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Over the last 65 years, American documentarian Warren Miller has produced some of the most boundary-pushing, heart-stopping, big mountain films to hit the screen. The newest installment from Boulder-based Warren Miller Entertainment is no exception. No Turning Back showcases today’s most elite skiers and snowboarders riding everything from the powder blankets of Niseko, Japan, to Greece’s iconic Mount Olympus, and even the (comparatively) mom-and-pop hills of Montana.
In all of Miller’s films—but especially in No Turning Back—the action looks effortless and stylish. However, the process of making a movie in the most remote and unpredictable corners of the globe is anything but seamless. As ski season rapidly approaches, we picked the brains of two Coloradans who worked on No Turning Back to better understand the unseen work that goes into backcountry filmmaking. Here, producer/cameraman Josh Haskins and skier Chris Anthony share insights on getting the shot, missing sleep, and advice for young skiers looking to break into the business of ski movies.
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On how they got started in the industry:
Josh Haskins: I’ve been a cameraman for 15 years. I came to Boulder with a degree in outdoor recreation, and then went to CU for film studies. I jumped into Warren Miller and haven’t looked back.
Chris Anthony: I grew up ski racing and competing at a pretty high level; I would see ski films and dream of being in them. One day, a guy from Warren Miller saw me at a competition and invited me to shoot in France, which was a dream come true. It was like a young basketball player getting invited to play on an NBA team.
On traveling during the filmmaking process:
Josh: We always have a ton of gear—a ridiculous amount of gear. Between cameras, lenses, electronics, clothes, and ski equipment, we usually have 8 to 10 huge cases per trip. My biggest tip is to pack as efficiently as possible, travel in groups so you can manage the equipment, and get creative with rolling carts (skateboards and shopping carts are great).
Chris: It’s a nightmare no matter what. My biggest tips are to keep up your flight loyalty programs and pack deliberately. Make sure your gear is protected and ensure that, if any one thing is lost, you’ll have a back up in some form. Only pack stuff that’s vital to the shoot. Packing really is a constant nightmare; it’s one of the largest complications of the film shoot.
On getting a group to the mountain on time:
Josh: Call sheets are crucial. They break shoots up by group member, what the plan is, where everyone has to be, contact info for the whole group, where to find them, etc. Always have a plan. We’re constantly conducting meetings because a lot of the time plans change in a moment’s notice. The number-one thing is communication.
On getting the shot:
Josh: It’s all about communication. The ratio of time spent talking about a shot versus the actual shot is ridiculous. You must visualize and make sure the cameraman is seeing the same thing the skier is seeing.
Chris: So many things have to come together. Patience and flexibility are the most important things. Here’s what it took to get one shot in Cordova, Alaska, for No Turning Back: First, it took us eight months to get the filming permit. When we finally got there, we sat around for weeks because the weather sucked. Once the weather finally cleared, we had to figure out the helicopter logistics (weight, fuel, storage), and fly out to where the shot would be filmed. We had the athletes and cameramen constantly talking to each other on walkie-talkies. Finally, when everything was in place, we had to wait for the sun to come around to the right spot. It’s crazy to consider that athletes have trained their entire life to be in this one moment. We shoot thousands and thousands of feet of footage over the course of a film, and then it just comes down to special moments. In order for it all come together like that—it’s one in a billion.
On the pros and cons of the job:
Josh: I get a lot of people who say to me, “Man, that must be the best [job] ever!” There are a ton of pros, but there are cons, too. The shoot days are absolutely exhausting. After a full day of skiing—sunup to sunset—we have to go back and download the footage, go over the plan for the next day, and prep the gear. During a shoot, we’re usually pulling 20-hour days, 10 to 14 days in a row. We go to amazing resorts, but we don’t get to experience them in the same way someone on a vacation gets to. There’s a lot of eating in hotel rooms—or wherever we can fit it in.
On balancing work and play:
Josh: The majority of filming is work. I’ve done this job for 15 years and I can count the number of fun runs I’ve taken—runs without a 30-pound backpack—on two hands. Sometimes we do get to put down the gear and do a scouting run, but that only happens on cloudy days. But in those rare instances, we still worry that we’re missing filming opportunities.
Chris: There’s a delusion of, “Oh, you get to ski all the time.” But on a film shoot, you barely ski. There’s a scene in the movie where two skiers carve down a peak for about two minutes—it took us seven hours to shoot that and we had to be up in that area for two weeks. People think it’s all play, but it’s definitely not. There’s nothing easy about it.
On getting sponsored:
Chris: People ask all the time, “How do I get sponsored?” I think that’s the wrong question. They are putting the cart before the horse. I don’t think any athletes at this level woke up one morning and said, “I want to be a sponsored pro skier.” It’s like saying, “I want to play football with the Broncos this week.” Obviously you have to be a very high level skier, but more than that you have to have an incredible work ethic; it’s a lifetime investment. For me, I just loved what I was doing and inched my way forward. It’s a lot of work—all I do is work. That’s how you separate yourself from the herd: Be all you can be beyond the ski hill.
You can catch No Turning Back when it premiers at the Boulder Theater on November 13, or as it tours the state throughout November. Visit their website for dates and times.