In an era of BitTorrent, Saharan sponsorship dollars, poor economic forecasts, and a fogged in future, finding a successful niche in the video industry can be difficult, to put it mildly – but definitely not impossible. Industry veterans Jeremy Miller and Stan Evans teamed up this past season to create their take on the female snowboard film niche with a twist: offer a full bore HD, story-boarded production as a free download, in an effort to get it in front of as many eyes as possible, both within the industry and beyond, and drive integrated product sales through Backcountry.com. The end result is JMills Entertainment's STANCE, which will be available on October 1 and stars seven of the world's top women riders. We caught up with Miller and Evans to find out more about this project and their thoughts on the future of snowboard films.
You guys have got to be some of the only snowboarders that get to hang out with ladies all season in the mountains – well done by the way – how did this come about?
Jeremy Miller: We saw a gap in the market that needed filling. I believe that we are the two best candidates to fill this position. Stan knows backcountry territory and snow conditions like a wolverine. He is also a photographer so it was a great match.
Stan Evans: I was literally sitting on my couch in swim trunks last summer, drinking a beer, and Jeremy dropped by with this idea. I told him I needed to think about it. And I did – for four months. I did a lot of research, asked a lot of questions. I was that weirdo in Barnes & Noble perusing the women's magazine section. I called every marketing manager and magazine editor to ask them their thoughts. I really needed to identify the market, explore the possibility of expanding it and see if there was anything Jeremy and I could do better.
Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how you got involved with making snow porn.
JM: Haha, well snow porn is what I would like to steer away from — that whole shot, shot, shot formula… We are catering to a much more non-endemic, broad-based market featuring riders, brands, and integrating the lifestyle element as well as keeping it entertaining for the core audience. But, background-wise I went to film school at the U of U and have been snowboarding for years so it's a good fit.
SE: I grew up in Alaska, and went to college in Montana. I've always had a love for the mountains and took photography classes in High School. I showed a little promise. I read ski and snowboard magazines and I just knew what I wanted to do. From there, I went on to get a degree in photography. I've been shooting professionally for 16 years now.
With Runway not making a film this year, it definitely seems like there's a niche open. How do you think you can improve on this space and make it a profitable project?
JM: Where we differ from Runway is that we are a film and media arts company making a snowboarding film, not pro snowboarders making a movie. That may sound like a slam but I am not intending to harsh anyone, I am simply stating the facts. Artistic vision, direction, 3D, motion, and camera specifics are traits of filmmakers and media artists. Making a "women's" snowboarding film profitable requires new innovative solutions in a very fast-paced, changing media world. That is why we are reaching further than just the core audience and placing our stake in the non-endemic and social media world. Our distribution model is similar to wildfire: get it out to as many eyes as possible and pour gasoline on that shit. We want a million views. In turn, these costs will be paid on the front end by the sponsors as opposed to the back end DVD sales. We see a direct correlation between product sales and viewership.
SE: Part of the problem is companies using the male formula to market women. It simply doesn't work. Travis Rice is not Gretchen Bleiler or vice versa. The second problem is trying to keep it niche. Jeremy and I want to create a media movement that appeals to a broad audience (men or women) and on multiple levels. With women, the opportunities are so vast. Go to a Nordstrom's and see how many women's specific products there are. Head to the newsstands and see how many women's titles there are.
Let's briefly roll the credits – who is going to be featured in STANCE? Where was it filmed, shouts out on the production end, etc.?
SE: Riders: Gretchen Bleiler, Jenny Jones, Hana Beaman, Lisa Filzmoser, Raewyn Reid, Kimmy Fasani, Torah Bright.
Locations: Utah, Jackson Hole, Aspen, Mammoth.
Production Crew: Director/DP/Editor Jeremy Miller; Producer/Still Photographer Stan Evans; Motion Graphics/ Assistant Editor/Cinematographer Ian Rigby; Cinematographer Justin "Teen Wolf" Turkowski; Accounting Michael Budge; Legal Stan Evans Sr.
The STANCE trailer is sick. (See it at stancemovie.com) Where was Jenny going on that river gap? That looked like a dead-ender for sure.
SE: That gap is a classic example of the 30-percent of things Jenny tried not working out. On the inverse, the 70-percent that did work out is the video part that Jenny Jones pulled off and that no one expected of her because nobody had put her in those situations or given her the opportunity.
What were you most impressed with when working with this crew this last season?
SE: I liked the ladies' ability to listen and learn. We definitely pushed it and they all stepped it up. I was really impressed with Kimmy, Raewyn and Gretchen. Outside of filming amazing video parts they brought a refreshing level of professionalism to the project while keeping it fun and interesting.
In putting together the finished product, what makes a girl's snowboard film different from a guys?
JM: I remember the days of men's only snowboarding equipment and female friends always complained about the fit and sizing of products. Well, similarly in the film, we are catering to the female side of the sport. Something core and non-core snowboard enthusiasts can get excited about to go snowboarding and purchase products.
SE: I think it is the subtle aspects. With just eight ladies we really got to hone in on each of the personalities, push the products they use. We had a concentrated focus and used maximum effort. With 30 guys in a film, each with their own agenda, it's hard to do.
What was the biggest difference about filming with this crew rather than a crew of dudes?
JM: Estrogen vs. testosterone. Male and female crews just have different issues. Male issues are getting the trick no matter what. Female crews are a bit more timid, however they are much more analytical.
SE: I've shot some of the biggest jumps snowboarding has seen: Chad's Gap; Travis's double cork last year etc. At a certain point, what was I gonna do — go add 50 more feet to a jump and shoot it? Was that the best use of my headspace? I needed a new challenge. Jeremy and the ladies believed in me and that in turn helped us all get to a new place. For me, that was probably the biggest motivator for this project and a huge appeal. It was like learning how to snowboard all over again.
Many of the girls were new to the backcountry, so that was a bit of a challenge. We went through it all from avalanche safety to route finding. Kimmy and Gretchen would constantly surprise me with how quickly they would pick up things. I am really proud of the fact that no riders got seriously injured or in an avalanche while we were out there. Hana really brought a lot to the table there with her experience and her patience with the other riders. Magically no snowmobiles were totaled.
Who are STANCE's sponsors?
SE: Oakley, Helly Hansen, DC, Ride, Billabong, K2, ROXY, Backcountry.com, High Adventure Powersports, Snowboarder Magazine, TransWorld Japan, Pleasure/ Spare, Cooler, Stepleader Studios.
Time for the obligatory recessionary questions. Has it been harder than normal to get sponsors on board for STANCE?
JM: Yes, it has been very difficult to get sponsorship funds due to the state of the economy. That is why we are developing new distribution models and integrating direct product sales with the film through backcountry.com. I would like to thank all of our sponsors for having good faith in myself and Stan that we would put their funds to good use, which I feel we have! Sponsors want the greatest ROI on both their riders and products, so we are putting forth extra effort to ramp up our online partnerships and distribution. What better way to gauge your investment?
How are you planning to distribute it and make it stand out?
JM: We are distributing the film online for free. We are advertising to the core market in Snowboarder Magazine. We have created a buzz from the teaser and are expecting a very large audience for the film. There are so many social media avenues these days that will benefit the marketing campaign as well as our website www.stancemovie.com. The idea being anyone can watch the movie for free in thousands of different places.
SE: While many production crews or distributors will cry foul [on the free thing], the fact of the matter is I did quite a bit of research. I informally polled so many men, women and snowboarders you'd think I was a census taker. Most men said they wouldn't pay to watch a women's snowboard movie. Women said they would — if it was really good. The old male model doesn't work here. Guys will shell out to see what new maneuver Travis Rice invented but not women.
What are the biggest differences these days on the back end of the video game from when you got into it?
JM: I think the biggest difference I've seen is reduced volumes of DVD sales due to over-saturated markets, rough economic conditions, and technological advancements. Your typical DVD is burned at least once and watched by multiple people. Also, female snowboarding films do not sell as easily as men's films which is why it made sense to offer the film free of charge to anyone interested. People are much more inclined to browse when something is free.
Where do you see the snow video market heading and what are you guys focusing on to stay front and center?
JM: It is really difficult to say where it is heading. I know where we are going and that is HD, Social Media, Second Party Sales, non-endemic, web-based distribution platforms, and cutting edge technology.
SE: I think the quality of the projects and them engaging some type of emotion is what will keep it all alive. One of the most perfect examples I've seen is a surf film called "Sipping Jetstreams." I don't even surf that well but when my friend showed it to me I ran out and got a copy the next day. The adventure, the travel, the people, the icons, the sounds… that movie makes me feel like I am there. It's escapism and people will thrive on that fantasy for a chance to leave behind their daily grind. Beyond that we're exploring new avenues and technology.
Technology has gotten a lot cheaper, but production values and quality have definitely skyrocketed – what does this do to the playing field?
JM: It has never been easier to make bad films. Some productions have skyrocketed. Others abuse the privilege of HD and digital by merely processing garbage and calling it a project.
SE: The theory is that technology has gotten cheaper but it really hasn't. Anyone can get basic Digital SLR or an HD cam, a laptop and pop something up on the web. That's the perception of the snowboard industry unfortunately. Snowboard companies constantly devalue the work that cinematographers and photographers do and, to a certain extent, we did it to ourselves because everyone loves the sport so much they'll work for pennies on the dollar. But imagine if they all disappeared? What would that do to a sport built on image? Marketing and Sales Managers need to contemplate that for a moment before they negotiate a day rate or sponsor a movie.
How much of putting together a film these days is focused on the business side of it?
JM: Nearly the entire process is business-minded to some degree. Every shot in the film serves a purpose to stimulate emotion or build a mood or atmosphere that intrigues one to be involved or formulate an opinion. In turn, that opinion will generate purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices. People are very in tune with moving images and products.
SE: Actually I focused on the business side first to see if we could even pull it. I talked to a broad spectrum of industry people, too: Reps like Nate Coan who's been in the biz for 12 years to get the real deal on what is really selling and why. Sales Managers like Mike Hoefer gave me a lot of advice from the global perspective. I looked at many different e-commerce stats and their history. Friends like Zach Leach and Adam Bebout from Red Bull gave advice about what appeals to non-endemic sponsors.
In the end, we decided we needed to use our movie as a direct marketing tool as well as an art/lifestyle piece. A missing component was really tying the products to the movie and how. The Web is the most obvious answer. I looked for the most reliable/reputable e-commerce site I could find to align our movie with and it happened to be backcountry.com. It's great because I've personally met the people I'm dealing with, they listen to my ideas and, if there's a problem, I can rip my motorcycle up to their office [in Park City] and within half an hour, get things figured out. All these things contributed to whether Jeremy and I should do a snowboard film and, to tell the truth, it's not a snowboard film, it is a multimedia marketing platform with a sales contingency.
What are your plans for this season?
SE: We have both been working on a ski project with Grete Eliassen called Say My Name that Red Bull and Oakley have been helping with. Stance 2.0 is in the works also.