The day Teton Gravity Research announced its Co-Lab contest, a ski-edit challenge with a $100,000 prize, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa sent photographer and videographer Adam Clark a text: "You, me, trippy creative ski seg. What do you think?"
"He was down," says Cattabriga-Alosa, who, like many of his peers, says he's excited to work on a project where he has total creative control, instead of as part of a big production.
Between new X Games video events, Real Ski Backcountry and Real Women, and TGR's Co-Lab, plenty of creative opportunity exists for athletes, tied to a lot of money, up for grabs this winter. Each video contest will celebrate and handsomely reward a new trend in action sports: the independently produced segment.
"I was really fired up and inspired to put together a creative ski piece," says Cattabriga-Alosa, who will also shoot for TGR's upcoming film. "Working on segments with TGR always allows for some creative direction, but it still has to mesh with the overall vibe of the movie. This was an opportunity for complete freedom."
In addition to the contests, several cinematographers have teamed up with individual athletes to film their own projects. Kyle Decker, formerly of Level 1 Productions, is spending his winter filming Tom Wallisch for a film short—he guesses at six to 10 minutes long—that they'll release on iTunes for a few dollars. "It's like how you used to buy a whole album, but now you can just buy the one song," says Decker. "Now you can just buy the one segment." Nick Martini, of Stept Productions, is producing his own project with Simon Dumont.
Decker said he got an e-mail from TGR's Steve Jones asking if he was going to participate in the Co-Lab. He said he and Wallisch decided to follow their own unique formula because of the costs and downsides associated with the TGR contest.
"It's kind of an all or nothing deal. If you do TGR and you win, sick—$100,000—that's a lot of money," says Decker. "But if you don't, then your whole vision is all for nothing. It's a big risk."
For her entry into the X Games Real Women event, which puts edits of female athletes from different sports up against each other and has a gold medal and $50,000 on the line for the winner, Michelle Parker is working with Red Bull. The project is the reigning Powder Awards Best Female Performance winner's priority for the season. She hopes her edits stand out among the snowboarders, skaters, and surfers in the contest by focusing on high-quality cinematography. Ingrid Backstrom, the other skier in the competition, said the event is the top priority of her season, too. Backstrom, who is also filming with Sherpas Cinema for their upcoming movie, said she's nervous, but excited to produce something independently. (Editor’s Note: Backstrom hurt her leg last week and will not be skiing the rest of this season.)
"It's pretty exciting to be invited to do something like this," says Backstrom. "And second of all, to make something happen on my own. It's definitely scary, but really cool at the same time."
For the athletes, the projects add to an increasingly busy winter filled with other filming obligations and competitions. But with so much money on the line, through contest prizes or iTunes sales, as well as the appeal of total creative control and the value sponsors see in funding these projects, it's easy to see why this is the new trend in skiing.
"It can go a million ways," says Dana Flahr, who's working on both TGR's film and a Co-Lab edit this winter. "That's the beauty of filmmaking. There's room to be creative and do something you've always wanted to do."
Here are the details of the events:
The Co-Lab is open to the public. A public vote will narrow down the top 18, with three additional edits to be selected by an industry panel. Those 21 athletes will rank their favorite edits, and the athlete receiving the most votes will win $100,000. Edits are due May 31, with public voting starting June 10 and a winner announced September 20.
Real Ski Backcountry voting begins March 5. Winners will be announced at X Games Tignes, March 20-22; first place wins $50,000; second place wins $25,000, third place wins $15,000; fan favorite wins $10,000.
1. Sean Pettit, Canada
2. Dane Tudor, Canada
3. Sammy Carlson, USA
4. Parker White, USA
5. Pep Fujas, USA
6. Tanner Hall, USA
7. Wiley Miller, USA
8. Chris Benchetler, USA
ESPN Real Women voting begins April 30. Winners will be announced at X Games Barcelona, May 16-19; first place wins $50,000; second place wins $25,000, third place wins $15,000; fan favorite wins $10,000.
1. Snowboard: Jess Kimura, USA
2. Snowboard: Hana Beaman, USA
3. Ski: Ingrid Backstrom, USA
4. Ski: Michelle Parker, USA
5. Skate: Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, USA
6. Skate: Leticia Bufoni, Brazil
7. Surf: Coco Ho, USA
8. Surf: Maya Gabeira, Brazil