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Vail to the MAX

Ted Alvarez
Skier Wayne Wong showers the IMAX camera in snow.
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After months of planning and hours of setup, the crew of the IMAX film “Proud American” prepared for their shoot at the Black Forest NASTAR course on Vail Mountain. In classic form, director Fred Ashman yelled over a bullhorn to the hundred or so extras flanking the fences past the finish line. “OK, guys, let’s get real excited – the skiers are coming down!” he said to the extras, who had been eating lunch moments before.They began to wave and cheer as two skiers whooshed down the course, closer to the mega-expensive iWorks 1570 IMAX camera, which loomed low over the course on a crane. Skier Wayne Wong sped straight toward the lens, and at the last second, he spun his edges into a high-velocity hockey stop, falling onto his side and spraying the camera with a thick cloud of snow as it pulled up and away.The extras murmured and talked among themselves, while the crew inspected the snow-dusted camera. After a few moments, Ashman took up his bullhorn and addressed his cast and crew.”We got it!”The first scene for “Proud American” had been completed in Vail, and it lasted all of fifteen seconds.

Fred Ashman has spent over five years developing “Proud American,” which began as a seed planted in his mind when he saw the 8-minute CircleVision 360 film “America the Beautiful” at Disneyland. Ashman was 13.”That was a travelogue – this is not,” Ashman says over lunch after the shoot. While eating, he watches footage from the shoot on a miniature DVD player with a four-inch screen. “I wanted to focus on two things: One, what binds us as Americans is stronger than what separates us; and two, you can be from anywhere and still be an American. We’re the only country like that.”

The Vail section of “Proud American” will be featured in a section of the film highlighting American generosity; this ski race, sponsored by American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Toshiba and others, raised money to fight cystic fibrosis. Ashman plans to film other benefits across the nation. “We are some of the most generous people in the world,” Ashman says. “That’s just one facet of America I’d like to show.””Proud American” will cross the country between now and November, highlighting the natural wonders, religious diversity and industrious souls that make up the core of our society. Ashman described aerial shots of a particular city block where a Catholic Church, synagogue and mosque sit on the same city block.Sections of the film will be dramatic in nature, and Ashman filmed one of these scenes on Sunday and today in Edwards. Though Ashman won’t divulge the details of the scene, he says the scene will open a section that deals with freedom of religion.”We needed an everyday street with snow, and we’ll have all these houses lit with Christmas trees, and in one house their will be a menorah,” Ashman says. “All the people in Edwards have been incredibly nice – I can’t say enough about the help we’ve received. We’re thrilled to have everybody on board.”

Filming can be an arduous and long process in the best of conditions, but filming in the mountains makes for extra challenges, especially when dealing with delicate, high-definition IMAX equipment. “The snow and environment means everything takes twice as long because of logistics – you have to be aware of temperatures, falling snow and how that will affect your filming,” camera assistant Joseph Walsh says. “There are less than ten cameras like this in existence, and they’re so expensive, you have to rent them for production.””And we just buried one in snow,” says cinematographer Mark Eberle.

Three snowcats brought several tons of equipment and about 10 crew members to the Black Forest NASTAR course for the film shoot. “Vail Resorts absolutely bent over backwards for us,” Ashman says. “Justin Finestone really helped us set this shoot up, and it’s been incredible.”Ashman, who produces corporate films through his company Multi Image Productions, spent most of the five-year development period courting investors to bring his dream to the screen.”It’s asking a lot – looking for financial support, but with no creative control,” Ashman says. “Oddly, mostly CEOs and senior people said yes to us. We spent a lot of time getting shown the door by vice presidents at a lower level. Two of them were later dismissed when a new president found out they’d let this opportunity slip by.”Eventually, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, FedEx, MasterCard and a private angel investor came to the rescue. Ashman plans to shoot next in Washington, D.C., HAwaii, New York and Philadelphia.”I’m very excited to film a swearing-in ceremony for new immigrants inside Independence Hall,” he says.

Ashman’s daughter, high school senior Michelle Ashman, joined her father for the first time to experience life on a live film shoot. She plans to go to film school after graduation.”It’s a lot of fun, and really, this is the best way to learn,” she says. “If anything, I’m even more excited to go to film school.”

With American benevolence as a core message of the film, Ashman plans to join the cause by donating the first $5 million in film profits to the National Military Family Association, which provides resources and support to spouses and children of the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Ashman expects the film to debut on IMAX and regular movie theater screens in September 2008.”This will be very much different than any IMAX film I’ve seen in that it’s true drama, but it allows for those big “IMAX sequences” you want to see,” Ashman says. “Most IMAX films, you walk out, you say ‘that was neat,’ but there’s no emotion. We want you walking out with, if not a tear in your eye, you feeling pretty good.””As Americans, we have a lot to be proud of.”Arts & Entertainment Writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.


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