Interview by Ian Kirkpatrick
Since stunning the ski industry with his debut ski movie, Balance, Josh Berman has been destroying the concept of a typical ski movie for five years with a strong focus on urban jibbing. So it seems natural that we find Berman on a sunny day in Boulder, CO after a recent dump, shooting a rail. Travis Redd, a Winter Park skier and Colorado native, is attempting one of the steepest, gnarliest quad kinks anybodyâ€™s ever seen that includes a 45-degree inward bend on the last kink. During the session, Berman talks candidly about living closer to the action, why urban rails are cool, and why ski movies actually bother him some of the time.NS: So youâ€™ve been in Boulder, CO since this past May. How do you like your first Colorado winter since leaving the East?
Josh Berman: I love it. Itâ€™s treating me very well. Itâ€™s just made accessing, well, especially that past six weeks with all the contests a lot easier cause now I got a car out here. I donâ€™t need to crash on floors all the time. I donâ€™t need to hitchhike or bum rides or take buses-
Berman turns toward the rail as Travis drops in but stops short of getting on the rail. Berman asks what he can do to improve the set-up.
Yeah, itâ€™s just been really good. I got a sled so now I can start shooting more backcountryâ€¦ I canâ€™t complain much.
2nd Generation, Strike Three. Youâ€™ve said before that youâ€™ve had a number thing as far as titlingâ€¦ Was this yearâ€™s movie supposed to be Fourward, as in f-o-u-r?
No, it was supposed to be Forward as in f-o-r but you can take it howeverâ€¦Sorry, bad play on words.
I just think itâ€™s a cool thing, and itâ€™s definitely better than calling my movies Ski Movie 1, Ski Movie 2, and Ski Movie 3. Actually, I almost called Forward Ski Movie 4 and put that out in print before Matchstick came out with their movie just to piss them off because I know that [MSP producer] Steve Winter would have appreciated that.
Is this [coming] yearâ€™s movie still High Five?
This yearâ€™s movie is still High Five.
Do you still want to keep your urban element in movies now that youâ€™re in Colorado? Do you feel compelled to move away from that or do you feel like this is your niche?
Oh, I definitely want to keep pushing the urban element because I donâ€™t think the other major production companies take it as seriously as it should be taken. Iâ€™m not to say Iâ€™m the only one whoâ€™s really pushing it but I think Iâ€™m pushing it more than the other film companies are and I feel that itâ€™s one of, if not- well, one of the most progressive aspects of the sport right now. And I think itâ€™s definitely one of the more creative and unique things to shoot and it allows me to further differentiate my stuff from what everybody else is doing and give it something entirely different from what you see in traditional ski movies.What do you think of the way most skiers see the ski movie industry? Whatâ€™s wrong? Whatâ€™s good? Whatâ€™s bad? What needs to change?
I dunno, first off, I think a lot more people out there think the ski movie industry is a lot more glamorous than it really is. Maybe some of those other- no, for a fact, those THREE other companies out thereâ€¦ have third, half, three-quarters of a million dollars [budget] whereas I donâ€™t even deal with ten percent of thatâ€¦. Um, what was the other part?
Whatâ€™s good? Whatâ€™s bad? What needs to change?
Long, confused silence
...and why do you think that needs to change? What do you think that people donâ€™t understand about how people make their ski movies?
I just think that regardless of what ski movies are coming outâ€¦ different production companies are shooting with different styles, I still think that no matter how big budgets are- no, I take that back. If my movies had the budget that I wanted to have, everybody would buy them no matter what. Thereâ€™s such a large part of the skiing demographic and the general public that subscribes to what TGR does which I donâ€™t think is very progressive or interesting, much less fun to watch. All it is is people making turns on their skis.
Another attempt by Travis, this one closer than anything else heâ€™s done today. Falling off, Redd screams in anguish and proceeds to hike up again. As he walks up the stairs, a white truck belonging to Boulder Parks & Rec pulls up. While the crew gets ready to leave, the worker in the truck is apparently impressed that anybody is even stepping to this beast of a handrail and lets us continue.
Whatâ€™s up? Are we all set? Hell yeah!!! I was scared there for a sec.Do you think this is indicative of anything as far as living in Boulder?
You mean, the fact that we just had Parks and Rec give us the thumbs up to continue what weâ€™re doing here? I donâ€™t think this is necessarily indicative of Boulder in particular. I think this is a lot more indicative of like, Quebec or Ottawa. I dunno, the prevailing attitudes of most people keeps me in a position where Iâ€™m struggling a lot of the times to do the things I want to doâ€¦ In terms of what weâ€™re doing off the hill with urban stuff is getting so ridiculously difficult and intense that itâ€™s not a thirty second setup to go and try to do something and get it done in ten minutes. Sometimes weâ€™ll require hours and hours of set-up, huge lights, drop-in ramps, and moving tons of snow. Honestly, thereâ€™s no poaching some of the stuff we need to do so Iâ€™ve been forced to go through proper channels like getting insurance paperwork done and- oh my god, that is unbelievable! For the viewers at home who canâ€™t actually see this right now, our Parks and Rec dude unlocked the lock that freed up the very top of the rail here. Now heâ€™s putting it back which is fine by me. I brought out the bolt cutters this morning and we blasted the chain at the bottom part of the rail, which was a real problem.
Redd drops in for our new audience member but comes up short again. â€œIâ€™m gonna get this!â€? he shouts back to Berman.
Yeah you will! That last one was so close! Where were we?
Talking about TGR and how they cater to people who just want to see people making turns but thatâ€™s not very progressive. What were your thoughts on that?
This is my fifth year now [making ski movies], only my third year full time. Also, Iâ€™m still a one-person show for the most part. You look at the other major companies; Poor Boyz is considered the youngest and this is his (PBP producer Johnny DeCesare) tenth year making movies. MSP says that they were only started in â€™97, but they were a different company before that made, like, 19 films. And TGR, I think the Jones brothers are in their sixties or seventies now and theyâ€™ve made about a hundred movies at this point. And Warren Miller? I know heâ€™s been dead for a few decades, but his sons and grandsons are running the show now and I think theyâ€™ve made over five hundred ski moviesâ€¦ Basically, these companies have been around for so long doing what theyâ€™ve been doing that I donâ€™t know if theyâ€™re reluctant to change because theyâ€™ve gotten as far as they have, maybe theyâ€™ve not needed to change because thatâ€™s just they way they make their movies. Everybody has a certain style and methodology. As far as these companies go, theyâ€™ve met enough success to justify continue doing what theyâ€™re doingâ€¦ At long last, my movies are starting to get some recognition. Freeskier and FREEZE both put [Forward] at number three this year; way ahead of TGRâ€™s movies, which have taken a big slide. Most of, if not all the Euro mags put it at top three. In fact, my movies have been number one in Japan for the past twenty years! Laughs. No, I actually havenâ€™t seen any of the Japanese reviews but theyâ€™re pretty stoked on it. All they know is newschool over there. Even all the pink, one-piece Descente wearing tourists in Japan know newschool.
On the topic of how everybody makes their ski movies and budget, if you had unlimited resources what would be your perfect movie? Setup, skiers, everything, what would you put into it?
Honestly, Iâ€™d work with the exact same crew as Iâ€™ve got now which is one of my favorite things about my setup right now. All the kids I work with now are kids Iâ€™ve known since they were coming up and thatâ€™s a reason for my recent success is their talent.
Another pause and another attempt.
Like Peter [Olenick] this year?
Yeah! Peter Olenick! Three years agoâ€¦ four years ago, I met him in the parking lot at the Squaw Valley X-Qualifiers. He was doing cork 7s, not really landing them but he had bright blue hair so I sat down and talked to him. The coolest kid in the world. A little later, I had him come back East with me and do some urban stuff. He had never done an urban rail in his entire life but during the trip we had him stomping a couple quad kinks. And now heâ€™s podiumed at every major contest heâ€™s entered this year and now heâ€™s one of the premiere athletes in the world according to these competition showings. The only problem Iâ€™m running into now is that once these kids get noticed, other major companies like Matchstick, TGR, and Johnny [DeCesare] tugging on them right and left. I mean, heâ€™s definitely going to have a feature segment again this year but itâ€™ll be a lot tougher than in the past because other people will want to shoot with him. Other than that, Iâ€™d do urban helicopter follow-cams, Iâ€™d drag the nastiest quad kink rails into the backcountry, Iâ€™d light more rails on fire, have custom rails built with pneumatics, build rails over water with sharks and piranhas, so yeah, more different rails. Laughs. No, Iâ€™d just take the same crew to some really picturesque locations and go from there. Itâ€™d be nice to have the money to just shoot really creative angles.Along with this perfect movie, youâ€™ve got an unlimited budget for soundtrack rights, what would that include?
A little bit of everything. What Iâ€™m doing now is involving the athletes in every little part of creating their segment, short of letting them doing the actual editing themselves. I just try to get them whatever songs they want and if I canâ€™t do that, I at least give them a selection of what I can work with. Unfortunately we run into the situation all the time where somebody wants something, just tracking down the right people is impossible. And when I do find them they say, â€œThat sounds great. Weâ€™ll charge you a dollar for every copy you sell.â€? I say, â€œGreat, there goes a third of my budget on Dumontâ€™s song this year.â€? Speaking of, Dumont is another person that everybody is all over this year and itâ€™s making things really hard.
Yeah, Poor Boyz had a lot of your shots in those guysâ€™ segments (Steele Spence, Simon, Olenick in Ready, Fire, Aim.)
Johnny helped me out a ton this past year. In fact, the Silverton (CO) trip was definitely a Poor Boyz deal and I came out to shoot with Reedy, who ironically enough left. But Dumont got in on that trip too, and I actually brought Steele down with me and I was very fortunate to go on that trip. In exchange, I traded him a bunch of Crichton footage. There were also situations where I would be working with Simon and Dave and Johnny wanted to shoot them as well, so the stipulation was that if I brought them to wherever he was, I could shoot as well. Additionally, I know people who get pissed off at the overlap in shots but the demands on these athletes is so great that I have to make arrangements with Johnny so we can get our movies togetherâ€¦ Another thing I want to throw out there about ski movie footage overlap is that ski movies are constantly being compared to snowboard movies, but the talent pool right now isnâ€™t deep enough to have 60 riders who are worth feature-length segments. All right Trav, make this shit happen.
Travis drops in for the last time today. Not only does he stomp it, he greases the abnormal bottom kink and comes off switch. Everybody erupts and Travis goes over and high-fives a group of kids watching. With that, everything starts to get broken down and within fifteen minutes, thereâ€™s virtually no trace of what happened here. Another perfect execution from the man who has popularized urban jibbing and is ready to help freeskiing to new levels.