(Conducted in September 2016 at The Fourth Phase premiere and published in the December 2016 issue of SNOWBOARDER Mag.)
After four years of self-imposed media exile, Travis Rice has emerged with The Fourth Phase to once again take his rightful place as the most dynamic snowboarder in the game today. If you haven't watched The Fourth Phase yet then go get yourself a copy, push play and prepare to be taken for a ride.
For a decade-and-a-half, Travis Rice has made exceeding expectations his stock and trade. Achieving this is one thing when you are an 18-year-old unknown goofy footer from Jackson Hole sizing up the biggest booter at Superpark like Travis did in 2001. It is an entirely different proposition fifteen years later after you have been the catalyst for the two most successful snowboard movies of all time, won several X Games medals, earned numerous SNOWBOARDER and TransWorld Rider Of The Year titles and created a contest that has the potential to change the competitive paradigm altogether. The Fourth Phase continues this course for Travis, albeit in ways that may be too esoteric for some to appreciate. Yet The Fourth Phase is ultimately the manifestation of one man's will to inspire as many people as possible with a not-so-simple snowboarding story that only he could make happen…or perhaps even live to tell about.
Just as you've done with That's It, That's All and The Art Of Flight, with The Fourth Phase, you are once again aspiring to tell a snowboarding story in a way that hasn't been done before to ultimately reach a new audience as well. You do realize that this approach will alienate those riders who are real comfortable with an action-heavy part-based formula?
Our goal with everything has been to not step beyond the boundary of making a film that comes from our vantage point and that of our peers. We all came from snowboarding. That is my perspective and it's something that I have attempted to honor with everything I've done. With the last couple films we have experimented with pushing that boundary. That's It, That's All was a core shred film made with cutting-edge technology. The Art Of Flight took things a little bit further. It was tip-toeing along the happy medium between a core film and a movie that the mainstream audience can appreciate and potentially inspire them to go out into the mountains and try snowboarding. I want viewers to have a chance to enjoy something that has brought so much joy to my life. I think The Fourth Phase takes this objective in a different direction. If you want a movie where we go out, we film the riding, we don't explain anything, we assume that the viewer knows it all already and we are just showcasing our exploits, you know, this isn't that movie. To get the support we did and have the time to be able to go capture it with the technology that we did you need money. For that money you need an audience. With The Fourth Phase we didn't necessarily step over that knife ridge, we just took it in another direction. We didn't step into the realm of mainstream, but it might feel like we did because this movie is made in a three-act structure, which is something that you associate with a mainstream film. The Fourth Phase has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What also feels really mainstream about this movie is that there is some personal shit in it. It's the most personal film I have done to date, hands down.
Can you elaborate on that?
In The Fourth Phase, snowboarding is the backdrop for this other story. We are not explaining snowboarding. We are not explaining that feeling of what it is like to be in the moment. We are assuming that the viewer knows that already. That's more or less the core approach that we have taken. Before The Fourth Phase we looked back at the last couple movies and you know, there is almost skit-style jackassery in them. That's fun, entertaining and great, but it is that level of sarcasm that doesn't take you any deeper into someone's true being. Sarcasm is surface level entertainment and it's the safe play because you don't have to go any deeper. Sarcasm keeps it on the surface.
If you don't take yourself seriously you don't open yourself up to serious criticism.
100%. I mean, what do you hear in every action sport around? The pursuit of the moment and finding this flow state and being in the now. Well, we don't have that here. We've talked about that in our past projects. Okay, I am in this extreme environment where I am forced into a place of "being in the now" but I realize that for me it is about escapism. It isn't this conscious decision to find a place of nowness, it's actually a fucking escape. It's me wanting to go snowboarding so I don't have to deal with the fucking bullshit in my life, the emails, the work, the things that I don't want to do. I would rather venture out in a blizzard for 16 hours than sit at home in fucking silence with myself. I realized this a bunch of years ago. I went into this film with a commitment to having a level of honesty that hasn't been in our prior projects. Once you start to go deeper you are going to begin to polarize. I'm really curious on how people take this film because I don't think it is for everybody. I'm sure some people talk a bunch of shit about it. I'm sure it rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But at the end of the day, this is not an attempt to please everyone, this is an attempt to actually go a little bit deeper and try something…
Something more cathartic?
But beyond that there still lies a huge challenge with the time involved, the budget involved and the expectation that you are trying to top what is the most successful snowboard film of all time, bar none. This is the follow-up to The Art Of Flight and you have exceeded it in every metric. At any point did you second-guess taking on that challenge?
I was pretty adamant that I didn't want to make The Art of Flight 2. If anything, The Art Of Flight was That's it, That's All 2. Like all the projects we have done, we didn't necessarily know what this latest film was going to become. We had a sparkle of an idea. Over a decade ago Brian Iguchi's poem put forth the notion of "This process we follow, this cycle we ride." That is something that we have talked about before. I mean, I've practically tailored my life around it. I couldn't get the idea of following the water and following that energy out of my head. I don't think that we would've been capable of making this film prior because it took everything that we have learned to get to this point.
Do you arrive at the scale of this project via the concept or it is based upon your will to evolve?
In the beginning, through all the research I did, there was a clear picture on paper and it all made sense. Where does our weather come from? Where does the water go? I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is on the western slope of the Continental Divide. The snow melts and that water flows into rivers and then out into the Pacific Ocean. The North Pacific Gyre is this clockwise spinning solar engine that just so happens—at it's fastest point—to take three years to do one clockwise rotation. Three years is the same amount of time as our production. Essentially, water goes into the tropics, is taken westward and collects energy that is stored as heat. That heat then flows up into Japan and starts to careen northeast past the Kuril Islands, out past Kamchatka, and then flows east towards Alaska. You see this distribution of heat energy which fuel the storms that bring surf to the Northern Hemisphere in the winter and then also those same storms coat the mountains with snow and bring us the white winter that we pursue and chase all season. From this simple concept it started to really take shape once I was looking at a map and was able to see it visually. About halfway through this process of doing research I stumbled upon the work of Dr. Gerald Pollock, who is a biophysicist at the University of Washington. He has a book called The Fourth Phase Of Water. He also has a great TED Talk. Dr. Pollock has been working on this concept that I could spend an hour just talking about alone. To boil it down, he looks at water and the hydrological system both in its macro sense as this global energy distribution device, and also at the microscopic elements of it, about how at a cellular level, there is something so different that is going on than what we were taught to believe in school. I feel that those are ideas worth sharing. I constantly find information most refreshing when a paradigm shift occurs. Through this work you realize there is so much more than meets the eye. Dr. Pollock is a rebel. This guy is punk rock within science. So we brought that in and adopted that within the threads of the film. But we do have to circle back to the fact that it is a snowboarding movie, we are traveling and snowboarding in all these areas, so we have a limited amount of time to get into it. But if we can at least spark interest and get people to look further on their own time, then we have done enough.
A lot has been made of the long production schedule for The Fourth Phase but this timeline enabled you to return to each location year after year for multiple seasons.
When I used to film with Absinthe, generally speaking, there were three crews. Let's say the primetime filming window is a little more than four-and-a-half months. With three crews you are tripling down on those four-and-a-half months. The way that we operate, we have a single crew and we focus all of our filming in a much more in-depth way. We are a single unit, so when we get skunked, we get really skunked. But the amount of riding we have in the film with one crew over three years is the same as three crews over 1 year.
Can you break down who was in The Fourth Phase crew on a typical day?
On a typical day? For argument's sake we will put this in Wyoming. Generally speaking, we usually have 3 riders with us. We have a photographer. For production we will have a director and a producer, both of whom wear many hats. Often, they'll be capturing audio or working on logistics. We have a key grip. It's funny to put it in those terms, but it's the simplest way. We usually capture three angles. For those three angles, usually two people work each angle. One of these angles was specialty camera, we will call it a drone for arguments sake. In order to bring that drone out, you need two snowmobiles worth of gear. So that means two people with the gear. The other two angles can likely carry out their own gear. We will often bring two helpers as well to slug gear and then often those helpers will assist our other angle cameramen because the tripods these guys are using are massive, heavy, super cumbersome. They will also usually be our safety and stay in a position so that they are able to provide rescue because camera guys are often in places where they can't help too much. Then, depending on the day, sometimes we will have one of our medics out with us because with a production this large and the gear we are using, you know, we have the responsibility to have proper safety out there for these people.
So by my rough count, that's maybe 18 people at each setup.
That's a typical day in the backcountry.
How much does that production get in the way of the riding?
To say that it doesn't would be a total farce. Everything is slower. But that's just the way it is. I have to give a lot of credit to our team for getting as much done as we do. They're all so willing to go to any length to make it happen. We operate under the principles of when light hits, and sometimes the best light is at sunrise. If we need to be somewhere ready to ride at sunrise then it is up to production to work backwards from that target. Sometimes these guys are getting up at three in the morning and snowmobiling out in the dark because they know it takes them a couple hours to set up and be completely dialed and ready for sunup. It's just a different approach than the run-and-gun production. We're not that project or making that product. There are pros and cons to it. Coming out of making this film I am thrilled to go work with a single filmer and a group of dudes that can be fast and nimble and just go out with no plan and shoot whatever.