Steamboat native turns sports film into Grateful Dead tribute
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ski cinematographer Tyler Hamlet, who cut his teeth on freestyle skiing in Steamboat Springs, is out with his latest project, “Fire on the Mountain.” The action sports film, featuring top surfing, skiing and snowboarding athletes, plays like a tribute to the Grateful Dead, and the filmmakers went all in on creating a groovy ’60s vibe.
“We really embraced kind of the core of what the Grateful Dead embodies, which is improvisation and collaboration,” said Hamlet from his Washington state home.
As the film starts, the viewer quickly realizes it’s not the same old hardcore ski video we’ve become accustomed to. Grateful Dead music overlays beautiful shots of Mammoth Mountain and eerie surf video as its mixed with shots of the film’s mastermind, Chris Benchetler, painting Grateful Dead art. Cartoons of the art come alive as the film follows surf legend Rob Machado and skiers and snowboarders Kimmy Fasani, Dannis Davis, Jeremy Jones and Michelle Parker.
Hamlet, a 2000 graduate of the Lowell Whiteman School, now known as Steamboat Mountain School, and veteran of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, shot much of the video as the group traveled from Mammoth Mountain to Norway to Indonesia.
“It kind of melds the surf and ski worlds,” said Tony Lodico, freeskiing program director at SSWSC who watched the film on YouTube.
“There’s that sort of ’60s vibe with hippy love that fits in with a community like ours — you know, the surf world and the big mountain world,” Lodico said. “The film is like a return to touring and getting out on the mountain without chairlifts.”
Hamlet strategically set up colored lights on Mammoth Mountain to create the ’60s tie-dye vibe as the skiers wore special lighted suits.
Lodico couldn’t help but see the similarities with the parade of lights that takes place during Winter Carnival’s Night Extravaganza.
“It was like our Winter Carnival night but in cool terrain. We need to get some of those suits,” laughed Lodico.
Hamlet said using the skeleton suits during the night skiing was a little easier than using them in the surf of Indonesia.
“How do you keep lights going in that water? There was a lot of safety precautions, so no one would get hurt — fuses and kill switches,” Hamlet explained.
In fact, producers tried to shoot the surf video at wave pools in Texas and California, but the bureaucracy proved too much. In the end, Machado was taking a trip to Indonesia, and the filmmakers followed.
“I have to give Rob the credit. He had to surf at night,” Hamlet said. “Not being able to see, he made it look effortless.”
Hamlet shouldn’t be so humble, since any nighttime shooting is difficult. On top of that, Hamlet had to place colored lights from boats as they followed the surfer.
“The way water reacts to light, it doesn’t refract like snow does. It was tricky,” Hamlet said.
But thanks to new technology, like the Red Digital Gemini camera that shoots in low light, Hamlet made it work.
Hamlet’s own fire for film started as a freestyle skier.
“I grew up in Steamboat, competing in freestyle, and we’d film each other practicing. That was my first introduction in using cameras,” Hamlet said.
Then Hamlet took a film class taught by Mitch Globe at Lowell Whiteman.
“Tyler was one of the first kids that I saw that would take the camera and go off a jump with the person he was filming, instead of doing it from the ground,” Globe said.
Hamlet went on to graduate from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and, with his skiing background, soon became one of the go-to cinematographers for action sports with Poor Boyz Productions and clients like ESPN, X Games, Red Bull and Atomic.
Globe continues to follow Hamlet’s career and loves how he’s become more than a cinematographer.
“I like a lot of his early work, like ‘Ski Porn’ and a fairly recent one, ‘Tracing Skylines,'” Globe said. “He shot several of the segments. It’s just amazing what he can do with a camera on the hill.”
But its Hamlet’s documentaries that Globe is keeping an eye on. Globe featured Hamlet’s documentary on freerider Nick Goepper’s battle with alcoholism during a local film festival.
“Tyler will continue to branch out because he has the talent and the drive,” Globe said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him making feature films in the future.”
For now, Hamlet is working on a documentary about snowboarder Kimmy Fasani as he follows her through pregnancy and early motherhood and how she manages to keep her career and sponsors intact.
Hamlet is also finishing up the TV show, “Real Ski,” which is set to air March 21 on ABC. “Real Ski” is the X Games contest where six skiers each put together a 90-second video to vie for gold, silver and bronze medals.
“I produce the TV show and put together a 45-minute show that profiles the athletes and showcases their video,” Hamlet said.
While life as a freelance cinematographer and filmmaker keeps him on the road a lot, Hamlet is now married and has settled in Bellingham, Washington. But Steamboat is never far from his mind.
“My mom is still in town, and she’s retired. I’m making plans to visit the TBar soon — well, hopefully soon,” said Hamlet, referring to the popular apres ski restaurant near the base of Steamboat Resort.
You can find links to Tyler Hamlet’s work on his website.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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