The Shadow Campaign 'The Warmth of Winter' Film Review

The Shadow Campaign’ is a series of 4 short films for DPS Skis in partnership with Outdoor Research & GoreTex. Directed by Ben Sturgulewski, these longer form film series mate features from traditional filmmaking and television shows, viral, commercial and branded video to create what I think is where the future of content and media could be ending up.

Below is the film in question I am reviewing today

Directing

Sturge Film founder and director Ben Sturgulewski is an Alaska based; award wining director and cinematographer who has won prizes such as Powder Magazine's coveted Movie of the Year Award. It was true that people in the ski, action sports and film industry were expecting big things, but big things were definitely given! With an online branded film series like this where DPS Skis and Gore-Tex are essentially Ben's only major investors, the brief of creating 'an annual line up of fresh artistic festival worthy film shorts released online' which still respects and shows off these brands in the correct way is no easy task. 

I would like to start by focusing on the title of this episode in the film series, 'The Warmth of Winter'. Most would say that its total nonsense. How could winter, known for being cold wet and dark, be warm? Well to answer and put straight your fuss, the idea behind the title is in fact how when winter and the ski season arrives on ski resort and mountain doorsteps, the ski community once again can rejoice in their shared passion once again and from that a lot of love, belonging and warmth is felt between community members. After the release of 'Valhalla', of which Ben took several roles in, during an interview with Coldsmoke Winter Film Festival, Ben brought up that ‘the average skier doesn’t really connect with’ people hucking cliffs and doing all these crazy freestyle tricks.

Editing

I am not one to rightfully comment on a films editing as this skill of mine is still in its infancy, but I will say a few things. Firstly I really like the cuts and transitions that were chosen in this film. They are slow, gradual interlacing transitions that help amplify to its audience of its dark, mysterious and new tone to action sports and ski films. The films colour pallet is such that it amplifies the 'warmth' of winter. In the 2 screenshots above, the colour palette reminds the films audience and viewers about that special christmas, family and homely feel. Finally the mix between the Japanese mountain time lapses and steady, static 'b-roll' environment shots within the middle of the film is cool playing along and emphasising the bouncy but smooth tempo and mood of Sylvan Esso's 'Coffee' (the films soundtrack).

Cinematography

As a whole the Shadow Campaign series comes across as having very high production value and that for sure comes across in the high level of cinematography that is being shown. Drones, high image quality cameras and lenses have been used and I can tell the team spent spent some time during pre production to really narrow down the shots they wanted each morning. The majority of lighting in the film comes either from natural light from the sun, both harsh and soft diffused light from clouds, or practical light found in the Japanese bar in the intro and outro to the film. I think this use of lighting really helps to show off the 'soul' of Japanese skiing, which is based around the huge amounts of snow Japan and its resorts receives, the small bars serving sushi bento, amazing Japanese beer and the Japanese "cough syrup" of sake shots and then the extremely fun and friendly Japanese people who love pulling off the signature peace sign in a photo.

Even cinematography basics like composition and camera movements are done to a level that is awe inspiring. Below are some screen grabs from the film with my comments on that bit of the film in relation to the films cinematography.

In the film, the shot that is shown above is one of the many cool camera movements that I am drawn to. In this shot, as the skier makes his way down the face, on the spine, the drone is moving towards this mountain face, the camera is tilting down keeping the skier in frame and ends pretty close to the mountain face. Its just the originality of the shot that draws me to it as I think a lot of directors and cinematographers would take the same scene with the skier heading down the face, as stick top a shot of the drone following from behind the skier.

Take a good look at the screenshot above. Today, almost every production will have drones on their radar of tools to use because of their vantage point they can give a story and production. However the framing and vantage point of this drone shot is just little bit more different as many would have associated the skier to be facing the drone or the drone following from behind him. I think the attraction in this shot is that it uses the width of the 16x9 frame to show the length and possibly the gradient of that particular run without directly showing how long the ski run through the pillow line is.

Music & Sound

For the most part this film features the song 'Coffee' by Sylvan Esso and the intro and outro features Marmoset's 'Night Street'. In my opinion the latter of these song choices best suits the nature and style of this film because I can't match up why a song 'based on the idea of contra dancing as a way of talk about relationships' can relate to Japan or skiing. Maybe the decision to use the song is beyond what I am currently thinking so I am going to leave it there for you to make your own decisions. Regarding the films sound effects, they are strong. I love films or edits where raw clean high quality sounds like ski boots clipping into ski bindings or the glass of whiskey been thrown down the bar with the ice swirling around, mixed in with visuals and music is what todays top action and adventure sports films are made of. Its a paradise for the bodies senses.

“Coffee” is based on the idea of contra dancing as a way of talking about relationships. What happens is, you do a series of movements that are called out at the beginning of the dance — everyone knows 25 movements — and then you string them together. You’ll do the same movements with your partner, then do a dance with another dude, then come back to your partner. Dancing is just really important. So many pop songs are about dancing, which is super strange to me, because it doesn’t feel like something many people do. There’s this stigma for people who don’t dance. There’s something magical about it, and I don’t think anyone knows what it is except that it’s about letting go.
— http://www.wonderingsound.com/feature/sylvan-esso-interview/
M: What role do you feel music has in film?

SJS: Music has a special power to express something you can’t see, but the director wants you to feel. The same way that a choice of lens can add a layer of texture, sound can add a new sense of touch.
— http://journal.marmosetmusic.com/read/2015/6/always-experiment-an-interview-with-marmoset-band-lullatone

Matchstick Productions 'Fade to Winter'... My thoughts

Before I start I would like to use this review as sort of a public tool to use to get some of my thought and feelings I had about the film across to anyone who stumbles upon this review/blog post. Also I did not write this blog post to offend anyone. If I do, then I am sorry in advance and I hope you understand these are just my opinions

Watch Fade to Winter here ... https://www.redbull.tv/film/AP-1N9BJJJJ51W12/fade-to-winter

The thing I love about Apple TV is that I am able to watch Red Bull TV on my 10 year old Loewe 720p HD television that we bought when we first arrived in Jakarta before living there with my family a couple of years. I am surprised it still kicks out a reasonably good picture for this day and age. So one evening I was in that "I want to watch a ski film" mood and I happened to fall upon watching Fade to Winter by Matchstick Productions through Red Bull TV.  I had not seen the film but had had it in my watch list for a while now. The film is an ode to times of change that skiers, snowboarders and surfers alike experience. 

I started watching the film and as a 3rd year Film & TV Production student here in London and one that wants to work in the ski film industry, I found that I picked up on a few things that could be of interest for my future self. 

Firstly I learnt some awesome new phrases to add to my skiing, mountains and snow arsenal. One of which was the way snow, and in particular falling powder snow was described as 'big fat potato chips floating down from the sky'. I don't know why specifically this phrase stuck out in my mind but it remained me of one of Queen's famous songs and then the British  documentary series 'Big Fat Gypsy Weddings'. The likelihood of you knowing of Queen's song is pretty high but if you haven't heard of or seen some of the TV series then I suggest you go and check it out because it is both a big laugh and pretty eye opening (for me at least) at the same time. 

Secondly, the shotover shot through a valley between 2 rocky peaked mountains in Haines, Alaska, I think should have been longer. With the sounds and music that were playing at the ned of this segment, the shot should have at least lasted for 5 or 10 more seconds and the helicopter could have moved both up and back whilst the camera lens could have zoomed in. I think it just would have been a more "set in stone" way to end such kick ass segment. 

PS in case you don't know what a shotover is, the picture and video below will tell you. Its one hello of a piece of kit for sure. 

Shotover2.jpg

Lastly I would like to raise an enquiry as to what people think of featuring a narrator in ski and other sports films. For me, I always thought a narrators guiding words in ski movies was always going to be something that Marren Miller and his films would feature. I would think that the guys there were the best at it and if anyone were to copy them and use a narrator to guide the viewers attention, it would be weird and somewhat wrong and "breaking the law" of modern and semi modern ski films. And so when I was watching Fed to winter and the narrator would be there doing his thing I built a strong disliking to it and started to question 'What would a ski movie be like without a narrator?' or even athletes that would say what was going on in their dialogue. There may be a market for that sort of film where the audience has complete freedom as to what they think is happening and the story thats being told. Something like this would surely open up a whole lot more creative "latitude" to the visuals, sound design, effects and music.

And so yeah I will leave it at that to ensure I don't upset anyone further or fall into any legal or political "stromash". 

 

Thank you,

 

 

PS below are some screen grabs of the rubber duck/s that made an appearance in the "skiers spring break" segment in the film

'All In' Film by Stellar Media

So the guys over at Stellar Media are pretty awesome. I have been following them on Instagram and Facebook for a few months now after I saw they ??? Basically they are an 'adventure content solution' that produce films such as the ones below that really get me excited and inspired because these are the sorts of films I want to be on the production team of. 

Here are the first 2 parts of the film series

I just watched them last night, Sunday 13th December 2015 I was pretty amazed. Its your typical ski porn action documentary film that uses showcases the mountains, the skiing, the ups and downs of a team trip, injury, POV shots and nature shots. Im not going to say more than that however I will end on this as I want to leave it up to you to discover your own thought on this film and leave them in the comments.

I love how the editor chose to edit the crash scene in the beginning of Part 2, with the cuts using both POV and heli shots and then I loved the fact that during this scene the sound you could hear was of from crash, recorded through the onboard mic of the POV camera, of Sam Cohen rolling down through the slough, bashing into the spines and rocks and then giving out a loud cry at the end. This really helped to make me as a viewer feel more of what Sam would have felt after a crash and fall like that.

Film Review Format

From my 'An update' video on YouTube, you will know that I want to start doing reviews of films I like in the area of the industry I am passionate about, adventure and action sports along with car commercials and other well shot films. If you haven't watched this video in question, here it is below

 Now even though I said I want to do these in a video review, I am going to change the produced format of the main longer review and the introduction video and combine them into 1, full length written review. But don't worry I still hope to do the live reaction video of films that would be the first time watching them.

I hope this is a better decision for me, but if not then I will try the reviews in video format ready for my YouTube channel. 

A bit of a heads up/teaser... The first written film review I will be producing on my blog will be that of The Shadow Campaign's 'The Warmth of Winter', which is linked above if you haven't seen it. Finally I hope to have this up by next weekend (14th & 15th November)

 

Cheers, 

Fraser