words:: Feet Banks
The Sea to Sky is renowned for “extreme” sports videos and “sick” web edits but there’s a world-class film and commercial scene setting up shop, and Squamish is the basecamp.
It’s another unseasonably warm spring afternoon in Squamish, the birds are chirping, the bike tires are muddy, and Travis Tetreault is about to say his favourite words…
“Ladies and gentlemen….that’s a wrap! Thank you to all the departments for your hard work.”
A 25+ year Sea to Sky local, Tetreault has spent the past week working as the 1st A.D. on a Hyundai shoot with director Jonny Mass, a 22-year old California-based phenom with a client list that includes Lamborghini, Porsche, BMW and more. While Squamish has always been on the radar as a movie location (even The Rock filmed here for 2003’s The Rundown), the past decade has seen a huge increase in interest from the US and beyond.
“I love working up here,” says Mass on his first visit to Squamish. “I had no idea how beautiful it is, it’s like Northern California on steroids.”
Working with Mass for the second time in as many months, Tetreault got to show the director that Squamish is more than scenic backdrops. This particular shoot involved some of the area’s crown jewel experiences, including mountain biking on the infamous Half Nelson trail, ripping Sea Doos and wakeboards in Howe Sound, horseback riding at Cheekeye Ranch, and kayaking the Cheekeye river.
In addition to Mass’s Hyundai commercial, another major car company was also filming in Squamish at the same time, and between feature films, movies of the week, TV series, and commercials the Sea to Sky corridor is fast becoming a world-class region for film production. Part of the reason is because there are world-class crews living here.
“What was unique about this shoot was the amount of local talent involved,” Tetreault explains. “Here’s a global car company and the hottest young American car commercial director coming to town and the crew, cast, and suppliers are loaded with people that live here and are among the best in the world at what they do.”
That’s right, a lot of those local kids who spend their 20s making “rad, gnarly and extreme” ski, snowboard and mountain bike flicks go on to successful careers in mainstream film and commercial world. Local athlete/photographer (and frequent Mountain Life contributor Mason Mashon was the star of the commercial. The producer was ex-Snowboard Canada photo editor John Scarth. Derek Heidt, a snowboard legend in his own right, provided the “Russian Arm”, a vehicle with a highly specialized robotic arm and stabilized camera mount for filming vehicle-to vehicle driving scenes. Squamish local Dan Redford coordinated all stunts and the precision driver was Ryan Ennis, who also owns Squamish’s Geo Cidery. Even Tetreault himself started making “new school” ski videos in 1999, (check out the legendary Heavy Hitting Films flick Parental Advisory) before parlaying his on-snow skills into jobs with masters like iconic American ski filmmaker Greg Stump, mountain bike film pioneer Christian Begin, and Oscar-winning documentarian John Zaritzky.
“Action sports was still pretty niche in those days,” Tetreault says. “I knew if I wanted to learn more and hone my skills, there would be no shortcuts. I needed to spend more time in Vancouver.”
To that end, Tetreault made the move to “Hollywood North” and worked his way through the ranks for almost two decades, often crossing paths with other Sea to Sky locals finding their own place in “the industry.”
“It was a lot of years of missing powder days, friends birthday parties or other special events,” Tetreault says, “but that’s the trade-off to learning the craft and working with some of the best commercial directors and DOPs [directors of photography] coming to BC. I went from filming skiing during the day and working nights at Sushi Village to being on set with the director of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video or the DOP that shot Platoon, Casino and Wall Street. It’s been amazing. ”
As a 1st A.D., Tetreault now has one of the most important jobs on set. He’s in charge of setting the tone for the shoot, running the set, scheduling, logistics, crew safety and is often quarterbacking crews of 100+ people on shoot days that cost multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’ve never worked with such a buttoned up and dialed 1st A.D.,” says Jonny Mass, who first worked with Tetreault on a complicated night shoot in Vancouver and now wants him on all his jobs. “Travis takes the extra time and ensures everything is on-point. Our first shoot together was the smoothest I’ve ever worked on and that was down in the city, he’s just a master of coordination and getting the best out of everyone on set.”
Mass and Tetreault have future projects planned together in Dubai, Europe, and South America, but Mass says he is not done with Squamish just yet. “This is a special place, great locations and great people. I’m excited to come back.”
And as more film and commercial work creeps north from Vancouver (and injects millions into the local economy), the Sea to Sky will have ample talent ready for action. Because whether it’s a bunch of kids making their first renegade bike video in the forest, to professionals like Scarth or Tetreault working with some of the biggest brands in the world one thing is certain, the Sea to Sky talent pool runs deep and it’s always good to work from “home.” —ML