Shooting on snow is never an easy task for a myriad of reasons; it’s difficult to get people and equipment around, the changing light levels play havoc with the camera settings… the list goes on. But we’ve worked with Crystal Ski Holidays for 4 consecutive years on their annual winter campaign video and along the way, have learnt how to cope with the trying conditions.
This year, however, someone or something was determined to make it really tricky.
After securing the the newest iteration of Crystal’s campaign video in December 2017, we worked closely with their team in Surbiton to bring to life a new conceptual approach that tied in with their larger, overarching “Get More Winter” marketing campaign. EI director Adam De Silva was integral in shaping the creative and pushed the boundaries early on, keen to build upon the already impressive portfolio from previous years.
By February, the cogs of production were really turning - crewing and casting were complete, a location decided upon. The shoot itself was set to take place over the course of a week, high in the French alps in the beautiful resort of Val D’isere
After much deliberation, filming was scheduled for mid-April. Very much towards the back end of the ski season in France, April would bring warmer temperatures and blue skies - perfect conditions for filming.
Or so we thought. Fast forward to April 14th.
3300m up on a glacier, Focus Puller Bart Bazaz struggles desperately with the giant waterproof bag that secures the £75,000 cinema camera from the elements. The relentless 60mph winds are catching the bag like a sail and the heavy snowfall has brought visibility down to about 10 feet.
After a few minutes, Adam calls the shot (a dolly into portrait of one of the characters) off. A cold and disappointed cast & crew retreat into the warmth of the nearby mountain restaurant for the hundredth time that day.
The weather was like nothing anyone had ever seen at that time in the season. We’d been plagued by it all week - persistent, heavy snowfall and viciously high winds had made shooting a nightmare, not to mention closed half the mountain due to severe avalanche risk.
Perseverance, however, was our saving grace. Throughout the week, the team consistently pulled 18 hour days to get the shots we needed. Though this often meant pre-dawn starts and late night finishes, patiently waiting out the weather and physically demanding unit moves, we got on with the job at hand. We held production meetings every evening in the chalet, mapping out the next day’s movements on a constantly shifting schedule and were frequently required to adapt to changing circumstances. Being agile was key throughout the shoot.
Production Assistant Jimmy Bricknell was invaluable throughout, tirelessly assisting the production with everything from yo-yoing up and down the mountain for battery swaps to flattening snow around the set. Josh Monie, Explore Impossible’s Director of Photography, worked the Arri Alexa Mini. The cinema camera was rigged on the Movi Pro gimbal for smooth tracking shots and outfitted with Zeiss’ latest iteration of CP3 Compact Primes. The focus was manned remotely by Bazaz, who often times headed down the slope ahead of the camera to dig out a hole to pull focus from.
Adam worked closely with Ellie (Crystal) throughout the week to ensure the core messaging was adhered to and that the brand’s personality was clearly communicated. A strong snowboarder, Adam lent his skill to choreographing the skiing scenes, often operating the 10kg rig himself at speeds of up to 40mph. Needless to say, Bazaz was never far behind with a towel and a copy of the insurance paperwork.
The key takeaway from this project was that flexibility and agility is absolutely crucial to any shoot taking place in an unpredictable environment like the mountains. Whilst mired by the poor weather, the team were able to capture the lion’s share of the prescribed shot list (supplemented by additional content from previous years’ filming) and a willingness to explore new ideas in the post-production stages enabled us to create a film that we are all proud to stand behind.
Here’s to another year on the mountain.