How a filmmaker is revitalizing one of the original ski movie giants

With over 20 years of ski movies under their belt, the ski cinematographers Matchstick Productions knew the formula for making a good shred flick. Heck, they practically invented it.

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Photo: Courtesy of Matchstick Productions

But they also realized that the ski world, and more importantly the media world, was changing around them.

Embracing that change, they teamed up with up-and-coming writer and director Ben Sturgulewski to put a new spin on the expected.

The result is Ruin and Rose, a ski film that combines a post-apocalyptic storyline with some of the most stunning mountain footage to hit the silver screen this year in one complete package.

From the steeps of British Columbia to the dunes of Namibia the MSP crew pulled out all the stops to create something totally different for 2016.

We caught up with Sturgelewski to hear more about his newest project with MSP and the future of ski cinema.

This is your first film with MSP, what was it like working with a new team?

It was definitely a wild change of pace working with MSP. I cut my teeth with Sweetgrass Produtions, and for many years we were making small films, fighting really hard to get them done. We were the underdogs.

To go from that scenario to working with MSP, who have been in the game for a really long time and pretty much started the concept of the modern ski film. That was a huge change of perspective, but I’d say it was definitely for the better. It opened up a whole new range of possibilities, resources, athletes, locations — everything.

What are some of the advantages of working with a crew like MSP?

MSP has been doing this long enough that they have the whole ski-movie-making thing dialed, and it challenged me to find ways to utilize all those new (to me) resources to the max.

Conversely, I think I really challenged them by bringing in this whole storytelling element, and getting them to shift some of their priorities toward that side of the process. In the end I’d say everyone, on all sides, learned a lot and was pushed harder to do bigger things with their work than they have been in years.

Photo courtesy of Matchstick Productions.

Photo: Courtesy of Matchstick Productions

What are you particularly excited about with your new film Ruin and Rose?

For me, it was the story side of the film. It definitely broke away from the Matchstick mold, and really the mold of any ski movie made yet, I think.

It’s just so out there, has so may weird elements, all of them very conscious decisions. It stars and is narrated by a 10-year-old kid who had never skied in his life, its half shot in Africa’s Namibian desert, it tells a relatively in-depth narrative story that hopefully brings everything back around towards skiing and help people reflect on the sport and the season they love.

MSP are the original guard of freeskiing ski cinema, so what did you bring to the table this year that added to that pedigree?

I think MSP came to me because they wanted to try something new. They have been creating films for over 20 years, and have a huge fan base because of it.

But that creates a tough position for them — they want to please their fans but they also want to keep growing as filmmakers and pushing the limits, and they don’t want to get stale.

I really wanted to do something different, something no one had seen before, to test the limits of what a ski movie could be. Considering that they invented the ski movie, that brings a pretty wild inherent contrast, and it was pretty cool to be able to work through the process and develop something that was a fusion of their style and my own.

MSP sets skis where we've never seen them before. Photo courtesy of Matchstick Productions.

MSP sets skis where we’ve never seen them before. Photo: Courtesy of Matchstick Productions

Between fantastic storylines and naked skiing, you’ve produced some pretty out-there stuff. How do you find the balance when you are making ski movies?

It’s an interesting challenge, making ski movies this way. Basically it comes down to the fact that I really dislike making things that have been already made before.

Really we are just trying to showcase skiing in the most dramatic way that people can relate to as intensely as possible.

I think it all come back to that idea, that we want to try to capture that feeling of what its like to be flowing through snow, and relay that directly to the audience in the freshest way possible, and remind them why they love this amazing sport.

So in the end, really, all the ‘out-there’ stuff, I think it comes back to the simple act of skiing, at its core. It always comes back to that, no matter the circuitous route, and I hope therein lies the balance.

What do you see for the future of ski movies? Is there a place for them?

I think there will continue to be a place for full ski films. I think they are getting to be a necessary antidote to the deluge of edits online, so many of which are so similar. There’s something so much bigger and grander about a feature versus another short.

For one, you can experience them in the theater in this awesome communal setting, rather than alone in front of your computer or your phone.

But also, you just have more time in a feature to explore ideas, and do new, innovative things. Otherwise, what’s the point?

People could stay at home and watch shred edits on Youtube for free.

It’s an interesting time for big ski movies, trying to figure out their future, I think. I hope that maintaining the highest production values and continuing to do things differently will secure their place.

Photo courtesy of Matchstick Productions.

Photo: Courtesy of Matchstick Productions

What was the thought process behind the desert scene and metaphor? Where did that come from?

Originally Steve Winter at MSP came up with the idea of a snow globe poking up from the sand, and I evolved a script out of that core idea, building a [desert] world around it and expanding it until it became what it is today, which I think is a question of: What would the world be like without winter? What would we have left?

How would a child experience a world devoid of snow, and what would go through their head the first time they caught a glimpse of it — this thing they thought was just an old dead dream?

What went into pulling that off?

The shoot in Namibia was indeed a logistical nightmare. I flew to Namibia in May for two weeks, solo, and met up with a Namibian production company there. We drove thousands of miles scouting locations during that time.

Then I came back to the states for two weeks, rallied gear and last minute script changes based off what we found on the scout, and on June 1 our crew of four flew over for the main shoot. We had a skeleton crew, and we only had about 12 back-to-back days (only seven were spent shooting because of traveling and other concerns) to shoot about 22 pages of script (roughly 30 minutes screen time) all over the Namibian desert.

It was incredibly stressful, and we worked sunrise to sunset every day with pretty limited resources. It was over 100 degrees some days, and cold at night (it was their winter).

But the worst part was of course the sand. Nonstop blowing sand. It was nasty.

All in all it was incredibly exhausting, and a massive learning experience, and I never want to do it again. But at the same time I’m immensely proud of what our very small crew was able to pull of in such an insanely short amount of time, in the middle of some truly nasty elements.

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