Clayton Vila is at the top of the street skiing game. The Rhode Island native—known for conquering unthinkable drops, high consequence handrails and gnarly stair sets—hasn’t always been such an urban legend, though. Vila’s early career was spent double flipping and back-swapping through the gritty terrain parks of New England. It wasn’t until he made the move to Boulder, CO, where he now resides, that Vila rose to the spotlight.
A longstanding member of the Stept Productions crew, Vila excels equally in front of, and behind the lens. Eager to showcase his true talent, the man is now straying from the pack to tackle a solo project—a movie he has full control over. I sat down with Vila to get the lowdown on the film, dubbed Five, his career and future plans.
Five: Official trailer
What inspired you to break away from other companies you’ve filmed with?
Before now, I was trying to make a name for myself with various production companies and my footage has continuously been scattered around. I’ve always wanted to show people how I came to be, why I stopped competing and what street actually means to me. Also, why the film side of things is important to me—that’s driving me to make a movie.
Why release it for free?
This whole movie is a personal thing; it isn’t about making money. Half of [the project] is to show everybody what I’m worth as a skier and filmmaker. You get paid as an athlete, so I just think that it’s my duty to give this to the people. At the same time, putting it online for free will get the most views. Hopefully it will establish my name as a director and producer as well as a skier.
I know that you’re picky about every detail of every shot and every trick that you do. Can you expand on that?
I’m a firm believer that you should have control of every aspect of your work, because if you’re hitting a feature and you understand both the skiing and filming elements involved, you’ll know how it will be portrayed. If you’ve got all of that controlled, you get the footage you want. It gets sloppy when you’re out there rushing and scrambling around.
You step to some very technical features. As such, you end up taking some hard slams. What’s the biggest crash you can remember?
I don’t get hurt that much, honestly. [knocks on wood] I got hurt this past year, but I had it coming because I messed up. It’s your issue if you get hurt. I pride myself on being able to control that for the most part. This year, I dislocated my shoulder and fucked my ankle up. I tore my face open pretty bad when I was younger. It was maybe my fifth handrail I’d ever hit when I was like, 15 years old. I still have that scar on the side of my face; I needed, like, 80 stitches. When I smiled, you could see my jaw.
Photo: Topher Baldwin
Is there a threshold for you? Is there a point that you would consider calling it quits?
Yeah, we talk about it all of the time. It’s tough to make money as an urban skier. A handful of us have broken through and proven that you can take care of your bank account while doing this stuff, but in the long run, this shit is hard fucking work. We totaled two cars last season. I dislocated my shoulder, fucked up my ankle and only got to ski for a month and a half. Everyone gets messed up. The whole thing ain’t glorious, but I’m not saying I’d rather do anything else.
What’s next? What do you see coming after this project?
I would love to see more two-year projects. My biggest pet peeve is that at the end of the year, not all of my footage is in one part. I wish we would progress to spending even more time making two- and three-year movies. It would be nice to work on your part until you decide it’s ready to be done. I guess I’m just always chasing the perfect segment.
When you look around the action sports industry, is there anyone in particular you’d say is, “Doing it right?”
There are a lot of things going on in snowboarding that I wish were going on in skiing. I look way further than just the snow industry, though. I grew up surfing; I’m always watching those guys. A lot of surfers are actively involved with filmmaking. I look to those guys for inspiration a lot.
Yeah, they’ve got it dialed. They get to rock board shorts all day and hang out in the sand with gorgeous babes in bikinis.
Yeah, and they get laid a lot on their work trips. If we get laid on a work trip, that’s a bad thing, like you just got laid in the middle of nowhere. You should go to the doctor. [laughs]
Are there any specific cinematographers or photographers that you look up to?
I try to avoid ever saying that this person is my favorite, because then you just end up copying their style and I don’t want to do that. Anybody that strives to be creative stays away from doing the same shit as someone else.
Do you think that is what pushes you to be street focused? Being abstract?
I love making something out of nothing; you can be so creative out there. Some of my best shots happen out of nothing. I’ll stare at a spot for like 30 minutes and when we’re about to leave, it hits me that I can get something cool out of it.
The whole Stept crew really feeds off of each other. Can you talk about that dynamic?
We have been doing this shit together for so long, I try to feed off of everyone. Once in a while Cam [Riley] and I get a little competitive; we’re both trying to go massive. We’re both filming constantly, so we progress off of each other on the film side and in our skiing, too. It’s just so cool to see somebody that motivated on skis and so involved in filmmaking. He’s a boss.
Location: Farmington, ME | Photo: Erik Seo
The trailer for Stept’s Weight was one of the most unique street trailers that we’ve seen. All street, all the time. Three years removed, more and more kids are starting to go this same direction. How does that make you feel?
It’s so cool. I don’t think we should take full credit for kids being more street-focused at all, but that makes me feel like what I do is meaningful. Weight was when we started to figure out how to make full, street-only segments, without sprinkling park into our movies. When I see street promos, I’m so stoked. Kids don’t even need a ski pass. That definitely makes me feel good.
What do you like more, the filming or editing?
Editing is definitely more me. I love working with the footage, that’s always what I’ve done. I’m just out there skiing all of the time, and when I have all of the shots, it’s cool to work with them.
Have you thought about where you’ll be a few years down the road?
I love doing film work. I used to make surf movies when I was younger and I’m majorly involved as a principle editor and cinematographer with Stept. I would just love to be doing anything with cinema.