By Colin Whyte | RedCard
In the grand scheme of things, women's snowboard videos might operate kind of like romantic comedies. Don't throw the magazine across the room yet. In this same scheme, That's It, That's All would be an epic; Subjekt Haakonsen would be an action classic; and Think Thank's videos would be the offbeat indies. Like romantic comedies, all-girl shred shows are made primarily for women and are something guys pretend they never watch (or even hate). But, given the right context—a long plane ride; a really rainy day at the cabin—plenty of dudes might press Play on Stance and admit, begrudgingly, that this is legit: big-name riders, scrappy up-and-comers, clean tricks, heavy terrain, cutting-edge cinematography, 100% tindy-free, etc.
THERE'S NO "I" IN "CHICK"
Now, two guys putting their heads together in the first place and saying, "Fuck it. Let's make a women's snowboard movie" might even sound like the plot of a romantic comedy—and a bad one at that. But in the case of director Jeremy Miller, 27, and producer/photographer Stan Evans, 35, Stance makes a certain amount of sense. Evans has long loved his (self-proclaimed) role as "life coach/photographer" to a number of top riders, and Miller, aka J. Mills, has logged tripod time for Misschief, Runway, and Finger On Da Trigga, gettin' a good taste for both the girly and the gangsta. When word got out that Runway was taking off this season, pro Erin Comstock suggested that these two SLC inhabitants taxi in, since without a devoted video outlet, many female pros' visibility would shrink immeasurably, at least off the podium. Since nobody wanted to see that happen, these guys stepped up to the tee. The ladies' tee.
Stance's roster reads like a veritable who's who: Gretchen Bleiler, Hana Beaman, Torah Bright, and others all devoted their energy (plus a rotator cuff or two) to the project. Nailing down a full part is a full-time job, and a tough one to pull when you're bouncing all over the globe competing, as most female pros are contractually obligated to do. Trying to get enough tricks in the can—all landed cleanly and on varied terrain—to fill up that three-minute song means spending every spare second sledding deep into the backcountry, hoping to stack footy.
DC pro Kimmy Fasani joined Stance pretty green on the filming front, but with her eyes wide open: "I wanted to be tested and pushed to hit jumps and cliffs that were out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be able to distinguish between fear and confident fear… Filming with Stance gave me all of these opportunities and more, and I knew that it wasn't going to be easy because I was going to have two guys dictating what would qualify as a shot and what wouldn't."
That's exactly the kind of "confident fear" these guys wanted to instill in their riders from the start—not from some macho Male vs. Female perspective as much as an experience-equals-high-standards perspective. Evans has been shooting photos of the world's burliest riders, including T. Rice and Romain De Marchi, since 1996 and has a rep for building Chad's Gap-style booters that can be seen from space. J Mills paid his dues shooting Utah's urban elite while directing everything from hair salon commercials to BMW motorcycle spots on the side, so you know neither of these guys is gonna be blown away by stock handplants or bonked park boxes. They don't approach Stance so much as a "women's snowboard video" as 1) a video that 2) is about snowboarding and 3) in which the stars all happen to be female. It's a subtle distinction, but it's the make-or-break one that makes Stance a bit of a new spin on the women's film formula.
"We just take our jobs seriously," says Evans by way of explanation. "At the end of the day, [we] both just want the shot." Add to this the marquee riders in Stance and the fact that J Mills routinely schools other shred filmers when he drops science on aspect ratios or compression algorithms and, well, you've got yourself a movie.
Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler, whose foray into more powdery pursuits is well documented by Stance, said: "Usually you go out and film and come up with a theme later. But these guys are coming in hot, coming in with a plan! They have this person here and this person there, shot lists every day… They sort of have the same work ethic I do. We know what we want and we know how to get it [laughs]. And for me, only having a few days here and there in the season to shoot, that's exactly what I want."
"There is room and a want for female videos," said Torah Bright who, despite a heavy contest schedule and a recurring shoulder injury, has some of the strongest tricks in Stance. "What we do now is hopefully a benchmark for the future and, with time and experience, things can only get better!"
REACTIONS AND PRE-ACTIONS
When the first Stance teaser dropped online in February, reactions were decidedly mixed. Some viewers loved it because it was undeniably fresh and pro, about as far from shaky "bro cam" as anything you've seen—male or female. As Bleiler said, these guys "came in hot" with moving cameras, dramatic slow-mo's…moose. Others found the teaser "too big"; an audacious effort with its slick color work and huge soundtrack that sometimes felt like it outstripped the riding.
"There's always going to be people out there who say what they want," said Evans of the criticism. "[But] we're trying to get Stance out to a broader audience… To be honest, most women don't want to watch a bunch of bros smoking weed and hanging out partying—they want to watch progressive riding. Now that the riders are being documented well, tricks will become more progressive and they'll see there are a lot more opportunities out there for them than they might have previously realized."
IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR
But here's the thing: Everyone out there in Opinionland seems to "want" to see women's riding side-by-side with the guys in the big movies, à la Annie Boulanger in Absinthe offerings or MFR's award-winning part in Rome's Any Means. Unless these outfits start taking on five times as many females each, however, a lot of well-known women riders will still have no real outlet to express themselves.
"I wanted to film for Stance because I think that these [women's film] projects are really important in the progression of female snowboarding," said Canadian slayer Raewyn Reid, who started filming her part April 1st, thanks to a classic US border debacle. During her short-but-intense spring filming regimen, Reid dealt with a gap jump that seemed impossible at first and that had dead serious consequences. She also took a dip in an ice pond that led to full Steve Zissou submersion: "I wanted to stop and go back to the car… I wasn't really thinking because I'm pretty sure my cerebrospinal fluid was still thawing from my little dip. The filmers' response was, 'Well, that was already the worst thing you could do, so you might as well stay until you get it.' I think a lot of [crews] would have let me jump ship, but now I have a shot of me actually making it across the pond to go with my little tumble."
That kind of git 'er done attitude was part of Stance's DNA from day one. Early on, J Mills took a digger into some Wyoming dagger-rock and literally would have died had he been sledding without a helmet. He suffered serious shock, a bruised spine, and a separated shoulder, and had to be shepherded out by Evans, whose inner Alaskan kicked in. But Jeremy was back out there filming the next day, busted as all hell, with a hospital bracelet and, we can imagine, the world's first tri-color overprint sling. He shot that way every day for three weeks—"Which sucked for me, because I had to shuttle all his gear," said Evans.
Austrian pro Lisa Filzmoser said: "I heard which other riders were gonna be in the film and I was pretty stoked to be part of the project. I really like filming—the travel, the people, finding spots, seeing new places. Also, to shape something and the hard work that is behind it, and to fall asleep tired and satisfied, knowing the challenge for the next day."
From Gretchen Bleiler's recent branching out into cliffs and pillow lines to Jenny Jones's huge hip airs at Superpark, the riding variety is definitely there. Throw in a solid smattering of Utah's best backcountry "secrets," and an open mind re: what counts as snowboarding terrain, and Stance comes out swinging. And this ain't no girl fight…
THE TRAIL OF TEARS
"What can I say?" asks Jenny "Bridget" Jones, a UK standout (who also picked up the nickname "Fish 'n' Chips"). "I definitely think the two lads have had a crash course into many a girl's psyche… Although I have these weird superstitions that I am sure they found a bit funky, but in the end got used to [laughs]."
"The rule for the guys was that they were not allowed to hit on the girls," adds Filzmoser.
PLAYING WITH DOLLIES
J Mills, whose aesthetic informs Stance more than anybody's, really cut his teeth filming MFM in Utah. "I purchased a Panasonic DVX 100A and started filming with Cole Taylor and the T9 gangsters and [Marco] on trade for boards and product—meaning oversized jackets and hoodies with gang signs," he said. "I would take the gear to the restaurant where I worked and sell it to pay for film gear and school."
Thanks to an obvious talent, Mills graduated with a 3.9 from the U of U film school ("Believe it or not," he adds), but the point is that he wasn't some rich kid who got handed his career on a platter. He scrapped it the fuck out and now finds himself running his own show, JMills Ent. Understandably, he can be short on patience when it seems like someone is phoning it in. This kid, who in fifth grade was drinking Bartles & James and jumping his Black Snow off the deck of his house like a peach-flavored madman, now finds himself equal parts bitten and brushed off by filming peers who've been shooting longer. A number of crews now use the lightweight PVC dolly system Jeremy and his boys developed, but it's safe to say Mills doesn't always get the respect he deserves—even as more and more of his competitors' shots look, well, more and more like his. Now this might be because Jeremy chooses to shoot girls. Or because he travels with a flat iron and will mix six different prints in one kit. "My mom was a hairstylist, so it was mullets and fashion hair since birth!" he says. "Style runs in my blood."
Yeah, well so do wine coolers, buddy.
WHAT'S YOUR STANCE?
Raising the bar is never easy, but make no mistake: That is exactly what every rider and crew member involved in Stance set out to do, and the proof is in the pudding. For Stan and Jeremy, it was all about raising the production values so that the riding could be given a bold enough platform to shine. For the riders, especially those who put in enough time to land full parts, Kimmy Fasani sums it up perfectly: "I think Stance will be viewed as a strong all-female movie. I believe it will show other women that we limit ourselves with what we think we can do, rather than 'knowing' we can do anything we put our minds to. This video will show people that—with patience, practice, and confidence—anything is possible. [Stance] is going to be a stepping stone for future generations, and their view of women's progression in the backcountry and filming in general."
For more information on STANCE, go to www.stancemovie.com
This content was originally published in the December 2009 issue.