The Sweetgrass film crew risk their lives to get a beautiful piece of B-roll footage that most people won’t even notice.

Getting ready for takeoff. Photo by Sweetgrass Productions

How many people really notice the B-roll footage that starts a film or sets up an action shot?

As a filmmaker, I am constantly surprised when I show a video and I say something like, “what did you think of that pan of the grain stalks waving in the wind?” and what I get in return is a blank look. I suppress my frustration because they don’t know that it took me hours to set up the shot, waiting for the sun to be at just the right angle and the wind to blow just right. It was less than three seconds of the film.

So why risk your life to get that kind of shot? Aside from the obvious fact that many in the adventure-filming business are addicted to adrenaline, there are the arguments of context and mood.

What might happen to the film when that “raptor” footage is omitted? The viewer may never get the context of the unforgiving terrain the skiers are shredding or the danger of getting to the untamed powder. The sun rising over the craggy snow may also give the final production the feeling of a new day dawning over the Andes (which, essentially, is what getting first tracks ever on these remote mountains is all about for these skiers.) Sounds good, until it all goes wrong.

It usually isn’t just about three-seconds of footage, however.

Getting the shot for most filmmakers is the adventure every bit as much as the skiing is the adventure for the skiers. The adventure, and the risk that goes with it, is how they live most fully. And if you omit that from the final production, what do you have left?

Video created by Sweetgrass Productions.

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