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Thursday, August 16, 2012
In the editing room


If winter is the busiest season for those in the ski film business, summer runs a close second. Between editing, coordinating with sponsors and securing any last-minute shots to complete the film (to name just a few of the endless tasks at hand), days go by fast. But it's not just busy for people on the production side. Many pro skiers play an intimate role in deciding which footage makes it to the big screen and which gets left out of their segment.

Entering the final month before fall premiere season, we called three veterans intricately involved with the process at Matchstick Productions -- executive producer Murray Wais and athletes Eric Hjorleifson and Mark Abma. This year's MSP film, "Superheroes of Stoke," marks the company's 20th year in the ski movie business. It's also the 10th MSP film for Abma and the ninth for Hjorleifson.

Both skiers are among the most involved when it comes to crafting their segments, often traveling from their homes in British Columbia to share input with Wais at MSP headquarters in Crested Butte, Colo., or principal editor Scott Gaffney in Squaw Valley, Calif. Here, they explain how athlete segments come together behind the scenes, and why it's so important to be involved as an athlete.

Wais: It's a ruthless game. You have to let go of every premonition you have coming into it, and judge each shot for what it is today on face value, and what it is within that segment. You can't be like, "It was 20-below zero that day and we hiked for three hours to get that shot; it's got to make the movie."

Hjorleifson: Honestly, I think it all comes down to how well you ski and how the shots turn out. For them to do their job they just have to pick the best footage that they get. There's never any guarantee of how many minutes you'll get in the film.

You spend five months filming, it only makes sense to spend two or three days in the editing room to have a say in what's being put in and how it's being presented. It's the second half of the process for me.

-- Mark Abma

Wais: We've always encouraged people to maintain control over their segments, but every athlete's different. Mark's been to a LOT of film premieres, so he really understands what the crowd is looking for. Eric's super into it and wants to watch every single shot that he got all year. Then you have a guy like Jacob Wester, who is really good at finding music. He'll send us 30 songs for his segment. On the other hand, you also have guys like Hugo Harrisson, who couldn't care less. They're like, "Put the movie together. I'm psyched to be in it."

Abma: You spend five months filming, it only makes sense to spend two or three days in the editing room to have a say in what's being put in and how it's being presented. It's the second half of the process for me. Otherwise you show up at the premiere and you're like, "What about that shot and that shot and that shot?" If you're in the editing room, you can actually see what shots worked and what didn't.

Wais: Disagreements are usually minor. It's never been really heated where the skier is like, "I have to have that shot in there," and we're like, "There's no way." But some skiers in the past have really wanted shots that weren't that good to make the movie. I don't want to name names, but there are guys out there who are like, "Oh, come on, that's not that bad of a 3." And for us it's like, "Come on, dude, your next shot's a 1080. Do you really want a 360 off a 10-foot cliff?"

Hjorleifson: As a skier, there are moments in the year when you're really challenging yourself, really pushing it, and those are the best memories. So I think it's important to put those in, as long as the shot's quality. So you go down there and push for those shots. Because they're looking at thousands of hours of shots, and even good shots of your favorite lines of the year can get forgotten.

Wais: It's not like the film has a giant plot structure that's written down and needs to be figured out and contrived. It's ski shots and music. So you have to have the best shots that work the best with the song.

Hjorleifson: Music selection is the hardest one. There's a lot involved to get the rights to a song and half the time it's really hard on Scott and Murray. They pick a song and it all sounds good, the licensing company tells them they can use it, then at the last minute the band's agent or whoever says no. Then they've got to scramble and start from square one and make a new edit.

Wais: A lot can be done over the internet now. In essence you send 'em a file with a timecode on it, and they let you know their thoughts, what shot they like here and what shot they don't like there. There's also an iChat video preview option in Final Cut Pro. As you show them the clip, you can edit and have a live video conference as you're editing.

Hjorleifson: My favorite part is building up a bonus segment with all of the best footage I was able to get that season. Because it all can't go in the movie. Ski movies can't be two hours long.

Wais: We don't have a set run time in mind. It just has to feel right in the end.