1996. National Video Center. NYC.
By 1996, I was transitioning from editor to director with the help of executive producer Susie Shuttleworth. Together we started a production company in partnership with National Video called Division 6.
I’d been working with Patrick McDonough at PMCD Design since the late ’80s as an editor; he was one of the first people to hire Susie and me to produce and direct his live-action projects. Patrick had designed ESPN2’s on-air look, so when they launched the first Winter X Games they chose PMCD to design the show packaging. Patrick wanted live action to be the core of the design. Since I was an avid snowboarder, Patrick hired Division 6 to produce the shoot with me directing the live-action footage. We couldn’t shoot imagery for each event, so we decided to just shoot ice climbing, snowboarding, downhill snow biking, and shovel racing—a modified version of a sport invented by ski resort workers who used shovels as sleds.
We decided to shoot the footage at night to make it more dramatic. We also wanted to use heavily gelled “Lightning Strikes” lights to add color to the “lightning” flashes.
We shot at Big Bear Resort in California at 10,000 feet in 20-degree temperatures. Hauling lights, cameras, crew, scaffolding, an 8-foot turntable, and a 300-pound ice statue to the top of the mountain was a challenge in daylight. but at night it was downright dangerous. The resort wouldn’t let us use the chairlifts at night, so we used snowmobiles to get everything up the mountain. A helicopter would have been helpful, but we couldn’t afford it. (We did get one accidentally. One of our crew members had a severe asthma attack due to the altitude and had to be airlifted out.)
When our lights failed due to freezing temperatures, it looked like we’d miss some of our needed footage. But our cinematographer came to the rescue: we grabbed our last shots by using the headlights from two snowmobiles.
Back in NYC, Patrick and his team went to work using the footage to create the X Games packaging. I was assigned to edit the tease spot. I did what would be considered a traditional cut, using aggressive modern music that had become the signature of action sports, since “MTV Sports” pioneered its use. That’s what aired on ESPN.
But I did a different cut for my reel, with music that would be less expected. I also looking for something graphic to toss in the mix. My assistant had referred to the helmets the athletes wore as “brain buckets,” and we started comparing the airborne athletes to astronauts. I searched bookstores (remember them?) and found an illustrated children’s book on space exploration. We photographed the illustrations under the title camera and animated them in 3-frame increments. Adding digital decay gave them a dreamy, surreal quality. They worked as great transitions between the helmeted athletes and the helmeted astronauts. With the connection between the brain and the danger the astronauts and athletes shared, “If I Only Had A Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz” became the perfect track for the cut. It was truly a no-brainer.
Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.
Bonus: Some of our old logos at Division 6