Slamdance film: ‘Ski Bum’ digs deep into Warren Miller’s life as a filmmaker
Documentary filmmaker Patrick Creadon is known for his 2006 debut film, “Wordplay,” which focused on Will Shortz, the New York Times Crossword Puzzle editor, and the crossword puzzle community.
He is also known for his 2008 follow-up, “I.O.U.S.A.,” which was an examination of the national debt.
Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
This year, Creadon and his wife, producer Christine O’Malley, have changed things up. Their new documentary, “Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story,” has been slated as Slamdance’s opening night film.
It is scheduled to screen at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25, at the Treasure Mountain Inn Ballroom, 255 Main St. Its second screening will be at 9:15 p.m. in the same room. An additional screening will be held in the same venue at 11 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 28.
The second change for Creadon was creating the narrative about the film’s subject, known to many as the grandfather of ski films.
“I’ve never made a movie about another filmmaker,” he said. “I love skiing, but I was drawn to Warren as a filmmaker.”
Creadon was inspired to tell Miller’s story because he kept seeing his name at the top of lists of highest-grossing documentaries throughout the years.
“What is oftentimes overlooked is that Warren Miller is one of the original independent filmmakers and film distributors,” Creadon said. “He just didn’t make the films, but he distributed them by himself. He worked as hard doing that as he did making them.”
Creadon was also taken aback by Miller’s dedication to his craft.
“It’s astonishing for me that Warren made a new film every year for 39 years in a row,” he said. “He shot the scenes, edited them and then took the film across the country.”
After his 39th film, Miller sold his company to his son and stepped back from filmmaking, Creadon said.
“He is one of the most important filmmakers of the last century,” Creadon said. “He created a playbook as a filmmaker and distributor that other filmmakers have followed. And I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.”
These are a few of the things Creadon wanted to touch on in his documentary.
“When I decided to make a film about Warren Miller, I didn’t want to make a highlight reel,” he said. “I was fascinated by the man behind the camera and how and why he did what he did.”
Creadon and his crew knew Miller’s fans would probably know most of what there was to know about their idol, so he wanted to go further and put Miller’s notable life events into perspective.
“The first thing we did was watch every single film Warren Miller and Warren Miller Entertainment has made – all 69 of them,” he said. “Then we went to Warren.”
The ski film pioneer was 92 years old at the time of those interviews, and he died on Jan. 24, 2018, while Creadon and his crew were making the film.
“We were the final interview he ever gave,” Creadon said. “We were very lucky to have spent time with him.”
The interviews took three days and were filmed at Miller’s house on Orcas Island off the northwestern coast of Washington.
“He would do an hour with us and take a rest, eat and then come back to do another hour if he felt up to it,” Creadon said. “As a result of that pace, friends who knew him and have seen the film told us he had never looked that good in 15 years.”
Friday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 28, 11 a.m.
Treasure Mountain Inn Ballroom, 255 Main St.
Creadon feels the interview was a farewell letter to Miller’s fans.
“I think Warren knew this was his last chance to revisit his story and share it,” he said. “Because of that, I think he was far more candid and more revealing about what he had to go through to become the ‘pied piper’ of ski films that he became.”
In many parts of the interview, Creadon could feel Miller wanted to set the record straight about some of the most difficult times of his life.
“I think if you asked any filmmaker what it was like when they made their first film, they would probably tell you how hard it was to get up the courage to make a movie, let along get out to distribute it and then gather the strength and courage to make their second film,” Creadon said. “At the same time if you ask parents what the hardest part of their lives, they would say it was the year of their first child. And if last, but not least, if you asked anyone who is in love what the hardest part of their lives, they would say the loss of their loved one.”
Miller went through all of those experiences within a year and a half, according to Creadon.
“In 1950, he made his first film, he was a brand new father and he lost his (first wife Jean) to cancer,” Creadon said. “I can’t imagine getting through one of those life events. These are a few of the challenges, … that he had to overcome, and doing that was a testament to who he was.”
Creadon said making a film about Warren Miller has touched him like no other project of his before.
“First off, Warren was a filmmaker; a father who had three kids, like I am,” he said. “While we made this film, I learned a lot about being a filmmaker, and I learned a lot about being a father and a husband from Warren. I feel grateful to have had this opportunity to tell this story.”
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