Sturgulewski strikes his Matchstick ski film debut
Imagine a post-apocalyptic world where there is nothing but hot, sandy desert as far as the eye can see.
Then image discovering a snow globe.
This is the premise of Matchstick Productions’ new winter-sports film “Ruin and Rose,” directed by Ben Sturgulewski , who cut his teeth making films for Sweetgrass Productions. Sturgulewski was helped by the Matchstick team, including Murray Wais, Steve Winter and Scott Gaffney.
The film will be screened in partnership with the Park City Film Series at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium from Friday, Oct. 7, through Sunday, Oct. 9. Friday and Saturday screenings will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday’s screening will begin at 6 p.m.
The Park Record caught up with the traveling Sturgulewski via email last week to talk about “Ruin and Rose.”
Here’s the interview.
Park Record: Matchstick Productions is known for producing action-sport films that are more than just documentary shots of athletes scoping out challenging routes. Taking the company’s 23-year history in account, how did that up the ante for you when you sat down to plan “Ruin and Rose?”
Ben Sturgulewski : Matchstick has long been at the top of the ski movie game, and creating films at [their] level and with those incredible athletes somehow felt pretty unattainable. So when MSP offered me the job it felt like some pretty hefty shoes to fill. That said, I think MSP hired me because they wanted to do something different, and they wanted to mix up the formula that worked so well for so long for them. I think that takes a lot of courage from an established company and it was really cool to see them step up to the plate and swing for the fences on something really new.
Record: What are the challenges of trying to come up with something that is different than what has come before?
Sturgulewski : It’s always just a shot in the dark. People get adjusted to the way things are, and you’re just not sure how far you can push that, so it’s always an experiment as to whether or not it will work. When you sort of throw away the idea of what something could or should be (in this case a ski film) and start trying to rebuild it from scratch, you just get to exercise your creativity in so many different directions. But ultimately, if you are able to create something different and unique, I think that’s something to be proud of, and it is something that gives me great satisfaction, much more so than recreating what’s been done before.
Record: What sparked the idea for the narrative in “Ruin and Rose?”
Sturgulewski : Steve Winter, one of the heads at MSP, came up with a single image — a snow globe sitting in an endless desert, surrounded by sand. I loved the idea and started to build off the concept. It ballooned into something totally huge and epic, and eventually was reined back in, into something a bit more manageable, but I would say still insanely out there for a ‘ski movie.’
I think the biggest appeal to me is in the simple and pure contrast of the worlds that the film explores — the cold, blue mountains of the winter world, and the harsh, yellow deserts of the apocalypse. That core sense of contrasts — the yellow and blue, the here and there, the present and the future, the hope and the despair — really fuel the story and set up the main message of the film, that even in the roughest times there can be some hope.
Record: In regards to location — France, Bulgaria, Alaska and Nambia to name a few — what influenced the decisions about where to shoot?
Sturgulewski : The locations were influenced both by convenience and familiarity, and story factors. For instance, we had a bunch of skiers in Europe, excited to ski there for a bit, so we headed there for almost a month and put together an incredible segment. We then found ways to weave that segment into the story. Conversely, some segment ideas had a place in the story first, and then we found a location to suit them. I knew I wanted a ski segment that had ruins and destruction and a war-torn vibe. We had intended to go to Kashmir but the snow was terrible, so at the last minute we did some research and found ourselves in Bulgaria in this amazing abandoned Communist monument. One of the crazier places I’ve ever been, without a doubt. It’s normal for a ski movie to have to adapt to changing conditions around the globe, but you also have to adapt your script and narrative story to the constantly changing locations.
Record: Did plans change often?
Sturgulewski : You always hope to capture the best skiing possible, in the most creative and unique ways. Almost always your plans are dashed by conditions or other factors and you’ve got to work with what you have in less than ideal freezing environments. It’s almost always pure chaos, changing constantly, but I think you learn to roll with it and even enjoy it. Broadly speaking though, the skiing segments were pretty loose while just trying to capture the best skiing possible, while the narrative segments in Namibia were quite scripted and we had a very short and specific schedule during which we had to get everything done. There was quite a bit improv nonetheless.
Record: Matchstick vets — including Mark Abma, Markus Eder, Sander Hadley, Michelle Parker and Tanner Rainville, as well as Sammy Carlson, Erick Hjorleifson and Cody Townsend, to name a few — have returned. However, there is a flock of those like Zack Giffin, Bene Mayr, Ole Pavel and Noah Wallace and more, who make their Matchstick debut. How did you decide who to shoot where?
Sturgulewski : The athletes definitely have a wide range of talents — some more big mountain guys, some more park, etc. — so we definitely picked who to bring along on each trip pretty carefully, to get the best out of them and out of the trip in general.
Record: What were the challenges of shooting in ultra high definition? And, of course, in addition to the picture quality, what were the other rewards?
Sturgulewski : The film was shot on 6k Red Dragons, and in the end we press that down to 4k ultra-HD — which is still pretty crazy high resolution. I have actually been shooting in 4k or higher for years, but this is the first time I have ever had it actually go to print that way. It allows you to reframe and zoom around within the image, and generally just fiddle with it on a much deeper level to add dynamic energy, enhanced color and broader range to each and every shot. With so many options, it gets pretty easy to want to work on something forever in post-production. But at a certain point you always just have to let it go.
The Park City Film Series will screen Matchstick Productions’ “Ruin and Rose,” not rated, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave., on Friday, Oct. 7, to Sunday, Oct. 9. Friday and Saturday screenings will start at 8 p.m. Sunday’s screening will start at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.com.
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