Documentary gives new 2021 Summer Olympic sports a ‘World Debut’ on YouTube
Park City High graduate is co-director and co-producer
Filmmaker Cole Sax has a unique perspective on the upcoming Summer Olympic Games.
The 2011 Park City High School graduate has co-directed, co-produced and released “World Debut: From Outsiders to the Olympics,” a documentary feature that can be watched on YouTube and the Olympic Channel.
The film follows the decades-long and winding road it took for sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing to get into the Olympics, let alone recognized by the public as bonafide and productive sports, according to Sax.
“It was a tough story to follow, because we’re talking about counter-culture sports,” he said. “We’re talking about how people perceive these types of sports in pop culture. We’re talking about the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee needing and wanting to change.”
“World Debut,” which was produced by YouTube Originals and the Olympics, was made in partnership with Boardwalk Pictures, the company behind Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” and “Last Chance U,” and skateboard pioneer Tony Hawk, who came on board as one of the executive producers, Sax said.
The idea for the film started when Sax, his co-director Galen Knowles and supervising producer Phil Hellser finished a 2018 unscripted series called “Far From Home,” which is about a group of unlikely Olympians and their quest to make it to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, he said.
“We started to think about the next project,” Sax said. “The three of us grew up skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing, and we knew these sports were going to make it to the 2020 Summer Games. So we thought it would be a cool story to dive into.”
The initial idea was to create another documentary series, similar to “Far From Home.”
“We wanted to look at athletes who would be the first ever in their sports of surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding to participate in the Olympics,” Sax said. “We partnered with Boardwalk again and got Tony Hawk on board.”
Sax and his crew took the idea to YouTube Originals more than two years ago.
“They actually came back to us and asked if we would be willing to do something different, and tell the story about how these sports got into the Olympics in the first place,” he said. “That idea created an interesting angle, because we would also have the athletes’ perspective.”
The athletes featured in the film include Salt Lake City-based climber Kyra Condie, Japanese skateboarder Mami Tezuka, and Peruvian surfer Sofia Mulanovich.
Crews also interviewed International Skateboarding Federation President Gary Ream, International Surfing Association Fernando Aguerre and International Federation of Sports Climbing President Marco Maria Scolaris.
“It was cool looking at the three sports and learning how and why people participate in them,” Sax said. “You look at swimming, track and field, and the other iconic summer Olympic sports, and see how these sports have rules and restraints. But these other three sports don’t.They are independent and free thinking.”
In addition, the film crew were also able to gain access to IOC President Thomas Bach, Executive Director Christophe Dube and Sports Director Kit McConnell.
“Since we did ‘Far From Home’ we made some good relationships within the Olympic Channel and Executive Producer Greg Groggel was one of them,” Sax said. “We knew other executives as well, and we were able to get a nice 30-minute window for interviews. I was happy they wanted to talk about the film, because they added a whole new layer.”
One of the biggest challenges was creating a comprehensive film out of the interviews, Sax said.
“All of these people are charismatic and well-spoken people, who are feature film worthy on their own,” he said. “While a lot of things we planned came through, at the same time there was a ton of material that had to be rethought about in the editing room. With filmmaking, you really have three films. One you write to go shoot. The one you shoot and the one you end up making in the editing room.”
Natural disasters also added to the filmmaking challenge, according to Sax.
“We planned to go to Australia for a skate qualifying event, but the wildfires that were taking place at the time there canceled them,” he said, referring to last year’s blazes that burned more than 10 hectares of land. “The event got moved to Peru, and then there was massive flooding that prevented us from going there.”
Then there was the coronavirus pandemic.
“About a week before we were supposed to head to Tokyo, we made the decision not to go just in case a lockdown would have to happen,” Sax said. “So, we pulled together a local crew in Tokyo to film for three days, and on the last day they filmed the world shut down.”
The shutdown postponed any further work on the film, according to Sax.
“We were bummed, but we also knew there were all of these athletes who were at the peak of their game who had it worse because their competitions had shut down,” he said.
Sax and his crew waited things out until the end of last year, when YouTube contacted them and said they were still interested in the film.
“We discussed what it would be like to pick up the production at the start of this year, and we wrapped production in February, thanks to a lot of remote shooting, and utilizing local crews in Argentina,” he said. “While the whole film took two-and-a-half years to make, because of the COVID-19 break, it would have really been made in 8 months, which, for a feature documentary, is pretty tight.”
Sax, who started his filmmaking career in the late Chris Maddux’s film class at Park City High School, felt a huge sense of accomplishment by finishing and seeing “World Debut: From Outsiders to the Olympics” debut on YouTube and the Olympic Channel.
“There have been plenty of times since I was in Mr. Maddux’s class when I’ve asked myself if filmmaking was right for me, and then I always go back to why I started doing this in the first place,” Sax said. “Filmmaking was an opportunity for me to express myself, which is similar to why these people participate in their sports. Parents and people think of them as dirtbaggy sports that have negative connotations. So, I’m excited about how these sports will be perceived on the Olympic stage.”
“World Premiere: From Outsiders to the Olympics” can be viewed on YouTube.
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