Mo Money Mo Problems:
Sailing The Phase
By Jesse Fox
“Are you the captain?” Travis Rice asks me. And because he’s pointing at me, I point at me to just be clear we’re both pointing at the same “captain.” I’ve been called a lot of things. Captain is a first.
“Well? Are you or aren’t you?” Travis asks again, he looks as confused as I am. I assumed he was joking and figure out quickly he wasn’t. I reply, “No, luckily for everyone, I’m not the captain.”
I glance down and I’m wearing black: jeans, T-shirt, and a denim jacket, all black except for a pair of white Vans. I’m ill prepared to be sailing today and assumed that wasn’t a problem. I don’t own anything with navy stripes or pleats. The only sailing experience I have is from watching Grey Goose commercials and the movie White Squall. “This ship beneath you is not a toy, and sailing is not a game. Respect that and you’ll do fine.” I remember Jeff Bridges’ character saying this. It’s the only advice I’m bringing aboard. Everything about my presence should scream, “Do not ask that guy to do anything!”
Thankfully, the sun is shining and the waters are calm. We’re about to set sail up the Georgia Strait from the docks on Vancouver’s Granville Island. I clear the confusion, “I’m with King Snow magazine.” I say, “We’re doing a feature on the film.”
“Oh… cool.” Travis responds.
As we walk to the boat someone asks, “Is this boat like yours, Travis?” He pauses to think. There’s plenty of Travis sailing in The Fourth Phase. This boat we’re about to board looks like it could be the lifeboat to Travis’s boat. “Well…” Travis crafts his response. “They’re both powered by wind. That’s about it.”
The nine of us: Travis Rice, Eric Jackson, Greg Wheeler (the film’s director of photography), Red Bull on-camera host Haley Murphy, videographer Darren Rayner, a few key Red Bull marketing staff and our real captain, Katie. We’re sailing today because The Fourth Phase episode series needs a backdrop for the premiere tour segments. The tie-in makes sense. I feel out of place. I'm here to live that Grey Goose lifestyle for a minute and sneak in a real conversation about this monster of a film that’s been four years in the making.
At this point, I haven’t seen The Fourth Phase. The Vancouver premiere is happening hours later to a sold-out crowd of thousands. I, like everyone else, have only seen the trailer. And maybe not like everyone else, have heard crazy rumours that this film had been a total cluster behind the scenes. I know it hasn’t come easy for them. And honestly, I don’t know what to ask these dudes. This is going to be the most documented snowboard video of all time. I’ve already read three interviews and a review on the film. My research, my questions—all of it seems redundant.
After several hours of sailing, we get to talking about the film. I tap record on my phone and remember: I’m a snowboarder; I want to know what a snowboarder would want to know about...
Let's hear about the snowboarding and what snowboarders would want to know.
Eric: How much sandwich do I have in my beard?
Travis: I don't think it's a video.
Eric: But seriously, how much sandwich do I have in my beard?
Greg: Yeah. So, you don't want the mainstream, polished turd answers.
Exactly. Start from the beginning. What took this thing so long?
Travis: Every single one of our films: The Community Project, That's it That’s All, Art of Flight; we kind of started on our own accord. I funded the start of the projects. You know if you wait around too long for sponsorship, the shit just sometimes never happens. I just self funded the start of the films, and we worked in the sponsors later. Four years ago, we went out in Jackson and ended up filming stuff, and I don't think any of it is in the film.
Eric: Yeah, none of it made it in the film, but honestly, there are some really good shots in there.
Travis: You can see those first shots in my Union part. Union's got a sick film coming out, Stronger. That first year, a lot of that footage went into the Union part…
[Sidetracked, we pause. We notice our boat is headed on a collision course. Haley, Red Bull’s on-air host is taking her turn behind the wheel of the ship.
Eric: Haley's like, looking at her phone…
Travis: Haley, you looking at that boat?
Greg: She’s still on her phone…
Haley: We’re fine, we’re clearly in front of him.
Travis: Remember they’ve got the right of way because we’ve got the sail up.
Greg: Hopefully she got that…
Eric: Annnnnd we’re back.
How difficult is it to progress your snowboarding these days? To find snow, locations, and weather aligned and putting yourself in spots where you can actually take it to another level?
Travis: I think for Eric and I both, that is why we go to such lengths and travel places and spend the amount of time we do. It's because we know where that level is. We need for conditions and terrain to come together. To a place where we feel we can push what we want to do in snowboarding. That's really what we're out looking for all the time. Those conditions and those features where we know, all right, this is an opportunity to do something I haven't done before, or something I've been thinking about for so long.
Eric: Totally. For me personally, and I would imagine you as well, I'm never satisfied. I look at my riding, I watch the footage, and I'm always, "Well, I could have rode that faster. Probably should have done that." We're critical, and I think that really pushes your riding to new levels. For me, riding with Travis these last couple of years has really opened my eyes to how I look at terrain and what is possible; I took a lot of knowledge that Travis was just dishing out. That's been helpful, and I'm really thankful for that. It's been pretty cool.
Does the magnitude of the production hold the level of riding back?
Travis: I mean, there's no way around that fact. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. Straight up.
Eric: Straight up.
Travis: Our production is huge, and as incredible as our whole production crew is... it's amazing what we get done with the amount of gear that we have. Inevitably, you're always going to be a little limited with these cameras. It's just the nature of the game. The more cameras you bring, the more people you bring, the more cumbersome the project gets. Straight up, it makes it more challenging. To be at the right places, the right times, and the freedom to go anywhere you want, you lose that the more you bring into the backcountry. I think that's kind of a testament to how solid our crew was. To be, for the most part, unobstructed by how deep and how gnarly we were able to get, and the timing; being able to shoot at sunrise with three cameras and a drone or some other thing. Shooting by sunrise, it's amazing how tough that actually is for Greg and his crew to be out there ready at sunrise. That means these guys are getting up at 3 a.m.
Greg: It's a lot of coordination and planning, even weeks before going out trying and capture that. It was definitely an orchestra of chaos. Thinking through, OK, we're going to bring these camera packages, and this is how it's going to get packed. And everybody needs to sled in. That's where my right-hand man, Steven Scherba a.k.a. Bungee—he was in charge of making sure that we had enough snowmobiles, how each was packed, and who was bringing what out. With these big camera systems, you're just bringing out more gear… more batteries. Especially with the drone, which took generators to charge the batteries, because the batteries get cold.
Travis: You just have to change your program from like it used to be in the old days. Where you’d go out with a single filmer and you are just free form. You look around, and if something looks good, you go and ride it—you shoot from the hip. You just can't do that with a big production. In the end, the quality of shots and how we're able to capture things is just unparalleled. On top of that
we're a fucking band of brothers. There's something incredible when you have a team come together going day-in-and-day-out. The camaraderie is epic, man.
Literally, when you have a crew of like 12 to 14 people committed all with a common goal, and with a common passion to fucking do whatever it takes... it's incredible what you can accomplish with such a large team. We throw up fucking kickers in the backcountry that should take normal crews three days to put up, and we throw them up in an afternoon because we've got 14 people! There're things you can do with a big crew that you can't do with a small crew as well.
Who on the production crew shreds the hardest?
Eric: Wow. Everyone's got their specialty, man.
Travis: One of our editors, John Rodowski, is actually pretty sick. One day, shooting in Jackson, there was one kicker in particular that we had an awesome session on. The sun went away. It was kind of shady and we were all done. We were over it. Flat light bomb holes. The thing was scary, and Rodo was like, "Dude, you mind if I hit it?" I was like, "Are you kidding me? Yeah, I'd love that," and so he borrows my snowboard. Granted he probably hasn't ridden in at least a week. He was probably cold as shit from manning a camera the entire day, and with no warm-up whatsoever, he just straps in. Drops in, and first try stomps a Backside 7 Cork with a pretty sick Indy Grab.
Travis: He ended up being like the VIP hero of the day, man. Stomped one for the whole crew.
Any other good stories from something that didn’t make it in the film?
Travis: There was one face in Japan that we drove by every day; we kept perving out on it. It's a roadside construction zone, and there're all these pillows, but you know it's gnarly. You know there's like fucking rebar under there, it's all like man-made concrete environments and stuff. We always kind of just looked up like, "Oh, man, some day," but not really thinking that it would actually be possible. The second year we were there, we got into a pretty heavy snow cycle, and it was cold. We drove by it again, and we couldn't believe it. We were like, "Oh my, god, I think it's rideable." There was enough snow, and it had pillowed up and stuck enough that it actually looked rideable. So we devised this whole Mission Impossible plan where...
Greg: We went and scouted it the night before on the way back from riding that day, and kind of assessed. Riders had to figure out their plan in how to get to the top. I think we looked at Google Maps or something about a road that accessed up close. They had to figure out how to get in. Then we had all the camera guys figured out like, "Okay, you're going to be positioned up here behind this building, like kind of hidden." Then I was shooting out of the van with a tripod, kind of stealth mode because it got light first thing in the morning, so...
Travis: It was a full construction zone, and all these workers were there too, which didn't make it any easier. We had the getaway vehicle, and we didn't' want to tip anyone off, so Lando [Mark Landvik] and I got dropped off almost two miles away, and had to traverse and hike up through these mountains. We had to do like a top down find; it was actually pretty tech. We left in the dark, first thing.
Eric: When the camera crew went and set up, some of us waited at the 7-Eleven. Waiting for the radio call, like, "Okay, guys, we're getting into position, so start moving in." It was full James Bond.
Travis: We ended up riding it. We both kind of ripped our lines. I ripped mine like all the way down, and I clipped this last little concrete embankment and fell at the very end. Lando aired in, and just aired in a little too deep, so he went over the bars, too. That's something that, even though we crashed, it was still an epic run. An epic ride. That’s in the bonus edits.
Greg: Then Mikkel [Bang] was in the van like waiting to come pick you guys up as the getaway vehicle.
Travis: Dude, Mikkel was shitting his pants, man.
Did you dwell on pressures to outdo what you’ve done in past films?
Travis: From the filmmaking and filming side, I thought about it every once in awhile, but I kind of had to just tell myself, "The more you think about that stuff, you're not going to get anything done." Just sit there and dwell on it. The stress, the stress, the stress. That turns out being counterproductive.
Travis: There definitely was a huge pressure to be like, "Okay, how are they going to outdo themselves again?" It was definitely in the back of my head, but I think at a point you had to just zone it out and stay focused on the task at hand. The crew we had assembled to execute this thing—it was an awesome experience. I mean, four years for me in essence.
Greg: It's like graduating high school, you know? It was a good portion of my life, but I think about successfully completing this film and everyone coming out safe, and just being able to work with some really amazing people, and seeing Travis take it to another level.
There’s this consistent vibe from you guys that The Fourth Phase was a real struggle. Was this the most difficult thing you have ever worked on?
Greg: For sure.
Travis: Yeah, this was the most difficult project by far.
Eric: Yeah, I'll third that. It was real. It wasn't easy, or a fairy tale project where we just go perfect conditions and landed everything. It was a real life experience. It was a struggle a lot of times. I think that's something that the film portrays, that it's not just the glory, the finished product. It's actually the process that we had to go through to make this film. Yeah, it wasn't easy.
I've heard a lot of wild rumours about what was going on behind the scenes. Was there anything to clear up? Is there anything we can talk about?
Greg: Yeah, I mean, the one thing I would say is that I'm just pumped that the whole crew that started the production, like from Day 1, is the same crew that finished it.
Travis: Yeah. I mean, I think that... the same crew is still here. I think that kind of just showed. It was a good representation of the kind of commitment and passion that everyone had for this particular film. Our crew dedicated a lot to this film, and probably gave more than they should have. Ultimately, that's the reason that we did get to the end and were able to make the film we did is because everyone was all in, you know? No one left.
Fair enough. What are you most proud of with this film?
Eric: It's such a trip. To be totally honest with you, man, ever since That's It, That's All came out, it's been a dream of mine to be a part of these movies. You watch them, and in your mind you see yourself snowboarding on that screen. Then, The Art of Flight came out, and my brother, John, was killing it so hard in that movie. Man, I just wanted an opportunity so bad to be apart of this film. Then, it happened. Dreams come true. If I could just describe how I feel in one word, I would just say: thankful. Thankful to have been able to be a part of this film and to have shared the experiences and travel, and the awesome places that we got to go. Yeah, man, I'm thankful.
Greg: Dude, I can't help but say that I’m proud everyone came out of it at the end. We’re all still here. Yeah, I mean, I think that comes first and foremost. We pushed it as hard as we did and we still operated within the safety protocol that we laid out.
Travis: It's volatile. Backcountry is a volatile place, especially if you don't know what you're doing.
Everyone agreed that this was by far the most difficult project they've worked on. Is it too soon to ask what’s next?
Travis: I'm really looking forward to implementing my anti-plan, which is basically shooting down any plan that comes my way. That's my plan. That, and honestly, I'm really excited to try to bring back the Supernatural contest.
It’s coming back to Baldface?!
Travis: We worked on the course a lot this summer actually. We even had two lumberjacks struck by lightning.
Two of them?! What are the odds?
Travis: Yeah, two of them. I mean, it was the same bolt. It was the same strike. Yeah, they're good. Some minor complications afterwards, but it was pretty gnarly. With Red Bull's help we've done some maintenance on the course.
You ever have aspirations of slowing down?
Travis: No, man. I'm in it. As long as I'm having fun and work with good people, I'm still motivated. The one thing I'll say is the last shot in the film does tease some of our future plans…
*All photos by Scott Serfas