The voice on the phone said, “I grew up watching your ski movies in Pittsfield, Mass., and that is why I just graduated from U.C.L.A. film school. I wondered if I could stop by and meet you before I go back to Massachusetts and try and get a job?”
It was spring, and I was not yet into the 18-hour days of making my movie, so I said, “Sure, why not?”
The next day a shy, young man appeared at the door of my editing room and before long I was looking at his short graduation film. It was well-edited, cut to music and featured skiing. When it was over, I complimented him on it and asked, “Where did you get a hold of some of my ski footage that was in your film?”
Honest answers get honest results. But at that time, I didn’t need a cameraman. What I did need was a driver for the daily run to the film labs in Hollywood from my office in Hermosa Beach. Well, Brian Sisselman got the nod as the driver and, early the next winter, he got another nod. I got another phone call from a stranger, a man who said, “I have a chimpanzee I have trained how to ski. Would you like to put him in your movie?” The deal was struck and Brian was off on his first assignment as photographer for my company.
The only place we could find that would rent a motel room to Brian, the trainer and the chimpanzee was at Mount Shasta in Northern California. Brian was gone for 10 days on what should have been a two-day shoot. He returned with only two, 100-foot rolls of the soon-to-be-famous chimpanzee. When I asked him, “How come so few pictures?” he said, “The chimpanzee was a lousy skier.”
Brian traveled, filmed and skied for my company for the next 25 years. He partnered with my other ace cameraman, Don Brolin, in bringing back fantastic photos of the white world that I got all of the credit for taking.
One time, Brian was in North Africa, where it rained incessantly for a week and a half and he and his skiers were getting discouraged when he called me for some direction. I told him, “Film the rainy skiing and the mud, make it look terrible and I will weave a story of traveling that far for good skiing, sunshine, powder snow with an African look and, instead, this is what we found when we got there.” The result was an outstanding sequence of Mother Nature at her worst.
Brian was also the first cameraman to film the steeps in Valdez, Alaska. When I talked with him on the phone from Alaska he said, “This is the first time I have filmed on the side of a hill that is so steep that my elbow digs into the snow.”
Brian went off to New Zealand for a month or so with Scot Schmidt. He went on a trip to Antarctica for almost four weeks – camping in tents, climbing and filming on a glacier where the closest people were in South America, an ocean away.
About two years into Brian’s career working with me, he contracted Giardia. With a severe case of it, his turned out to be incurable and it resulted in a colonoscopy. He traveled the world all of those years with a handicap that keeps most patients chained to their house for the rest of their life.
Instead, Brian filmed Japan, China and Russia and landed in a snowfield at 18,000 feet in the Himalayas. Skiing where no one had ever skied before, he filmed skiers without supplemental oxygen in powder snow that sometimes was waist deep. Just below the 10,000-foot mark, he discovered a small town called Solang where kids by the dozens were all skiing up a storm. This is a town where the median income is about $2 a month per family. The kids were all skiing on homemade skis that were 24-inch long pieces of walnut or cherry wood, about two inches wide and two inches thick, and on the bottom of the skis was a nailed-on piece of a worn-out band saw blade. The blade was turned up on the front for the tip and the skis had woven vines or nylon string for bindings. For boots the kids all wore rubber galoshes and none of them had gloves. Their poles had no baskets or handles but every one of them had a wonderful smile. Most of them had never even thought about what most skiers call necessary equipment.
Today, Brian and I have started collecting used children skis, boots, poles and gloves to ship to that small Indian town at the foot of the Himalayas. Look in your garage and dig out any children’s ski gear you can find, contact Brian Sisselman at (207) 799-0017 and he will tell you where and how to ship them so we can get them to the Himalayan skiers.
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