"McConkey" premieres at Squaw

"McConkey" filmmaker Scott Gaffney talks about his friendship with freeskier Shane McConkey

The North American premiere of the movie "McConkey" is this Saturday night at the base of a chairlift the late freeskiing pioneer Shane McConkey loved. Thousands of people will gather in McConkey's hometown to watch the film about his life on an outdoor screen set up at the KT-22 lift in Squaw Valley, Calif. Before the premiere, we spoke with McConkey's best friend and former roommate, Scott Gaffney, one of the film's directors and a cinematographer with Matchstick Productions. For "McConkey," Gaffney's largest undertaking yet, he hoped to humanize a superhero. The movie first premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival last April and next week, it opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

How are you feeling at the moment, just before the premiere at Squaw?
I'm not nervous. You're always nervous that people aren't going to show, more than anything. I think there have already been 2,000 pre-sold tickets so it's going to be big. I know with this community, people are going to love it. It's a little more comfortable knowing it was just playing in Europe. Annecy had a five-minute standing ovation and apparently there was a similar reaction in Moscow.

Are there any clips or stories that didn't make the movie that make you laugh?
There's one that didn't make the movie, but it's indicative of who Shane was. Red Bull athletes submit proposals for what they want to do through the course of the year. Shane submitted a formal proposal to do an ostrich BASE jump. The idea was to pull a moving van up to maybe the Twin Falls Bridge in Idaho. Shane would be on an ostrich inside the van. They'd open up the door and he'd ride the ostrich out of the van and BASE jump with it. The ostrich would either be attached to him or have its own BASE rig. He submitted it multiple times and Red Bull would ignore it and Shane would submit it again another year. Sherry [McConkey] just shakes her head every time she hears that story. But I keep saying, 'What if the ostrich had the best moment of its life doing that!?' Think how fired up that ostrich would be!

Red Bull

Shane McConkey skiing in Haines, Alaska. He was killed in a ski-BASE jumping accident in March 2009.

Shane died in March, 2009. How long have you guys been working on the movie?
I knew it was going to happen like a week after he died. All the footage was sitting there and we knew this was something we simply had to do. At MSP, we had worked with him for so long. The process got started right away in the brain. It was later that summer that we met with the people at Red Bull, talked it through and then the next spring was when we sat down and started really forming the plan.

Did the film turn out how you envisioned it?
I think it's exactly what we hoped for. The only unfortunate thing is how short it had to be to make it a real movie. There's so much stuff that hit the floor. I wanted to do a DVD extra of 30 minutes of just Shane hilarity strung together. You just couldn't fit it though. If I had edited the film solo, I would've made an eight-hour movie.

What do you think this film will do for Shane's legacy?
He was a normal person. I think a lot of people are going to like seeing that side of him and feel good that the person they saw on film was the same person in real life. He wasn't an act. He wasn't for show. I think this film will confirm that for them and make him more endearing for them.

Are you ready for your next project, MSP's "Days of My Youth," comes out next fall?
I want to make some ski porn this winter. Everyone's gotten so serious with movies these days -- I want to go back to having fun.

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