Warren Miller: 50 years filming skiing (column)
Vail, CO, Colorado
I received a copy of an ad I bought space for in 1957. It was from my friend John Fry, who has written articles for almost every ski publication and snowboard magazine since he was old enough to run a typewriter sometime in the late 1940s.
Here is the ad: “Your ski movies no longer need to suffer from lack of action. If your script called for ‘deep powder at Sun Valley,’ and you happened to ski on a sunny day, don’t despair. Just write me for a free catalog of stock 8 or 16mm black and white, taken at all major resorts.” Warren Miller, February 1957 Ski Magazine.
In 1957 there were no small portable, inexpensive video cameras. The 16mm cameras were almost exclusively wind-up, and their spring would run about 30 seconds of film each time you wound the camera up.
The movie camera of choice, or most popular, was 8mm, and most people bought black-and-white film because it cost less than half as much as color film.
Back in those days, 8mm film only had sprocket holes on one edge of the film. I could offer black-and-white film with the emulsion on the same side as original Kodachrome, and when the two types of film ran though a projector they would both be in focus.
I don’t have the slightest idea how many copies of these 8mm films I sold, but I kept it up for a few years before I started also offering 16mm ski technique films with a sound track on them.
In later years I expanded the 16mm sound technique movies in either color or black and white. I also offered them in 8mm with a script that in those days was a genuine mimeographed copy that the person who was showing it could read as the film ran through the projector.
About three years later, I discovered a plastic 8mm projector that was about the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes and had a small hand crank. You could look through the viewfinder and hold it up to the sun and film at whatever pictures per second you wanted to.
I saw it as a great teaching tool that the instructor could use on his favorite pupil as they were riding up on the chairlift together. But I was unable to sell a single $5 projector with your technique of choice in it.
It pays to be innovative in any business, but this was one was too hard to get an instructor to part with $4.95 that might speed up his teaching too much and he would not have any job security. Remember, the ski world was a lot different 50 years ago. Single chairlifts were still being built, and Vail was not invented until about 1962.
I was lucky because I got to film in those Back Bowls of Vail that first winter when it was hard to find two or three skiers who could ski well enough to handle the powder and could get a day off from a construction job building Vail.
By the early 1960s, I was offering films like “How to Ski Like Stein Eriksen,” “The Technique of Champions (how to win a race on skis),” “How to Ski in Powder Snow Featuring Junior Bonous,” “Learn from Othmar Schneider,” “Ski Tricks by Freestyle Champion Skiers,” “The Canadian Ski Technique Featuring Ernie McCulloch,” etc.
I was a very busy person with my camera, traveling the world by then or else using my pot of glue and an editing bench to make feature length theatrical ski films every year for 50 years. I also was traveling with the film and narrating each show live from the stage while I played a background musical score from my portable tape recorder.
One year I set some kind of dumb record I hope I never have to beat when I slept in over 200 different motels and hotels in one year.
In 1959, I started producing 13 half-hour television shows by re-editing my old feature-length films and adding left-over trims and outs from the original feature-length film-editing process.
During those early years I learned how to do something that any entrepreneur has to learn. That is how to get through life with less than five hours of sleep out of any 24-hour period or else the income won’t exceed the outgo.
I was so busy during all of those years that I had no idea that I was changing people’s lives by showing them that they could find freedom on the side of a snow-covered hill anywhere in the world.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.
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