There are some things that all the money and endless classes in film schools just can’t be bought or taught. Skills, techniques, and instincts that are impossible to master from trolling message boards and chatting about YouTube links. Leland McNamara is a filmer who has put his time in at the most important snowboard film classroom: the mountains. Spending as much time actually riding his snowboard as he does filming people snowboarding has enabled Leland to develop instincts that, coupled with his technical curiosity of cameras and editing, has made him one of the best snowboard cinematographers out there today. In addition to his skill on the board, Leland is as comfortable cutting locks and hopping fences on late night rail missions as he is sledding out at 4am for deep backcountry missions. He’s gotten his start producing local scene movies and graduated on to big time productions like the Rome movies and now he’s settled in with the People crew. His drive to constantly learn new things about cameras, editing, riders, and backcountry zones has made him one of the hungriest and most valuable filmers out today and it’s no doubt why Pierre Minhondo tapped him to be his number two man on the newly revamped People crew.
Name: Leland McNamara
Age: Older than you think
Home Mountain: Big Mountain and Whitefish, Montana
Brand Worked For: People Films
Gear: HPX 170, Canon 60d is usually what I carry plus all the bells and whistles
Video Resume: NC Prodcutions, Rome Snowboards, TWS 2010 Team Shoot Out, People Films
You’ve been shooting snowboarding for quite a while? What’s your background briefly, and how did you get to where you are now?
I guess it would go back to living in Bend, Oregon. I moved there right after high school and all I really wanted to do was make it as a pro snowboarder. I had a good friend Andrew Crawford who had moved there the year prior to me. He was from the same area I grew up in in Montana and he introduced me to the people from Smoked Monkeys boardshop and others like Josh Dirksen and “Minibike” aka Jake Price. Man I was a kid in heaven. Everybody I met there had the same plan. Eat, sleep, and go snowboarding.
I feel we had a really close group of good friends who just wanted to snowboard all the time, and at some point I thought to keep doing what I loved I had to find a way to make a living. I was my own harshest critic and I knew I would never make it as a professional snowboarder in this day and age so that meant doing something different. I was always into photography but I wanted to make a movie so I sold my Nikon SLR and bought a little handycam and made a little movie called “Jibs not Jobs.” It was a funny time. But it gave me the mindset to start doing things right instead of wrong. That’s when I met Sam Hiltner and Trent Ludwig. Sam was down to make movies too so we started a little company called NC Productions. The name honored my good friend and snowboarder Nate Chute who had passed away. All this would be a prelude to some of the greatest times ever. All of our friends were the riders and the riders were our friends. People started to do real well from us making movies and names like Austin Smith, Skylar Thornton, Robbie Walker, (just to name a few) were all on the rise. Jake started working with Robot Food and then with Lucas Huffman on “IR77” and I feel like those guys helped develop a name for myself and Sam. Trent helped us so much too. He really showed us it could be a good business all while he filmed our ender video part two years in a row. Our company did okay for a few years but ultimately we had to try to find real jobs doing what we knew and loved. I moved to Tahoe and eventually went to work for Rome Snowboards as the Team Videographer under, well…you, John Cavan. And a big shout out goes to Ryan Runke for giving me that opportunity and I guess the rest of history is being written as we speak.
This was your first winter shooting with the People crew. How did you arrive to working with them, and how did this winter differ from past seasons?
Well, after working with Rome for a couple seasons I had an offer to go to work for Pierre Minhondo from People Films. Needless to say I was kind of in awe. I mean, People has been killing it since the Neoproto days and if you know Pierre you know he is one of the hardest working and best editors in the game and now I was gonna be his number two in charge. Of course I said yes. Winters always just seem like more of the same but knowing it was going to be a whole new crew this year and barely anyone knew each other I knew this was gonna be a fun year. Turns out I was right.
How was the hunt for snow this past season? We’ve heard some people had a tough year and others got it good.
It was okay. Some places had great snow and others not so much. But that’s the fun in making snowboard movies. You never really know what you’re gonna get. Day-to-day and year-to-year everything changes except the challenge of making a great movie, so a challenge is fun.
What riders did you work with the most this winter?
Probably Jason Robinson, Johnny Lazz, Jason Dubois, Will Lavigne, Marco Smolla and Elias Elhardt the most, but I got to spend good times with everyone on the crew.
Who’s part are you most looking forward to seeing?
Rusty Ockendon and Jason Robinson were on tears this year so I’m pretty hyped for their stuff. I think Lazz will have some jawdroppers for those rail kids, too. Maybe a couple NBDs in the street. Sorry, can’t leak. You gotta get the movie.
The People crew seemed to have a pretty big overhaul on its riders list this winter. Did it seem like you had a really fresh and hungry crew?
Fresh? Yes. Hungry? Starving.
You’re one of the filmers who can snowmobile in the backcountry on a powder day as well as sneak lights into a rail shoot at 3am. Which is harder to do and which do you like more?
Harder is almost surely backcountry. There is just so much more that goes into getting the shots, and besides that just being safe out there takes a whole different mindset and a good crew you trust to be there to save your life if need be. I love just being out in the mountains. It’s just so much more peaceful out there. On a typical day you wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning, break trail find a spot to ride or build a jump, hopefully the weather cooperates, and if everything goes well you don’t get home ’til 8 or 9 at night and that’s just enough time to load your daily clips and get 6 hours of sleep and do it again. That’s just if things go well. Rail stuff seems more like a vacation cause you get to cruise around cool cities and go to random places I never really would normally go to. It’s still tons of work and most nights you don’t sleep ’til 6am and you’re packing tons of lights, generators, winches, and bungees and trying to figure out a way to get all this equipment in places that are fully closed down. Breaking locks and risking getting arrested all the time just to get a shot can get frustrating.
How has technology changed in snowboard filming? What’s the newest thing in cameras that kids wanting to make shred films should be aware of?
Technology is crazy. There’s new stuff popping up everyday. The biggest thing you should worry about is your eye. All technology aside, if you don’t have an eye for snowboarding you might as well forget this career. I recently partnered with a company doing RC aerial videography solutions with ex-pro shredder Asa Martinez. He has been piloting RCs for 2 years now and we just purchased a new Sony FS 700 for all the super slow-mo stuff. We can now mount just about any camera to our aerial platforms. I see lots of people shooting this RC stuff nowadays, so you will probably see lots of that in the future.
You’re also an editor. What films over the years have really stoked you out from an editor’s perspective?
It’s kind of funny but I generally look outside of snowboarding for my inspiration. I get super into watching good music videos. Vimeo is like my Instagram, and I would have to say I watch lots of skateboarding. And I know you can’t really copy the feeling you get from a skate video but someday I’d like to. I also like to watch old 90s snowboard videos too ’cause that’s what I grew up on and it was such a raw time back then. Videos had such a true punk personality. But those were different times.
How important is music in what you edit, and what tunes have been stoking you out lately?
You know I’m into rap music, John. Haha really though I like everything across the board. Music is so important. Sometimes it can make or break a part and that is crazy. New bands? I just don’t know. I’m keeping a little black book but only I know what’s inside.
Ok, deep question here. In this current “immediate media” world, do you think there is still a future for snowboard films? And what kinds of changes can be made to how things are done?
This is a hard question for me to answer. Someone could probably write a book on this subject and how to revive video sales. The true answer is I just don’t have the answer. I just hope more people out there are like me. I love watching DVDs. I don’t want to watch downloads on my computer. I work on my computer all the time and the last thing I want to do is watch more stuff on my computer. I want that copy that I can take home and watch with my friends, maybe drink a beer and appreciate all the hard work every rider and director puts into these projects that only come out once a year. I buy every snowboard video every year–well, at least most–and it can be hundreds of dollars, but I’m happy to do it. This is our career and I support everyone in our field of work. It’s tough out here these days and we have to have each other’s backs to help keep this industry alive. Feature films are the cut and dry. The hammers and only the hammers and I think it’s awesome to watch a year’s worth of hard work put in to the best 3 minute edit possible. Web stuff is awesome but nothing is like anticipating your favorite rider’s video part.
Give us one good story from the road. A kick out, a freak out, a crazy way something went down…something to let the kids feel like they were out there with you guys.
I was shooting with Jason Robinson, Elias Elhardt, and Marco Smolla for a bit up in Whistler when the season made a turn for the worse. No sun in the forecast; just rain and warm temperatures. So I made a drastic decision to take the crew to Montana where we had heard they still potentially had winter conditions. We all wanted to travel together or we weren’t gonna go so we rented a U-Haul trailer (definitely not built for snowmobiles), and we threw those guys sleds on and just strapped them down as much as we could and we all took off in my truck all crossing our fingers that this would work. 24 hours later and a crazy story from crossing the border and we were in Montana and the weather was breaking. This trip ended up being quite the adventure and you will just have to get the movie to see how it all worked out for us. Definitely my best trip of the year.
If you can sum up the new People movie in one sentence, what would it be?
A kick ass new crew!