Lens Crafters: Shane Charlebois

These days, it seems that everyone is either a snowboard filmer or making a snowboard video. With a million lensmen floating around, it may seem weird that there are only a select few that the top pros trust to film with. It shouldn't seem strange though, working with a filmer that knows what looks good, who's always on it, and who a rider can trust with his life and a big chunk of financial gain (essentially). That's what sets a select few filmers apart from the rest that simply cruise around with an expensive setup. Shane Charlebois is one of snowboarding's best filmers. He's worked with all of the most renowned shredders in the world, and not just once. He continually does year in and year out. He's filmed with Whitey and Brad Kremer at Kingpin, and now he's one of the biggest hustlers on the Absinthe crew. Shane is just as comfortable deep in the backcountry as he is in the streets, he shoots film as well as digi, and can run a winch as well as snowmobile. If you're a fan of snowboarding and snowboard videos than Shane has no doubt influenced you one way or another over the years. Personally, I've always respected how dedicated he's been to his projects and riders. He takes his shit personally and tends to go all in with whatever film he's working on. He's not just some dude with a camera posted up on the side; he's an active member of a shot with the rider. He puts the time in from exploring new zones, building massive booters, sneaking in to spots at 5am to get the shot, and running crews. Here's his Lens Crafters interview.
-John Cavan

Name: Shane Charlebois
Age: 37
Home Mountain: Kissing Bridge, NY
Gear: Snowboard, cameras (Film and HD), camera bag and tripod, shovel, transceiver and probe.
Video Resume: 411VM, Kingpin films (1999-2003), Absinthe films (2003-present), gold medal X Games 15 Real Street, and contributed to a lot of other great movies throughout these years

You grew up shredding on the east coast. What was your background?

I’m originally from Burlington, Ontario. Grew up in Buffalo, NY. I started snowboarding around 1988. At that time in that area, no one had ever heard about snowboarding, much less making a life of it. Back then, telling people that I would become a professional snowboarder was about as out there as telling them I would go to Mars one day. In high school my friend Blair and I would drive to the Green Mountain Series contests every weekend. Whatever it took to make it happen was all we could think about. It was great to meet all of the ripping east coast shredders. That changed everything. Eventually, I moved up to Burlington, Vermont and became a professional rider with Burton. Adventuring around Stowe and the surrounding northeast areas will always be unforgettable. Back then, everything was new and no one really had an outline of the steps you had to take to get to the next level. The adventure to figure it out was awesome. Doing well at contests and filming for various east coast movies led to opportunities to travel. Getting out west was huge. More than trying to be the world champ, snowboarding has always been about exploring the world and shredding everywhere possible. I moved to California and traveled out of there for six years. Throughout that time I spent a lot of time in Utah. In 1998 I moved there. The easy access to the mountains from an international airport is unmatched anywhere in the lower 48. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of amazing places to ride in the U.S., but SLC is just easier access. Shortly before moving to Utah, a close friend Jamil [Khan] passed away in an avalanche. That dealt a heavy blow to our crew. Things were never the same after that. My reaction was being drawn more than ever to the mountains. Getting away from people and more in touch with nature was crucial. That's what I did. It's those things you don’t know you don’t know…those are the hardest to prepare for, especially when you’re young. That led to not caring about the things that were supposed to be done and more about doing things that felt right…. and then, boom, I cracked my kneecap in half.

How was it making the transition from filming in front of the lens to being behind the lens?

Life seems to pick us more than we pick it. The transition was perfect. After breaking my kneecap in half it was clear that things had to evolve. Picking up a camera made sense. Instead of living with a perspective of "check me out," it transformed into "check out the crew." It's a real blessing to help people coming up to succeed with living their dreams. Being able to ride everywhere is still the foundation of the whole thing. "Film school" for me was Whitey coming over, drinking a beer, teaching me how to load film, then saying, "You got it?" Cool, let's do this. Been getting after it ever since.

R: Shane Charlebois P: E-Stone

What is your favorite clip you've filmed and why?

It doesn’t seem right to say that there is one favorite clip that I've ever filmed. There have been so many, and each one was special. When things work out–anytime–it feels amazing. Filming those moments is like capturing a piece of magic.

You've probably got some good kick out stories. How about one where you didn't get away with something, and then one where you got the shot…

Getting kicked out is part of the game, right? Well, most of the time it’s straight bullshit. More than any particular kick out story I would have to say that the worst kick outs are when “super citizens” get involved. For those of you who don’t know, “super citizens” are people that have absolutely nothing to do with the spot. They are over-concerned citizens who feel insecure that you are doing something outside their understanding. These people are the worst! Years ago, Mikey LeBlanc, J2, Andy Wright and I got in trouble at a federal building. Talk about over reacting. The cops took us away and told Andy and I that they were confiscating the film. It was classic, taking out the film and handing them a fresh roll instead of the shot roll. We got federal tickets. That was stupid… even the judge thought so. A few years back, we were in western New York and Justin Bennee wanted to jump off the roof to another roof at this one resort. We started setting it up and the resort manager shows up, losing it. I went into his office with him to try to figure it out. The guy kept calling us stupid misfits and wanted to see our business cards. According to him, a business card makes you more official than anything on the internet. Have you tried to google Justin Bennee or Mikey LeBlanc lately? It would be hard not to find something to show who they are. This guy wouldn’t budge. It was getting so frustrating that I just told him he was a complete idiot and that we were leaving. As I left his office and walked outside, the security guards came up and asked what he said. I looked at our crew and then back to them and said, "He said grab a ladder and help us get it done as fast as possible." They helped us out and we got the shot! It sucks if they got fired but, hey, we are here to do this.

Which is harder to film, street or backcountry?

I love both. It's great to balance the time throughout the season. Actually, the hardest thing about them is finding people who are capable of filming more than just the streets or parks. Seems weird, but there is only a handful of amazing full-spectrum filmers.

What's the most time you spent on a backcountry booter build?

[Dan] Brisse's step-up gap two winters ago. That thing was ridiculous. Possibly the biggest hand built jump built so far, anywhere. It was so ridiculous that we had to end the season after that one.

R: Shane Charlebois P: Jeff Curtes

With so many film crews these days and the push to always shoot stuff that's new it gets pretty territorial.

Have you been involved in any drama with other crews while filming jumps or spots?
Some crews spend too much time seeing what others are up to and then going to those spots too. We do what we do and when someone tells us where they are or what they are up to we go somewhere else. I respect everyone that is out there going for it. It's not what you do, it's how you do it…that's the difference

What's it like to film in Alaska? You can be in your room one second and on top of the gnarliest terrain in the world the next. How do you mentally prepare for filming up there?

Alaska is Alaska. It's about the art of letting go. Appreciate, respect, and do not expect. Put your time in. Can't ride there enough.

You got to film with Jeff Anderson. What's a fond memory you have of him?

Times with Jeffy were awesome. They were always real and in the flow. One time that stands out is when we were in NYC. The whole city was pretty much closed down because of the snow. Harold Hunter gave us spot ideas. It was so fun to be out adventuring through the city with that much snow. Jeffy did a back lip on a rail that Harold talked about skating. It was rad how Jeffy hit it because he built no lip, just straight off the ground. That was proper. Another unforgettable time with Jeffy was when he did the monster kink in SLC up at the hospital (the one that became a cover). That night was insane. He kept trying that thing for so long and he wasn’t sure if it would happen. Just as the cop was rolling up to kick us out for the third time, Jeffy rode off the end of that beast. That was unreal; so perfect. We couldn’t believe that it worked out. It was probably 5am and we went home and watched the Zero skate movie that had just come out. With no sleep, he had to leave to catch a plane to Japan. Jeffy left saying he wished we could live in that moment forever…and we will. That was the last time I saw him alive.

How has it been filming/working with Justin Hostynek? What have you learned from him?

Justin is classic. He’s been in the snowboard scene since the cavemen were doing it.
He’s taught me a lot. Being patient and making it happen are on the top of the list. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Be true.

I'm going to give you a few names that you have worked with. Tell me the first thing that pops into your head:

Bode Merrill: Pretty good, for him.
Whitey: Kingpin.
J2: Legend and friend.
Brusti: Zurich.
Brad Kremer: Timelapse.
Jamil Khan: Forever.
E-Stone: Old friend.
Bjorn Leines: Snowbird.
Marc Frank: Homey.
Travis Rice: Jackson.

Brisse and Shane celebrating after a successful GTS! P: E-Stone

As someone who used to shoot and may still shoot 16mm, how has the transition been into digital? What are your thoughts on all of the new cameras that are becoming available right now?

Film will always be great. It's awesome watching people be super fans for the camera of the moment. Cameras are incredible these days. It all comes down to capturing snowboarding in the best way that makes sense to you. It gets strange to watch a movie and see when the tech cameras and camera movements become more of a priority than the actual snowboarding. Trying too hard takes away from the real essence of what is going down. Balancing the technical side with the rawness results in a feeling of awe.
The riders and the riding is still number one to me.

Nobody's perfect. Is there a shot that over the years that you missed that you are particularly bummed on?

And how do you talk to the rider about that after something like that happens?
Isn’t art just a bunch of happy mistakes? A photographer friend told me years ago, if you fuck it up just tell them their style looked weird and that they might want to do it again.

With the urban gap thing getting bigger, is there a point where you begin to get nervous? What goes through your mind when you're setting some of those things up?

Things will always progress. It’s simple. If you don’t trust the people you are out with, maybe you shouldn’t be out there with them. Nowadays, it's critical to know that about your crew. When riders ask me if something looks good, most of the time it looks absolutely bonkers. All I can do is say, “How does it look to you?” and trust that if they say it looks good, then that means it will work out.

What has been the best piece of advice you've gotten regarding filming?

All of this is way too precious to take it too serious. Never on schedule, always on time.
It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission. You can change your pants but you can't change the day. The world is a beautiful place. We are all connected more than separated

In this current "immediate media world" do you think there's still a future for snowboard films? And what kinds of changes can be made to how things are done?

There is no doubt that snowboard movies are important to all of us. It’s similar to why magazines are important. When you walk in to someone's house and see an old DVD or magazine sitting there it brings back feelings and you get excited. You want to check it out. How many times do you walk in to someone's house and see a web clip from a few years ago? It is important to build up the anticipation involved with waiting for something great to come out. Films that have web edits throughout the year are the best option at the moment. The future of actual DVDs is not looking good. The real question is why do we have to give it all away to iTunes? The present monopoly of iTunes is hard to compete with. How can we promote our snowboard films on the same scale as iTunes? Do you think that they deserve to be the ones getting a piece of everything we put out?