I know this is old news and has already been "covered" with some short blurbs and photos but I wanted to share what it was like to be a random skier and find yourself all of a sudden doing stunts in a hollywood movie for Vin Diesel and to answer all the random questions that I also wondered about with how it all works so I kept a journal and wrote this uncut version of what my time shooting was like. It's very long so none of the magazines really wanted to pick it up but I figured someone might find it entertaining and interesting. If you're on the fence about reading it I've cut it into short chapters so you can skip around and you can maybe read "The Big Day" first, its short and will give you an idea of what you're in for, there are also some hilarious video clips that show what I'm describing and you should at the very least watch for a good laugh.
I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT: Hollywood, jungle skiing and my experience as Vin Diesel's stuntman.
I was tired and sore, I had just finished playing an all day game of SLVSH, basically like a game of horse or skate, but with ski tricks instead of free-throws or kickflips against Jonah Williams. I got back to my car and checked my phone. I had a missed call from Karl Fostvedt. We had gotten to ski and film for a Traveling Circus episode in the beginning of the season but neither of us had seen each other since, I recalled a strange instagram post he had made the week before of himself holding skis in what looked like hawaii with a caption mentioning a crazy "project" that he was working on.
I gave him a call and he told me he was in Salt Lake and setting up an urban feature if I wanted to join, and also mentioned a strange filming opportunity. I didn't think I would make it down to the valley with enough time to session a feature with him before it got dark but I swung by anyway to watch. As always he was sessioning a creative and wild feature with a short in run and all the usual problems: not enough snow, winch issues and fading daylight. The sun set and they had tried it enough to be ready to session the rail the following morning. As I helped everyone pack the winch into the back of his truck he told me the story behind the tropical ski photo. A few years previous, Karl had been a part of an avant garde ski project produced by Sweet Grass films, the guys who made the Phillips commercial with a bunch of skiers skiing at night wearing super charged LED light suits. Sweet Grass is known for making really cool, never before thought of ideas, into reality. For this project the idea was simple. Make a ski video where it looks like the skiers are skiing through the jungle with no snow. It's the forest segment in their movie Valhalla and its a great piece. Karl, among other skiers jumping through lush green trees, tapping and spinning on branches with no snow anywhere in sight. Behind the scenes they had spent weeks trucking in snow from the melting glaciers of mt rainier to the lower forested slopes in the middle of the summer and carefully angled the shots to hide any snow they were actually skiing on.
The segment was so cool in fact that some hollywood producers had taken notice to it and thought it would be a perfect fit for a movie they were working on. The Sweet Grass production crew had been hired as consultants to recreate and oversee a similar segment for the opening of the trilogy for Vin Diesel's, action sports athlete turned Secret agent, film series called "XXX" (triple X). Even better Karl was going to be Vin's ski stunt double! I remembered the movies from when I was entering my teens; a sort of james bond on a skateboard type movie geared towards young wild kids. It all sounded too ridiculous to believe but even crazier, Karl was looking for someone to take his place. He described the week or two he had spent working on setting the scenes up in the Dominican Republic, Dangling from a wired harness over cliffs and skiing down couloirs made of coral with no snow. It sounded a little sketchy but I still couldn't believe he wouldn't want to be a stunt double for Vin Diesel in a hollywood film. He then started telling me he still had a lot he wanted to accomplish that season and seemed very unsatisfied with how many shots he had produced for the season thus far and it all started to make sense. Winters are short when you're a professional skier trying to produce as much content as possible. He had already sunk a couple weeks into the movie, and didn't want to waste anymore of his valuable time on it. I understood, I was having my first week back home after doing 3 10 day trips back to back to back and after a day at home I was already back filming with the SLVSH guys for another video.
Filming with the SLVSH crew the day before flying to the D.R.
Time is precious as a skier. However my season had been very busy and one of the more successful ones I'd had up to that point. I was sitting very comfortably on the shots I had and told him if he was looking for a replacement, I was the guy! He told me he'd pass along my info to the sweet grass guys and I could go from there. I didn't really expect much but sure enough, not even 48 hours later I was sitting first class, trying to figure out how to make my seat turn into a bed while sipping on a rum and coke. They had booked my ticket in a hurry as they needed a skier down in the Dominican Republic to help oversee the building and scouting of the Lines that would be skied. They booked the earliest flight I was willing to get on and it got in at midnight. Even after flying first class, I was pretty tired, having woken up at 5 am for my flight, and after exiting customs I realized I knew very little about what I was doing and who I was meeting. Thankfully there was a driver with a sign with my name on it when I exited the airport and I hopped into his old car with him, ski bag sticking out the back of the trunk. I love traveling to spanish speaking countries because I get to practice my spanish. The driver explained to me in spanish that it was a two hour drive and that I could doze off if I wanted to but I was already beginning to get excited again and instead practiced my spanish with him. We talked about his kids and family and the DR and what areas I should visit when I finished working. By the time 230 am rolled around I had exhausted my spanish and myself and was ready for a bed. We arrived at the small touristy town of cabarete around 3 am and to my surprise my driver had no idea where to go from here. I checked the one or two emails I had received and realized I had no information either. The driver had the name of a hotel but aparently it wasn't showing up or listed anywhere. We drove in circles for an hour asking night security guards if they knew the place and by 4 am my driver was tired too. He eventually dropped me off at a dark hostel and told me it was the place. He helped me get my bags out and took off. I walked through the front gate into the court yard and knew immediately, this was not the place. There was no one around and I had 60 lbs of ski gear and a surfboard. I didn't know the internet password so I decided I would sit and wait until the hostel opened in the morning and ask for the WIFI password. At about 5 am it began to pour rain and I ran for the cover of an awning. I knew at this point that I would not be getting any sleep tonight and after 24 hours of straight travel decided I had had enough and began attempting to guess the WIFI password. I got lucky and guessed it, the name of the town and 2016. I was in a foreign country alone in the dark in the pouring ran, I immediately emailed everyone whose contact info I had, then I sat and waited as the horizon began to lighten and the rain continued to pour.
At about 6:15 am I began getting messages from every last person freaking out and by 6:30 I was being picked up and brought to my hotel. After dropping my bags I was brought to breakfast where I downed coffee after coffee and some eggs. I began to feel bad that I mass emailed everyone just because I got left for a few hours out in front of the random hostel however I would later find out that productions take things like this very seriously and they were extremely embarrassed that I was left out overnight. I became semi famous throughout the departments as the guy who slept on a bench all night my first night and I even heard someone might have gotten fired over it which only made me feel worse. The first person I met was Tim, one of the second A.D.'s or assissant directors. There's a sharp learning curve to the hollywood hierarchy of jobs and there are a million departments within it. There's Props and special effects and visual effects and camera crews, stunts, wardrobe, an art department and so on. The AD's however are the glue that holds it all together. They figure out every little problem that anyone might have, lots of bitch work, and always with a smile on their faces. We joked that they all must do lots of cocaine as they consistently slept no more than 3 hours a night. Tim told me I could go back to my room and sleep if I wanted to for the day but after a couple of coffees I said screw it and that I'd just sleep well that night. I finished my breakfast and hung out waiting to go. There were lots of different people around me, all so casually going about their morning routines while I sat there, nervous and excited. Thankfully a friendly face introduced himself to me and sat down next to me. It was Mike, The head guy from sweet grass productions whom I had exchanged an email or two with. He immediately began talking about skiing and what exactly it was we were supposed to be doing down here and I was quickly relieved to be in the company of someone who spoke and understood the language of skiing. If there was one person who I'd have to credit with making this scene workout, it would be Mike. The endless emails, department coordinating (arguing), and weeks of setup that he accomplished was, in my experience, completely unprecedented. We hopped on a bus and Mike showed me endless drawings of locations that had been scouted for different shots and the ideas behind each shot. Production wanted a few different things and provided general ideas of what they thought they wanted. Mike then took what they were telling him and translated it into what that might be in the ski world. An "olympic level trick" became a simple cork 7; fast downhill ski shots became a rock couloir; an 80 foot cliff drop became a wires stunt for the stunt department to figure out.
We spent the day driving around with the entire crew to the different locations discussing possibilities for dirt bike scenes and different actions scenes and then came up to one of the ski locations. I had remained up until this point at the back of the group keeping my mouth shut and listening. But suddenly the Director, Dan asked mike a question about the ski setup and the question was reflected to me. What were the possibilities at this location? We were standing in the middle of the jungle on a tropical island in the Caribbean so my obvious response was what are our limitations? Being a big movie production, I wasn't wildly surprised to be told that there were very few limitations and so I began operating on the assumption that we could build anything. I would learn over the next couple of weeks that there are always limitations, and that they can create grand problems as I would be one of the people tasked with dealing with them. However at the time, I was excited and overzealous, and threw out promises of huge gap jumps and tree stalls, all on the assumption that I had limitless resources mind you. My part was over for the day and after a few more locations I was brought home for a long night of sleep.
I woke up early the next day feeling ready to go. I hadn't figured out how all the free shuttles for production staff worked yet so I ran the mile down the beach to breakfast and pickup. The DR is a beautiful island and the beaches are endless. I found out at breakfast that I would be spending the day with the rigging crew at the site in the town of Abreau. Riggers are the guys who setup any techincal structures, like the ropes you need to dangle from a 150 ft crane over an 80 ft cliff to suspend and drop a stunt man from. I found myself sitting around most of the day trying to help out where I could as the crew went about setting up the winch and truss system. By mid afternoon I was itching to get to try out this crazy contraption and get the jitters out. Doing this for a living, none of the crew was the least bit worried and were encouraging that this would be easy.
Then someone realized I hadn't signed any of the half dozen contracts that were required before they could dangle me like a bag of meat out off of the cliffs and so following lunch a representative of the studio came out and went through all the paper work with me. After signing a beneficiary (who my money should go to if i died) among other forms, I saw the hollywood paycheck amount that I would be getting paid a day and was blown away by how how much I was getting paid to, by this point, do nothing. After the papers were signed I was thrown in an extra harness they had, apparently James Franco's from the Oz movie, and swung out over the cliffs. As soon as I was out on the wires any nerves I had faded and I immediately began to worry about my performance. In this scene I was being lowered and dragged simultaneously down a two tier cliff in a way that was supposed to look like I was dropping the two consecutive cliffs and skiing along the way. We did a few takes and it felt incredibly awkward and unnatural but the crew assured me it would be fine. After gearing down however I was able to watch a few iphone clips and was horrified by how bad it looked. No one else was worried however and it was merely a test day so we headed home. I realized that working with non skiers, they had no idea what they were seeing and took it upon myself to ensure that any "faked" scenes like this would come out looking respectable; a task I would later realize was impossible and honestly not a concern of anyone else as i was told this movie wasn't for skiers, but was instead for the general audience.
The next day was a sunday and I was given the day off. I slept in and woke up to find that I was covered in an intense rash on my legs and arms. It was incredibly itchy and weeped constantly. It puffed my skin out and would prove to be torturous for not only the duration of my stay in the caribbean, but also for the week or two following. About a week later I recieved an email along with the rest of the crew to look out for a particular plant that grew all over the place at abreau, and not to touch it as it was similar to poison ivy. The plant looked strangely familiar to the ones that grew on the cliffs that I was repeatedly lowered over time and time again. Even worse however was the fatal mistake I made of "adjusting" myself beneath my shorts to ensure that nothing was going to catch under the leg straps of the snug harness, with my bare hands after the first couple of practice runs. The plant oils were conveniently transferred from my hands to between my legs and the worst had happened. Thankfully I was given a week's worth of per diem which would have been enough to buy a nice dinner in new york city each night, much less the DR and I spent half a day's allowance of cash buying out the local pharmacy with every anti itch and rash creme they had for my now incredibly sensitive crotch.
After making myself as comfortable as possible I spent the rest of my day off exploring a local reef bottomed surf break. I had been told the surf was half decent and flying first class, decided to bring my surfboard down. I haled a guy on a motorcycle and caught a ride to the break for a dollar. The waves were the messiest I had ever seen breaking on something as rigid and consistent as reef. The last trip I surfed reef on was the previous summer in bali. On one of the first days of the trip I went out at low tide and I ended up going head first into the bottom, leaving me with huge, bloodied scrapes down my shoulder and a long gash in my head that would end up needing 5 stitches. While I wasn't deterred that trip and ended up surfing with a goofy looking swim cap just 2 days later, stitches still fresh, I decided that I shouldn't be risking this great opportunity on blown out sketchy waves and headed home.
By this time I had kind of found my place and figured out how the different little communities worked. The rigging and stunts crew was my clique while I was working but any days that I found myself with Mike and the rest of the Sweet Grass productions crew I felt like I was truly among friends and I could be myself. I had also started hanging out with the two kids who had been hired to do the stunts for the longboarding scene.
Brandon was younger and had that fire of an up and comer who is super passionate about what they do. I could see a little of my younger self in him. Mike was a couple years older but still much younger than me as well and was laid back and just seemed happy to be in the DR. Mike later told me that the studio had found him through one of his older skate videos and that he didn't even skate that much anymore but they were paying too well to say no. I found this hilarious but was reminded of how hard even the relaxed athletes go in any of these sports, one night as the two took turns skitching behind a rented motorcycle at around 50 mph to get home, all with a solid buzz from the beers we had with our pizza, and on sketchy half paved DR roads in the middle of the night. Neither flinched and I remembered why we had been chosen to come down here.
I spent most of the following week bouncing back and forth between a couple of different sites but found myself going to the site known as magante with sweetgrass films mike the most often. Nothing had been built yet and we had planned a series of jumps and runs through various patches of jungle. Mike and I had both shot or skied enough grass runs while spring skiing to know that if the pitch was steep enough our skis would cruise down the mountainside. Our main concern was getting enough speed to hit jumps; jumps that were big enough to throw inverted tricks on.
How Do You Ski in the Jungle?!
We decided that for all the jumps to work, it all came down to sliding materials, basically something slick, other than snow, that would get us going. We gathered a team of local construction workers and began overseeing the building of a test jump. We rationalized that if we built a big jump in the middle of a field and found a material that was frictionless enough for us to do tricks over it, than we could apply it to anything else we might build. Construction was slow however and we were unfamiliar with how long and convoluted the hollywood process was. There were different departments to coordinate with for getting materials and allocating workers for different tasks. We'd often have conversations with two different department heads, one after the other in which we'd be told entirely contradictory information regarding resources. At one point we ordered 100 yards of outdoor carpeting to act as a frictionless material to slide on. Astro turf comes in many different lengths, think golf and the difference between the putting green, the fairway and the longer grass lining the sides. there had been a confusion in the length we wanted the blades or bristles of the artificial grass to be. I had been given two different swatches of the carpet and chose the shorter of the two, apparently this guy had been told "the shortest" and had gone to great lengths to accomplish his given task. However he delivered, basically a green carpet to us with hardly any grass bristles at all and I told him it was wrong, and that our skis wouldnt slide on it. A long heated argument ensued to the point in which he declared "I talked to the skier himself and this is what he wanted" at which point we explained that I was in fact the skier he spoke of and we had never met before.
It would turn out, however that not only would this order of turf not get us going fast enough but none of the other orders we made would work either. Thankfully we were able to recycle all of the turf and use it as a landing material for all of the ramps. It wasn't snow but we could hold an edge and it actually would help slow us down after jumping and landing not to mention it was green and blended well with the jungle foliage. After days of trying to tow in on our test ramp with no success we decided we needed snowflex. It was the material used on aerialist ramps at summer olympic training facilities. I was very familiar with "water ramps" as the jumps into a large pool are known. I spent a summer in my late teens working at the Utah Olympic park coaching young freestyle skiers on their jump tricks. There was a steep hillside covered with a straight run way of snowflex material into a wooden ramp also covered in the snowflex all leading into an enormous pool. A sprinkler system was installed along the run and between the water and the hard firm plastic bristles that the skis would run on, a skier could get quite a bit of speed coming down the hill, more than enough to pull off any of the basic tricks they requested for this shoot. However our "unlimited resources" hit a hard ceiling when we requested snowflex to the crew. The cost would apparently be over 50,000 dollars for all the snowflex we were requesting and then it would have to be transported by cargo plane and delivered to the set. It wasn't going to happen. We were stumped but still open to ideas. Lots of money had already been wasted on failed materials and we were running out of time. Zach, another one of the head guys at sweet grass had brought down his friend Paul, an expert carpenter, who had already begun building the real jumps for the scene along with the crew but without something to lay over top of the ramps we were never going to make it off of any of them, much less our test ramp. The head stunt cooridnator scott then suggested a product called hydrogel that no one had seemed to have heard of before but suprisingly enough, being a skier from the east where summers are long, I had. A friend of mine’s Dad had suggested it as a sliding material. Aside from being white and looking like snow, it really had nothing to do with snow and my buddy, who happened to be Will Wesson, had always shrugged off his dad's suggestion to try it at as an alternative to allow us to hit rails in the summer without snow. With no other forseeable options we hesitantly gave it a shot. Hydrogel is basically an eco friendly product that comes in a dry pellet form. Its used for agricultutural purposes in arid regions where the soil can't hold moisture very well. The pellets are sprinkled around the base of a plant and mixed into the soil. After water is applied the pellets swell up absorbing all of the water transforming into what looks like soft pieces of hail or dipping dots. After some initial tests on a steep slope we deemed it effective and ordered a truck load. Once again however we fell victim to the grape vine of communication and were delivered buckets upon buckets of another brand of hydrogel that consisted of a jelly like material that I'm sure was just as effective at retaining moisture for plants, but looked nothing like the pellets we had used to test speed. It created suction on the bases of our skis and was even slower than without anything at all. Before we went on to order more of the proper hydrogel we decided to take our initial test of skiing down a hill on hydrogel one step further and put what we had left of the good stuff on the ramp and inrun for our test jump in the field. While it was slick enough to get us going on a steep slope, we soon found that on a big ramp with a flat in run, it got us no where near the roughly 25 mph or so we needed to clear the jump and we were yet again out of ideas and running out of time.
Setting Up Scene 1 & Calling for Backup
While there was still a little over ten days before we had to be shooting the jump scenes, a pivotal ski scene in a town known as navarette was supposed to be getting shot in less than a week. The set locations, unfortunately, were hours away and I was unable to oversee construction and building in both places in the same day. Mike decided we needed more help. Friction had been developing between us and scott, the head stunt coordinator, for a number of reasons, so he called in another stunt man/cooridnator and mike told me to find another skier who knew what they were doing and could help us oversee builds at multiple sites on the same day. I sent some pretty hilarious emails explaining the situation to a few different skiers who I thought would be up for the challenge and Sandy Boville bit. I'd skied with him quite a lot filming with level 1 and I knew he was well versed in many different types of skiing and would be level headed enough to deal with the mayhem. Thankfully Cody townsend, one of the original guys chosen to ski for the scene was also arriving as well. He had been unable to arrive sooner as he was busy shooting real skiing up until this point. I had only met Cody in passing once before but didn't really know him, though I knew who he was. Cody's a big mountain skier, one of the best there is, and would be a huge asset when it came to skiing less than ideal conditions.
With those two on the way, my focus shifted for the next couple of days to the town of navarette. This was to be the final shot of the ski scene. Vin would emerge from the jungle to slide a rail on the roof of a tin house, then ski a pillow drop off of adjacent tin roofs down a hillside landing on a roof at the bottom, where he would clip out of his skis and run off into the village for the next scene. Without the transitional shot. none of the skiing scene would make sense (assuming that skiing in the jungle could ever make sense) so it was very important. This is where I really began working with the newly arrived stuntman Todd Schneider, our biggest help and friend of any of the guys that did this stuff for a living. Todd it turned out was from Vermont as well and had been on the US ski team when he was younger. He was a hard worker but always the most happy and excited guy out there. We could tell he was thrilled to be getting to work on something relating to skiing again. Even better this guy really understood who we were and what we did. We kept calling him the liaison because he also was fully enveloped in the hollywood world now and was always looking out for us with issues, as ignorant skiers, we would never see coming. I worked side by side with Todd, along with the help of some of the other stuntmen, for most of that week building testing and setting up the intricate scene. It wasn't the best location but it was what the director wanted and we told him it was possible. We graded and cleared the hillside in the jungle above the houses for the couple of turns I would make before launching off a small cliff and onto the apex of the slanted tin roof. We discussed the angles and sharp turn I would have to make jumping from one roof to another with a large tree filling the space where I would have landed if I failed to make the mid roof-slide jump. I wasn't even confident that the skis would slide on a tin roof. There was no carpet or turf allowed for this scene. I would have to ski the 200 yard scene on grass and dirt and metal alone. Furthermore, information I took for granted as a freestyle skier went right over the heads of some of the guys in charge and a debate on whether we could build the rail out of aluminum ended abruptly with me finding an aluminum bar and sliding the steel edges of my ski along it, peeling the aluminum up like a strip of carrot with a vegetable peeler. I wasn't trying to question authority but I was here because I was an expert at this stuff and I didnt want to waste any more time. Thankfully all the stuntmen were incredibly hard working and not easily put off by the tiring discussions. I asked them endless questions as we worked. I was so fascinated by their occupation. While I had never considered it, I realized now it interested me greatly. I learned that most of these guys didnt have any formal "stuntman training". Mostly because it didnt exist when they started. I got to hear the many stories of walking past a set and jumping in and a director or stunt coordinator taking notice, or a friend of a friend asking for someone that knew how to ride a dirtbike to hop in. All of a sudden my skier made stuntman narrative didn't sound so out of place. I still didn't think I wanted to become a career stuntman but I passed the time pondering it as we worked. The hill was steep enough that the grass and dirt at this site was sliding, thankfully, and we had carefully placed the steel rail along the ridge of the roof that I would be grinding. There were numerous danger concerns and I felt very out of my element. The edges of the tin rooves were all razor sharp and though the construction team had come in and reinforced some of the houses that were being used, there were areas that remained unbraced. These weren't abandoned buildings in the middle of no where. These were actually peoples’ houses; many of which were made from nothing more than tin and branches no thicker than my arm; branches which alone would not support my weight. Pads and cardboard boxes were placed everywhere. Cardboard boxes I learned were one of the greatest assets to a stuntman, capable of safely breaking the fall of someone falling from heights of up to 100 feet. There would be no boxes or pads on shoot days however.
Early testing on the Navarette line
Testing continued slowly. The longboarding scenes were being shot at the same location and we'd often wake up at 8, drive a few hours to the set then wait for a few hours on the sidelines, safely out of the shot until filming ended just in time to break for lunch and make it back for enough time to build and test for a mere 2-3 hours before having to load back into the vans. There were a lot of deaths in the stunt business, including one for the making of the first triple X. Caution was the name of the game because of this and I wasn't allowed to move with skis on until I had approval. Ironically enough, however, with all the precautions the stunt crews insisted upon, we were vehemently told that come shoot days we couldn't wear our helmets despite the studio's planning on digitally removing our heads and placing Vin's on ours. Our retorts always remained that we understood but for them to keep in mind that while we were performing stunts for them in this movie, we were not career stuntman, we were professional skiers and had made it to where we were today, largely in part from wearing helmets and avoiding major injury. Conveniently enough, the woman in charge of the digital effects team later approached us and asked us if we were going to wear helmets. We explained to her that we would love to but were not going to be able to. "10 years ago digitally replacing a head cost half a million dollars, now we can do it for 20k. I also happen to be one of the producers of this movie and you guys are wearing helmets. You're young and you've got your whole lives ahead of you." she told us. Up until this point we had been very well respected on set but only in the sense that we had a very special skill set that no one else had. We were so flattered to have someone we didn't even know, tell us that our safety was more important than the film budget. Not only this, but being a producer, there was a solid chance that it was literally her money paying for it. (while you may be thinking to yourself that’s what all producers do! In fact many producers actually just find investors and don’t necessarily fund the movies themselves) With that little bit of invigoration we continued to test the scene in tiny little pieces. Just the rail. Just the first 2 turns. Just the second roof. Eventually we got to the point where I had skied every part of the run, but not as a whole. Our last test day before shooting I was supposed to get to try the whole thing. However Vin had flown in the night before and was supposed to be shooting in the morning so we had to wait for them to finish before we could practice. Apparently though, he had been sore from flying in and took the morning off, unannounced, to get a massage and the crew waited on set all morning for him to arrive. They ended up shooting in the afternoon so it all worked out but we were slighted our chance for me to try the run as a whole before the shoot day. Some of the stunt guys were reasonably pissed, but I had also heard that the ski scene was supposed to have been scrapped altogether from the movie until Vin himself went to the producers and said he wouldn't allow it. Say what you want, but we wouldn't have been there if it weren't for him so I wasn't worried and called it even. By this time Cody and Sandy were finally in the DR and ready to go. With the help of Sweet Grass Mike I was able to change my accomodations from my out of town retreat to one of the main hotels right on the main strip. I shared an enormous condo type room with Cody and Max, another one of the rad sweet grass films guys. The condo had everything with all stone floors, a large patio overlooking the ocean with steps right down to the beach, huge glass windows and my own big room with A/C and wireless internet.
I felt pampered to say the least though I took this job very seriously and maintained a healthy amount of anxiety about my responsibilities. While Cody and Sandy had been to navarette and seen the set for the upcoming first shoot day, they both decided they would continue working on the other sites and let me do the stunt work for the first day as it was a little gnarly and they hadn't arrived in time to get to test everything little by little like I had. We finalized the finishing touches on set the night before shooting and we didn't get back from working until around 8 pm. I had to be on set at 5:30 am to begin getting my prosthetic muscle suit, make up and hair done and with the two hour commute I was looking at a 3am wake up. Being a new member to the Screen Actors Guild, I was entitled to a bunch of benefits however, one being that you have to have at least 12 hours off between shifts otherwise its a "force call" and you get a bonus of sorts, equal to about what I made in 2-3 weeks at my summer job last year tacked on to the already ridiculous pay. After learning this i had no qualms with my 3 am wake up to say the least, I was going to be entirely alone this morning which made me nervous. I bought a small box of snacks at the grocery store for the shoot day and tried unsuccessfully, to get to sleep early.
The Big Day
After a few restless hours of sleep my alarm went off and I rolled out of bed, grabbed my skis and bag and headed out to the curbside where my van driver was waiting. I tried my best to sleep on the two hour drive but the driver seemed to be having trouble staying awake as well and was blasting hispanic music over the radio. We arrived a little early and I found myself standing alone in the dark on a dirt road in the middle of some farm land, lined with a row of trailers. The generators were off and there was no one around. It was hot during the days in the DR but I hadn't dressed warm and a mixture of nerves and breeze instilled a deep chill in me which I tried to enjoy as I knew in a few short hours I would be begging for such cold. After about a half an hour standing alone in the dark the prosthetic crew showed up and I eagerly followed them into their trailer to escape the cold. Moments later the generators kicked on and the A/C began to blast. Thankfully, the latex prosthetic muscle suit was quite warm and felt like a thick wetsuit. So warm in fact that the night before I was given a cooling system that I would wear under the suit. Unfortunately the lady in wardrobe had forgotten to leave it out for me and it was locked in her trailer still. We couldnt wait though so I would have to suit up without it so that the prosthetics team could begin applying the tattoos to my fake arms. The two hour process couldn't be avoided as the suit requires the resistance of the wearers actual arms inside the suit while the tattoos are applied. The crew lubed the arms of my spandex longsleeve up with KY jelly to ease slipping it on and then went to work on me as I stood there nervous, tired, cold, and kind of having to poop. I tried to make small talk with the two guys in charge making me look like a steroid version of myself as I stood there uncomfortably. They told me my suit was worth about 4,000 dollars which scared me a little. They then told me about a suit they had made for another movie in hong kong that was half a million dollars. It was for a skinny super star actor who was playing the role of a body builder for the entire movie. It was a full body suit complete with pneumatic pumps to make the fake muscle suit flex when needed. He spent so much time in it that not only did he have a cooling system installed, but even a pee bladder so he could make it through a full shoot day without taking it off. Thankfully my muscle suit was only from the waist up. Finally, after a couple of hours, we heard a knock at the door and the AD shouted in "we need him at hair and make up if we're going to have him on set in time!" They applied the finishing touches and sent me on my way. Between the lack of sleep and endless standing, my legs were so stiff at this point I had trouble bending over to grab my bag much less ski across tin rooves in the jungle. I opened the door of the trailer and immediately cocked my head to the side fleetingly. The last I had seen, it was a clear chilly night, but it was now incredibly bright and the temperature was climbing quickly. I hurried into hair and make up, where moments later a bic’ed clean bald version of myself stared back in the mirror, looking ever more like Vin himself. They then sent me to wardrobe as the AD hurried each and every person working on me. They were ready for me on set and I was still getting dressed. I put on my white capris pants and tribal printed cut off t shirt and headed up to set. I was handed a box of random breakfast that smelled unappealing to my already uneasy stomach and my snack box I had brought along was already proving to be a lifesaver. I munched down some granola bars and was feeling as ready I could be.
We pulled up and our once quiet, unoccupied corner of the set where we had been setting up, was now completely transformed. The greens department as well as the art and construction department had gone to town on the set over night and you really couldnt tell that there was a ski run down through the jungle and across the many villagers roofs. However lining the left side of the run, behind the many small crews of camera men stood dozens of people in charge of everything from lighting to special effects. Large camera cranes and cables ran down along my run. There were small teams of two fanning "ambience fog" along the hillside. altogether there must have been close to 100 people all doing their individual jobs and ready to go. Todd had rushed home for the weekend because of the passing of a family member so another stuntman Chris had taken over for the time being as my stunt coordinator to coach me through everything. As I got out of the van I saw chris but before he could even get to me people from the props department were rigging me up with different little details like headphones, gloves, and a backpack. He shouldered his way through the madness and his light hearted smile from the day before had faded into a serious, focused look as he tried to read me. "Are you good? how you feelin? just try to relax alright." I hadn't really thought about it too much but had been feeling alright. His new demeanor however brought me pause and a moment of introspection. I looked again at all the people hurrying around; I could see Vin Diesel further down the road discussing something with a crew member. Then a helicopter flew by over head followed shortly by a large drone helicopter and i spun back to Chris. "I'm good" I told him as the nerves began to well up inside me. I had never especially excelled at competing in skiing historically in my career. I had won my fair share of contests and had competed in a lot of the major events such as world cups and Dew Tour with the very best in the sport but my forte had always been in filming. It was more natural for me and just where I felt the most in my element. This is one of the reasons however that I mustered such drive to compete as a skier because I gravitated to the areas that I knew there was the most room for improvement. I was enamored with the disciplines that were the most difficult for me. As I hiked the hillside past all of the crew members, all staring at me I felt very out of my element and though this was technically "filming", the pressure felt much closer to what I remembered of competing. I had been hoping to wax the rail myself that morning and lay the palm fronses that I would ski across exactly how I liked them but there was no time this morning and I went straight to the top of the run. They were in a rush and a lot of people seemed to be waiting on me. I clipped in and decided I was as ready as I would ever be. I gave them my ok to go and then I heard on the radio "20 minutes out". classic case of hurry up and wait. I remembered being in the starting gate at the dew tour being "on deck", next to drop. I would get so nervous that even after peeing that morning and again last run, just before I took my run I would always have to dart off into the woods for one last nervous dribble and I quickly took advantage of my 20 minute wait as I felt the same nervous sensation over take me once again. 30 minutes passed and now they were ready. I wanted to get a test hit on the feature but they said they might as well film the practice run so it felt like the real thing to me. The head AD Frank called quiet and I could hear him relaying to the different camera crews across the set, over the radio. I gave a nod that I was ready and he began the count. "cameras rolling! OK! 3, 2, 1 GO!" I dropped in and immediately jumped through a small gap in a line of trees and over the first camera crew landing on grass and leaves and initiated my first turn. I swung left around a tree then back right again. I thought I had a relatively good idea of my speed and threw my skis sideways just before coming to the small cliff ledge that I would air from onto the rooftop rail. however stopping was harder than I expected on grass and dirt and I skidded off and over the ledge landing in the dirt. next to the house, taking a small sony camera used as a peripheral angle along with me. My white pants were filthy but I was fine and was feeling more ready to try the real thing. Everyone seemed terrified however that I had gone over the edge and were freaking out. Wardrobe ran over without saying a word to me and began painting my ass with wet white paint to cover the dirt stains. Chris ran over and asked me if I was alright. I was fine I told him and we walked back up to the top. Another 20 minutes passed and it was time to go again. Frank called action and I dropped in once again. This was the real thing. I gapped through the trees, turned left then back right around the big tree and pointed it for the roof but I had ditched too much speed and my straight lining wasn't going to be enough on this dirt to accelerate enough to make it across the roof. I slid half of the rail slowly and unimpressively and hopped off onto the side of the roof awkwardly. Everyone continued to stare at me and as I unclipped and hopped off the roof. People fall in skiing; when I'm filming I'll hit a rail literally 100 times before getting the shot I want. We had built this setup as best we could to ensure the maximum number of completions but I was going to have some bails. Did these people know that? I hiked up again and came up too slow once again bailing onto the flimsy side of the tin roof. 0 for 3. Though no one was saying anything to me I could feel their eyes staring at me and my insecurity began to get the better of me. Were they wondering whether I was going to be able to do this at all? I imagined someone asking "where did we get this guy?" Chris came over and just told me to stay calm but his eyes seemed to say "please land it this time". Even though I had only had 3 attempts on the run it had already been a couple of hours and I was dripping in sweat. My nervous pee streak was long gone as I was incredibly dehydrated and now had someone from make up patting my face dry before I dropped every run to keep the sweat out of my eyes. All I could think about was the 7,000 dollars a minute I was told it cost the studio on stunt days like today, and six figures that had been spent as I continued to flop on this feature. The upside about filming in skiing like I was used to was that I had as many hits as I needed but more importantly for me, I was able to drop in rapid fire to get into a rhythm so to speak and really start to feel the run, but here in the DR, I had to wait half an hour even for my "practice" hit and I was not feeling it. I decided this next hit I was not going to go too slow on the rail. We reset and I dropped in yet again. I made the turns and kept extra speed coming into the rail. I was flying, faster than I ever had in practice and I streaked across the rail and onto the backside of the roof. I was moving so fast however I couldn't jump to the right in time to make the gap to the next roof and slammed shoulder first painfully into the tree that lay in the gap. I was a little shaken but I was ok. For the first time I could see the bottom of the run and though I had failed yet again I was a little encouraged. Then I looked down and saw the gaping rip in my 4,000 dollar prosthetic suit right in the meat of my forearm. You could see my under armor sticking through and as Chris Ran over I held it up. "Lets not freak out" he radioed, "but tell Dan we might have a big problem." Dan came out of his monitor van. There was no one else that could do this stunt and we were running behind on time. He took a quick look at it however and said "its on his left side, I won't see it. If we do we'll just have to fix it in post production." Chris turned to me and I said "I'm sorry, I can do this." "you're the only one here that can," he said. "take your time and just be careful, we don't have a backup so don't stress about landing this quickly." we hiked back up and Dan radioed chris and chris relayed to me. They had gotten the upper half of the shot really well by this point. The scene was going to be chopped and screwed like crazy anyway so if it helped I could start just before the gap to roof if I wanted to. It would make gauging my speed onto the rail easier but by this point I felt like I knew my speed better from the top than from a random start point a few turns down and besides I really wanted to get the run top to bottom and so I declined. Chris reminded me this was about the shot and not me, and also that I had practiced the day before from the lower drop in spot and probably had a good idea of how fast I would need to go from there and so I finally agreed to start lower. I hadn't landed this run once and we had been out here for hours at this point. I was getting exhausted and I needed to try something different. The teams setup again as I waited and it was once again time to drop. They called action and I pushed off hard. I was going fast into the rail but not too fast. I hopped off the ledge with what I could already tell was the perfect amount of speed. I locked in and new right away I was making it to the end. I landed on the backside of the roof and then immediately hopped again hard to the right dodging the tree I had just impacted the run before. This was the furthest I had made it but I had no time to think as I crashed down onto the subsequent roof and off onto a small patch of dirt before dropping yet again; this time much further down coming to a stop on a crash pad that laid hidden on the roof at the bottom of the hill. I looked up and everyone was staring at me once again. I heard cut and the crowd immediately began clapping and cheering. I timidly waved my hand up in thanks and gave a "YIP!". I had done it and I was immediately overcome with a surge of confidence. I wasn't done however and after a quick pat on the back from Chris I was back at the top for another go. I dropped again from the lower start point and carrying more speed into the rail this time flying off the end onto the backside of the tin roof once again. I made the right hand hop again, however despite the added speed, I pinballed my way down the roofs like I was skiing the snowy pillow line it was intended to mimic. Again a cheer rang out and I hurried back up. This time crew members were patting me on the back and earnestly telling me how cool that was. I dropped again and again until I finally heard "cut, thats a wrap!" and I realized I was done. Chris came over as I climbed down from the bottom roof and had a huge grin on his face. "good job buddy!" he said. "Dan wants to see you!" From my little experience I didn't think it was too often that a director wanted to talk to a stunt man. I was working with 2nd unit which was in charge of action and stunts as opposed to 1st unit which was in charge of the main dialogue scenes, and Dan was the top dog of it all. He had started as a stuntman himself in his day and worked his way up as a coordinator and eventually 2nd unit director. He was a big, intimidating guy that knew what he was doing and had a wrap sheet to back it. He had directed the stunts and actions scenes in independence day, the spiderman movies and the bourne identity movies as well; all action, heavy, big production films. I walked around the side of the van he sat in, and peeked inside. He sat on the bench in the backseat staring at an array of monitors all playing back in slo motion all the different angles of my last run. "come have a seat" he said and slid over for me as people gathered around outside the van. There was so much going on I didnt know where to look. and he stopped me, saying "no no watch each individual shot all the way through, one at at time" and so I did. While I had landed the run a bunch of times I was still worried about my performance and style. Though no one else there had any idea how I was supposed to look I was worried for the sake of the ski community that I might look wacky, but to my pleasant surprise I was fairly well composed and did the shot justice from what I could tell. I conveyed my previous concerns to Dan and added " I know you guys don't care but I actually have pretty good style!" Dan turned and leaned out the Van laughing and shouted to some of his crew "ha! do you hear that? he said he likes his style" and continued laughing. I continued to drip sweat, though he seemed to care little and he told me I had done a good job and sent me on my way.
I had my head scanned with a type of radar gun for the digital 3D mapping and replacement of my head with Vin's. We ate lunch and then tried to head back to the trailers to get the prosthetics crew to take off my suit which was still keeping me deliriously hot, despite me being done hiking and skiing for the day. The crew had continued to shoot, however, and the road down to the bottom of the hill was blocked completely. Chris had worn a muscle suit for all of the stunts he had performed for toby mcguire in the spider man films however, and was an expert at taking them off and artfully helped me remove my suit so we could get the hell out of there for the day. I can't describe what it felt like to finally get that thing off, but as a skier, it felt like taking your boots off after skiing all day but for your whole entire body. More than 12 hours after I had waken up it was barely mid afternoon and I was getting to head home. I hadn't even thought about pay yet as chris typed in a number on his phone and handed it to me. Stuntmen and women get bonuses on top of their regular pay at the stunt coordinators discretion depending on how dangerous and difficult the stunt played out. "what's this?" I asked. "how does that sound for you stunt adjustment for the day?" he said. I smiled and replied "are you serious?" He had told me how much money some of the more dangerous stunts that put peoples lives in real danger had earned and this was at least half of what he had quoted those at and I had never been in any mortal danger. Chris explained to me that there was no one else there that could have done that and that while it might not have been mortally dangerous, it required an incredibly unique skill set and so was important. After the flood of relief I had felt being done for the day, this was the cherry on top and I dozed off as we began our two hour drive back to my condo for the day
Snow in the Caribbean
While I had spent the last couple of days finalizing setup and shooting the navarette scene, Cody, Sandy, Mike and the rest of the sweet grass crew had been hard at work overseeing the construction of the jumps and ski lines through the jungle. Though the navarette scene was the final transitional scene, the jump shots and lines skied at migante and abreau would be the meat of the segment. Paul, the carpenter, along with his assistant, Peter, had a whole team of locals working under him now and they were nearing completion on a lot of the jumps but we had no way of testing them as the hydrogel had failed miserably. When I was in middle school we would make it through the long summers by heading to the local ice skating rink and setting up a track to ski and a rail using the ice shavings from the zamboni but the nearest ice rink on the island was 3 hours away and who knew how much snow they were producing. That's when someone came up with the idea of making our own ice shavings. Mike Wilson had used ice cubes as an inrun to slide a bridge railing and base jump off and while it looked sketchy it definitely provided him with the necessary speed and had worked. Then someone suggested getting a wood chipper to take it one step further. We debated the idea, someone citing the fact that wood chippers produce chips about the size of ice cubes and might not be effective in breaking them down. We were out of ideas though so we decided to give it a try. The next day we were back at our test ramp in the middle of the field and after waiting around all morning a large truck showed up with thousands of bags of ice cubes with a wood chipper in tow. We fired up the wood chipper and started tossing bags of ice into the entry having no idea what to expect. To our surprise, out spat beautiful slushy, spring conditions snow. We kept feeding the chipper ice cubes and it kept spitting snow. Smoke began to rise up out of the chipper however and after producing enough snow to build a snowman it stopped spitting snow and shut off. The chipper unfortunately fed the snow upwards and out rather than out the side or bottom and the melting water was dripping back into the machine and fusing the snow into big blocks of ice. It was no longer a question of whether we could make snow in the caribbean but rather how much we could make. We had no where near enough snow. We tried jamming shovels into the machine to break it up but it didn't seem to work. A worker flipped the machine back on and without saying a word, grabbed a hose and start spraying it down into the clogged up output. We weren't sure if water was going to ruin the wood chipper or not but no one stopped him. Then we heard a cracking and grinding sound and like the shot of a cannon a loud boom rang out and big chunks of ice shot 15 feet into the air and the machine came back to life. We all cheered and went right back to work. We had more than enough snow to test our ramp in about a half hours time but everyone was in full sprint trying to shovel the snow and gear up before it all melted. Fischer, from the rigging crew, hopped in a pickup truck to tow us into the jump and I headed back to the start of the inrun. He gunned it and the snow was as slick as ever and I could feel myself picking up speed. I released the tow handle popped hard and launched off the take off immediately spotting my landing. I had perfect speed and landed on the turf landing coming to a stop at the end of the landing ramp. It was perfect, incredibly fun and after two weeks in the caribbean I was actually getting to ski on snow again. Sandy, Cody, and I exchanged hit for hit, all cheering each other on as we took turns tossing backflips and 360s. We had a working model of a jump, the final big puzzle piece was in place and we knew everything we had built was going to work. Now it was time to do it.
We spent the next couple of days shoveling snow and testing the different jump features at the migante site. Some of the cooler features included a big trickable jump in the heart of the jungle with big overgrown trees in the background and a "Y" gap in a large tree with boxes as a landing. We tested the jungle jump first and it was amazing. Paul had built us a perfect jump and we were tossing cork 7's with an assortment of grabs as well as backflips and spins and we now knew we would be able to give the studio their “Olympic level trick”. We were so ski starved by this point it was hard to stop but Todd reminded us that it would all be for nothing if we hurt ourselves and we all took our last hits before calling it a wrap. The Following day we were back at Migante to set up the the “Y” gap in the tree. Picture a giant sling shot from when you were a kid, but the split in the Y is 15 feet off the ground and in the middle of the jungle, Paul had built us a thin but perfect wooden inrun ramp coming down the hillside in front of the tree and an enormous wooden ramp to shoot us up and through the branches. The hill continued to drop off on the backside and it looked like we would be dropping a little over 20 feet vertically. The real size of the gap however was horizontal. The jump was about 12 feet away from the tree and to carry enough speed to make it through we would most likely be traveling another 25 feet or so before landing on the other side. Traveling almost 50 feet and dropping 20 feet in the jungle was too much momentum to be trying to land on a ramp and it would have had to be a massive landing ramp so the studio ok’ed us to use boxes to land in and they would rely on a cut in the shot before we landed in them. Though we had set them up we hadn’t landed in boxes yet and especially not at 30 mph and falling from 20 feet so we were a little bit nervous. We didn’t know how exactly how far we were going to travel after gapping through the tree so we made an enormous rectangle of double stacked boxes, kind of like a runway landing strip, it sure didn’t look like it would be as soft as powder or water or foam but we trusted them. The crew wood chipped us some snow and after some meticulous shaping we had a thin runway of snow into our jump and were ready to go.
Cody, Sandy, and I agreed that I would guniea pig the jump, which meant I would be the one to test out the speed. I had thought of the gap in the tree so I was eager to hit it and prove that it would work. Knowing how fast to go to ensure I would make it high enough to pass through the gap in the tree but also not go so far that I missed the boxes landing however is not an easy thing to judge and would be a decision that we would all have to discuss heavily before agreeing on. Normally a skier would do a “speed check” in which they would drop into the ramp at the speed they thought would be right for the gap. A friend watched from the side trying to visualize where that speed would take them, the skier stopping abruptly just before taking off. However, the snow was so thin that trying this would be incredibly dangerous and it would be near impossible to stop at that speed on the ramp so we debated purely from walking around in circles eyeing up the gap from every which angle. Because of our how unsure we were we had made the landing area extend to close to 100 feet from where the jump was. Estimating that the “sweet spot” of the landing would put us at about 50 feet total from where we took off we felt this was a reasonable margin and finally agreed upon a spot on the hill that would provide me with what we thought would be the right speed.
Throughout the sometimes frustrating discussions with the stunt crew or with each other we noticed that a lot of times our job felt like it was just to shut up and do what were were told, often putting our own lives on the line. In the ski world since the skier is taking all the risk they always have the final say and no one can argue with that but we were being paid quite a bit here and although safety was everyone’s main concern, some issues we often saw as skiers were unknown to others and discredited. This hierarchical chain of command reminded us of monkey’s being shot out of a cannon at the circus [if they even actually do that] and we would often break up long futile arguments with “PUT THE MONKEY IN THE CANNON!” meaning everyone just shut up, if you don’t believe us we’ll do as we’re told and show you the dangers. As I clipped in Todd was worried about my speed being too much but we figured it would be impossible to go too big on the gap and as he counted me down to drop in Cody Yelled “THE MONKEY IS IN THE CANNON”. None of us really knew how big I was going to go and as I began picking up speed I shouted “Oh MAN!” The last thing I heard before coming off the jump was Sandy shouting “you’re good!” meaning my speed looked about right and as I neared the tree in the air I could tell I would easily make it through the gap in the tree. Still mid air my attention turned now from the tight space between the branches that I had just squeezed between to the landing area of the boxes but instead of beginning to drop I realized I was still going up. I hit my apex as I was already over the beginning of the landing and boxes were passing me by quickly. The end of the boxes was coming up quick as I finally began to drop and less than 15 feet from the end of the boxes I let out a “HOLY SH..!” as I plummeted into them. I was below the surface of the boxes and couldn’t see anything or move but I could hear Todd Shouting “are you alright!?” I began fighting to get myself free as I confirmed and slowly clawed my way out. I had gone way too fast and had cleared most of the boxes but thanks to our [Todd’s] careful extra safe margin for error, had gotten out unscathed. Sandy and Cody, laughing after they knew I was alright raced up began putting in hits on the gap finding the sweet spot right away, starting a little bit lower on the inrun and making it look easy. Cody Tossed an epic superman Frontflip through the gap and over the tree, Basically diving head first through the gap like he was diving into water then tucking up and completing the flip just before landing perfectly in the boxes, standing up despite sinking in and on that Todd called it a wrap on practice for the day and we again headed home.
Thanks to the Screen Actors Guild we got paid overtime for everything and if we worked 7 straight days they had to pay us double on that day and 1.5x on the 6th. As I had just worked 6 straight days and they didn’t want to pay me for a 7th they had me take a day off and kept Cody and Sandy on for the following day. We had began adjusting pretty well to our home life in Cabarete and although we had been working our butts off during the day it was awesome to come home to a mansion with a marble patio that was right on the beach, complete with our own personal guard at the gate. Although we hadn’t gotten to enjoy it much, the beaches and town were beautiful and the local economy was definitely being strengthened by the growing tourism in the area. There were restuarants up and down the beach and we would walk to them barefoot every night. Having the following day off I had a few extra corona’s with the boys and stayed out to a respectable 11:30 pm before having to sneak away for some much needed sleep. It wouldn’t last long however because for the weeks that I had been down in the DR, I had only had one day off so far and as much as I needed some sleep, I needed some surf much more and was out the door by 7 am sharp the following morning to try to get some clean waves before the trade winds picked up and blew it out as it always did in the late morning and afternoon. What had previously been messy and heaving waves was now the clean predictable waves I had come to associate with surfing a reef break and though my beat up old board was missing a fin I had no problem paddling out and putting it on rail for some amateur, but incredibly satisfying turns. The water was the crystal clear bright turquoise that I had come to love in the Caribbean and the crowd was a mix of similarly skilled locals and Americans come specifically for a surf trip. The vibe was light and my arms were weak from long winter months of no paddling. I found a long gentle churning right, breaking down from the middle peak that most of the others were surfing and worked my back hand, making sluggish turns in the weak but clean waves. The water was glassy smooth and though the waves were small I was rusty and it felt like skiing powder after a small storm, that inexplicable sensation of floating on nothing. By 11 am I was starving and could barely lift my arms to paddle in. I dug up my sandals and the couple of dollars I had stashed in the sand and hailed a motorcycle home for a big lunch and an afternoon nap.
The Final Setup
The following day it was back to work and mike filled me in on what the boys had accomplished while I was off. Sandy had tested the tree wallride that had been setup at Migante and Cody had cleared and tested some steep runs that he would be skiing on the shoot days. With All of the shots at Migante looking fairly ready to go we headed back to Abreau to finish building and setting up the scenes there. While Migante was lots of jumps and tricks, Abreau was steep with lots of fast paced turning shots, the kind of stuff Cody excelled at and so he took point as we cut, cleared, raked, and smoothed the many steep slits in the Coral cliffs that he would ski down. The coral was so sharp on our bases that if we merely road over an exposed piece it could stop us dead in our tracks and send us head over heels down the rest of the face so we were extra careful to haul dirt and leaves over every spot he would turn. We also finished setting up a couple of boulder/rock wall rides that we would also be hitting. One covered thickly with vine like roots that would make for an incredible shot as we would essentially be skiing across the roots sideways. The work was tough and it was hot as always but we had hit our stride and things were shaping up and with the exception of a run in with a bee hive, we hadn’t had much difficulty. Within a couple of days the runs and wall rides were built and looking ready to go. We had two more shoot days planned, the first at Migante on all of the jumps and gaps and the second, the very next day at abreau beginning with the wires followed by Cody’s lines and then finally the wallrides. There was a ton to get done over the course of those two days and we would have to do it not alone but with teams of people surrounding us helping piece it all together. Though Cody and Sandy hadn’t had a film day yet they were eager and as ready as ever as the shoot days approached and we managed to get the final touches on all of the sets and jumps just the day before it was time to go.
The Beginning of the End
It was the same, crazy early start on the first of the last 2 shoot days and Cody Sandy and I piled into a van as we needed to be on set the earliest to get into wardrobe at migante. This was the "trick" day, we'd be getting most of the jumping done as well as a tree wallride and one line that cody had cut in the jungle to ski. We all went to our respective trailers and waited for the wardrobe and makeup crews to call us one by one. Thankfully this time around wardrobe had made sure to leave my cooling vest out and I slipped it on before the muscle suit. Just as light was growing on the horizon Cody Sandy and I all met up, all of us in costume for the first time together and had a laugh at each other, Though we all looked impressively similar our different builds distinguished us, cody being the tall version, sandy the short and me the thick. We grabbed some breakfast, grabbed our gear and hopped in the back of a pickup truck to take us to the top of the hill. Though it was barely past dawn, the muscle suits were already getting warm and by the time the sun was out we were all getting to try out our cooling suits which I had so regretably been denied the first day. Suffice to say, they were lifesavers and felt like jumping into a swimming pool on a hot day when turned on. One of the wardrobe ladies would follow us around all day giving us water snacks and carrying the cooling pumps for us to plug into, basically she was mom.
Just as the first day, as we arrived all the crews were setup and seemed to be waiting for us. The stunt team had already begun laying the snow on the inrun for the "long jump", a smaller flatter jump we had build right next to the trick jump that had a sizeable gap to the landing and a bit of a step down. Though the jump was trickable, it was built for the purpose of getting a fast paced flying through the jungle type shot to supplement into the scene. The camera crews were ready and once we had the snow laid down and salted it was time to go.
Just as the first day it was hurry up and wait, and sandy who would be going first sat at the top of the inrun for nearly half an hour as the camera crews prepared for action. Since we had such thin inruns we again couldnt really speed check the jumps and relied on eyeing them up and guessing how much speed we'd need. Though this jump wasn't huge, coming up short on the gap would be disastrous and we decided a little faster would be better than a little slower. They finally called action, Sandy dropped and while he took it deep he was well within the right speed, he balled into a nice tuck mid air as trees wizzed by him and a dozen cameras and a hundred people watched. His feet met the transition, and less than a second later he slammed into the pads a the bottom, a clean air and a clean take, it was on. I dropped next taking a small step down from where sandy had started to compensate for my extra weight. Thankfully the crew was ready quicker this time around and after a short wait I pointed them straight and dropped. The inrun was a long smooth transition and felt like dropping into a giant mellow quarter pipe. I picked up speed quick as I launched from the flat take off i popped hard and looked down as the landing came into view and the gap stretched out in front of me, it's always bigger when you're in the moment but I could quickly see that my speed was dialed and I would clear the gap just right. I gave my best mid air tuck, extended to catch the tranny and then slam! right into the pads, another clean take. Not soon after Cody dropped with perhaps the best tuck of us all and the director was happy with it. Sandy Dropped once more for good measure and stomped yet again. They said they were happy with the shots they got unless we maybe wanted to try a small trick. none of us had tricked it and we had the shot but I thought a 360 should be easy enough and as it was my turn next, offered it up and they bit. Though I've done a million 3's before, I was fairly nervous for this one as it was in the jungle onto turf and leaves and I hadn't practiced one yet, much less done any 3's in the weeks since I had been down there. They called action and I dropped, pumping hard I was moving a little faster than my previous drop but my main concern was with the tree on the right side of the take off. For a straight air, it didn't matter but for a spin there was a small chance of setting the spin too early and hooking a tail on it and so i reminded myself to remain extra patient. I set the slightest bit of edge taking off to set my spin off of popped extra hard off the flat take off. As i began to spin I hesitated my tails the slightest bit to be safe though I was moving so fast I was easily clear of the tree. I reached down, grabbed critical then pushed through to spot my landing. edging to stop your rotation is definitely tougher on such a solid surface but the rotation was small enough that I mangaged to hold straight and slam into the pads.
The long jump was done and crews immediately began reallocating snow to the trick jump and setting up for the next shot, we plugged into our cooling vests and helped oversee snow placement on the inrun and jump for the next shot. Not long after we were setup and good to go. We all got a straight air in on the jump and though it was running a little slow, we were all clearing the gap and ready to throw down. Now, the way the hill laid, the landing had the slightest angle to the right of the jump and although taking off perfectly straight would put you on the landing, setting the lightest bit of edge to the right would put you on the perfect trajectory. Unfortunately for me, I'm much more comfortable carving my cork 7's... to the left, especially on such a skinny takeoff. On the practice day i had managed by utilizing every inch of the skinny inrun to point myself too far right, or as much as possible with a 3 foot wide track, then set my left edges to cancel out the turn and put me right back into the sweet spot. I just had to remember to point myself too far to the right every hit to ensure i evened out my angle everytime. Paul and Peter had built us a drop in ramp as an extra speed boost incase the long flat inrun wasn't enough to get us to the landing and as the already once recycled snow was getting slower and dirtier we already found ourselves wanting to drop from the very top. We had all taken a warm up straight and the crews were ready to go. This time I would be dropping first. While I had really wanted to do a blunt grab with my cork 7, because of the akwardness of the take off and the short hangtime I decided that a mute grab would be more consistent though less satisfying. The crews were ready and Assistant Director called action. I dropped in on the ramp, slowly picked up speed down the mellow inrun, and twenty feet before the take off I pointed for the right corner of the take off, then set the slightest bit of edge back to the left placing my tracks straight off the middle of the jump, I popped hard and the kicky transition of the jump through me well off axis. Upside down, jungle spinning around me. I reached down and tickled the mute grab but lacked the aggressive tweak that emphasized that I nailed the grab, and though I came around and stomped clean, it wasn't the hit I was looking for. Coincidentally the camera crews had guessed my trajectory wrong and I had gone too high out of frame anyway. Sandy Dropped next and laid down a beautiful Flat 3, floating it out and stomping clean. After another impressively quick reset, Cody followed with a laid out backflip and we all found ourselves hustling back to the top having way more fun than should be allowed when you're getting paid more than 150$ an hour. We could see the snow was slowing but we were already dropping as high as we could. With the help of the stunt team I was whipped in on my next hit and as I entered the transition of the jump I could tell it was going to put me huge and right to the sweet spot. I popped, set my rotation reached down and locked my fingers strongly on the edge of my ski, time to crank it! The jump wasn't the biggest and I didnt want to tweak my ski off so I cranked the mute grab hard then quickly swung my feet around just in time to stomp, turn, and slam into the pads, it was a clean take. Sandy dropped now trying his hand at a cork 7 and I could tell the awkwardness of the jump had changed his rotation a little as well, as he grabbed safety and pulled his feet back under him to land clean. Cody dropped another backflip and as quickly as we had begun the "money booter" was done.
The Final Cut
After breaking for lunch we shuttled back up onto the hill as crews setup to shoot Cody's line through the jungle. They really only needed one person to shoot the line and cody had it dialed in by this point. Sandy was still geared up however as they figured it wouldn't hurt to have a backup shot for the scene as well. Doing my best to peer through the trees from the top, I watched cody drop a half dozen times and though I couldn't see him at the bottom it sounded like it was going well. This might have been the strangest line he'd ever skied but it certainly wasn't the most difficult, not due to the run being mellow but rather because he’s skied some of the craziest lines ever skied. As they finished up shooting the jungle line sandy and I cruised down to the tree zones to make snow and begin setting up the y gap in the tree. By this point we were finally starting to feel like we knew what we were doing and though this was one of the more high consequence features of the day, the setup felt straight forward and by the time cody had finished shooting we were ready to go.
Although we had speed checked the jump days earlier, its always a little nerve wrecking on a new day with new snow and all the little inherent nuance that accompanies. Again I would drop first, which i was excited for because this felt like my feature. The crews were set and again I heard action, and dropped into my line. I came off the take off, popped hard, and easily squeezed between the huge arms of the tree a healthy 2-3 feet above the arch. As I began to drop, I drifted backward so I could "tub" the landing and sunk into boxes below. Unfortunately I was a little high in the arch and didnt feel as tight in the pocket as the director had hoped, It was also apparent that I was tilting backwards and wouldnt make for an obvious cut to a landing. Thankfully Sandy Dropped next, he popped hard and with perfect speed, tucked in with similar amplitude as I but with a much more convincing forward lean. He stomped and rolled forward into the boxes. The director liked what he saw. Cody dropped next putting his own style into the same air and director thought we were maybe good. After thinking about it for a second he decided he wanted one more take and Cody also offered to throw his frontflip through the gap but the director decided it would be too much. He just wanted one more straight air. Since It was my turn again I headed back up. Stepping down a couple feet to hopefully drop me tighter into the Y in the tree I heard action and dropped once more. I was moving slower than the previous hit I could already tell, I popped extra hard to compensate as I came off the lip and tucked as tightly as I could. I was definitely low and could tell i was just barely clearing over the arch. As I passed through I fought the urge to pitch backward and drove my shoulders forward envisioning a steep landing where the flat pile of boxes laid. My skis touched the boxes, almost tips first as I was leaned far forward and I almost instantly scorpioned , pitching face first into the boxes with my feet kicking up behind my head as I rolled violently and unnaturally forward. My skis had ejected and I searched for them in the pile before climbing out. I walked over to the monitor station where dan sat as the clip was being played back. Pop, low in the arch just clearing, good tuck, leaned forward a believable amount and into the boxes; thankfully very similar to sandy and cody's. "That was it!" he exclaimed, he smiled at me and called it a wrap, giving up his director seats for a few sweaty, dirty young men to sit for a few minutes before the final scene could be shot.
The last scene would be the tree jib. Kind of a steep hip jump with a tree stall in the middle of the air. It had a steep take off ramp facing the clean side of a big tree and pile of boxes on the adjacent side to drop into. Sandy had been the all star of the day hitting every feature that had been setup while Cody and I had alternated on a couple of the more specific features and although it had been a long day this feature was mostly his setup and it was on him to get after it. Sandy never seemed to have the nerves that I felt before dropping with so many people, lights and cameras around us and it showed in the confidence he carried as he dropped, pumped up through the transition, stalling the tree, and dropping into the boxes on the side of the tree. He didn’t really need anyone backing him up on this feature but I was too excited to pass up the chance when the crew asked me if I wanted to go up and take a couple of hits for myself. They reset and I dropped, The angles of the transition and tree and boxes landing were sharp and a little awkward and the stall on my first attempt was messy and misplaced on the tree. I climbed out and Sandy dropped a second time, going a little bigger and planting a textbook stall on the tree yet again. I got another attempt on the tree and anticipating the weird kinks and angles in the feature. I managed a much more respectable stall, though I could tell sandy’s were looking much better. The Director was happy with what we had gotten and sandy walked back up for one more hit then the director called a wrap on the day. This cued the whole crew in unison to begin clapping for a job well done and I couldn’t help but smile, this crazy adventure was actually working out. On the way out, Todd pulled me aside, and like the first day I had with Chris, he gave me a private run down of what my stunt adjustment would be. A specific amount is budgeted for him to give out at his discretion of how worthy our performance was. Knowing I wasn’t the star of the show that day I didn’t expect him to go crazy and I knew it would need to be split between the 3 of us. Although our conversation was private Cody, Sandy, and I quickly huddled up to hear who got what. Cody and I both got the same pay. Sandy, fairly enough, getting a sizeable bit more, the justification being that sandy skied on every feature that day, more than reasonable, but enough to envy regardless. By this point, I had been in the DR 3 full, weeks, more than twice as long as the other guys and had watched some of these features go from random ideas on a rainy first day in my head, to shots in a movie, and couldn’t help but feel a misplaced touch of seniority. I was here for the experience though and kept in mind that I, myself, was an alternate for Karl and was only here as a crazy matter of luck and coincidence in the first place. We would get no breaks between shoot days this time around and, as exhausted as we were, we had another early wake up call the following morning, thankfully we got to sleep in to 5 because the abreau site, like migante, was much closer to our condo in cabarete. After a much needed shower, a big dinner, and some corona’s I was unconscious before my head hit the pillow, and felt like my alarm clock was going off just as quickly as I rolled out of bed at 4:30 the next morning.
Final cut of the Y tree and Sandys tree stall
The Final Day
We caught our shuttle to Abreau and went into makeup and wardrobe. As the prosthetics team, lubed us up and began sliding us into our muscle suits, Todd talked game plan with us. This was the final day of shooting and we had a ton to get done. The day before had been pretty evenly split between us, though it was definitely the Sandy show that day. Since this location was less about jumping and more about actual skiing, it was looking like it was going to be Cody’s day today. The first couple hours of the day were set to be the wire shots that I had tested for Cody the first week, before he was able to make it down to the DR. After that there was a single wall ride along a vine covered tree and an array of lines that cody would have to ski; everything from a couple tight turns in the woods to an open face with multiple mini drops mid line that he would have to ski. Considering how long the 5 or so features we had shot the day before had taken, the amount of things we had to shoot today seemed daunting. Todd was a little worried about stretching cody too thin and because the lines were more demanding of his expertise, and I had already practiced all of the wire shots, Todd suggested Cody begin prepping for all of the lines while I go do the wire shots quickly. Todd knew what he was doing and it made sense so Cody agreed and I took off my muscle suit to put on the skin tight wire harness underneath. It seemed like no matter when things started we were always behind schedule and by the time I got to the top of the cliffs, where the shooting would take place, the teams of camera crews were already waiting. The first shot we had to get was a multi-stage cliff drop shot, basically a 15 ft drop onto a rock ledge then another drop off an 80 foot cliff where the wires stop me after the shot cuts while I’m in semi fre