WORDS: Tim Fater
When the rest of the ski world had dismissed the East Coast to second-class status, Geoff McDonald and Chris "Rooster" James set out on a mission to prove them all wrong. For 13 years, Meathead Films has persevered through January thaws, wind holds, and bulletproof ice to produce annual ski films showcasing the finest in East Coast skiing. They tracked down a cast of characters to represent the region's challenges and triumphs and produced segments that were authentic to New England ski culture. Last year, Meathead Films achieved the unthinkable and proved the East gets deep when they took home the award for Best Powder at the 2013 Powder Awards for a segment in No Matter What that was filmed on an all-time day at Jay Peak, Vermont.
The Meatheads have come a long way since McDonald and James hatched the company in a dorm room at the University of Vermont in 2001 and over the years, they've refined their Eastern offerings. What started with the annual Meathead Films ski flick over a decade ago has steadily shifted to Ski The East, a brand that represents the Eastern ski lifestyle and produces the Ski The East Freeride Tour.
But McDonald and James have even bigger plans for Ski The East. This past fall, for the first time in over a decade, the Meatheads did not release a feature-length film. Instead, McDonald and James have moved exclusively to the digital age with web-based projects that they are releasing on Ski The East.
We recently caught up with McDonald and James to talk about their new plan. Is this the end of East Coast ski video glory? Not if the Meatheads have anything to do with it.
POWDER: Why did you decide to make the shift from feature-length films to exclusively online content?
McDonald: The annual ski film production cycle was unsustainable for a bunch of reasons. This summer, I called the guy who had manufactured the last few Meatheads DVDs and told him we weren't doing one this year. The guy sounded like he was about to flip – he explained that he had lost over 50 percent of his business in the last six months.
James: DVD sales had plateaued for us over the last few years. We considered hiring a marketing agency and continuing to make a push, but we didn't want to go in that direction. It's time to put the 8-track away, Pops.
McDonald: Even the big companies still releasing feature-length films on DVD, they're putting full segments online now. That never used to happen. Everyone has business on their websites now. You need to maintain hype and energy online to drive people there.
Do you follow any webisodes yourselves?
James: We watch Traveling Circus; those guys are all Meathead alumni. Meathead Films actually supplied the first camera for TC's first two seasons.
McDonald: I liked the Sweetgrass Solitaire webisodes about filming in the southern hemisphere. It was interesting to see some of the challenges they faced; it was just like home.
How have your fans reacted to the change?
James: We get calls and emails every week or so from people asking to buy the new DVD. When we say we didn't release a DVD this year, people are like oh no the Meatheads are dead! Once we explain we're still producing premium content that is being released online, they're like – I guess you're not dead; awesome! It's a rollercoaster of emotion.
How long has the shift towards Ski The East been in motion?
McDonald: Ski The East was launched in 2005 as a way to promote Meathead Films and it has continued to become a bigger and bigger part of the pie.
James: East Coast ski filmmaking is what we do best. We've spent over ten years building the Meathead Films brand and we intend to keep it alive, the Meat has just found a new home on SkiTheEast.net.
So what's the first project being released this winter?
McDonald: Neo is the current Meathead Film offering that's being released online at SkiTheEast.net It's a full movie just like our others – pow, park, urban – documenting our 12th winter. It was filmed last winter all around the East Coast: Stowe, Mad River Glen, Smuggler's Notch, Mount Snow, Jay Peak, Loon, Waterville Valley, plus a bunch of urban locations. We dropped the first episode in mid-December and there will be an episode released every other week for the rest of the winter.
James: Neo means new. New crew, new format, same great meaty flavor. We’re going to continue to provide ski films even though the delivery format has changed.
Anything else for this winter?
McDonald: Yup, another webseries called Working For The Weekend; it's the brainchild of Meathead veteran Ben Leoni. The webseries was filmed exclusively in the East Coast backcountry last winter and is being released on Ski The East on alternating weeks with Neo.
James: We're proud to have an athlete-driven project like Working For The Weekend. We've been kicking around some of other similar ideas, maybe we'll send Radio Ron and Hammer out for a two-week mogul tour or something.
McDonald: Leoni works super hard and still finds time to shred the Eastern backcountry with better style than just about anyone else. Working For the Weekend shows you don't have to give up skiing once you get a real job. That's one of the advantages we have here in New England, you can drive everywhere. I'm not saying it's easy. I don't think he rode a single chairlift all last winter. Leoni did everything from shopping sponsors to rallying and organizing filmers. Meathead Films was pretty hands off until editing, but we love the way it came out.
Any last words?
McDonald: When we started back in college everyone said that we would run out of places to film in the East after a few years. Quite the opposite has happened. Our “to-do” list gets longer every season. Even though we do return to some locations to film, we’re always on the hunt for new terrain in the East that people haven’t seen before. We've barely scratched the surface.
James: Keeping the shred alive.
Watch the latest episodes of Neoand Working for the Weekend at SkiTheEast.net