy of what Rayner hails as “the best crew of athletes ever brought together for a ski and snowboard film,” and equally all-encompassing, with salivating segments of neck-deep pow and palm-sweating big mountain skiing, the most intricate night segment to date, and a park shoot that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible on one plank or two. And to top it off, the action is cleverly accompanied by a sly and satirical voiceover, perfectly penned by Vince Shuley and performed by Colby James West, which concurrently takes the piss out of over-the-top ski movie monologues while paying homage to why people from so many walks of life call Whistler home.
But above all else, Magnetic succeeds in accomplishing all that any snow sports movie should: it makes you want to go skiing or snowboarding. And as an added bonus for the resort, whether you’ve been to Whistler Blackcomb or not, it will make you want to ski or snowboard there, too.
Stan Rey takes it from the top. Photo by Mike Helfrich
“All we hoped for is that it would entertain people, and not just people from Whistler or B.C., but around the world,” says Rayner. “I think that everyone who sees it is going to be really wowed by the fact that all of the riding in the film is on one resort, and it’s pretty mind-blowing that we were able to pull that off in one season.”
“I’m super happy with how it turned out,” adds Meiklejohn. “We all thought our days of making long-form ski and snowboard movies were behind us, so our goal was to make the best one we ever have… and we definitely did.”
“We wanted it to be an easy-to-digest, fun-filled film that leans on all of the things that make Whistler Blackcomb what it is,” says Thomas. “So I hope that when people who live here see it, they feel it does the area justice.”
See Whistler Blackcomb’s Magnetic for yourself by clicking here.