Vail Valley Voices: The whole story
Vail, CO Colorado
Some vacation days, you have gotten up early to go skiing and looked out the window and found it was raining up to 9,000 feet and you are at a ski resort with the top of the mountain at 8,000. Today, it dawned as one of those days that makes me remember when one of my cameramen or I were frustrated at a deluxe ski resort for a week of rain without being able to get a single picture.
I had sent Brian Sisselman and three skiers to North Africa to film skiing in the Cedars of Lebanon. When he got there, it was a rainstorm of epic proportions, and he discovered that almost all of the trees had been chopped down centuries before to build wooden sailing ships.
Brian’s accommodations were uncomfortable by most standards and way below Spartan at best with a sagging metal bed with a thin mattress and a bathroom down the hall. His room was occasionally illuminated by a 30-watt lamp bulb that was turned off at 8:30 every night. He somehow managed to phone me after about a week of incessant rainstorms and said, “All it seems to do here is to rain. How can I get good pictures of the guys we flew over here to ski for us if it’s always raining?”
One of the things I learned early in my film career was to treat a lot of the stuff we filmed as though it was a TV news item that no one had seen or heard of until we brought it to their auditorium in our feature film of that season. So I told Brian, “Take the following ideas when you are filming and I will write my narration around them.
“You traveled all the way to the Cedars of Lebanon in North Africa thinking you were going to film skiing in wonderful powder snow and sunshine. It took you three different airlines, a long bus ride and then a $53 taxi ride to get to the resort. Alongside of the road leading to the chairlift, you saw a dozen or so men sitting in the rain, each with 10 or 15 pair of skis and boots for rent. The prices ranged in price from $1 to $2 a day, depending on the age of the skis and boots. Most of the equipment was as old as you are and some of the skis had at least half of their edges missing with all of them having old-fashioned bear trap, cable bindings. Film it all. That’s the story!”
The chairlift was built on a good hill that was covered with about 2 feet of snow that had been rained on for the last three days. Brian brought the skiers halfway around the world to ski in a rainstorm of about an inch of rain a day.
Note: All of this became the narration over the appropriate scenes.
It continues in the finished film, “Instead of traveling to North Africa to ski on a hill like this in a raging rainstorm, we could have flown to Seattle and driven 45 miles up to Snoqualmie Pass and skied with 10,000 other people dressed in foul weather gear. Their foul weather gear is exactly the same as the crab fisherman on the TV hit series ‘The Deadliest Catch,’ and at the end of the day, the skiers are just as wet and tired.”
This kind of skiing looks funny to the people who have never weathered the storms of the Northwest, but it is the only way you can get through a day of skiing without freezing in a Pacific Northwest or North African rainstorm.
The phone call with Brian Sisselman cost me about the same as an all-day lift ticket at Snoqualmie Pass cost because there was no cell service available.
To finally ski one day in the rainstorm in Lebanon cost four round trip tickets on three different airlines and one charter plane, plus all the rest of the expenses, or about $6,300. Not including film and cameraman’s wages. By the time the crew got back to Hermosa Beach and we got to see the footage, I already had written the script in my mind.
It was ugly when you saw the good skiers waterskiing in the wet, rainy, over-the-top-of-the-ski-boots slush. But it was how it was … and that is what a story is all about.
I think it was worth it because you never know what the skiing will be like until you travel thousands of miles to somewhere else to do the same things you can do on your own local ski hill. You can turn right, left, or go straight.
As I sit here reminiscing about the good old days, some of them were not so good, but the audiences liked what they saw. That does not mean they will ever go to Lebanon to ski any more than I will. But Brian learned a good lesson on that one. Film it like it is because you can’t do anything about the weather, and, besides, if the snow was as good as it is in Colorado or Montana, why would it be worthwhile to travel that far to do the same thing? Because it’s different, and that is what the story is all about.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to http://www.warrenmiller.net.