I have been asked many times if I could start a film company today and make it grow like it did when I started in 1950, with a borrowed 16mm camera and $100 from each of four friends to start the company.
For years there was a great television show called “Candid Camera” in which the host and cameramen photograph people in normal situations and then said funny things about them, which is what I did all of those years. People remember the rope tow sequences and people falling off of chairlifts.
Don Brolin’s chairlift sequence at Snow Valley was the classic one. When beginners rented skis they could buy a chairlift ticket or a lesson in ski school. When they got to the top of the chairlift it was the first time in his or her life that they had ever seen an unloading ramp.
Naturally, they clutched up and didn’t get off of the chair in time and often went around the bull wheel and started back down the mountain. Other people would simply step out of a poorly adjusted safety binding and to get them out of the way, the lift operator would pick up the ski and throw it down the hill and holler, “If you want your ski, go get it.”
The operator threw the ski to get the beginning skier out of the way of the skiers coming down the off ramp, many of them for the first time in his or her lives, and with little control.
After spending all summer supervising the editors, I would start crafting the script with as many jokes that I could insert in the movie. Once we had a barely finished film, I would have numerous previews in our small theater and at intermission, after narrating the first reel live, I would ask for audience criticism and then do the same thing at the end of the second reel. This was the only way I could hone and refine my narration, so it produced the humorous mood that I wanted the people to leave the theater with.
For about the first 50 years or so of producing my ski films, I narrated the show live in as many as 110 different theaters during October, November, December and January. The narration after that many live shows was a great deal different than the show that I started the season with.
Something I never did understand was that an offhand remark to an audience in the West could bring down the house and when I said the same thing it in Connecticut or Massachusetts or anywhere else in the East that same loud laughter would not happen even though both audiences were the same size.
This is not to say that I concentrated 100 percent on comedy for the film. The reason I spent years trying to go to different places each year is that way back when I was a Boy Scout in 1936 I had him a 39-cent camera and took pictures of the Boy Scout pack trips. It was fun to share those trips and I think that this was a major motivation of my professional career.
It is interesting to me that when I started making ski movies there were less than 15 chairlifts in North America, but luckily for me, there were enough skiers sprinkled across America who brought a friend to my early films to let me grow the business. In about 1955, or five years after I started, I couldn’t get to all of the cities that wanted me to come and narrate my film. So, I learned how to put my voice on the film along with a musical score and I could then show in many of the smaller cities.
At about that same time, I was able to rent a sound film version of my show full of ski action and comedy to a man and his wife’s who worked at the Alta Lodge. They ran the film one or two night a week all winter and eventually put enough money aside to buy a summer camp in Michigan. That seasonal rental at Alta spread to one in Aspen at the Slope, Boyne Mountain, Sun Valley and other resorts. I have no idea whatsoever how many people were laughing at the show or how many people were bringing friends and taking them to the local rope tow and giving them his or her first opportunity to experience total freedom.
Another of the biggest laughs we ever got was when we filmed the National Inner-tube Downhill Championships. The crashes were so awesome that when I said, “the inner-tube is 36 inches in diameter, which exactly matches the IQ of the people riding will them,” the laughter from that one line became a loud roar.
If you think seriously about some of the outfits that skiers wear, they resemble a waterproof clown costume that if anybody on your board of directors saw you wearing it anywhere except on a ski hill they would kick you off of the board.
Anyone who owns a pair of skis can remember his or her first ride on a rope tow or a chairlift and the enjoyment it brought to his or her lives. I tried to bring that same enjoyment to my audiences with my humorous sequences
Do I miss producing action sports movies? Of course I do. I hope you miss them, too.