By Pat Graham (Associated Press)
Jack Turner attended a Warren Miller movie screening with his son a few years back, certain the teenager would be mesmerized by skiers plunging through thigh-deep powder at picturesque locales. Ten minutes into the film, he received a text message from his son: "Can we go?" Turner, a former U.S. Ski Team member-turned-film producer, couldn't fault him. Turner thought the movie - all recent ski film releases, actually - had become almost infomercials for the ski industry. Eye candy for powder seekers.
Where was the beginner falling off the chair lift? The novice face-planting in the snow?
Ski movies, Turner believed, had become too perfect, too unattainable for the average skier to experience. "Skiers and snowboarders are quite an imperfect lot. Yet, the only images you ever see in magazines and movies are the people who look perfect," said Turner, who lives in Durango, Colo. "The beauty of our sport is really how ridiculous we look, and I'm talking about everybody from the beginner to the Olympic athlete". An idea hit: Create a spoof of all ski movies - "Wayne's World" meets Warren Miller. That's how "Cheap Ski Movie" was born, an hour-long feature that set him back US$60,000.
This really is unlike any movie you've seen. After all, the two main characters, Jonny and Lou, are cardboard cutouts. That's right, cutouts. It's far cheaper to move cardboard around the country than actual ski talent, and this is, after all, a cheap ski movie.
The premise of the movie is simple enough: Two best friends embark on a quest to make the best ski movie ever. Subplot: Try to find the true meaning of skiing along the way.
Think of these two as Wayne and Garth, because, well, they're loosely based on those "Wayne's World" characters. And the actors who give a face and voice to Jonny and Lou aren't really actors at all. Turner found the character of Lou at the local gym, mopping floors as a janitor. His real name is Ian Wolf, and he's in a band. Wolf then persuaded his roommate, the tattoo-laden Matt Peters, to play the role of Jonny.
The movie opens with a real-life version of Jonny and Lou sitting on a couch in a basement, working out a plan to make their movie. They're calling around, hoping someone will bankroll their dream. In a magazine, they find a number. And who should answer? None other than Olympic and Winter X moguls star Jonny Moseley, who's sitting behind a desk next to a pool in Squaw Valley, Calif. Instead of money, Moseley offers wisdom: Follow their dreams not at places like Aspen or Squaw Valley, but remote destinations. Thus begins the journey as the title characters morph into their cardboard-cutout counterparts, who run into a swarm of skiing and snowboarding stars from the past and present. There's extreme skier Glen Plake, purple Mohawk and all, playing the part of a sponsorship genie, helping the characters secure rich deals at a Las Vegas ski show. Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and freeskier Tanner Hall also are in the film, along with snowboardcross racer Graham Watanabe. Olympic champion Phil Mahre offers the cutouts advice on skiing, while another Olympic medallist, Billy Kidd, must be enticed by the cutouts to participate.
Jonny and Lou show up in Steamboat Springs, Colo., trying to persuade him to be in the film. Kidd lists his demands: dressing room, chef, chauffeur ...
"... Billy, look, it's a cheap ski movie," he's quickly reminded.
Kidd got a kick out of his cameo. "I can understand making a ski movie without helicopters, but with cardboard cutouts? I wondered what it was going to be like", said Kidd, who captured silver in the slalom at the '64 Olympics in Innsbruck. "I've known Jack for years, knew it would be good".
Part of the movie is spent trying to get two-time World Cup overall winner Bode Miller to glance into the camera and say, "I don't want to be in your cheap film!". But Turner and his crew couldn't get close enough to Miller. So, Turner flipped the script. Instead, he made it the cutouts' mission to simply locate Miller at a World Cup event in Beaver Creek, Colo. Only, they're searching for someone named "Bod" and can't find him. While Miller chats with Austrian ski great Franz Klammer in a scene, the cardboard cutouts happen by. They're wondering if one of them could be the elusive Miller. "Nah, they're a little too chubby", Jonny says. They really aren't.
But that's the thing about this movie - it pokes fun at everyone. The industry, skiers, snowboarders, even famed ski film movie maker Miller, who has a spot in the film.
As the characters find out, skiing is skiing, whether it's in Utah, Colorado or at a family farm in Indiana that's now a ski area with 400 vertical feet. "We figured this would be a fun project to be involved in", said Mike Mettler, director of operations at the Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg, Ind. "It's an interesting concept".
While his cutouts travelled all over, Turner didn't always go with them. Ever the penny pincher, he would send detailed instructions to film crews he hired at various sites.
The footage he got back, though, wasn't exactly what he wanted. For one, the extras holding the cutouts could easily be seen, their shadows in sight. At first, that bothered Turner. Then, he realized the quirks were brilliant. "In our film, what's bad is good", said Turner, who competed for the U.S. Nordic combined team in the '70s.
Turner's goal isn't to disparage the movies that Miller and his company made over the years. Those were classics that kicked off the ski season for many. Turner wanted to honour those films - just in his own way. "We need some humour in this industry", Turner said. "It's OK to make fun of yourself".