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Tahoe locals contribute to Warren Miller film

Matt Brown, Sierra Sun

Warren Miller’s latest film “Journey” is coming to the Tahoe area, but many involved in its creation are already here.

Squaw Valley residents Tom Day and Keoki Flagg, prominent figures in film and photography, are two of those people.

Along with Kevin Quinn, an ambassador to Squaw Valley and a resident, the trio collaborated on one of the major sequences in the film: an excursion to the Chugach Mountains in Alaska, featuring skiers Quinn, another local Kent Kreitler, and Micha Black.

“This is some of the steepest skiing captured on film in 56 years,” said Quinn, also the owner and operator of Points North Heli Skiing in Alaska.

The footage shot for “Journey” took place around the small Alaskan town of Cordova, the site of PNH, a helicopter skiing service that allows skiers to reach backcountry destinations all over the Chugach Mountains.

Miller’s film tour stops in North and South Lake Tahoe in the next two weekends. Truckee and Tahoe City locals Jenn Berg and Jessica Sobolowski ski Heavenly in the film, and local Mike Laroche also makes an appearance in “Journey.”

Over the last couple years, Quinn has built a solid relationship with crew members at Warren Miller Entertainment and Miller himself. He has traveled extensively on Miller’s latest film tours.

With its vast open land and steep ski terrain, Alaska became more and more appealing as a place for WME to shoot. Quinn convinced Miller to fund a film crew consisting of Day capturing the motion and Flagg snapping the still photography.

Combining their talents and Quinn’s helicopter business, they set out to conquer Alaska and make Miller proud. With a tight friendship triangle and a deep respect for each other’s work, they say the film shoot was a huge success.

Although WME has used Flagg’s work in the past, this was his first formal on-location shoot. Flagg has worked as a staff photographer under Quinn at Squaw Valley for six years.

This marked the seventh year that Flagg has gone to Alaska to shoot film. He has worked with Points North Heli Skiing since it opened five years ago.

“It’s landlocked,” Flagg said. “It’s on the water. You can only get there by plane or boat.”

Although Flagg had worked around Day in the past, this marked the first time they worked together in the same crew.

Describing himself as a liaison, Flagg served as a Cordova area navigator and tour guide, saving the crew a lot of introduction time.

“It’s my turf,” Flagg said. “If you to go to a place where you already know all the details, you can get to work right away and get great footage. I brought the knowledge and the know-how of the staff and that locality. That way I was able to give it to Tom on a silver platter.”

Day had also flown in the same zone long before Quinn had opened his business, even giving his own nicknames to some of the peaks and mountains.

Flagg said Day is the only cameraman that he completely trusts with his work. The two were able to toss around ideas freely during shooting without too much disagreement.

“We don’t have our ego issues between us,” Flagg said.

Flagg views the experience as a mission accomplished because Miller was the last big name he had on his to-work-with list. WME has used Flagg’s shots for ads, posters, sweepstakes, magazine covers and on its official Web site.

Flagg will open the Keoki Gallery on Thanksgiving Day at Squaw Valley Resort along with partner Mark Steingard, a retired international art broker.

“For 33 years he’s been a major player in the international art scene,” Flagg said. “He’s come out of retirement to launch this project with me.”

Day’s work will also be on display at the gallery, located on the front side of the Village at Squaw Valley. It features art from around the world.

Day recently built a cabin for an editing office and general work space. He said all of his work in the Miller film is shot through a 16 mm film camera.

“When you’re tromping around the mountains, with a 16 mm you can pretty much be a one man show. All together the equipment is about 50 lbs. It’s manageable.”

Day has worked through Miller’s company for 20 years. Originally, Day was showcased in Miller’s movies as a skier. The more time Day spent around cameras, the more his obsession with them grew.

“I never knew what a 16 mm camera was until the very first day I worked for them,” he said. “This guy was carrying around this big backpack with the tripod legs sticking out of it. He set up his tripod and brought out this old 1940s movie camera. I was definitely infatuated by it.

“Over a six year period I made a gradual transition from a skier to a photographer, but I still ski every day I can.”

Day said mountain cameramen are still using cameras designed in the ’40s because they are very strong and durable. But modern technology, especially computers, have made the editing process much easier.

“In the old days it was all done on film,” he said. “It was hands-on, where this is all digitized. It’s faster and the mistakes aren’t as costly.”

Day doesn’t consider himself a master of his art, either.

“It’s still a constant challenge,” he said. “You can never conquer it. I’m still trying to find that perfect angle. There are so many subtle things you can do with each shot.”

Even though they are not everyday friends, Day is appreciative of his experiences through Miller’s name.

“I’ve only met him in person a few times, but I got out and saw the world a lot through Warren Miller’s films,” he said. “They sent me to all corners of the earth to go ski and now shoot. If it wasn’t for Warren Miller, there’s no way I would have been close to the places I’ve been.”

But for Day and Flagg, who have seen much of the world through their eyes and camera lenses, life begins and ends right here in Squaw Valley.

“This is still one of the premier places on earth to live and ski,” Day said.

And Flagg doesn’t plan leaving any time soon.

“It all began for Tom and I right here in Squaw,” he said. “I’m here to stay.”

Info Box: Movie screenings

City Place Date

North Lake Tahoe Cal Neva Resort Fri., Nov. 28 @ 7:30 p.m.

North Lake Tahoe Cal Neva Resort Sat., Nov. 29 @ 7:30 p.m.

South Lake Tahoe Caesar’s Casino Thurs., Dec. 4 @ 7:30 p.m.

South Lake Tahoe Caesar’s Casino Sat., Dec. 6 @ 7:30 p.m.


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