Just one year ago, Michael Clarke was making a living as a full blown professional skier. Breaking on to the scene as the winner of Level 1's Superunknown Contest in 2006, he went on to star in multiple Level 1 films and podium at major events including the 2007 Big Bear Open, the US Open Big Air in 2008, and the Nippon Open Slopestyle later that season. Most anyone would also agree that Clarke was the first skier in the world to execute the double cork 1260 with style, grabbing tail throughout the entire stunt.
Hampered by injury over the past few years, the Lake Placid native shifted his focus to filmmaking. What was once just a hobby quickly became a full-time job, and Clarke opted to hang up his competition bibs in pursuit of this new calling.
Companies like Under Armour, Salomon, and Monster Energy have already called upon Clarke to make magic for them. They've been well served, because not only is the man artistically gifted, he also has a tireless work ethic. I, for one, have been witness to him spending many-a-consecutive sleepless night confined to his dark bedroom, a black silhouette against the bright white light of his computer screen.
Clarke was in Colorado last week shooting with Justin Dorey for the second installation of the Under Armour web-series, "Along The Way." I headed up to Breckenridge to catch up, and to pick his brain about his recent happenings.
Clarke And His Toys
FS: How did you transition from being a pro skier to pro filmer.
Yeah, so I did the pro-ski thing for little bit. I was skiing professionally one year ago even, and that's all I was doing. So, it's funny to be doing this already so soon. But I was getting hurt a lot. I broke my back at Whistler in 2008, and then in January 2010, I tore my ACL and meniscus. So, I kinda said to myself, enough is enough. I had to figure out what to do to keep myself busy, and ended up focusing pretty hard on film school. I wanted to continue skiing, but more for fun. And I wanted to stay in the industry but just in a different capacity, so that's how this all came about.
FS: Are you pretty happy with how things are working out?
I'm really happy with it. I'm traveling more than ever before, and it's super fun. It's also tiring. I was home only 3 nights in December. I feel like George Clooney in Up In The Air – always on the road. But I see some great places, I'm with my friends a lot, and I'm meeting awesome people and learning a lot, so it's awesome. I'm lucky and I'm taking advantage of the great relationships I made through skiing. It's been fun finding something else that keeps me just as happy as skiing.
FS: So you think you'll continue with this for a while, then?
For sure. I like working for myself. I've basically started my own media production company. I primarily am shooting and editing videos, but have also been building and maintaining websites and Facebook pages. In the end I'm primarily just creating content that lives and breathes on the web. I've been doing work as an Independent Contractor with Under Armour, Salomon, Monster Energy, Empire Attire, and Centurion. But for the moment I'm mostly focused on Under Armour, and most specifically the Under Armour Mountain Division (UA MTN).
FS: How did you get started with Under Armour?
I was sponsored with Under Armour for the last two years. When I tore my ACL last January, Scott Hibbertt and Conor Gill of UA MTN asked me to come along to X Games and shoot some video for them. From there, I ended up going to JOSS as a filmer for Team Canada where we did pretty well. At that point I had also completed Just Passing Thru, and had produced a few more videos. One day last July I got a call from Under Armour's Creative Director, Brian Boring. He talked to me a little bit about what I was doing, and asked if I wanted to come along to an upcoming shoot with Brandon Jennings.
FS: You've been given some really cool opportunities from Under Armour outside of skiing. Tell me about that.
Yeah, I've been doing a lot of different stuff including football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and women's fitness. I've gotten to work with athletes like Brandon Jennings, Tom Brady, and Bryce Harper… It's kinda branched out into a bunch of different things across the brand.
FS: That's awesome. Who would you say is more well put-together, Brandon Jennings or Tom Brady?
All I can say is that Tom Brady is one good looking dude. He's… like… well… I'm straight, but I questioned it a little when I met him. He gave me a hug, he didn't even shake my hand.
FS: Did you foresee that happening when you signed on at first?
I had hoped something like this might develop, but it came together really quickly. I went from being a skier to shooting Tom Brady only a half year later, so I guess I didn't expect it to happen so fast. I'm definitely pushing doing a lot of projects like this, and even stuff outside of sports, but I definitely want to continue and focus on ski stuff as well. I'm just having fun doing everything.
Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks: Screen Shot From Clarke's Video
Bryce Harper, MLB #1 Draft Pick: Screen Shot From Clarke's Video
UA Running: Screen Shot From Clarke's Video
UA Fitness: Screen Shot From Clarke's Video
FS: Being an ex-athlete, do you think you have any advantages doing what you're doing?
Yeah, the biggest thing like I mentioned earlier is just having all the pre-established relationships to build off of. It also helps that the people I'm filming a lot of the time are my friends, it just makes things much easier. I think being an ex-athlete, I understand some of the things that can be frustrating about filming from an athlete standpoint, so I try to make sure not to make anybody mad, usually.
FS: Tell me about UAMTN.com.
This winter UA MTN is doing a big web-push that I'm sort of putting together. For starters, we're producing a little web show called "Along The Way," which will be 8 episodes following different members of the UAMTN team. Those'll be spread throughout the entire winter following the likes of Justin Dorey, Bobby Brown, Chas Guldemond, Tanner Rainville, Keri Herman, Ahmet Dadali, and on and on… On top of that, we've launched a new Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channel and live streaming web show. The central hub of all that stuff will be UAMTN.com. That'll be your place to stay in the know with the UA MTN team and see what we're up to.
FS: How do you plan to get all that content?
I'll be shooting all over the world, all season long. I plan to spend a lot of time in Colorado and at all the major contests. Scott Hibbertt is setting up a heli trip somewhere in BC, as well as a park shoot this spring… Things are developing all the time. I'm also really excited about the live web show that I'm putting together. Imagine Bobby completing his run at the Dew Tour in Killington or at the X Games and coming straight onto our web show to start responding to questions online. It'll be cool, and fun to develop.
FS: Years ago, when news broke that Under Armour was going to break into freeskiing, many people wondered if they could pull it off. What's it been like to have been a part of their program for so long now, and to see it all evolve?
I've been with them for 3 years now, originally as an athlete. They came into the industry and everyone was like what's this football brand doing here? But they brought the right people in, built the right team, and it has really taken off. They do such a great job working with their athletes: getting feedback about new product, and in turn, they've really churned out some good stuff. I'd say they make some of the coolest gear on the market, and they have one of the best teams in the industry. It's fun for me to be working with such good people, and it's cool to be part of a company that is connected to some of the best athletes in the world.
One unique thing about UA MTN is that skiing and snowboarding are placed together. We did a shoot after the Breck Dew Tour with Bobby and Chas. Seeing those two riding together was pretty cool. At that particular shoot we were working with a Phantom camera, which shoots like 1000 FPS, something I've never seen in skiing really. JPI, a media production company from New York shot and put the commercial together. They're also producing a TV show for UA MTN that I've helped with a bit, and its been great to work with them and learn a little about TV stuff.
Clarke Is a Hero
FS: What's the hardest part of your job?
I've been super fortunate to get a ton of work options. Lots of people all of a sudden want to work with me. I've found myself almost taking on too much work at times. It's a challenge figuring out how much you can handle, and managing everything on your own. Also I'm running my own business, so I have to deal with money stuff: taxes, filing expense reports, invoices and returning e-mails all the time. So, I'm learning to deal with all of that. The transition to real world from the fake, play-ski world was slightly difficult. Having the pressure of meeting deadlines while you're on the road all the time can be pretty stressful. It's easy to get behind.
FS: What sort of equipment do you carry around when you're traveling?[Laughs] Do you really want to know all that crap? Canon 7D, GoPro HD Hero, with all the mounts. Camera lenses, I have the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. Then for audio I use the Zoom H4N Stereo Recorder with Wireless Lav and shotgun mic, and for lighting I have the Micro Litepanel and Bounce Panel, and for my tripod and support, I use Manfrotto legs, head, and monopod, 0.75 meter Glidetrack Shooter Slider [that's a dolly], and the Glidecam HD 4000. Then for my bag I use LowePro, and for viewing I have the Zacuto viewfinder and a Marshall 5" monitor, and I think I'll end it there, although there's tons more stuff.
FS: Do you get hit with those ultra unsmooth baggage fees when you travel, then?
I would, but I'm almost 1K… looking to break that barrier this year, so I have some nice status, 3 bags up to 70 lbs… and that's exactly what I have, so it's a lot of gear to be lugging around the world, but I'm not paying out my ass for it at least.
Clarke and Dorey At Breckenridge
It's All Smiles For Banks Gilberti, Clarke, and Bobby Brown
FS: Starting in high school, you were balancing your studies, being an athlete, and making movies. Where did your priorities lie?
I've always watched ski movies (really beginning with Propaganda and Strike Three) from a young age, and loved them. I got into shooting and editing videos when I was in the 8th grade. When I started going to Waterville Valley Academy I learned a lot from our coach Jeremy Gasowski, who was also a video guy. He taught me a lot of the early stuff, like how to use Final Cut and really operate a camera. During that time we churned out a few movies as Poniverus Productions, which some people might remember. We made Me Gusta, and made Gweedle Pop, although we never released that one. So that was something really fun for me as a youngster.
I ended up going out to Colorado, enrolled in film school, and was being a pro skier at the same time. Skiing was largely my focus, but film was always in the back of my mind, so it was easy to switch over. I'm actually only a few classes away from graduating from CU Boulder, and I was going to go to school this fall, but making movies took off for me, so I decided to hold off school for a bit and pursue the filming thing. I'll finish up school eventually online in the next year or so, but I haven't even finished up my undergrad and I'm doing what I went to school for in the real world, so I'm happy.
In terms of college and skiing, I was taking a full credit load every fall and summer, and I basically graduated school by the time I was 21 without ever having enrolled in a spring semester. So it was nice to be able to do it all at once. Bringing it all together was awesome, but without formal training in school I definitely wouldn't be where I am today.
FS: Any shout outs?
So many people have helped me along the way. My parents for one, have been a huge support, helping me to get my business started, buying me things I might need that I couldn't quite afford, and helping me balance school. Also, Jeremy Gasowski who helped me get into filming and skiing, and Josh Berman and the whole Level 1 Crew, Jay Michelfelder who has taught me a lot, Conor Gill and Scott Hibbert of UA MTN, all my sponsors: the relationships with all of them are continuing on and that's awesome for me. It's cool to see people support me just as much as a film maker as an athlete, and of course, last but not least, all my friends.
Along The Way, Episode One – Bobby Brown