During the spring of 2012, I directed the second camera unit for a Pirelli Tire TV Commercial Spot. It was one of the wildest big budget commercials on which I’ve worked. It was an amazing collaboration between Camp 4, RSA Films and One Eyed Bird Productions. Check out the commercial and read the interview below for a glimpse into the making of the commercial.
1. How did you get involved with RSA Films?
We started talking to RSA at the beginning of 2012 about signing with them and possibly joining their roster. RSA obviously does some incredible work from feature films (Blade Runner, Top Gun, Alien, Prometheus, etc) to high-end commercial spots for Chanel to Nike. Ridley Scott is also one of my all time favorite directors. Their roster includes directors like Katheryn Bigelow and Martin Scorsese. Yeah, big guns. We were all incredibly excited just to be talking to them. Not long after our initial conversations with them, we got a call from their London office to see if we could help with a really unique shoot. They wanted to know if we had any ideas for them regarding a ski BASE shoot, locations, talent etc. We jumped on it. After a few months of research and a lot of emails and conference calls, we helped refine their concept, found potential locations, vetted talent etc. Eventually RSA signed us up for the job. We put together a team of high-end expedition and action sports shooters and off we went to Baffin Island.
2. What was the concept of the shoot?
The concept of the shoot was to give the viewer a sense of being in a dramatic high-speed ski sequence with two skiers that ends in an unexpected ski BASE. The other unexpected twist is that the viewer doesn’t realize they are seeing their perspective from inside a car. They don’t realize they are in the car until right after the skiers launch off the edge of a massive wall and into the air. The agency had written a scene where the viewer is literally watching the other BASE jumpers tracking around them. Once they all land, they get in the car and drive away. The Pirelli tag line is “Power is nothing without control.” Classic Italian. Pirelli only does one commercial a year, so there was a lot of pressure to execute and deliver.
3. What were the conditions like on Baffin Island?
Cold. Very Cold. But the ski conditions were perfect. There were huge, 5000 ft walls with 4000 ft couloirs everywhere you looked. You could say it was epic.
4. What was the production crew like?
For starters, we had an incredible team of Inuit guides lead by Levy Palituq. We couldn’t have gotten in or out or been able to move around the fjords without those guys. They helped make sure we stayed alive out there and didn’t get eaten by polar bears. The director, Adrian Moat, is a long time film and commercial director out of the UK. He was amazing. This was going to be a high end commercial shoot, so I pulled from a short list of the best guys I knew of in the industry. I needed a top end action sports shooter, so I brought in Dirk Collins from One Eyed Bird, arguably one of the most experienced directors/DP’s in the ski business. He was one of the founders of Teton Gravity Research and has filmed skiing around the world for almost 20 years. I also needed a solid alpine expedition wall shooter, someone who was as comfortable shooting a RED epic as he was climbing walls in Baffin. That someone was Josh Helling. We often only had one take a day for difficult, high-speed tracking shots. Dirk and Josh delivered in all of the clutch situations. And of course, I brought along Matt Irving, our trusty second camera and behind the scenes shooter, who ended up doing everything from hauling massive camera loads, to managing assets in base camp on top of all the shooting. He also held down the primary comedian role….which in high pressure situations counts for more than you might think. Finally, we had two badass Canadian guides, Andrew Wexler and Josh Lavigne, to help run mountain safety.
5. What was something really unique about this shoot?
A lot of things were unique about this shoot. The request to shoot ski BASE jumping in a remote arctic location is the first thing that comes to mind, but I think the incredible production team, world class talent (JT Holmes, Jesse Hall and Tim Dutton), Inuits guides and Inuit humor, the cold and, of course, the giant walls of Baffin all made it a unique shoot.
6. What cameras/equipment did you shoot on?
We brought a stack of gear including a RED Epic, a RED Scarlett, and a lens kit that would have made Ridley Scott proud. We also brought in 5d’s and s stack of Go Pros. As per request of the creative concept, the Go Pro footage was actually supposed to be some of the key camera angles on the shoot. We were supposed to have a heli and Cineflex kit for 6 days to do all the primary shooting from the air. We also needed the heli for scouting, dropping off talent at exit points and production teams at shoot locations up on the walls. As it turns out, the heli never showed. More on that later. The main point regarding equipment and cameras is that we were supposed to have everything from a Cineflex set up to Go Pros and everything in between. We planned to use footage from every piece of equipment. We ended up using mainly RED Epic footage, Go Pro footage and Canon 5d footage.
7. What was a typical shoot day like?
We were in the arctic in June so we had 24 hours of light. Since the heli was stranded due to weather about 500 miles away, we needed to be on the move scouting locations from the sleds. Once we scoped decent looking jump and shoot locations, we’d spend the rest of the day gearing up with cameras and climbing and skiing equipment and start climbing up to the jump and shoot locations. The BASE jumpers would assess exit points while we rigged cameras for shooting. Instead of having the multiple jumps per day that would have been possible with a heli, we got only one jump in a day, which also meant we had only one take for shooting a day. Once the jumpers got down, we would pack up the gear and down climb back to the ice/fjord, go back to base camp for some food, sleep a few hours and repeat. We had some pretty long back-to-back days.
8. Did anything major happen?
Besides sledding 100 miles to get to our base camp, trying not to get eaten by polar bears, climbing everyday to locations that a heli (that never showed up) was supposed to drop us off at, having guys ski base off a remote wall in the arctic while only getting the chance for one take each day on a high pressure commercial shoot, not much.
9. What were some of the obstacles you faced?
Logistically the shoot was centered around having a heli to access very difficult to access locations for scouting, the BASE jump and shooting locations. As I mentioned before, the heli was held up about 500 miles away due to weather. So, not having the heli was probably the biggest obstacle. Once the heli did not show up the first day, we moved forward on the shot list as if we weren’t going to have a heli. Of course, we hoped everyday that it would show, but it never did.
10. What was your favorite moment of the trip?
It was a pretty big relief when we finally got the key ski BASE shots in the can and the BASE jumpers were safely on the ground. Then the production crew got to ski off the back of the last shooting location / peak down a few thousand feet of perfect pow back to the fjord. That felt pretty good.