Q&A: Snowboard Legend Lukas Huffman on Filmmaking
The former pro snowboarder talks becoming a filmmaker and his debut feature and current project, Aeris
- BW image by Geoff Webb, all others by Adam Moran
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, snowboarding was a booming industry, swelling with young renegade athletes and lucrative startup brands. Lukas Huffman was at the top of the tier and “living the dream,” as they say. Many of his peers kept snowboarding over the years that followed, watching industry budgets recede and the athlete pool saturate. Lukas saw the writing on the wall before anyone. He’d had his fun in the sun and knew it was time for him to move on. So he packed up his life in the Northwest and moved to New York City to earn a degree at Columbia University (Ivy League, baby). There he took interest in film, and some years later with million-dollar piece of paper in hand, Lukas started hustling in the world of independent cinema—the man has always welcomed a heavy dose of competition.
Now, after a few years working on small projects and with a debut feature-length film under his belt, Lukas has turned back to snowboarding. His current project, AERIS, blends his current and former lives, following an up-and-coming snowboarder with sights set on being pro. It’s gonna be dramatic, raw, action-packed with a lead female character, and true to the core world of snowboarding. If anyone were to take on such a task, who better than Lukas?
Here are some words with the emerging filmmaker.
This new project is going to be your second film, right?
When the Ocean Met the Sky was my first feature-length film, but I’d written and directed a lot of short films before that. I can’t stress how small the budget was that we produced that film on. The shooting budget came from private investors, which was just a bit of cash to head out into the bush on Vancouver Island and film. We ran a Kickstarter campaign for the post-production costs. Now that it’s complete, I have some of my personal money tied up in it, and I’m hoping we can sell the licensing and break even on the film. I think that’s going to happen.
What’s the basic outline of this new film project?
The title is “AERIS,” which is like a play on words, as in “the heir to the thrown” and “hang time” [laughs]. Phil [Thomas] and I wrote an outline to the script over a few years. Phil is pretty grumpy about the snowboard world, but I don’t have any baggage with snowboarding and it’s what I know, so I wanted to write the script. Plus, I know some crazy stories and wild people from my time in the industry.
Is the lead character based off any real life individuals you know?
Yeah. The character is a scrappy, small-town person who snowboards. Very early on, I made the decision to make the lead character a female, so that’s been kind of set in stone.
Now that you’re shopping the project around to investors, has there been any resistance on the main character being a female snowboarder?
I’ve had the script pretty much written for a while now, but have not been able to get the funding for it. Then last winter, I pitched VICE Sports on doing a documentary series on the Too Hard crew, who are an all-girl film crew. Their whole image is basically like the Whiskey movies. We could go really deep into my opinion on how snowboarding has kind of lost that unapologetic feel, and how it’s basically held up by women these days.
We can go deep on that. Do you think snowboarding is soft these days?
Well, I pitched the idea to VICE Sports and I was chomping at the bit to tell some female snowboard stories. We went to Wisconsin and spent a week with the Too Hard girls. We went on the road, interviewed the girls, and filmed handrails. The series is called “Lady Shredders,” and it did really, really well for VICE Sports. That’s now a main part of the pitch for AERIS. It’s a cool story. None of the Too Hard girls are really making it, industry wise, and that’s part of the story. If you’re a fuck-it kind of person in snowboarding and you’re a girl, nobody wants to get behind you. But if you’re Danny Kass and a fuckin’ loose canon, people are just throwing money at you. It’s a bit of a double standard that those girls exemplify. And they rip, hard.
Did your vision for AERIS change after working with the Too Hard girls?
I went back and did a few more passes of the script, and the dialogue got way better after I’d been hanging out with the Too Hard girls. The script is pretty raw. Last summer, I put together a final pitch package and have been getting that out wherever I can.
Did the Lady Shredders series help in finding support for AERIS?
After that series came out and I started asking around the snowboard scene about getting people involved in AERIS, people seemed to really respect the fact that I was going to do it properly and that I respected women’s snowboarding.
How will this feature film be different than the documentary series?
The story is different than the VICE documentary because it’s based on a contest rider. Spencer O’Brien is the person involved in it because a big thing in making this movie is the stunts need to be really good, and she’s it. She’s one of the sickest park riders in the world. And she’s from Canada and knows a lot of people in the production world. So, she’s doing all the stunts for the lead character. It’s also about the pressure of what it is to be Spencer, where the whole snowboard world is like, “What are you going to do for the sport this year?” On the best days, most people handle that fine. When I was pro and everyone was like, “What are you gonna do this year that’s 100 percent better than last year?” I somehow dealt with the expectations. I know what it’s like.
People wanted the character to be a guy. They didn’t get it.
Who’s on board at this point?
Burton Girls is in. So, the lead character’s dream is to ride for Burton and win the US Open. She’s pretty scrappy, got a deadbeat dad, and sells weed to fund her snowboarding. She goes through the usual bullshit of injuries and whatever. It’s a pretty raw story, so when we did shop it around, a lot of the feedback was to add in a love interest and romance, like the movie Blue Crush. That’s not the type of story I want to do and the love story wasn’t coming naturally to it, at all. Other people wanted the character to be a guy. They didn’t get it.
What are the next steps in making this project happen?
What happens now is the Indiegogo campaign is out to raise a small amount of money for us to go out and film a short version this winter. In the biz, that’s called a “proof of concept.” It’s cool with the crowd funding because we’re already sharing some of the story with the world.
How is the general funding going? Making a movie isn’t cheap.
The funding is tough because people don’t know me and don’t know Phil. We’re nobodies. We just want to attract enough money, so we don’t have a super sketchy movie. The magic will be in how we can film the actual snowboarding. The trajectory is to tell a solid story about a woman and have as many people see it as possible. It’s edgy and a little dark, so the Disney audience isn’t going to be there, but a lot of young women are gonna relate to it.
Is it a goal of yours to bring action sports into the Hollywood spotlight and portray a realistic and core representation?
For sure. What we’re going for is to make a realistic representation of snowboarding and not some out-of-touch mainstream interpretation. We’re a long way between here and there, but we’re casting right now and have some really talented young female actors who we’re talking to.