Mike Douglas: The Creative Process
The Godfather chats about this season of Salomon Freeski TV, filmmaking, and skiing
A member of the New Canadian Air Force, an originator of what would become the Salomon 1080 ski, director/producer/editor/athlete for Switchback Entertainment, and mastermind behind Salomon Freeski TV, Mike Douglas’s ski curriculum vitae is chalk full from decades of ski-centric innovation; hence, his nickname—the Godfather.
Blasting off lines on the big screen, slashing through magazine covers, innovating in the halfpipe, designing and tinkering in the garage, filming behind the lens, and crafting stories in the editing bay, Douglas’ pension for creating is mind-blowing. And he has left an indelible mark on skiing equaled only by a few.
We sat down to talk with Douglas on the eve before the trailer dropped for Salomon Freeski TV’s seventh season. Here’s what he said about the creative process.
POWDER: Tell us a bit about the team at Switchback Entertainment.
Mike Douglas: We’re a six-person team right now, and everyone here is a jack-of-all-trades. But at the same time everyone has a specialty. Everyone has their strong points, but we’re a pretty versatile crew. And, everybody also likes getting out in the field. We don’t have anyone in the office whose passion is sitting at their desk or computer all year long.
Where do you guys go for inspiration?
More than anything we get our inspiration from things we find on Vimeo, which seems to be the place where the best short-form production work is happening. And certainly it’s the most accessible.
More often than not it isn’t skiing that we’re watching. I watch skiing for my own personal interests, but when it comes to inspiration I am often looking for other things that are out there.
Did you study the craft of filmmaking formally?
I have never taken any formal training in film, but it is something that I started picking up when I was younger. I made my first ski film in 1986, and I have always been a careful observer of film.
What do you love about making films?
One of the things I like, which is kind of like skiing, is that at no point can you ever think you’re the best or think you hit the ultimate spot. There’s always something to learn, there’s always a new way to do things or a new way to look at things, and someone is always going to come along and raise the bar. That’s what excites me. The learning process is always ongoing and that carrot is always dangling in front of you.
What have you learned after six seasons of Salomon Freeski TV?
I certainly look back on the work I’ve done over the years and cringe when I see some parts. Take The Freedom Chair, which is—I guess—the most celebrated piece of work I’ve ever done. There are parts of that film that are cringe-inducing for me, like some of the audio. I know what I did wrong and I wish I could roll back the hands of time to make it better, but that is also something you have to recognize. This is a learning process and you should be getting better. You shouldn’t be looking at something you did 10 years ago and feel like it was the ultimate. You should always be like, “Let’s make that better.”
Do you consciously try to balance between storytelling and character-driven films, ski action, and aesthetic or artistic projects?
It’s definitely a push and pull. We recognize that the fans of our show are really stoked on powder, and so are we, which makes it easy. So, we went back to Mica Heliskiing this year. It’s a heliski lodge, and it’s a sick one, but we’re not going to dig up some crazy historical story there. It’s only been around for like eight years. But, at the same time we know that the stoke we can find in a place like that just from the pure beauty of shredding pillows in waste-deep pow has merit. We know that when we do Mica it’s going to be an action-heavy and stoke-packed edit. But, when we do something like the Super Mom story with Wendy Fisher that is going to be much more story-based. We try to balance it and give people the full range of our capabilities.
Have you always looked at skiing cinematically? Were you always looking at a line and thinking about how it would look on a big screen or on a page in the magazine? Or, is it something you’ve picked up since shifting to a place behind the lens?
I have always thought like that. And, you know what? There’s a direct correlation between the skiers that get a ton of magazine covers and the way their minds work. To use a few examples, Dan Treadway has like 50 covers now and Chad Sayers is up to about 30. There’s a reason these guys get so many covers. It’s because they can look across the valley to where the photographer is and see exactly the position that is needed to make an incredible photo. I used to wonder if that was luck or something, and now I know it totally is not. You don’t get magazine covers unless you can think like a photographer and see the landscape like a photographer. I’ve always had a little bit of that going on.
What are your favorite episodes from past seasons of Salomon Freeski TV?
Wow, there have been so many, but to make it easy… Glassnot-Ski last year in Russia, when we stayed in Mikhail Gorbachev’s house brought together everything I love about Salomon Freeski TV and skiing. I love traveling. I love unique cultural experiences. I love good powder skiing. And, it had a great story. Everything I look for was in that trip, which was super cool.
What should we look forward to in this season of Salomon Freeski?
If we look at the season as a whole I think that this year the fun is coming back a little more. Last season was pretty serious. I’d say the storytelling was subtle and less about getting people stoked. This year, we went back to the fun. There are more laughs and goofy moments. Certainly, we went after the stories like we love to do, but we felt like it was time to bring a little more fun into the mix.
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