I remember well watching Balance (2000) over, and over, and over again. When the VHS tape began to wear thin, I waited eagerly for Level 1's next film to drop. Second Generation. That's what they had decided to call it. I yearned for its release. And when it finally came, I watched over, and over, and over again. Twelve years later, Level 1's annual films continue to provide stoke and inspiration. In the early days, the stoke was more or less confined to the US and Canada. Today, that influence has spread all around the world, as Level 1 has grown into one of skiing's most renowned production companies.
Founder Josh Berman certainly has much to be proud of. He's grown his team, he's grown his business, he's traveled the world, he's watched the progression of our sport, and he's even responsible for discovering many of the sport's greatest athletes—Tom Wallisch, for example—via the Superunknown video-talent-search. The latest? Berman and the Level 1 family have moved into a new headquarters in downtown Denver, complete with a storefront. Not a bad upgrade considering Level 1 has been a home-office based company from its inception.
In the midst of the company's biggest move to date, we caught up with Mr. Berman who shared some insight on the film industry, Level 1's latest projects, the new HQ and days of old.
This spring I spent way too much time traveling way too far to find snow. Ended up spending most of March in AK on two separate panic trips with Wallisch, Parker, Logan Imlach, Hornbeck, McChesney, and Spencer. Both times to shoot street. Not ideally what I would have liked to have been doing in AK at that point in the season, but those were two very productive trips, so no need to second guess. April was spent hustling to make sure our park shoot plans weren't being washed away by the deluge of rain and excess of sun.
During the spring shoots, I figured out that three doses of Dramamine keeps me from getting motion sickness in a heli. I've been flying a few times a year for the past six years and am always getting super nauseated, especially with park shoots where you're pulling some pretty hefty Gs and doing it non-stop for an hour or two. I'd been avoiding it in the past since I can't afford to be hanging out the door of a heli being drowsy, but after puking in the air two years ago in Sun Valley I had to make sure it didn't happen again. I slept for almost 18 hours after the shoot this time around, but stayed awake long enough to get the shot, and had no motion sickness whatsoever. So that was nice.
Berman and Erik Seo GTS from the heli at a spring shoot in Sun Valley. Photo by Jake Strassman.
As for winter shooting, the highlights were everything and nothing. I can't point to a particular moment, day, or feature filming-wise. Despite the low tide snow situation, I feel like every trip I went on was pretty productive and generated some cool content. No shutouts. I'd say the one most indelible memory from this past winter was one of the biggest nightmare travel days of all time with Wiley, Parker, and Clo going from Switzerland to Austria. A full 24 hours of trains and automobiles that you couldn't script any more ridiculous than it actually was. A half dozen missed train connections, wrong advice from everyone we met, thousands of people around us setting off fireworks and wearing bizarre animal costumes as part of some sort of Carnival celebration, and a bus detour through a country that those guys didn't even know existed, culminating with a cab ride up a cat road in a blizzard that left us stuck on the side of a mountain called Flachauwinkl. Pretty ridiculous.
We made an extra effort this year to keep the cameras rolling as much as possible and really capture more of what goes on in and around our trips, shoots, and travel experiences. This stuff stacks up fast and there's no way to use more then a small fraction of it in a feature film, so we're looking forward to putting together what should be a pretty robust web edit series. Our crew also killed it this year and most of our guys are sitting on way more grade-A content than we can include in their film parts so there will be plenty of action to round the edits out.
What I'm most excited about for our fall release is getting back to a movie format that focuses more on the people, places and experiences of a seasons' adventures. I think this year's film is going to have a lot of the High Five, Shanghai Six, and REALTIME influence. Oldschool Level 1.
When I watch Balance it makes me realize how far both sides of ski films have come in the past 13 years. Not only is the skiing on a level that no one would have even conceptualized when we were filming for Balance, but the filmmaking side has developed and changed so much, it's insane. Most of Balance is filmed on a 1-chip Sony Digi 8 camcorder that recorded video that couldn't compete quality-wise with an iPhone, and I think I was probably using Final Cut 1.0.2 on a G3 desktop with a 20GB internal drive and no externals. Prosumer digital filmmaking was really in its infancy. The technology has moved so fast and with it, the accessibility to professional level filmmaking equipment is just amazing. For a few thousand dollars anyone with the interest and inspiration can get ahold of some decent equipment and put out a finished product that looks fantastic.
Its a very interesting and exciting time right now for the ski film industry. Like I said before, super high-end equipment is cheap and accessible, which is infusing a ton of new energy, insight, perspectives, and of course competition into the scene. It's also interesting in the sense that the traditional business model is changing, and changing fast. DVD sales are no longer driving the market, and digital distribution and the internet are changing the game.
The gear we used to film this past season isn't too far off from what we used a few seasons ago. We just upgraded our glass and tweaked our camera rigs and filters. They're little changes that go a long way towards creating a much more impressive image. As fast as the technology moves, there haven't been a ton of changes in the price range that we operate in, at least not until recently. Sony is releasing a new camera that's going to be a game changer, and we've already got our preorders in.
As Level 1 has grown, the most important things that've helped us stay successful are staying true to our creative visions, keeping our crew small and tight-knit, making sure the business side of things has been as diversified as possible, and not biting off more than we could chew.
[Photo left by Jack Boyd.]
Of all I've accomplished, I'm most proud of being able to keep the Level 1 ship afloat and to be moving in the right direction without selling out.
What I'm most looking forward to about the new HQ is finally getting Level 1 moved out of the house. It's been a home-office based business from the get go, and while it's been more than a few years since we've outgrown the setup at my house, it took a while to make what's become a pretty big step, but one I'm confident is the right one. As far as the storefront goes, it's going to be so nice to have a public space with the doors open to our fans, someplace that they can go to really see what we're all about, and pick up some cool gear in the process.
Having the store will really allow us to interact with the public in a way we haven't been able to do before, and grow the relationship we have with the brands that partner with and support us. I'm also hoping it generates some revenue to help further subsidize the film production side of the business. Time will tell.
It's surprising to me that Level 1 is still around and in the post-production process on our 13th annual film. If you had asked me a decade ago where I'd be, I couldn't have dreamed this one up.
In five years from now, I suspect we'll be gearing up for the release of our 18th annual flick and I'll be teaching my little boy (due in September) how to shoot a second angle so I can start taking him on trips.
I wouldn't be where I am today without all the amazingly talented people in the Level 1 crew. From Freedle, Kyle, and Schui holding it down both in the snow and in the office, to all of our athletes, past and present, and the super talented photographers that travel and work with us, I couldn't be more thankful or appreciative of the contributions that everyone makes. Level 1 is a team effort and what we're able to do is the result of the hard work of so many. Oh yeah, and I'd like to thank our sponsors.
Level 1 presents the After Dark iTunes bonus edit.
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