It’s hard to believe that four years ago when I considered making a documentary to pay tribute to the small group of skiers and organizers that started freestyle competitions in the United States that four years later, I would still be at it, trying to complete my first full length documentary. What an adventure and lesson in perseverance it has been.
It started with the thought of making a short documentary on the First Annual National Championship of Exhibition Skiing that occurred at Waterville Valley on March 8th, 1971. Having just been laid off due to budget cuts from my job as a school counselor, I was looking to get back into filmmaking and take a breather after years of youth service work. I had skied with my childhood hero, Wayne Wong, every Summer throughout my high school years as a camper at Toni Sailer Ski Camp on Whistler Mountain. I knew the story of his flying, hitch hiking and taking a bus to participate in the historic first competition that was the blueprint for a new sport born in America. I was also surprised when searching the internet back in 2009 that there was very little information and history on my heros of the first era of freestyle.
After a few phone calls and having the privilege of recording an interview with Wayne in 2010, he encouraged me to expand the project to tell the story of the birth and evolution of freestyle skiing. Then it seemed like a daunting but exciting task. As kids, we were inspired and tried to emulate the legendary pioneers of freestyle, then thrilling, skilled, 20-year old free-spirits of a new sport they were building. What a dream come true to meet and interview heros like Bob Theobald, John Clendenin, Scott Brooksbank and Eddie Ferguson. It was the spirit they embodied and expressed in film and magazines that captivated me. I really had little knowledge of the competitions, standings or individual personalities.
While this journey of making “Dog Days,” has been a discovery of that history as told by those who created and shaped the sport, it is really the story of the spirit that freestyle is rooted in. That has always been my intention and my tool to keep the story focused. Wayne told me from the start when I had doubts to expand the story beyond the Waterville contest that because my reference is from the kid the original band of pioneers inspired, it made me an ideal story teller.
Well, I’m proud to have recorded over 30 hours of interviews with 32 of the pioneers and promotors of freestyle. The production name True Grit is in honor of the Waterville run chosen for the first contest where ballet/stunts, aerials and free-style(moguls) were incorporated in a single run. It also stands for the character of the skiers and the required attitude to make documentaries. The bulk of my interviews were recorded over two years from Jan. 2010-Dec. 2011. I completed the first draft of the story last Summer, editing those 30-hours down to 90-minutes.
Because of my rehire as a full-time counselor and work as a youth mental health counselor, this has been a long but committed process. Also, I have done everything out of pocket to date. Last Fall, I took out a loan to pay for an excellent local director, Caleb Young to come on as a producer and help me put together an edit to submit to mountain film festivals and ski shows. I am in a situation now though that I will be doing some fundraising and possible sponsor approaches to help pay for finishing costs. While, I am not expecting or motivated by any profit other than the satisfaction of completing the project and paying homage to the original group of pioneers who started the sport, I’m being mindful to do the best I can to reach an audience.
There are so many stories within this story and what I have just scratches the surface. I’m psyched that other projects are underway with Christian Dietzel’s “Lords of Freestyle” and Chuck Boone and John Clendenin working to rerelease the classic “Winter Equinox.” Chuck has done an outstanding job in restoring the original cut and what an honor to watch in Sun Valley and be supportive of each other’s efforts. Also, what a gift to be featuring some incredible archival footage and photos from Barry Stott, ski resorts, magazines, personal collections, Joe Jay Jalbert, Dick Barrymore, and John Jay. We are still working on more permissions and hope that this project also serves as a gallery and promotion for the audience to discover/rediscover these classic works.
Caleb and I are working hard to get that first rough cut done. I am extremely thankful for the support and encouragement of the group of Freestyle Legends who have been so helpful in helping me attempt to present their story. Besides the one hour documentary, I am honored to have recorded the many hours to preserve an oral history of the start up of freestyle skiing in America.