A surprise phone call from a former cameraman of mine led to a half-hour of reminiscing. Brian Sisselman many years ago had just graduated from UCLA film school and wanted to be a ski photographer in the worst way. He showed me his sample reel that included footage from some of my own films that he had rented and re-edited. No big deal. He was hired as a driver to take stuff back and forth to the film labs in Hollywood from Hermosa Beach where our studio was at the time. Brian had a good eye and before I knew it this morning we were talking about some of our exploits together.
We talked about the time I sent him to the Cedars of Lebanon to ski in its famous powder snow. It rained for nine days straight and finally when he was about to give up and head for somewhere in central Europe, we had to make a decision.
I said, “Remember Brian that our films always tell a story. What if we tell this one exactly like it happened? You tell me the snow is as bad as you have ever seen it, anywhere. What if I just show the really bad rain puddles and the soaking wet ponchos and plastic sacks and tell the audience that we went all the way to North Africa and this is the kind of snow that we found.” This is what the Cedars of Lebanon decided to give us on this trip. It worked for the audiences and worked for the art of filmmaking.
Brian reminded me of another trip, his flight to 18,000 feet in the Himalayas and skiing in untracked powder down to a small village in a valley below. Every kid in town had a pair of skis and used them almost every day. They were made out of a two-foot-long pieces of cherry tree with a piece of a band-saw blade for the bottom with the front end turned up for the tip of the ski.
The first time Brian worked for me, we had the camera pointed at Martina Navratilova, the world-class tennis player and a very good skier. She had wanted to ski at Aspen and I wanted to film at Snowmass because I knew that the terrain was better suited to her cruising style. We started off on the wrong foot, but when I pointed out to Martina that Aspen was socked in with a lot of clouds and we were working in bright sunshine she understood that we knew what we were doing. The sequence worked.
Today, Brian and his wife Jenna own a very successful Madras clothing company in India and Peru with their headquarters in Portland, Maine, and do great business up and down the East Coast. While filming in India over the years, Brian developed some good relationships that have grown into business relationships and partnerships today.
One of Brian’s best sequences had nothing to do with extreme skiing. It was on the slight slope that led up to a rope tow somewhere. The day before had been warm and during the night it froze rock hard and clear as glass. Impossible to walk up, his shot of people slipping, sliding and falling all over the place is still a favorite in my memory bank.
Years ago, I received a phone call from someone who was going to open a helicopter operation in Alaska. He wanted some coverage of what he said was the steepest and best place in Alaska to ski and film. Brian brought back the first truly spectacular footage of the mountains around Valdez, Alaska.
Brian went from that kind of life to buying two sewing machines for two men in India. Brian’s get-it-done attitude enabled him and Jenna to buy a small building and expand it and not have to travel, ski and film anymore.
Get in touch with him at Cape Madras, Portland, Maine, if you want to follow in his ski tracks. I can tell you that his camera is definitely not for sale nor are his last pair of free skis that he received while on the job in Sun Valley.
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