I Live For This Shit || LJ Strenio Stuntman


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.


Prologue


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.



https://www.instagram.com/p/BMe5d6gAJGH/?utm_source=ig_embed


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.



originally hoping to jump through 2 "Y Trees"

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