When Nick Waggoner graduated from Colorado College in 2008 with a documentary film degree, he had big dreams to start a ski film company. But his vision was different than the typical ski porn—less hip-hop and rail sliding, and more deep-country blues and face shots. Sweetgrass films leave a different kind of impression on the audience—and Nick is quickly discovering what that is. Sally Francklyn caught up with Nick on the road to talk about Emmy Awards, sushi, and a technicolor school bus.
Tell me about the recent award Sweetgrass Productions received.
We were in Montreal for the International Freeski Film Festival, or IF3. The audience is packed with a ton of 15 to 16-year-old jibbers—definitely not our typical audience, but these kids are the heart of the industry—that younger, urban crowd. We ended up winning Best Cinematography—we essentially won an Emmy for a ski movie. It was a total surprise.
Why were you surprised? The shots look pretty great to me.
It was a surprise because our film was so different. The cinematography, the music—everything was a totally different experience for the audience. It was so hard for me as the filmmaker to sit there, anxiously thinking “I don’t even want to be here. Nobody likes it.” I was totally bummed out. I skipped the awards ceremony and went out in Montreal with some friends. The next morning, I checked my email in the airport, and found out we had won for best cinematography. I was blown away. We won, but not only that, we beat out the best in the industry—Matchstick, Rage, everybody.
Was there a panel of judges, or did the audience vote American Idol style?
There was a panel of judges—J.F. Cusson, Eric Iberg, and Guillaume Lahure. Each of these guys represent athletes, the film community, and the ski industry. We were also given the judges score cards, so to see that we received 29 out of 30 points was pretty cool. It’s crazy to think that I was watching J.F. Cusson throw Japan airs in movies when I was a kid, and having him judge my film was an awesome experience.
What’s it like traveling the country in a fixed-up short bus?
I live in that thing with my four best friends—it’s like a little family. We’ve been on tour since September 17, and every day has been an adventure. It’s like summer camp—we sleep in the same space, and play jokes on each other all day long. Being on tour is definitely tiring, but bringing the film across the country allows us to receive so much feedback. And, the rainbow-bus is such a huge icebreaker—six-year-old kids and 60-year old hippies want to come up and talk about the bus and the film. It’s really cool to connect with our audience like that.
What’s your favorite Japanese treat?
Salmon roe, or Ikura-yum.
To check out images from Sweetgrass's winter in Japan, click here.