The Beginnings Of ‘Blank’

KC Deane, Alexi Godbout, and crew turn a busted season into their first independent film

Low film budgets didn't keep Max Morello from flying high on his first trip to Japan with Blank. The Movie. PHOTO: KC Deane.
Low film budgets didn’t keep Max Morello from flying high on his first trip to Japan with Blank. The Movie. PHOTO: KC Deane.

Last fall, KC Deane found himself at a career crossroads. After several years of shooting with Poor Boyz Productions, Deane learned the popular production company wouldn’t be making a 2015 film, leaving the Whistler native without a film project at the 11th hour. Instead of hitting the panic button, Deane used the announcement as his own involuntary promotion, deciding that it was time to put on the director hat and make something happen on his own. Luckily, as often happens in the tight-knit world of skiing, he had a group of friends looking for an excuse to do the same, each eagerly jumping at the chance to work on an independent film project.

From this creative scrambling, Blank. The Movie was born. Featuring Deane, Alexi Godbout, Vincent Gagnier, Josh Daiek, Max Morello, and Mike Henitiuk, the group that barely had a name, much less any experience putting a movie together, traveled from Japan, to Europe, to the unforgiving steeps of Alaska, documenting their story, their way. The result is a 22-minute travel log filled with plenty of the action we’ve come to expect from the tactical terrain assassins, but without any monologues or first person accounts (something Deane was particularly adamant about)—a video montage of a season on the brink of passing undocumented.

Before Blank makes its debut at iF3 this weekend, we caught up with Deane to hear more about his first project as a director and exactly what it took to bring it all to the silver screen.

Without money for a heli, the We Are Blank crew accessed Alaskan zones like this (dubbed the 50-mile Zone) by snowmobile. PHOTO: KC Deane.
Without money for a heli, the We Are Blank crew accessed Alaskan zones like this (dubbed the 50-mile Zone) by snowmobile. PHOTO: KC Deane.

Where did Blank come from?
We don’t have a production company per say, but we needed to come up with a name for iF3 and the Meeting and stuff like that, so in the end we started calling ourselves, “We Are Blank” because it’s six of us that made this happen. It’s not like I did it, or just Alexi did it, or Vinny did it, we all did the skiing and then collectively made this into a movie. From there, we got Blank. The Movie.

This wasn’t your typical cast. Who surprised you during production?
I’d never met Vinny [Gagnier] before this season, so that was super fun. We went to Italy with Alexi, Josh, myself, and Vinny. It was his first time skinning, which was awesome.

This year was also Max Morello’s first trip into the backcountry, like real backcountry. He came to Japan and skied deep pow for the first time. You see someone that is unreal at urban, rails, and park, and bring them out there…it’s something really different.

What did you get to do with the Blank project that you might not have done in year’s past?
I got to learn a lot. Personally, I had no interest or idea what it took to get a movie onto iTunes or how to get music rights, but because I took on this new role, I had to learn that side. I’m pretty much scouring YouTube and calling my buddies to learn it all.

Also, since there was no snow, it pushed us into new areas. You can sit in your comfort zone and know where to go and what jumps to build, but then all of a sudden we’re in Japan and Europe and Alaska. I’d never been to those places (except Japan), so we had to figure out where to go and what we were going to do.

Japan provides. PHOTO: K.C. Deane.
Japan provides. PHOTO: K.C. Deane.

Were there other challenges in production?
Well, yeah, the movie almost didn’t happen. We rolled into Whitehorse, up in the Yukon, on our way to Haines and stopped over for some food and supplies. When we came back, our filmer thought he misplaced his backpack, but I told him in a town like this, that’s the first something someone will take out of a car.

I asked him what was in it, and he says “It’s all in there—everything. Cameras, hard drives with all the footage, computer—everything.” Without that bag we didn’t have a movie.

What’d you do?
We organized and went searching around town, asking all of the sketchiest people we could if they’d seen the bag and offering them money for a safe return. We just wanted it back, you know? Finally we got a call from some guy who said he’d bring it to this seedy bar and leave it with the barmaid in exchange for $500.

It was the kind of place you wouldn’t go into alone, so we sent in a couple of the guys who asked the barmaid about the bag. She had no idea and they were about to leave when a guy walked in with a black trash bag. He claimed it was our stuff and that he’d bought it from some other guy and only wanted the cash.

We didn’t want to get played again so we offered $250 up front and the rest once he proved he had all of our stuff and it all worked. We checked, it was all there, and we paid the guy the other $250. But yeah, I was that close to calling the movie a wrap and driving back to Whistler.

What’s the advantage of being athlete and director on a movie?
You are a little more invested I think. As an athlete you always want to have a great segment, but that’s what you’re thinking about, not the overall movie. Where in the past I’d say ‘I’m done’ after getting a trick, this time around I’d turn and cheer on Alexi and Morello, hoping they’re putting down their trick. It forced me to be a little less self-centered.

What do you think about these athlete driven projects in ski media?
I think that part of the reason you’re seeing it is that our generation of athletes has been doing it long enough that they’re realizing that they can get it done themselves. It’s usually for different reasons, different motivations, but I think that if you’ve seen it done and can do it on your own, then why not?

But how does something like that go over with sponsors?
This year was tough to be honest. It’s easy for a film company that’s been around for a while because they have a proven product. TGR, MSP, Warren Miller, Poor Boyz—they know that they can get it done and they can bring that back to the table with sponsors and budgets.

Whereas when you have six athletes with essentially no direction coming to a company and asking for money instead of having something to back that up besides the previous year’s work you just get a raised eyebrow. ‘Why should we give these guys money?’

There were definitely sponsors that didn’t. Then again, it’s really cool that the sponsors that we did have stepped in. Sushi Village [in Whistler Village] even stepped up and helped out Max, so it was cool to know we had those sponsors backing us 100 percent.

Josh Daiek chases the light on some Alaskan steep. PHOTO: KC Deane.
Josh Daiek chases the light on some Alaskan steep. PHOTO: KC Deane.

So is Sushi Village throwing the official viewing party or what?
Well we wanted to do that but we couldn’t line it up. Hopefully next year we’ll have the premiere there. It’s so cool that they stepped in to help Morello, and I think it’s the first movie they have sponsored.

With the rise of drones and quality video editing programs, do you think it’s easier for these independent projects to compete with bigger production companies? —asked by Drew Tabke
Part of the big budget companies is paying all of the people in production, so in that respect we have way less overhead, we don’t own any cameras or anything like that. I think that makes room for these smaller companies.

Drones also help, it means you don’t have to spend $1500-3000 an hour hanging from a heli to get some of these shots. We didn’t use a single heli during production and that kept our costs a whole lot lower.