It's hard to argue that they do things a little different in Europe. Yet, while Euro fashion sense and musical preference certainly qualify as suspect, the snowboarding seems to always be fresh and inspiring. With many riders focused more on style, photographers who implement a more crafted technique and movie production companies that capture authentic feeling, as a whole the Euros tend to depict snowboarding as an ever changing, electric way of life. No one does this better than the Pirates, a snowboard film company founded in 2001 in Germany.
Florian "Flo" Eckhardt is one of the Pirate crew's principal cinematographers and creative directors. Flo started his obsession with movie making at the age of 16 when he found a Bauer super 8 camera in his parents' cellar. As a youngster, his favorite place to ride was a small resort in Austria where someone named Gigi Rüf lived. Soon these two talents (one on either side of the lens) started filming snowboarding for fun, in turn planting the seeds for what would eventually become the Pirates.
With friends Basti Balser and Tobias "Ludschi" Ludescher rounding out the production crew, they went official in 2003 with their first movie "Shoot Your Friends." Ten years on the organic feel of Pirate films has cleverly conveyed the essence of shredding better than anyone.
ESPN: Talk about the early days and how use of 8mm helped define your cinematography style.
Eckhardt: The early super8 days were pretty raw. We all filmed each other hand-held style, not having a plan what the footage would be for. We just loved the sound of film running through the gate.
Our first films -- and I am talking about the raw uncut 3:20 minute rolls --were watched on this old projector over and over again until there were only scratches left. Later on we got smarter and did a home "film scan" with a mini DV camera.
How important is art? And what does art give to a snowboard movie?
I would never say snowboard movies were or are real art. Also, if you load a super grainy film into your camera doesn't mean it's art. That's maybe one of the biggest problems in snowboarding, that everybody believes as soon as you shoot film you are an artist -- wrong!
For me it's more about the framing, the choice of lens, the right angle for a specific trick, how to stage the spot and inject a feeling. But it is important to have a critical surrounding, creative people with open minds and imagination around you. If you have ever seen our books, you know what I'm talking about and how we're connected to this crowd.
What do you have to say about outside influence compromising snowboard films?
I don't want to start whining about illegal downloads or bad winters. There are never-ending influences and changes coming from outside in all aspects of life; most of the time you can't hold them back so the best thing is to adapt to the challenge.
What's the difference between a team movie and an independent snowboard movie?
All big companies seem to favor the team movies as they promise all their riders that they will have a place to film a movie part. But smaller companies, and those who want to push the quality limits, soon come to the conclusion that joining forces might be a good idea.
Another main difference is in the motivation and intention the riders bring to the table. Shooting for a team movie every rider has to prove his rank in the team while maybe not riding in the best crew constellation. In a "crew movie" people have more interests making the whole thing as good and outstanding as possible.
How are you making it work with a movie model that has seen some big changes in the last few years?
We are still sticking to the "rider part" movie concept. It has been done for years, and I know older people hate on it but we found out that the main audience still likes rider parts. We also try to adapt to the Internet demand with Pirate TV that put out more than 50 videos this season. Our 100-page art book is still outstanding and has evolved by itself to be a platform on its own. Therefore our standing is well balanced and we can adapt to the needs of all our partners.
Before "Unique 8" you were nearly 100 percent analog, right down to the cool intros. What do you have to say about that versus digi effects and computer tech?
Our main goal was always to push the quality of our films. We went from super8 to 16mm film looking for the best result versus price. Then finally RED came along with the first digital format that is more versatile than analog film. I have been shooting that RED camera for two and a half years and nobody recognized my shots being mixed in with super16 footage.
That's the beauty of digital RAW -- it's not a grainy film that makes it look arty, it's your creativity and imagination. Although all of our capturing is now 100-percent digital, we still love the analog intro titles and animations and computer generated effects. We didn't give our analog gear away yet, because we love those guns, but for a regular use the RED totally replaced celluloid.
Are their any other benefits to shooting with the RED?
The benefits are a lot more resolution that can unleash new creative ways and technique. The drawback is that my camera got slightly heavier and isn't as water resistant as my old Arri ST. Transferring film to a digital medium in maximum quality is crazy expensive and slams not only hurt the riders but our wallet. We could have bought a car each year for the transfer costs, it's that nuts.
What do you have to say about making art and following your passion like you have?
I'm happy that I can do my things how I like to do them, but it might not be that obvious to some that we are just one of many marketing tools out there and we have to stay attractive to the ones who pay the bills. As always in life, it's about giving and taking. But in general we're all happy to survive with doing what we want to do.
What is special about the riders you choose to work with?
After being in the business for more than ten years we choose the people we want to work with. We would not just let some company decide that some guy might be their new billboard in our next movie. People have to share the same vision to get a good result in the end. Skills, passion and commitment are the three factors we really look for.
What kind of snowboarding do Pirates approve of?
We like all aspects of snowboarding, as long as you go fakie from time to time. We mostly feature powder and street riding in our movies but that's just because their are no real good park obstacles or pipes here in Europe. We represent the advanced core scene. Whatever comes with it, we cover it.