With increasing camera affordability and the internet’s ease of distribution, the number of videos made about nordic skiing seems to grow exponentially every year. Where once you had to physically go and buy one of the few existing movies put out by national team members to be able to watch good skiers from the comfort of your own home, there is now an abundance of technique advice, World Cup footage and “cross country skiing fail!” videos to choose from at just the click of a button. Quality is not always guaranteed, but nordic enthusiasts around the globe can freely and easily watch classic rock-saturated ski footage to their hearts’ content.
In Southern Vermont, Mac Fisher and Tyler Foulkes have set out to bring high quality to nordic ski videography at a level normally limited to mainstream snow sports. The 18- and 17-year-old founders of Revived Films began filmmaking a year ago when they bought professional-level cameras and started producing short edits of their Stratton Mountain School classmates for fun. Corky Harrer joined their film crew this year, and as the company learned how to do more with their equipment, they aspired towards producing a longer-form movie. The end product is the recently released Fact or Fiction.
The film, which runs about 36 minutes, chronicles the major parts of the 2011-2012 North American racing season from start to finish. It captures the biggest domestic events of the year — US Nationals, Canadian Nationals and Spring Series among them — with the goal of artistically sharing the producers’ love of nordic ski racing with a wide audience. It’s an ambitious aspiration for filmmakers so young; the growth and mass appeal of nordic skiing also happens to be a central focus of the International Ski Federation (FIS) and just about everyone in the industry.
Intentionally or not, Revived Films is now part of the project of developing and popularizing the sport. In order to appreciate the production and learn about the company’s plans moving forward, we caught up with Foulkes and Fisher to ask them about the whole process. The following interview has been edited and condensed (full disclosure: FasterSkier helped support Fact or Fiction).
FasterSkier: You guys talk about this at the beginning of the film, but what was the motivation behind making Fact or Fiction?
Tyler Foulkes: When we got into this, Mac was into photography and I was into video, and we kind of meshed that together. We started making little videos, and making something a little bit longer was always something we wanted to do as we kept making more and more [short] videos.
Mac Fisher: It coincided with our skill level and what we wanted; I felt like it was our next step. Last year we made a 15-minute film, so this year we decided to step it up and make it longer.
FS: Did you set out with a specific story in mind that you wanted to tell?
MF: I feel like that’s one thing in the future we definitely need to work on a bit better, because we didn’t really have a main story line except, you know: what a great life we’re living, skiing, racing and all that. But I definitely feel like it would add a better feel to maybe have an actual story line with it.
FS: You did seem to touch on the no-snow storyline a little bit with your interview from Canadian Nationals and shots of course maintenance from Craftsbury.
MF: Next year I think it would be more beneficial to get more interviews with people. Say at Craftsbury, it would be great to talk to the snowmaking head there and get the details on what goes on. Overlaying some shots with that, I think it would make that a little bit better.
FS: Stylistically, what influenced your filming and editing?
TF: My first time with a camera was to shoot alpine skiing, so I got into that kind of editing — it’s more quick cuts, the songs are more alternative. There’s more creativity.
MF: You know the production company Level 1? Companies like that are making these films where they document the skiing. Some of them have a storyline, but some of them are just: intro to where they are, and then quick cuts of skiing. Tyler and I like that feel in a movie. It’s where a lot of our style comes from, I think.
FS: Those companies do a good job of making skiing look cool. Do you think that’s a hole you’re trying to fill in the cross-country niche?
MF: Yeah, we’re trying to make racing look as cool as possible and get as many people as we can excited about it.
TF: There are a lot of films out there that are just straight racing footage, literally just pulled from the camera and uploaded. And then you have [Andy] Newell’s film, which I’ve actually never seen but I’ve heard what it is.
But there’s not a lot of films out there that are edited alternatively and based in the younger generation. Which is maybe a gamble for us, and there’s a lot of people out there who probably won’t like it, but like you said, it’s kind of a hole that maybe needed to be filled.
FS: Did Newell’s work influence you at all? He’s also from Stratton, and it seems like he was trying to do a similar kind of thing with X Ski Films.
TF: To be perfectly honest we didn’t even really think about his film that much until we got into the technicality of DVD printing services and whatnot, and we figured we’d ask him about that stuff. But I feel like we came from a different side — he kind of wanted to show his life whereas we wanted to take it a bit differently. The cinematography is a bit better, and we directed it more towards racing, I guess.
FS: You wanted to tell everyone’s story, not just yours?
MF: [Newell] definitely helped with the technical stuff, like how many copies we should buy, what DVD service to go with, music licensing. He helped steer us in the right direction.
I’ve seen his films and definitely remember being a J4 when he came to Prospect. He gave this whole speech and I bought a DVD from him and was all excited to go home and watch it. And I liked it; it got me excited about skiing.
And the same thing happened to me making these films. It’s gotten me excited about skiing and hopefully it’s gotten other people excited about skiing.
FS: I have to ask: does the filmmaking ever get in the way of your skiing? Did your coaches ever have to tell you to put the cameras away?
MF: I remember some times when Sverre [Caldwell] would tell Tyler and I we definitely could not talk about camera equipment. It is harder to film and race, so that’s why we’ve filmed more sprints. Tyler and I get knocked out and that gives us the opportunity to film. Hopefully one of these years we won’t get knocked out and someone will film us.
FS: What about the technical aspects of the process: were there any filming or editing challenges that came up that you maybe didn’t expect?
TF: Lots. One of the biggest challenges for me was the whole DVD process. That was a big surprise. There’s so much that goes into converting HD footage down into SD. And then making it play on a DVD correctly. You can’t use iDVD because then you’ve got the Apple logo in the bottom right corner, so you’ve got to get something that’s more professional, and then learn to work with that. Then you have to make sure it’s all encoded right so that it plays correctly and looks good on the TV. That was probably six hours of playing with it, and 20 DVDs that turned out pretty crappy.
MF: I’ve found the music licensing to be a pain in the butt. We’d be looking at underground music and find something we really liked. But then we couldn’t find the people to contact to see if we could use it. That was kind of annoying.
FS: What was the total budget for the movie?
TF: Probably $800 total (excluding travel costs). We slowly found out how much it was going to cost in the spring; we had no idea until we had to start paying for stuff. Our cameras have been our personal purchases.
FS: What equipment are you working with?
MF: We have three cameras. Usually one of us would have one camera and a dolly. Another person would have their camera and either the crane or spread out on the course to get different angles, different styles of shots. Depending on what system of equipment you’re using someone else would use a longer-range lens or wide-angle lens. Really it just depends on what kind of shot you want to get.
FS: Have you had anyone telling you how to do this along the way?
TF: A lot of it has just been figuring it out. Editing has pretty much just been figuring it out with tutorials and whatnot.
But we also visited Poppet Boswell’s parents. She’s one of our coaches and her parents were way into cinematography for Range Rover. We went to their house for them to critique one of our videos, and they pretty much just laid down a lot of useful info about getting an actual shot: what shots will look good, which you should stray away from even though they might look cool.
MF: Using the crane was a major learning curve. I’m still not really up to par on that. You have to know when the skiers are coming, know when to turn on your camera, and you have to go back and operate it and hope that you have the focus and everything right, and then hope you catch them. It’s difficult.
FS: Did you get any surprises once you started editing?
TF: There are definitely times where you wish your exposure was higher. But when we started editing there were more [pleasant] surprises. Like, ‘Wow I can’t even remember that shot because it was three months ago that we got it.’
For example, in the Rumford segment there’s mainly a lot of the glide-track shots where we’re dollying forward; we kind of enjoyed those when we saw them. Another one was during the classic sprint, I think Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess was finishing and it was this crane shot that started out and got really high, and the way it slowly came up and around and over him was really cool, we were pretty stoked on it.
(Finding footage of the Torin Koos move from the U.S. Nationals classic sprint was also a surprise. Read what they had to say about it here).
FS: Are your long-term goals to go into filmmaking?
MF: I am very interested in filming and photography and would love to do it at college. (Fisher will be a freshman at Montana State University this fall). It’s something I want to get better at each year — take one or two courses and build up from there, and wherever that will take me I look forward to it.
MSU has a really good film school; you learn the basics, you learn moods you can create, lighting and audio — all this really good stuff. I’m very excited. One of my cousins just graduated from the film school and is now doing documentaries in Mongolia and South Africa and all this great stuff.
TF: (Foulkes is in his final year at Stratton). Every school I’ve looked at, if they don’t have a film school I don’t really look at it. It’s definitely something I want to get into. I probably don’t want to get into any Hollywood-type deal where you’re in a studio and supposed to be doing one job and one job only. I want to be part of the whole process like we were this year.
MF: Tyler and I always dream about five years from now, living in the Revived Films house, filming and editing all day.
FS: What’s next for Revived Films, with one of you off to college?
MF: We’ll probably save all of our footage. If anything it’ll give us more variety — I can get some of the western races out here and Tyler will get some eastern stuff. And maybe some races we’ll be at together. In the springtime when I finish classes, I’ll head back to Vermont and hopefully we can edit it out.
FS: Do you both plan on skiing in college, too?
MF: I won’t be skiing on MSU’s A-team, but I’ll ski on their club team. Corky is skiing at Bates College next year.
TF: I’m somewhat planning on skiing in college, but we’ll see how this year goes. When I get to that point I’ll make a decision, I guess.
* * *
Fact or Fiction is available for purchase on Revived Films’ website.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.