Interview by Jeff Schmuck
Hey Geoff, how the heck are ya?
Cashin’ checks and snappin’ necks as usual…it’s been a busy autumn with Meathead premieres and a crazy holiday season with sales, but winter is near so I’m looking forward to some more days out in the fresh air soon!
This has been a big year for you guys, as you're coming off the release of your 10th anniversary film, Prime Cut. How has the response been so far?
This response has been amazing and pretty emotional for Rooster (Chris James) and I. We had over 1,000 people at the hometown Burlington premiere and I was totally blown away by the crowd’s energy. Almost all the athletes were there and I don’t think LJ, Will, Andy, Hammer and Radio Ron have ever signed so many posters in one night. It’s been sweet to hear our fans’ reactions on tour and fun telling stories about our beginnings in college. We definitely put everything we had into the new flick. The stars aligned for us on almost all our trips and we scored consistently great snow and urban sessions all season. On the East Coast that pretty much never happens…
LJ and Radio Ron share the stoke with fans in Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Dan Brown
1,000+ people crowd in to the Grand Maple Ballroom for the most radical Meathead premiere ever. Photo by Dan Brown
Being that it’s your 10th anniversary film, what were some of the most nostalgic highlights of making Prime Cut? I know you teamed up with some of your original athletes for another go around.
Yeah, one of our goals coming into the season last year was bringing back some of the original Meatheads from many moons ago. Scheduling was difficult but we eventually got Simon Thomson and Andrew Whiteford to fly eastward from Whistler and Jackson Hole and meet up with Erik Olson, who is living in Salt Lake City, for a trip to shoot a big mountain segment in the Chic Choc Mountains of Quebec. Simon and Whiteford hadn’t filmed with us since “Snow Gods” in 2006 so it was rad to reunite with them and they are definitely shredding harder than ever these days.
Andrew Whiteford and Simon Thomson ready to drop into the steeps of the Chic Chocs Mountains, Quebec. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Erik Olson lacing up on guide service's beastly cat. Photo by Chris Nelson James
We worked with a guide service up there, Ski Chic Chocs (skichicchocs.com), and they took us cat skiing in the best zones. This year we got perfect conditions for a few days and were able to knock off some lines that we’ve been eyeing for many years. One day in particular, at the end of the Chic Chocs segment, has the best backcountry footage we’ve ever filmed…perfect late-day light and huge lines: a super rare combo for the East.
Whiteford: a man of great contemplation. Choosing road routes for the day. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Simon finds the best snow of March 2011 in his home province of Quebec. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Also, many in the ski community know about Ryan Hawk’s tragic passing last winter, so we feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to film with him in his home terrain of Mad River Glen and Stowe. We got out for a week in February with Ryan, Lars Chickering-Ayers and his bro Silas, aka The Green Mountain Freeride crew. Ryan charged off a ton of cliff drops and there’s a nice tribute segment to him towards the end of Prime Cut.
Flyin' Ryan Hawks hard chargin' the woods. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Another day where everything seemed to come together was the shoot we did at the Whale Tails sculpture on the side of highway 89 in Burlington, Vermont. It’s our hometown so we’ve driven by this thing thousands of times probably. It’s iconic and there are tons of urban legends about why the sculpture is there. For instance, one says that it fell off a truck there and they couldn’t move it so they just stood it up and left it there. The real story is the owner of the land bought the piece and thought it looked cool on the little knoll next to the highway. Anyway, we knew that it had been jumped by Burton and Chris Rotax a few years back, but we thought we could step it up a bit and do more than just a grab over it. It took about two weeks to lock in the permission, insurance, tractor for harvesting snow, snowmobile, and athletes.
Jeff Curry high and dry over oceanic creatures. Photo by Dan Brown
With any shoot that takes lots of time, resources, scouting, people, and luck on the weather, it’s obviously nerve-racking and stressful. Another thing you learn making movies is that if something can go wrong it will go wrong. There were so many variables like: did the jump we build five days before the shoot have enough pop? Will the snowmobile tow-in work? Is the landing too flat? So when things go perfectly you end up saying, “Holy shit, it actually worked!”
Geoff shooting Hibbs along highway 89. Photo by Curtis Savard
We made the call to do it on a bluebird day and there was barely enough snow to make it happen. A week prior there was over two feet of snow, but then it freakin rained just before we had to pull the trigger. Lots of grass was showing through everywhere and the snow was rock hard. We chopped and shaped the landing with the help of a tractor, LJ did some speed checks, and then he guinea pigged it. When we saw his arc over the whale tails, we knew it was just right and he skied back towards us saying, “Dude it’s perfect! It’s so on!” So the session went all day until sunset. Jeff Curry and Will Hibbs threw down, Ross Imburgia hit his head on the top of one of the tails, knocking himself out and having to go to the hospital bloody (wear your helmet!), and LJ stomped a mind-blowing double.
Getting the crane in position. Rooster steadies the setup against the breeze. Photo by Curtis Savard
The Meatheads are unique in that if you wanted, you guys could easily head out west or to Europe to film like all of the other ski film companies out there, but instead you've opted to stick to your roots for the last 10 years by keeping it real on the East Coast, with the exception of some recent trips to Japan, aka The Far East. Talk about your reasoning behind that, and whether or not you've ever been tempted to venture outside of the region to get the shot.
Let’s just start by saying the obvious: the mountains are bigger and the snow is deeper out west. We film on the East Coast because it’s an adventure; a constant battle where epic days are the exception, not the rule. The West Coast is easy. “Oh it’s sunny again this morning and it just snowed two feet, let’s grab our snowmobiles, the top three pros that live down the street, and mosey on out into the slackcountry where we can make a fire, eat some smores, maybe do a bit of filming for that movie that we’re supposed to make…oh, but whatever, it’s getting late and there’s always another bluebird day tomorrow and another two feet of fresh.” There’s more character, more dedication and more raw talent in one up-and-coming eastern skier than a baker’s dozen from Summit County or TahBro. Yep, I said it!
Yan Bussiéres feeling some Maine pride at Sugarloaf, Maine. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Will Hibbs at the Killington park shoot in April. Photo by Justin Cash
In all honesty though, I have a ton of respect for all the other ski film companies and their athletes. We’re all contributing to the progression of the ski industry in our own ways. And Meathead Films is proud to be a torch burning strong for all the East Coasters who have pride for their region, and to remind people that it can be totally sick out here. It’s just that no one else was filming the East when we started out, so we saw a gap and a niche to be filled, and we’ve tried our best over the past 10 years to showcase the absolute best stories, terrain, and talent the region has to offer.
Lots of backcountry options in the East, just gotta know where to look. Photo by Tim Fater
Dale Talkington at the Mount Snow shoot for Work It Out. Photo by Geoff McDonald
As far as filming outside of our east-of-the-Mississippi territory, plus Quebec and Newfoundland, we did make the decision two years ago to integrate a trip segment into our movies. The idea being to take eastern born and bred skiers and bring them somewhere in the world to show they can rip as hard as anyone else, no matter where they are. We started with Japan in “Work It Out” and then went there again for “Prime Cut.” We were actually slated to travel to Europe last season but the snowfall was pretty abysmal so we called it off and went to cap off some unfinished business in “The Far East.” Dan Marion, Sean Decker, Chris Logan and myself scored amazing snow in early March, but we were also there during the worst Japanese disaster since World War II - the earthquake and tsunami. Luckily we were out of harms way. So thankful for that. There is more about that surreal trip in the movie.
Sean Decker hopping around the Far East. Photo by Glen Claydon
Chris Logan's first trip to Japan was the tits…tits deep. Photo by Takahiro Nakanishi
Dan Marion's nickname in Japan was Maguro-Dan (Tuna Dan). Figure that one out. Photo by Glen Claydon
Aprés ski in Japan. Photo by Geoff McDonald
As you said, the east can be a challenging place to film, so what are some of the biggest junk shows you've had to deal with over the past 10 years in relation to that, along with some of the best moments that have showcased how great the East Coast can be?
The biggest problem every year is dealing with and working around the weather. In 2010, for “Work It Out,” all the snow was falling in the mid-Atlantic. Snowmageddon anyone? We would be sitting in our office in Vermont and saying, “Well it looks like Washington DC is getting three feet of powder, let’s head there I guess.” It was sort of comical. All the storms were missing us up north where we wanted it and causing a snowpocalypse down south where people where freaking out. It did allow us to film some really unique segments though in areas that may never get filmed again. The Lincoln Memorial was definitely the highlight. Honest Abe was clearly impressed.
Will Wesson, backflip for America!
Near the National Mall in Washington DC during Snowpocalypse. It was like those movies where the deadly virus comes through and wipes out an entire city. The whole National Mall was empty and the government shut down for four days. Photo by Geoff McDonald
One saving grace of the east is that the distances are not as far as out st, so since the weather is so unpredictable we can afford to make last minute decisions and still be at the right place on the morning of a storm. It also means that there are tons of cities nearby with endless urban opportunities. That’s definitely something that we’ve taken pride in with our films: pushing the limits of what is possible on skis in a city. Other than deep days in the woods, shooting urban is the most fun and rewarding part of making the movies. When we go out there with guys like Will, Andy, LJ, Shea, and this year Charles and Vincent, those skiers are so creative and motivated that it makes the job easy. It’s fun to show an audience something they never thought was possible and we’re not afraid to put really weird tricks or features in our movies. Perhaps people have heard of the Hippy Killer, Treecrest, Man-Bear-Pig or Spelunking?
Charles Gagnier put together his first Meathead urban segment this past year for Prime Cut. Took some huge bails in the process but Quebecers are tough as nails and he pushed through the pain every time. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Andy Parry showing why he's one of the most creative skiers out there: Fort Baldwin in Phippsburg, Maine. Photo by Dan Brown
Wall transfers with LJ in his hometown of Burlington. Photo by Curtis Savard
Ross gets looked after by Dr. Parry in the Intensive Care Unit in Boston. He lacerated his liver doing a winch tow-up on a rail on New Years Day, 2011. Photo by Geoff McDonald
Another thing we take pride in is showing the insane mogul scene out here. No one films moguls anymore and that sucks! Every time we watch old ski movies the bumps segments are so sick, so we try to emulate that look and feel as best we can in our movies each season. We film every bump segment with Hammer, Radio Ron, Dan Marion, Erik Olson and the gang entirely in 16mm film to give it that authentic, vintage look. And of course we choose appropriately epic and cheese butt 80’s outfits and music to compliment the vibe.
Killington, last day, 2009. Shooting for Wild Stallions. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Relaxing after a hard day in the 1980's: Ryan McDermott and Dan Marion. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Ladies and Gentleman: The Hammer. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Hammertime! Photo by Chris Nelson James
Looking ahead, what are your plans for the upcoming winter and beyond?
This year we’re back on snow and shooting with the core group of Meatheads once again. The young and talented George Watts will be filling in some of the urban filming duties, along with a few other freelancers we’re teaming up with, and we have a new distribution model that we’re really excited about, as Meathead Films will be launching edits throughout the entire year on the redesigned SkiTheEast.net. We’re also involved with producing four east coast freeride events underneath the Ski The East brand, and we’re psyched about building the camaraderie for the competitive all-mountain skiers out here.
A frigid cannonball in the St. Lawrence River: Danimal. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Stronger than the average man: The Wizard, Andy Parry. Photo by Chris Nelson James
I know you've just released your film on iTunes, but before we get into that, tell us about your premiere tour, which hits a ton of spots all over the East Coast and tends to get pretty damn wild.
Premiere season is the best! Crisp fall air, endless whoopie pies on the road, the smell of stale beer, and getting tons of people stoked to shred their home region in the coming winter. It’s definitely the most rewarding part of the job. Seeing and hearing the reactions of random strangers you’ve never met is really humbling, and reminds us why we absolutely wear ourselves out during production and post-production. If we can keep people inspired about the East, then we’ve done our job. We’re actually still in the midst of our 60-stop tour and will be doing stops through February, so keep up to date here: http://www.meatheadfilms.com/events/all/
Give us the scoop on the film being available on iTunes, the new trailer you've unleashed to coincide with the release, and why everyone out there should drop a few bucks to check out Prime Cut.
The new iTunes trailer shows gnarly shots that didn’t make the original trailer back in July. We finally got the movie up on iTunes after a few delays and we’re psyched to be offering a free download of the 52-minute bonus movie with $9.99 purchase of the regular Prime Cut flick in HD. For those who like the full package (and we hope you do because we need
more money!), the DVD has over 2.5 hours of bonus features (a new record
for Meathead Films) that includes the bonus movie, a 45-minute
urban-only bonus movie, a 20-minute Japan bonus, and others. Plus it
comes with a movie poster and stickers and a picture on the DVD cover
that will make you drool on yourself.
Packed to the brim with tasty entrees and bonus side dishes.
And lastly, when you started Meatheads 10 years ago while you guys were in college, did you ever think you'd make it to this point?
No, not really (laughs). But I’m proud of what Chris, myself, and all the hardworking Meathead shredders have accomplished over the years. A piece of advice for filmmakers out there: find or make a niche for yourself and never take “no” for an answer. That has helped us make it for the past decade.
Geoff McDonald rolling 16mm film for another bump segment. Photo by Chris Nelson James
Rooster always getting the shot, no matter what it takes. Photo by Geoff McDonald
Who would you like to thank for helping The Meatheads make it to where you are today?
Well first we want to thank the insanely dedicated skiers that have pushed it in front of the lens for 10 years and helped build a library of radical East Coast skiing footage. Also, all the talented filmers, photographers, and writers we’ve worked with over the years. I also want to thank my wife Jen, and Chris’ lady friend Hannah, for putting up with our long absences in pursuit of our passion. And finally, our sponsors, whose continued support keeps us going strong: Subaru of New England, Stowe Resort, Kombi, Gore-Tex, Line, Clif Bar, Skirack, Nokian Tyres, K2, Marker, Trew and Bern.
Prime Cut Original Trailer
Prime Cut iTunes Trailer
Click here to purchase Prime Cut on iTunes, or click here to buy yourself a DVD copy. Trust us...you won't be disappointed.