Monday, December 10, 2012

What’s Wrong With Snowboard Movies? - The Tyranny of ‘The Format’


Can you guess which snowboard video this describes?

  • It starts with musical intro and a roll of the sponsor’s logos.
  • After the opening credits it launches into the first segment featuring one snowboarder riding for the length of a song, it will be the second best snowboard section of the movie.
  • Then there’s a short and mildly amusing candid interlude captured at some point during the filming process.
  • The film then progresses into a series of sections, with an assortment of snowboarders, riding to a variety of tracks, with a few more short interludes.
  • Then there’s a bit more of the same but a switch to Japan or the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Next up it’s the slam section.
  • Finally it all ends with the best snowboard section of the movie by the stand-out rider, which includes the biggest single trick.

Sound familiar? It should do because it roughly describes almost every single snowboard movie ever created. It’s what, for the purposes of this article we are going to call ‘the format’. ‘The format’ has been the dominant type of snowboard movie for over twenty years, and it’s been copied and rehashed to a point well past it’s sell by date. We've reached a situation where there’s now a whole generation of snowboarders that don’t know anything else but ‘the format’ and because of that it’s become even more pervasive. Is ‘the format’ something all snowboard movies are doomed to repeat forever or is there another way?

Way back at the start of snowboarding things weren't like this. No one knew how to make a snowboard movie and people were trying all kinds of different things. Some were admittedly incredibly shitty, but some were inspirationally bonkers. This is one of the first dedicated snowboard movies, Apocalypse Snow from 1983, bathe in its glorious madness.

There are two things you’ll probably notice from that; 1. You never see anything like this today and, 2. Because you never see anything like it, despite it being madder than a box of Nate Bozungs, it’s also a refreshing viewing experience even close to 30 years after it was made.

After years of people muddling around trying different ideas with varying degrees of success, ‘the format’ was first introduced by the likes of Mack Dawg Productions and Standard Films. In the 90s these two companies dominated snowboard films and the format that they showcased was easily the best way anyone had found to produce a snowboard movie at that time.

Seeing the success of these companies other people wanted to get a piece of the action so they started to copy ‘the format’. Within a short space of time almost all movies had started to follow the rules and by the turn of the millennium it was hard to tell them apart. Once ‘the format’ had become ubiquitous the differentiation or success of individual movies was now down to subtle differences, like the snowboarder line-up, the places visited or the style of soundtrack.

That process has been repeated time and time again with minor tweaks for years. Even the single biggest change to film making of our time, the move to digital and the production explosion that followed, made no impact on this trend of rehashing ‘the format’. With the move to digital the ability to produce a snowboard movie was suddenly open to thousands of more people, but being brought up on ‘the format’ these new movies were just more of the same.

Some of these movies are excellent by themselves, but once you put them into context with every other snowboard movie ever made they start to look very similar:

  • That’s It That’s All was an exciting new tweak when it came out with its incredible production quality, but it was another outing of the format. When the same team produced The Art of Flight they repeated the formula and the tweak for a second time, but apart from the slight increase in slow-motion helicopter porn it felt like we were sitting through the same movie again. 
  • It was a similar situation with Jeremy Jones’ recent forays. Deeper was an interesting watch because of the new angle of unsupported exploration, but it was still the format. Further was the same ideas again and the next in the series Higher, which will inevitably be the same thing once again, will be one step too far for me.
  • Pop was one of my favourite movies when it came out, but put me in front of yet another Absinthe movie and I’d probably kill. 
  • I can’t even face looking at a teaser for Burton’s 13.

I’ve just picked a few out here but have a go yourself, are you experiencing the same thing?

The movies I've mentioned are all good snowboard films, but for every one of these there are ten less memorable movies that also follow 'the format' and it all becomes a bit of a blur. Just having a quick look through my, not very overwhelming  DVD shelf, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that happened in about half the movies I watched last season. Making a snowboard movie these days is not a good way to make money and one of the main reasons is because there’s nothing different enough about them that would make anyone want to go out of their way to buy them. Why buy the latest release when you'll be able to watch something for free that will be so similar you’d hardly notice the difference? It’s like trying to flog someone a South Korean dance music song, when all they have to do right now is be unfortunate enough to have ears. ‘The format’ that was once so fresh is now very, very stale.

So that’s the problem, what’s the solution?

The solution is to do something really different. If you haven’t already watched it, here's a free movie you can watch right now. If you want to cut to the chase head to the bit at 7mins 34seconds.

For the most part it’s also yet another outing for ‘the format’, but what did you make of the crowdsourced bit? It’s probably makes you feel a little tingly like you last experienced during the Apocalypse Snow clip. That’s the feeling you get when you see something different. Even the guys who made Pepping shared the feeling, and although it’s only a tiny bit of the whole movie, and despite the movie including some banging riding from the pros, they still highlighted this small part as the best bit. Now imagine if someone did a whole crowdsourced movie like that. That would be something different and something I’d pay to see.
There are a few movies that are worth holding up as examples of how things can be done. While all around them people were following ‘the format’ over the years a few people have tried doing the opposite.

  • 91 Words for Snow is one of the stand-out snowboard movies of all time. It’s a documentary by David Benedek exploring the different ways people snowboard, showing that the term snowboarding covers a range of hugely different activities and cultures. It's an excellent documentary and an excellent snowboard movie and it was something completely different. Benedek went on to produce The Gap Session which was a movie all about his efforts to design and build the perfect kicker, then there was one more movie, In Short, before he moved on to writing the single bestbook ever produced on snowboarding. It’s a damn shame he’s still not making films. Benedek is unusual because he’s someone that was fully immersed in the world of snowboarding and ‘the format’, but he still managed to approach the problem from a different angle. Perhaps its unsurprising that some of the most interesting approaches, like Apocalypse Snow, have come from people who have managed to evade the clutches of  ‘the format’.

  • Here’s a short film by a fashion photographer that did the rounds a few years ago. 

  • and Vice Magazine have been the unlikely source of some of the best video shorts of recent years as they’ve produced some videos on snowboarding history, including this apt one on Standard Films

           Here's the series if you have a lot of spare time on your hands

There's a few examples of people who have done things differently, but there's loads more room for others. At the moment it's like everyone is scrabbling to produce halfpipe movies and trying to be Shaun White, when there's still lots of opportunity for someone to try and to be the Travis Rice, Terje Haakonsen, Kelly Clark, Tom Sims, Nicolas Muller or the Jeremy Joneseses of movies.

Here’s a few other things that could be tried: a Jackass inspired snowboard movie, a movie with a plot, a comedy, the snowboarding equivalent of Touching the Void, a travelogue, a movie about how global warming might effect snowboarding and skiing, a period drama (snowboarding is surely crying out for one), a really fucking artistic movie, an animated snowboard movie, a movie about the world’s fastest snowboarder no one’s ever heard of, get someone funny to do the interludes, a whole move of slams fronted by Mr T, an all buttering movie, go somewhere fucking weird and film the weirdest bits, a documentary about the guys that snowboarded down Mt. Everest, a movie about life in a resort, set-up an urban jibbing competition in a ski resort without asking permission and film it. You get the gist. If you’re about to make a snowboarding video, have a think about what’s going to make yours different. If everybody else is doing one thing do the exact opposite and there’s a good chance it will work, the market is gagging for something new.

You Might Also Like...
A while ago we had a smilar rant about snowboard magazines.

Here's a look at all Hollywood's attempts at producing a snowboard movie(at the time we did it, apart from the ones we missed that people pointed out in the comments and not including the MXP: Most Xtreme Primate one we posted on Facebook the other day) 


  1. Hi guys, I think Liam Gallagher managed to get away from "the format" quite well with The mad ones. Loved the post, though, as always. Thanks

  2. There is a good documentary about "the guy who rode the Everest" ("Marco, étoile filante" - this young guy did some serious shit and would probably ride with Jeremy Jones, had he lived). You can also find long videos of japanese doing mostly flat ground tricks (Masters of Ground) but indeed, these movies don't meet the almost boring success of Brainfarm and Absinthe.
    I guess the problem about the bulk of snowboard movies is that they mostly are porn flicks. And if you want to bore to death someone that doesn't watch sport video, try a jib video.

  3. This post epitomises exactly what we thought when we started making our snowboard movie 'The White Line'. In 2011, I met a guy called Jake working in a little snowboard shop in Switzerland. One lunch time, we went riding and took my camera and as we goofed around I found out that he had survived an avalanche some years before, breaking both his arms and almost losing his life, yet he was still mad enough to keep snowboarding. So I made a film about him earlier this year that explores his story and focuses on the realities of riding. The film has been embraced by snowboarders and movie fans and we're now looking to create more of these films that go behind the goggles of riders, into the hearts and explore the question of why they ride. We're all about exactly those things that you write about here.

    Here's a link to the movie.

  4. Like the porn analogy. In next week's article we'll see if we can kill someone just by making them watch jib vids.

  5. There's a few more ideas coming through the Facebook for anyone who fancies watching something different. See what you make of these:

    Creatures of Habit

    Feel free to share more

  6. Enjoyed that. Good luck with getting your next project funded.

  7. Hello!

    One movie that definitely does not use the format, is "9 months of snow". Instead, it is chronological. Even though the movie is a paid commercial of two Finnish ski resorts (Ruka and Pyhä), is nicely displays different types of riding at different phases of one season, that is 2008-2009. This movie also delivers the good feelings of the sports (some new school skiing included).

  8. Ironically, I'm just finishing a novel about making a snowboard movie that definitely won't fit the format - the blurbs here:

    And the early chapters are here:

    You'll probably all hate it...


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