Lukas Huffman is a filmmaker, but to the collective snowboard world he’s also an iconic pro who scorched his way into our collective consciousness through his awe inspiring video parts. Huffman though, unlike many of his counterparts walked away from a lucrative career at what seemed liked the pinnacle of his success, leaving behind the life of a traveling pro to pursue of all things, an Ivy League education.
Huffman attended Columbia in New York City, where he studied film and would eventually start producing and directing many shorts before releasing his first ever feature film When The Ocean Met The Sky in 2014. Since its release, Huffman has been busy working on his second feature Aeris, which is the first about snowboarding in some time, and the first to feature a female lead. We caught up with Huffman to talk about film making, women’s snowboarding, and crowd funding projects like Aeris, and as always with Lukas, it was inspiring.
The last time we checked in you were just releasing your last feature When The Ocean Met The Sky, how was the response to the film?
We’re just finishing our festival run now. The response has been great. The film screened in almost 20 festivals from Johannesburg, South Africa to Anchorage, Alaska. We picked up over a dozen awards, most of them being the “Audience Award.” That’s a nice award to get, because the audience at the festival votes for their favorite film. There’s no politics, it’s just pure appreciation. Now we’re turning our attention to selling the film for distribution. It looks like we’ll be releasing it to the public in the Spring of 2016.
Was there any major takeaways from that experience in regards to film making?
When I started making When The Ocean Met The Sky, my big question was; can I make a feature-length film that’s any good? I’d made a lot of short films, but feature-length story telling involves a whole separate set of film vocabulary tools. Since that film was a success, I’m now asking myself; can I make a film that tells an even more complicated story? So, the big take-away was that I can work with the vocabulary of the feature film, but the next (question is) how to push that in different directions? The other huge takeaways revolve around more of the business end of movies. On my next project we already have more marketing savvy to help set up the film be more of a commercial success.
You worked on a documentary series following a group of female athletes and now you’re working on a feature about a female snowboarder. What about women’s snowboarding keeps inspiring you?
I ‘m a huge fan of snowboarding and snowboarding culture. As you know, I grew up snowboarding in the 80s and 90s, when snowboarding was a very new sport. There were not many riders on the mountain, it wasn’t as socially accepted, this was pre-Olympics and to dream of being a professional snowboarder was unheard of. Now, snowboarding is quite mainstream with it being the kind of sport that’s totally reasonable to bring up at dinner conversations with your friend’s parents. However, professional women’s snowboarding still is on the fringe of the industry. The women who’re professional snowboarders are risking their lives because they love (the sport). Today, there are not a lot of women making a living from snowboarding, so there isn’t a lucrative carrot at the end of the handrail the way there is for male snowboarders. This current state of female snowboarding reminds me a lot of my career and the community I came up with. Females exemplify the raw passion for the riding and culture that I think is now lost on many male snowboarders.
This is the first feature about snowboarding in some time. Is the world ready for another snowboard feature?
Frankly, that doesn’t play into my approach. I certainly hope so. The Lady Shredders series was a huge success, so that may be a barometer for how a narrative feature about snowboarding could grab audiences. I will say that I think that mainstream audiences are ready for movies that have strong female leads. As TV and film narratives break away from content that stars middle-age guys, there are fertile audiences that seem to be demanding more stories about women, young or old.
The way action sports are portrayed in features can be kind of suspect and cheesy, how do you plan to avoid those pitfalls?
In Out Cold and Blue Crush, the characters are portrayed as one dimensional. They are cliché bros or shred betties that aren’t complex in their behavior. This also has a lot to do with the structuring of the sports drama genre, which needs a make-over. Our film operates like a normal drama that happens within a sporting world. Our characters grapple with very real emotional problems. The way we handle the drama will be very sincere. As we know, mature emotional drama is often not associated with action sports culture. Additionally, we aim to showcase the action sports culture on-screen in a way that respects the passion and dedication of the world. And, given that our filmmaking team comes from an action sports past, we can pick up nuances in the action scenes so that the riding feels very real, which a Hollywood producer may gloss over.
Does being a retired pro help with keeping the action side of the film legit?
Of course! We’ve already cast Spencer O’Brien as our main stunt woman. It was important to me that we are shooting the most progressive riding possible. Also, I have some tricks up my sleeve so that the action sequences really put the audience on the board with our characters. I know first hand that the adrenaline of soaring through the air is a huge part of why people keep striving to be reach the goal of being the best rider they can be. Feeling this adrenaline rush is going to be driving our lead character, so we need to communicate that to the audience.
You guys just launched an Indigogo, what made you decide to utilize crowd funding as opposed to more traditional funding?
For one, the way we want to tell the story is too real for Hollywood story structures. My production team and I are invested in making the characters complicated, which just won’t get a film funded through mainstream channels. So, Indigogo allows us the creative leeway to get this story told in a way that we’re passionate about. Indigogo also lets the audience engage in the creation of the process. One of the coolest things about crowd funding is that through the process we’re offering opportunities for the audience to attend test screenings, help choose our marketing materials and be vocal about the elements of the project they like or dislike.
How has the response been from the industry, are you finding people are supportive?
The response has been overwhelmingly supportive. Burton Girls has contributed product as perks, riders have vocally supported the project. I think that snowboarders are excited for the chance to see a film that treats snowboarding with respect. That has literally never been done before. And, there are many people in the industry who’re excited to see the veil pulled back on women’s snowboarding. It seems like many people share the same thought that I do; that it’s important to put these women at the center of a story so that they can inspire future generations of snowboarders , be it male or female.
It seems like you have some awesome female riders on board. What role will they play in the film?
As mentioned, Spencer O’brien will be riding as a stunt double. And, we are casting some of the Too Hard riders to play secondary characters in the film. It will be awesome to see real female snowboarders doing scenes with our acting team.
When are you planning on filming?
We are shooting a short-version of the script in February of 2016. This will serve as a test run for the feature version of the script we’re shooting in February of 2017. Creating movies is a long, rewarding road!
When is Aeris planning to debut?
The short film will be available privately to contributors in Spring of 2016. It will then do the 2016 festival circuit, with on-line distribution for fall of 2016.
Lukas Huffman is currently working to fun his movie project. Donate to the project here. It takes a village.