Interview: Burton Snowboards Director Tim Manning Gives a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of Peace Park 3
For the third consecutive year, powerhouse brands Burton and Mountain Dew have teamed up with pro rider Danny Davis’ to create a one-of-a-kind winter sports experience, designed to, as Davis put it, “bring the soul back into snowboarding.”
What started out as a halfpipe has morphed into a full-fledged snow park — dubbed “Peace Park 3” — where some of the best riders from around the world are hand-picked by Davis to experience some of the most unique snowboarding known to mankind, in the West Tetons, in Wyoming.
While Davis helped design the park in collaboration with Snow Park Technologies, it was another man who was pegged to bring Snow Park experience to the big screen: Tim Manning.
One of the marquee names in action sports cinematography, Manning has logged countless hours on the slopes, both as a former rider and as a filmmaker. As the Film Director and Video Manager at Burton, the project was exclusive to Manning and his team alone.
In anticipation of the film’s release on national TV yesterday, we caught up with Manning to get a behind-the-scenes look at how he brought the Peace Park to life on camera.
So you’ve been able to capture some pretty amazing footage in this film. I know you’ve been working with Burton for a while now, but how did you get involved in this particular project?
Tim Manning: How it all kind of came about was that I had the most TV experience, and prior to me being at Burton Snowboards, I was at Standard Films, a small production company in Lake Tahoe making snowboard movies annually. And one fall we had a chance to create a TV show on FuelTV and no body was into it. So I was like ‘Holy cow I need a job; I need to just make it happen.’ So I created the Standard Snowboard Show, which was on the FOX network, so that basically taught me the TV network process of, like, you not getting paid unless you submit the final master or meet a deadline.
So moving forward and getting a relationship going at Burton and Mountain Dew was like ‘Well, who can handle it?” And I was ready to handle it, and I wanted to because I knew the bigger picture, so I think experience kind of landed in place there.
As you know, the design of the park has evolved over the past three years, so how do you think the filming process has evolved with it? Have you had to go in with a different game plan now that you’re not confined to a halfpipe anymore?
TM: It was interesting because the first year it was just kind of like another shoot that we were doing, but this year we basically did it at a time of year when none of the other cameramen and snowboarders had anything else going on, so we knew everybody was going to be there. That was kind of a first step up from Peace Pipe, and then what we brought to the table was just kind of like everything we did. We knew we were going to be doing more interviews. This time we had the red cameras—that was a new item that not very many people had used in action sports quite yet, so we definitely had those on the shoot.
We basically shot everything we possibly could. The cool thing about that one [Peace Pipe] was that it was really in a contained area; it was just in one halfpipe, so you weren’t wondering what was happening at the very top of the mountain, like this one was this year. This year was more about who was going to stay where when. It was more of a game plan like ‘Ok, you two stay up on top, and then you two will come down to the bottom to shoot the pipe, and them I’m going to be roaming around the middle area getting interviews, and then you other guys, when ever it’s not windy, you try to get the little drone in the air,’ and stuff like that. So it was more about the game plan, and not so much the equipment or the gear.
So the RED cameras that you talk about, what are those that exactly?
TM: The RED camera is a high-resolution, high-frame rate camera that is 100 percent manual. What’s cool about the RED camera is that you can put any type of lens that you want on the hood. You can rent a $100,000 zoom lens and use it if you want. And yeah, you can do that on most cameras these days, but the RED camera can capture 5K footage, all the way down to 1K, but you can get frame rates of 250/frame. And with the RED cameras now, it’s even higher, so you’re just getting a camera that can do more than other cameras that are out. It’s more versatile. The RED camera is a slightly lighter in weight. It’s still heavy but it’s definitely lighter. It’s just doable in the backcountry or on a shoot like this, where you can have everything contained down to one backpack with your lenses and one tripod, and you can bring that around. The RED camera is basically the best resolution that we can get for being a one-man show.
How hard is that actual process of using those drones, navigating them, and getting the right aerial shot?
TM: The copter kids are some of the best in the business first of all. And what that comes down to is the amount of hours you have flying and, more specifically, the amount of hours you have flying a helicopter that size. You know, a lot of people get the drone up there but it can actually only lift a GoPro camera. Whereas, in this instance, we’re putting on our own $5,000 lens so we’re getting about 12 pounds on that camera, and that becomes a whole another beast to fly because the helicopter goes way faster. So, to answer your question, there’s a lot involved. You have to have a really badass pilot. And then when the pilot is doing his thing, you have the other guy on the team who’s controlling the camera. And then I’m communicating with them and they’re basing off what I say with what they can do, so the three of us really had to bring it together quick or we were going to start missing shots.
“My goal is to keep [Peace Park] true to the sport, keep it true to Danny Davis, and once Danny and the sport are good with the edits, then I can start to appease all of the other people involved.” — Tim Manning
So did you use any drones at all for any of the footage? Or was it just the copter?
TM: It was all on the copter. That’s more of the way to go. We did have some drone stuff with the GoPro, but it just didn’t stack up to what the copter and all the other MoVI-stabilized footage was bringing to the table.
As far as using GoPros, do you think that they help or hurt the integrity of the filming and what you’re trying to accomplish.
TM: The beauty with GoPro is that when I open my camera bag, there’s always one in there. It provides that look, that personal perspective that the rider feels. We tried it out a few times, but for one, it’s really hard to get the riders to wear ‘em because it’s something extra on their heads and it kind of gets in the way if it’s a little loose. They don’t like to wear them 100 percent of the time, especially while filming because they [the riders] also think it looks pretty funny in the photos and the footage. There are a couple of sessions in there and that start off with a GoPro perspective, but it just doesn’t continue because it didn’t seem like it was holding its weight, so to speak.
Aside from filming some of the best riders in the world, you also got the opportunity to film the actual making of the park, which is kind of a unique situation since not a very many people get the chance to film that aspect of snowboarding. Can you talk a bit about that experience?
TM: So at Peace Park, you definitely don’t want to hang out there for two weeks straight shooting everyday, but you definitely don’t want to miss some of the cooler moments that they’re doing. Because what SPT [Snow Park Technologies] is doing is really a work of art. That’s what kind of got me into snowboarding in general is that you can make a quarter pipe instantly on the snow with a shovel, but they just take it to the next level by constructing the most insane park. So shooting this thing, I had somebody on the hill every day, whether it was me or one of the other guys in the crew. So between all of us, somebody was there every day. And if I knew something was going to happen, like SPT was going to start to cut the pipe one day, then maybe somebody would get up there a little earlier. But the goal was to shoot a time-lapse of what was happening and then get some slow-motion footage of what’s happening, get really artsy and get in tight and get those machines grinding, get the snow flicking out, get the shovels clipping snow off the ice, or whatever it is—just kind of capture those moments that maybe the guy who builds it only sees, you know, and then also get some real-time of that as well so we have some audio and sound to go with it.
To pull off a production like this, what type of numbers are we talking about? Like how many cameramen do you have out there, how many cameras are rolling, and all that good stuff?
TM: So we have five full-time cameramen going up and coming down after the riders, so we’re basically up at sunrise, home after sunset, and then we have another cameraman who’s totally dedicated to getting interviews and audio and sound bytes of random stuff that happens during the day. And he usually has a person who instigates the conversation. And then we have a three-person helicopter crew, and what we brought to the table this year, and what was a big part of the success this year, was Core Koniniec, who is a motion stabilization specialist and he brought the MoVI to the table. There were three MoVI cameras set up there during a shoot, and Cory hired this skier who was basically capturing stabilized footage right next to the rider. And then follow-camming someone through the park top to bottom was the best way to capture it. It wasn’t with the GopPro, but instead was with the MoVI. The MoVI stuff looked way better so that’s what I used.
What was the biggest challenge in terms of filming that you kind of found difficult to work around?
TM: When you have such a beautiful piece of artwork that SPT created, all you want to do as a cameraman is just get the best footage that you possibly can. But with a big huge group like that, it takes time to develop a good dynamic. If you get everybody on the same page and on the same patience level, and the riders start to feed off that and they start to feel comfortable and start to not care about their surroundings, just start tuning in with the mountain, then the snowboarding happens. But the biggest challenge is setting that up for them properly and making sure that they have what they need to give you the best snowboarding that they can do.
What do you personally enjoy more, the actual filming or the post-production stuff like editing and putting together the final product?
TM: I definitely love the actual filming of it in the moment. The weather is so beautiful standing on these peaks, and you’re seeing what’s totally possible. And snowboarding myself, I’ll just go ahead and do a follow cam for fun on somebody just ‘cause I really just want to snowboard [Laughs]. But when you know that you’re achieving your goals, like with the stabilized cameras and with the helicopter, and know that the shots are turning out better than you thought, and all the cameramen report back at the end of the day like ‘Hey this happened over here,’ and you start to see the story develop, that part of it is really rewarding.
By the end of the week, you really have a clear picture of what the show is really about. It helps that it can be edited a thousand different ways, and my goal is to keep it true to the sport, keep it true to Danny Davis, and once Danny and the sport are good with the edits, then I can start to appease all of the other people involved. So the post-production is a huge process, which is also super rewarding. It’s a beautiful flow of art all day long with the music and the different pictures that you end up getting. All of that artistic troubleshooting along the way comes to life in the edit bay, and when you’re telling the story and you’re looking for something that you would love the story to turn into, and you actually have it because somebody did their job [Laughs], it flows and the show just starts to escalate. When you’re done, and you’re putting in the final touches, you’re kind of like ‘Wow, is that it? Is there nothing else left to do?’ Because it’s all a big whirlwind of just psychotic editing for like four months straight, and, of course, juggling a lot of politics.
You mentioned Danny Davis, and throughout the film he talks about this constant theme of snowboarding just being all about having a good time with your friends. How were you able to bring that point across on the screen?
TM: Well when I say group dynamics that is more or less what I’m talking about with the riders on the hill. If you can get the riders to all be on the same page and to have a good time together, the first part of the job is done—that’s the number one part. And Danny inviting all of his friends, and not necessarily even just his friends that he hangs out with daily, but guys who can just flat out snowboard, that’s what makes it so special. These guys snowboard all year long and they all have different schedules, and to bring all 15 or 20 of these guys together who are all kind of the best in the world, and who all compete in the same events, when you get them together it instantly becomes kind of a reunion. When they’re together they all want to snowboard harder than the other guy and when you see them pushing each other, that’s where the friendship thing exists because they’re feeling comfortable and there’s no expectations. It just like you’re riding with your brother. It’s not about competition, but that’s what they all do. They’re always going to try to ride hard regardless. You know, you can just sit down and watch your friends and laugh and have a good time, but they’re going to motivate you to get up, strap in, and do something too just to be a part of it. It’s really cool to watch. Danny is one of my favorite guys to be around on the mountain, and he attracts a certain type of person, and that’s what these guys are man—they’re some really genuine people. It’s pretty cool.
Watch Peace Park 3 right now by streaming the full 44-minute edit below: