The Winter Olympics as Backround for K2 Ski Films

By McGahan, Chuck | American Cinematographer, July 1980 | Go to article overview

The Winter Olympics as Backround for K2 Ski Films


McGahan, Chuck, American Cinematographer


The challenge was to not duplicate the television coverage, but to produce an Olympics film that would deal with skiing technology

When K2 was designated the official ski of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, it provided the company with valuable promotional opportunities. Although K2 is the largest manufacturer of skis in the United States and is well-known in the specialized ski world, the general public did not have high awareness of the company or its products. The Olympics offered an opportunity to help change that.

But taking advantage of the situation proved to be a real problem.

Although K2 had been associated with several ski films throughout its 15-year manufacturing history, its involvement had been limited to distribution of prints. Ownership and rights to additional usage rested with the producers. It would be difficult if not impossible for the company to take advantage of its unique Olympic marketing position.

By mid-1978, K2 and its communication design consultants, Heckler Associates of Seattle, decided to move directly into the production of ski films, and to retain ownership of all new film materials. The search began for a film producer who was experienced in shooting ski action, who had the creative skills necessary to show the skis and racers to best advantage, and who could assist the company in the complex negotiations and post-production work necessary to get the best use out of the film that was shot.

The producer selected was the Charles East Company of Seattle. Chuck East is an experienced skier and former ski instructor who now heads his own motion picture production company.

Cost-efficiencies of the project became clear almost immediately. For about the same amount of money that would be required to purchase a minimal commercial buy from ABC during the Olympics, K2 would be able to produce and distribute, for television and theatrical release, three separate half-hour films. In addition, it would be able to provide the best action footage of K2 skis to other commercial sponsors using national television, produce its own commercials for cooperative use with its dealers, and give its engineering department an unmatchable visual record of how racing skis perform under the most demanding conditions.

East and his crew traveled to six World Cup sites in Europe and the United States during the winter of 1978-79, exposing approximately 70,000 feet of Eastman color negative II film 7247 (tungsten).

Two documentary features came out of that winter's work, and each has been distributed to hundreds of television stations, and to a total audience of millions of viewers. In addition, prints of both films are used by ski clubs and ski teams around the world.

Specialized work like this required a production team that understood commercial cinematography as well as skiing. East began with people whom he knew and had worked with, and formed a nucleus of a team that would be together for two years. Many times there would be as many as five cameras operating at distances up to a mile from each other. Split-second decisions would have to be made, and the crew members had to recognize opportunities instantly and take advantage of them. There would be significant technical challenges, such as recognizing rapid, radical changes in exposure values caused by the sun moving behind or out of cloud cover, or skiers racing from bright snowfields into shadows.

One reason the 16mm color negative film format was chosen is that it provides tremendous mobility and latitude for handling the wide range of conditions to be faced. "There were times when we had to decide in seconds whether to set the cameras for a fast enough shutter speed to capture the action as skiers raced by, or to maintain the depth of field necessary for showing a field of skiers," said East. "Then there were those situations where the action quickly moved from bright sunlight glaring on white snow to clouds and dark shadows or fast-falling dusk.

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