It was 5:30 in the morning when I shut the alarm off and turned on the light. I had driven almost two hundred miles last night arriving after midnight to be able to film today. I had to unload all of the camera gear from the van, plug in the battery belt, make sure that all of the gear was properly laid out, working and ready to pack in my rucksack the next morning.
I shaved, brushed my teeth, put on my ski clothes, packed the rucksack with my Arriflex with a 12 to 120 zoom lens, and twenty, 100 foot rolls of Kodachrome, all while the oatmeal was cooking. Because it was going to be a long day, in the very bottom of the rucksack was a spare battery belt and with all of this camera gear, including the heavyweight wooden tripod, my rucksack weighed nearly 50 pounds.
I had previously made arrangements to meet four skiers who had taken the day off to make right and left turns for me. By 7:30 a.m., I was walking down the deserted street towards our meeting place. At 7:45 a.m., we were standing in line sipping hot tea and chewing on glazed doughnuts. I had arranged a priority to ride up with the Ski Patrol and we were at the top of the mountain by 8:15 a.m.
On the ride up on the chairlift, I got establishing shots of the mountains in and around the resort. I also made sure I went five chairs in front of my skiers so I could get off the chair and set up my tripod, mount the camera, and film the skiers as they got off of the lift. These were the days before helicopter skiing, and we had to make maximum usage of the sunny day.
It had snowed ten inches of delightful, goofer-feather, powder snow last night. Since there were no tracks, I concentrated on long shots where the skiers would make six, eight, or ten turns with each camera run or carve figure eights. They might appear as little dark dots carving great turns on the side of a back lit hill. I concentrated on shooting them skiing on west facing slopes, so that all of the shots would be backlit.
I was never sure how I would personally edit the sequence during the summer until I finished filming a resort.
By the time the chairlifts started bringing up paying customers at nine a.m., we had already filmed three runs and I had 200 feet of film, or five minutes, already shot.
Most skiers instinctively go where there are already tracks so we gradually moved around the back bowls of Vail, staying one open, untracked slope ahead of them.
I knew that this was going to be a truly epic day for my audiences to see in the fall. I had filmed great skiers, great snow, great scenery and I had a good story to tell about Vail in the early 1960s. My narration was simply, "Go West young man and get a hold of some of this land because they aren't going to make any more of it."
Everybody was very hungry at lunch and while they ate a deluxe lunch, I scurried around and filmed them: close-ups of pouring wine, close-ups of faces giggling and laughing and having a great time.
I ordered a sandwich to go, which I could eat as I rode up on the chairlift in the afternoon. So far, it was just a normal, labor-intensive and fun-filled day. The afternoon was spent filming on east facing slopes so the shots would continue to be backlit the same way the morning was.
I always planned in advance so I was at the top of the mountain when the lifts closed. I could get one extra run shooting in the late afternoon that way. We appropriately dubbed it the "Magic Hour."
We got so we was able to film a small ski resort in one long day. However, I didn't try this in the early days at Vail. When everyone was doing their après-ski trolling for a dinner date, I went back to my room, unloaded the exposed film, gathered up my interior lights and went to the local, hot ski bar/restaurant and set up to film the locals after ski activity. I only needed a couple of minutes of that type of stuff in my feature that year. So filming it only took about an hour and a half.
Then it was time to put on another hat, put the camera away, get out my feature ski film of that previous autumn and go over to the local theater and thread up the projector to show that film to the people at the resort.
Showing the film and sometimes just passing the hat provided enough working capital to buy the film and the gasoline to get to the next resort to film. Back then, I narrated each of these shows in person and played the musical score on my tape recorder.
When I filmed in Europe, I needed to line up an interpreter who could translate my live narration into the local language. Whether it was German, Swiss, French or Italian didn't matter because there were always good translators available. (One of my interpretors spoke German with a Texas accent because he had been a POW in a camp in west Texas during World War II.)
The trick was for me to narrate into the translator's ear so he could deliver my narration in his native language at the appropriate time during the film. In those days my voice was not on the film, but each show was narrated live.
There was another problem when we showed it in Europe. The electricity was 220 volts, 50 cycles, while in the U.S. it is 110 volts and 60 cycles. Because of that, my tape recorder ran approximately 10 percent slower than in the United States. While the translator was delivering his narration, I had to fast forward the musical tape to where it approximately matched the action on the screen. It took all the concentration I had left by nighttime.
By the time my resort shows were over, it was now at least 11 p.m., and I had to rewind the film, package it up, help put all the chairs back where they belong, and take the film and recorder back to my room. Once there, I checked and cleaned my camera gear, made sure that the lenses were all O.K. I would label and wrap up the boxes of film and get them ready for shipment back to the office in Hermosa Beach, Calif. the next morning.
With some luck, I would be in bed by midnight and most often, there was no time for dinner. Or it was in the form of some great Swiss cheese and French bread, with a little mayonnaise or mustard on it. I might have some peanut butter still stashed in my luggage and top it off with a glass of milk.
Days such as this would repeat the next day and the day after that, and everyday until the snow melted in the late spring. Each day of filming, each day of travel, presented a whole new set of problems to solve. I never really considered them as problems like I never once considered that I was working hard.
I didn't "work" because I enjoyed every minute of it. I can't remember every working a day in my life, particularly when I was running a camera those first 30 years, the fifties through the eighties. Then the business got so big that I didn't have time to sit in a ski resort for a week or so waiting for it to be sunny so there was a whole team of cameramen out there busting themselves like I had done. Thank goodness. I was tired.
I loved capturing images for my audiences, images that they had never seen before, and opening up new horizons, so they could expand their own freedom through the wonderful world of winter.
What a life!
(Copyright, 2009: WarrenMiller.net).
Click here for more information about Warren, his products and stories and be sure to join his friends on Facebook.