WHITE DREAMS: Shooting for Snow
Interview by Sam Baldwin
Published March 2006
What exactly does SBF do?
Sketch Book Films (SBF) utilises technology available today to produce cost effective mementos of people’s experiences. In other words we film clients on their ski or snowboard holidays, edit the footage, cut it together, add stills, music and graphics and produce a professional looking DVD for them to take home, show their friends and enjoy in years to come.
When did SBF start, where did the idea come from and how did you get there?
Our concept of SBF started in the summer of 2003 whilst riding in New Zealand, thinking about how we would like someone to make a movie of me and my friends whilst doing our season in Wanaka. So we asked ourselves “Why can’t we do it for others?”.
Winter 2004 saw the previous 18 months of development come to fruition. After doing a couple of seasons and being used to freelance work, this seemed like an ideal opportunity to start a project that would enable me to carry on living that lifestyle and make a little money whilst there.
What exactly is your role in SBF?
Everything! SBF isn’t just a pipe dream to scratch a living during a winter season. It’s more a business idea to develop over a longer period of time into a viable enterprise. Therefore, not only am I the one holding the camera and getting the essential clips that are fundamental to any movie, but I’m also the one handling the finances, the marketing, the graphics and keeping the filing cabinet neat. One thing I have learnt from this experience, is that even though it’s a small company, there are still so many aspects that need to be kept on top off.
What’s your background in?
Fortunately I’ve been skiing since the age of seven and turned to snowboarding before heading to University in Leeds, UK in 1997. Here I studied design and was lucky to chair the University Snowboard Club. Organising a couple of trips to the French Alps each year for the members of our club only made my lust for the industry greater and after graduating, myself and the two other people I ran the club with, hastily moved to Whistler Blackcomb for our first full season.
Since Canada I have been a freelance designer specialising in corporate identity development, graphics, websites and interior design working for a range of clients, from a skate and snowboard store to the Ministry of Defence. Being a freelance professional has then enabled me to heli-board in New Zealand, hike the backcountry in Colorado and learn to love the trees in France. Fundamentally, without all the friends and people I have met and worked with throughout this period, none of the above would have been possible.
Who is SBF?
SBF started with myself and a good friend, Steve Macann. Knowing Steve since my first season in Canada, we’ve spent the last couple of years developing SBF and getting to the stage that it is at now. We have also had help from friends, contributing footage and also giving us the necessary constructive criticism in the editing studio to make our products better. Unfortunately Steve has gone back to his home country of Australia to continue his life with his fiancé Helen. Congratulations to two of my best friends.
Was it hard to get SBF off the ground? Give us some tales of hardship.
Money!! As we all know it helps make the world go around and it’s also hard to get people to part with it. The real problem for SBF is people’s misunderstanding of the time and skills required both on and off the hill to produce a movie. So not to be disillusioned, I understand it will take a few years to turn SBF into a profit making organisation and with this in mind I am continuing with other freelance work to supplement the outgoings necessary to further this dream.
Due to evident money restraints, the 2004/05 season saw us living in what most people would call a freezer, as gas for the heaters at certain times of the month was not in the budget! The 20005/06 season is seeing SBF go up in the world for warmth, but our floor space is similar to that of a shoebox!
What are the downsides to SBF?
The hours spent filming when it’s dumping with snow and the client you are with is struggling to do a snowplough. It’s frustrating to see your friends hooting as they scream past having had one of the most epic days of the year! Then instead of going to the pub to celebrate you find yourself in the studio watching four hours of snow ploughing and side slipping! But I would like to mention two things; if it wasn’t for those clients I would not be where I am and even though they are only snowploughing and side slipping they are the stars of the movie!
Talk us through a typical day working at SBF?
8.30am Meet up with clients, possibly at their chalet, to discuss the game plan for the day.
9.30am Hit the lifts and head for a big blue run that no matter what standard, everyone can enjoy and use as a warm up. Even though the cameras are rolling, these first couple of runs are for us to establish the ability of our clients.
10.30am Warmed up and filming, we focus on individuals in the group to make sure we get enough footage of each person.
12pm Stop for a quick lunch (nice if client pays) and discuss the runs to be done in the afternoon.
1pm Out in the afternoon, hopefully, we have enough individual footage to constitute the skiing/snowboarding part of the movie. As camera men, we then move on to our second priority of getting great face shots and really capturing the emotions of the day. We will encourage clients to play up in front of the camera because the more usable shots we get, the better the movie will be.
4pm Quick beer in the pub (again nice if client pays) and cheers to what has hopefully been a good day on the mountain. Then it’s back to the studio to make the movie.
5pm Log the day’s footage and think about how it will fit into a very rough but predetermined format. Rest of evening – edit movie together and hopefully get to the pub before close.
On completion of the movie, burn off the necessary copies onto DVD, package and present to client the next day. If we are so busy that we do not complete the movie that night, we post the completed DVD to the client within a week.
You’re based in Les Arcs, France, are there any plans for expansion?
Yes! The next few years will see us based in Les Arcs and there after I have plans to set up an additional team down the road in Tignes/Val D’Isere. From here I would also like the opportunity to take Sketch Book Films to North America and Canada. Inevitably, SBF is part of the service industry, but in the long term, once our skills, equipment and contacts enable us to I would like to infiltrate the professional ski and snowboard movie scene and to become both friends and competitors to the likes of Robot Food and Mack Dawg.
SBF is an inspiration to all snow lovers, what’s your advice to people wanting to start their own snow business?
I think the industry is flooded with people trying to make a living, however the majority are within the hospitality sector and therefore, I think if someone is going to be successful out there, then they need to tap into a side of an industry that is still developing, and to look at the other sports that utilise the landscape, not just skiing and snowboarding, for example para-ponting and mountain biking - the summer trade.
Because of the amount of people trying to make a living you can’t charge much money because there is inevitably competition, and you aren’t going to make your fortune overnight. But like any business it takes time to develop. Also, whatever service you are going to offer, it’s in addition to an already expensive holiday.
Importantly, most businesses like SBF are strongly service based, and therefore you are the face of your company and should be bright eyed and friendly even after two hours sleep and twenty beers (or half a bottle of tequila).
And finally, you’ve set out with a dream in mind, it’s never really going to happen overnight so you are going to have to be prepared to put in the hard work, be realistic and always keep that original dream in sight.
What does the future hold for SBF?
As suggested above, we’re looking to expand to neighbouring French resorts, and possibly North America. I would always hope that if we set up elsewhere, the original location of Peisey, Les Arc continues - so expanding, rather than relocating. In that respect I would look for small teams to set up in those other resorts and in doing so it would be like franchising under contract so that the concept, ideas and format always remains true to SBF.
What types of clients does SBF attract?
SBF focuses on two groups, the 20-30 year old holiday makers, who are visiting for just a week or two, and the seasonaires who live in the resort and want a climatic movie of their winter season. We have also filmed families with young children. As for mine and older generations, we look back on photographs, for our clients, in twenty years time, they can look back on a moving image.
It must be hard sometimes when you just want to shred the snow, but you’ve got to freeze your hands off, trying to get that elusive shot?
Speak to any cinematographer/photographer about getting the perfect shot and they will have tales of hiking for 45 minutes, sitting in a hole and waiting an hour for the clouds to open just to get five seconds or one frame that can be used. Even though most people would say “Well that doesn’t sound like fun”, for me I don’t see it as a hardship, especially if the shot you wanted works out.
One perk though, you hike into the middle of nowhere with a bunch of friends, you get a great shot of them riding a mountain, and once you’ve packed your gear away and put it on your back, you then get to ride that hill as well.
Ever had any difficult customers?
Fortunately, we’ve never had any difficult customers when it comes to filming. We have had a lot of people haggle on price, but that’s just life. One difficulty we found when filming holiday makers whose level is more beginner/intermediate than advanced, is that when you ask them to ski as a group to get that great group shot, within 100 yards they are spread out all over the piste, and sometimes you feel like you’re herding cats.
How many winter seasons have you done and where?
Whistler (Canada) 2000 - 01
Wanaka (New Zealand) 2003
Les Arcs (France) 2004 – 05
If you could live in any one resort for the rest of your life, where would it be?
I’d be torn between Crested Bute, Colorado for its challenging terrain and huge expanse of accessible back country and super dry snow, and Wanaka, NZ for its laid back Kiwi lifestyle and low cost heli-boarding.
What does SBF do in the summer?
This summer has been mainly concentrating on how next winter can be more successful. I’ve also found myself filming wakeboarding back here in the UK and I have been busy with graphic work in financial preparation for the winter. As I’ve said above I think one needs to target the summer and winter trade, but it could be a few years before I/SBF can do solely that.
How do you motivate yourself when things are looking bleak?
I look out of the window, look at the beautiful view of the mountains and I think “how can it be a bad day?”
Are you living the dream?
A personal goal of mine is to have mountains in my back garden. My knees aren’t going to withstand the pressures of skiing and snowboarding for the rest of my life, but hopefully I can build a company that enables me to continue living that lifestyle. The lifestyle that at the moment I’m living. So yes, even though it’s hard work, I feel that I am living my dream. Life is good!
A big thanks to Rich Crow of Sketch Book Films for taking the time to speak to us. If you’re heading to the Les Arcs area this winter and would like to take home the perfect DVD souvenir of you and your friends on the slopes check their website sketchbookfilms.com for information on their film packages. Prices start from just £30 per person.