Duane Kubischta dreams of making ski movies that matter. Through the production company he founded and has run, all by himself, for three years now, he just might pull it off in time for next ski season.
Adventure Film Works started off as a hobby turned excuse for spending winters in Tahoe for Duane Kubischta, 28, of Homewood, Calif. But the release of 2005’s “The Good Times Are Killing Me” ” his first feature-length ski film ” inspired Kubischta to take his passion for skiing and filmmaking to new levels.
Currently at work on his next ski movie ” code-named “Holy Schnikeys” until a real name is decided upon ” Kubischta took some time to sit down with action editor Paul Raymore to talk about his career as a ski filmmaker, his hopes for his next movie, and his life as a ski bum in Tahoe.
action: So 2005’s “The Good Times Are Killing Me” is your first ski movie right?
Kubischta: I consider that my first full-length ski movie. I had done other stuff the previous two years, but it had mostly just made it to my friends’ hands. I had basically been dabbling in filming for three to four years leading up to this year. Mostly just grabbing a camera and having a Mac it was so easy to put stuff together; starting off in iMovie and I just kind of developed a love for putting music to skiing. And it’s progressed form there to slightly better cameras and better computers.
action: Were you surprised how well the first film came out?
Kubischta: I was. Given that it’s pretty much just me doing everything, I was pretty surprised how well it came out. When it premiered at the Squaw Valley Film Festival I was pretty stoked. That was just a great accomplishment. Having other people recognize what I had done and hearing people’s feedback, that it makes them want to go skiing, was great. That’s sort of what I’m going for: To convey that love of the sport.
action: What originally got you interested in picking up a camera and making ski movies?
Kubischta: I was on the [University of California, Berkeley] ski team and we did video analysis of our ski styles and of racing, and every time I watched the video days it would always be the shoddiest camera work. And having done some photography I just kind of knew point of view and angles and lighting, and I would just think I could do such a better job. And we also just took the camera out for fun on the ski team and filmed ourselves playing around. And I went home to San Diego one weekend and my mom had a new Mac, so I wanted to try the iMovie thing out. I ended up spending the whole weekend sitting in front of the computer and came back with a five minute clip. And it was just the funnest thing ever.
The other thing is: I love skiing, and for me it’s the turning aspect of skiing – just fast, fluid turns – that’s the best aspect of skiing for me, as opposed to taking big airs. I’m not much for taking big airs, but my friends are and I respect that and think it looks awesome. So I love capturing what they can do and then putting my creativity into showing that and editing that with music. It is a lot of fun for me to edit as well as to get out there.
action: Compared to the time you spend filming, how much time goes into the editing process?
Kubischta: It’s getting to be more and more. During the fall I actually work in the Bay Area and every day I come home from my real job…
action: What is your real job?
Kubischta: I work in a DNA sequencing facility called the Joint Genome Institute. And I basically do project management for them…
[We’ll spare you the non ski-filmmaker related details. Suffice it to say that Kubischta still works there during the summers and spends his winters in Tahoe.]
action: So what brought you to Tahoe?
Kubischta: Hearing the stories of my friends who had moved up to Tahoe made me want to do the same thing. And I had loved skiing since I was a little kid and became passionate for it while in college on the ski team. Then, seeing the lives of my friends who had moved up here and were living the lifestyle, it made me want to do that too: I wanted to ski that many days too. But I also wanted to have some objective being up here; I didn’t just want to be a ski bum. I wanted to do something with that time of my life, and video was a hobby of mine that I thought I could make into a career of mine.
… so editing: During the week I will try to edit and log my tapes on the computer as I’m shooting them. But I don’t know if I want to ever tabulate how many hours I spend editing because it would be way too many. I should really invest in a better office chair because I do a lot of sitting.
action: Can you tell me a little bit about the new movie you’re working on now?
Kubischta: I really want to show up-and-coming athletes, what their lives are like, and what their sacrifices and dreams and goals are as they try to make it as skiers, be it professional or just recreational or through the competitions. There are a lot of guys out there who just really love skiing, and just to be able to show that love and show those people as individuals is what I’m trying to do. It’s also a ski movie so it’s going to show a lot of great skiing. But as a small, independent producer, I don’t have the opportunity to show ski porn for an hour or whatever it is, so focusing on a different aspect of our lives here in the mountains is important for me to do.
action: So will the movie cover just this current ski season? Or will it stretch back further in time?
Kubischta: I guess ideally I would like to have it cover several years. But I also want to have a movie come out every year, so I think I am just going to focus on this one season…
[I want] to be able to capture the unique aspect of skiing within the whole world is kind of important to me to do. And it could be a unique concept. I would like to be able to submit this movie to other sorts of film festivals, rather than just distributing it within skiers. As skiers and snowboarders, we understand what we’re doing [living the ski-bum lifestyle] and why we’re here, but other people in the world never experience that or never see that someone can have such passion for a sport to be able to sacrifice money and relationships while working way too many jobs to be able to ski on those powder days.
action: It sounds like an interesting combination of documentary and ski movie.
Kubischta: I’ve heard people on say the Teton Gravity [Research] online forum asking for a real story. There are people who just want to see the pure, crazy cool shots in Alaska the whole time – and that definitely pumps you up. But other people are into seeing what else is out there and connecting with the athletes in the movie.
action: So how do you approach making this film? Do you have a story in mind, or are you letting the stories of the athletes dictate the plot of the movie?
Kubischta: I’m doing a lot of interviews and just talking to the athletes. I’m doing some lifestyle shots as well to capture how they live and where they’re working, how they shop and that sort of thing. But I think a lot of it does come together when I start the editing process.
I almost feel like I should be planning it out more, but I do sort of want to sort of see what happens when I get in front of the computer. And I’ve also just been shooting a ton to try to capture as much as I can. I’m still learning as a filmmaker and a producer, so every year I get more ideas and I get more prepared for the season and there’s more work to do… There’s more work every year.
action: Does that take away from your time to ski?
Kubischta: I try not to let it do that. I think I’ve got to this point where I do need to branch out and have other people help me along the way… I never want to let it affect my joy and my days of skiing, and I haven’t yet. I never want this to be like a real job. I would like to be able to make money or break even, but I don’t want it to be stressful and I don’t ever want to let it take over my life. So it’ll always be fun for me.
action: So who’s in this film?
Kubischta: I guess the core athletes are: Miles Clark, Kris Thomas, Adam Ruscitto, Jason Dobbs, David Gibbs, Julian Hanna and Erik Lundstrom. A common characteristic among all the skiers I’ve chosen is they are all very good-natured, humble, and just excited to be out there. I’ve steered away from people who have a lot of attitude and focused on the people who are very good-natured and just great guys. And most of the skiers out there are that way anyway, so it’s not hard to do.
action: How did you come across all these folks?
Kubischta: A lot of them I’ve met recently, and then some are long-time friends.
action: Do all these guys compete in the freesking competitions?
Kubischta: Actually, all of them do. I was thinking of doing more of a comp focus, and I kind of backed that out to more of a life focus that does involve comps. But I think the competitions are a good avenue for these skiers to prove themselves. And it looks great when they tell their sponsors that they’re doing it and how well they did and that kind of thing. And these aren’t the best guys either… yet. They’re still up-and-coming; they’re still struggling and trying to climb that ladder; and that’s what I wanted to capture, that aspect of it.
action: It sounds like a great story.
Kubischta: Yeah, a lot of people are excited about it. It seems kind of different. The teaser has gotten put on a couple of Web sites and I’ve gotten some e-mails about it, so I just hope I can present a movie that lives up to my expectations as well as theirs.
action: Is being a ski filmmaker somewhat like being a skier trying to make it in the industry? Are you out there seeking sponsorships and all that?
Kubischta: I think so. I’m not sure how much I’m going to focus on this in my movie, but the struggle of these athletes is parallel to my struggle. It’s about defining yourself and figuring out the ski industry and how it works, and what you need to do to carve out your niche in that industry. So it definitely parallels that.
There definitely is a learning curve for me, and every year I totally learn so much more and am so much more in tune with what needs to get done and how best to operate.
action: Have you as a filmmaker developed a signature style?
Kubischta: I guess I like to focus on matching the music and the skiing, and just being able to feel the skiing through the music. All ski movies are kind of known for their music and how that makes it feel, but I think I do really try to focus on matching the tempo and making sure that certain climaxes in a song match the skiing.
action: How difficult is finding the right song for a certain segment?
Kubischta: Finding music is definitely difficult. Finding music that you can afford for a ski movie is even more difficult. And that’s been a huge learning curve for me too. I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying to connect with up-and-coming artists that are on the same track as me where they’re not in it for the money yet, and they want to get their stuff exposed… So music is almost the funnest part and the hardest part of editing.
action: So do you put the visual segments together first and then try to find music to match, or vice versa?
Kubischta: I usually try to find the music first. Almost every time I listen to a song now I’m thinking: How or where can I use this in a ski film? What kind of skiing needs to be happening for this song? Does it not work entirely? Can it be used for the background of an interview? Can I do some weird, quirky segment to try to make it work?
And other stuff just randomly happens. Hearing roommates music sometimes just inspires you. It’s interesting. When I sit down in front of my computer you never know what’s going to happen, which is kind of exciting.
action: Has the process grown to such an extent that it’s no longer a one-man job?
Kubischta: I think it’s still manageable. I do shoot digitally, so you can get that onto a computer and with the software today and the speeds at which things happen on a computer, it actually makes it manageable. Which is great and I think the whole filmmaking world is seeing that too. People in high school can go out and shoot an awesome documentary or short film and just put it together on their personal computer.
action: Anything else you’d like to say?
Kubischta: I guess I’d just like to stress that this is still just a strong passion for me to be able to do this ” to be able to ski as much as I do and be able to show the skiing that my friends do via movies is a huge passion of mine. And that’s really what’s driving what I’m doing; it’s not money at all. And, obviously, I’d like more sponsors and am looking for sponsors that see that and want to be a part of that, but at this point it’s just really fun for me.