You’d be hard pressed to meet a shredder who hasn’t seen the cult classic Hollywood surf flick Point Break. Released in 1991, the original Point Break told the story of a group of surfers turned masked bank robbers that were infiltrated by an undercover FBI agent named Johnny Utah. Between the film’s unique action sports twist and now legendary one-liners from Utah, Point Break was a hit upon debut and is still revered by a legion of fans.
Fast forward to Christmas 2015 and all Point Break fans are in for a holiday treat as Johnny Utah is back! On December 25th, Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures are set to release a new Point Break, featuring a new cast and a re-imagined, expanded story. What the new movie honors from the old movie is that Agent Utah is once again attempting to break up a criminally minded collective of adrenaline junkies –only this time the thieves don’t just surf, they also snowboard, rock climb, BASE jump and ride motocross bikes.
What’s cool about the new “multi-sport” Point Break is that the director and cinematographer Ericson Core went out of his way to film the extreme sports scenes using live action. Instead of relying on computer generated stunts, Core hired top guns like climber Chris Sharma, BASE jumper Jeb Corliss and surfer Laird Hamilton to help shoot next level yet realistic scenes of their respective sports.
For the big mountain snowboarding scenes, Core worked with the world’s best freeriders - including Xavier De Le Rue, Ralph Backstrom, Lucas Debari, Mike Basich, Tom Burt and Jones Ambassadors Jim Zellers and Mitch Toelderer. Zellers was the coordinator of the group and organized all the logistics for the on-snow shots. For over ten weeks between March and November 2014, Zellers and the crew posted up in the Aosta Valley of Italy to film the scenes.
We caught up with Zellers to hear some background on what filming a blockbuster in the high alpine is all about and why he is excited for the film’s release.
What was your role in the production of the snowboarding scenes?
Zellers: I started off consulting on the script, then scouted and approved our shooting location and the team of riders. Once we were on site I made the day-to-day calls on what, where or if we were going to shoot that day.
Where did you film and what was the terrain like?
Zellers: We filmed everything in a 12 mile long valley near Courmayeur, Italy. We were on location there for 5 weeks, but we only had 13 shooting days of good weather and stable snow to film in. Over that period of time, we rode just about every possible line in the valley. The terrain was a mix of steep faces, couloirs, bowls, cliffs, a little bit of everything.
On set in the Italian alps near Courmayeur. Photo - Jim Zellers
How did you access and film the lines you were riding?
Zellers: We shot everything using a helicopter. The riders were transported in one heli and the filmers used one or two more helis depending on whether we were shooting with the cineflex camera that day.
How would you describe the action that went down in the scenes?
Zellers: It was insane! Super impressive riding from everyone involved as most scenes have four or five riders in the shot. It was crazy to watch as we would send four riders at a time down these heavy lines. The guys got so good at riding tight together and staying on their feet while still dropping cliffs and pointing it through couloirs.
Each rider had four boards mounted and waxed in case a board broke or a custom camera modification was required. Photo - Jim Zellers
How did you determine when it was safe to film?
Zellers: We had a team of local guides from Courmayeur that would rate the avalanche danger for the day from 1-5. If danger was a 1 or 2 we would shoot heavy lines, 3 we would shoot easier stuff, 4 would usually be no go and 5 was definitely a no shoot day. For safety on site we always had a rescue helicopter standing by on scene with a doctor and nurse on board.
How is filming snowboarding for Hollywood different than filming for a strictly shred flick?
Zellers: We were following a script and story board so we had a shot list we were trying to knock out. I was always trying to think a head light and weatherwise so we could pick up as many shots as possible each day. Usually I was one step ahead of the group scouting locations for the next shot base on the shot list.
Anything else special about how the scenes were filmed?
Zellers: We caught multiples angles of everything - geographic establishing shots, group riding shots, individual riding shots, board mounted shots and all kinds of body mounted shots. We had a special crew just to set up all the body mount shots.
What boards did you ride while filming?
Zellers: Each rider rode their own boards. Mitch, Ralph and I rode Carbon Flagship 64’s.
Stunt dummie extraordinaire, Mr. Tom Burt kicks back in the board room. Photo - Jim Zellers
Did the starring actors ever come to film in the mountains?
Zellers: Yes, all the actors filmed scenes in the mountains. They were all amazing, hard workers. We had them roped in on a knife blade ridge with their board pointed over the edge of the line for like six hours for one really intense scene. They were so focused on the scene that they seemed oblivious to the exposure.
Why are you excited to see the film?
Zellers: When it came down to strictly snowboarding we filmed some super impressive riding and I have faith in the director that he will make snowboarding and all the other sports look pretty rad.
See Point Break in theaters Christmas Day in the USA.
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