The former pro snowboarder on his no-budget approach to filmmaking.
HUCK catches up with the former pro snowboarder Jamie Heinrich to talk about his new movie Happily Never After and his no-budget approach to filmmaking.
Pro snowboarder-turned-filmmaker Jamie Heinrich may have spent the 1990s riding, but he stumbled upon his true calling in the storytelling world.
Having shot seminal snow and skate movies for Volcom – including Luminous Llama and Freedom Wig – he moved away from boardsports in 2010 to make his first feature film, I Like You, about two misfits in Reno, Nevada for zero bucks.
His new film Happily Never After, shot again by talented snow filmer Ryan Baker, features a whole cast of non-actor snowboarders such as Ben Rice and Jason Carrougher, and looks set to make a name for Heinrich and his dark, stylish indie aesthetic.
We caught up with the father of two recently to find out more about his motivations and inspirations.
Why did you make your first feature I Like You?
I made that film as a learning lesson. It was pretty experimental. I made it with zero budget just to get the experience; to see whether I could finish it or not. Then I completed it and screened it and it’s doing really well now.
What made you want to move away from snowboarding?
There’s no story in snowboarding. As fun as it is, you outgrow it over the years. I made my first snowboard movie when I was 16 and by the time I was 23, in 2000, I was pretty burnt on shooting snowboarding. I love to snowboard and shooting it doesn’t have anything to do with actually snowboarding. It’s like, ‘Do I want to get footage or do I want to snowboard?’ So it was an easy transition – and I’ve always been into more of a narrative.
Were there themes and ideas you wanted to explore?
I like to express a certain style. My goal is to bring something new to cinema and a new wave of people to experience watching a film from a new angle. I want to refresh the movie industry and the independent film industry. I’d love to make all genres.
But your films do tend to focus on young misfits?
I feel like there’s an energy behind youth. It’s kinda like that prime energy in your life when you’re really not afraid of anything. I love working with kids anywhere from 16-23, that range is interesting to me. It’s more raw and real. During my peroid of life in that age range, I had so many experiences with skateboarders, travelling the world and seeing a lot of crazy stuff going down. Every single day was soaked with adrenaline. That’s a big part of me and it’s easy to incorporate that into my films.
Why do you think snowboarding hasn’t given rise to as many creative projects, outside its industry, as skateboarding has?
I think snowboarding is more jock than skateboarding. Back in the late 1990s, with the pioneers like Jamie Lynn and Terje [Haakonsen], it was different because we were inventing tricks, y’know? It’s still amazing. The fact that you’re flying down a mountain on snow is still an incredible idea. But I kind of got out of snowboarding when it transitioned into, ‘Oh everything has to be perfect.’ Everything got so precise, and that’s cool, but there wasn’t a lot of lifestyle. With skateboarding you’re literally cracking beers in the morning, walking the streets, jumping on buses. You can easily travel and see so much in one day. I think that’s why people come from skateboarding and go in to to the film industry, like Spike Jonze. Snowboarding is just more mellow – you’re more isolated.
Do you think guys like Ben Rice, who featured in Happily Never After, represent a new wave of more creative snowboarders?
Yeah, for sure. And I really like anybody that really wants to bring a lifestyle back into it. Back when we were younger and pioneering snowboarding, you didn’t have to jump eighty feet, y’know? Back then you could just find little creative lines all over the mountain and it was much more skate style and weird. Ben has a certain look, stylistically and physically, but at the same time he kind of doesn’t give a shit and wants to bring experience and edge back to snowboarding. I think that’s necessary because the kids just learn what they’ve watched in the videos and there needs to be that creativity.
Is your perspective as a filmmaker influenced by your heritage in snowboarding?
Yeah definitely because I was doing a lot of travelling in high school for snowboarding and I got a broader look on the world and experienced a lot of stuff. Style was a lot bigger back then; you could be really good but if you didn’t have any style nobody would care. And I think that’s what I bring to my work now. Most people have a story to tell, but my background has always been about style; my films back in the day were all style with no story whatsoever. So now I’m working the other way around, I’m working on telling better stories.
What motivates you to produce so much work?
I try to be efficient. I’m just a really productive, get-to-the-end-results kind of guy. I’m so passionate about filmmaking and I knew that from when I was 12 and I had my first camcorder. I knew then exactly that this is what I want to do. This is my passion, my focus, and nothing else even comes close.
What do you love about filmmaking?
I think it’s being able to let people into your imagination. For a certain amount of time you can pull people into your mind and let them experience that. I love how films are timeless yet they also capture time. Five years from now you watch a film that you made five years ago and it’s a piece of your life that you can reflect on and everyone that was involved, it’s a little piece of their life too.
Why do you use non-actors?
I already knew who I wanted to be in Happily Never After and I wrote the movie based on their personalities. It’s bittersweet because you have to work a little bit harder to make it real, you have to find those real moments and sometimes capture them when they’re not ready. It’s about naturally hanging out and having a good time shooting. I think people need to be having fun because it reflects in the film, people feel that energy when they’re watching it. Working with non-actors, you can’t force anything, you just have to let things happen, you have to be really flexible.
Was Larry Clark’s Kids an inspiration?
Kids was one of my biggest inspirations. I think I saw that and Trainspotting in the same month and that changed everything. It felt like, ‘Oh my life is on the screen now and I’m not just going to the movies to see some Hollywood story.’ I felt like I had an outlet and a way to express my passions. Now, I like David Fincher. I feel like he’s miles beyond anybody. He’s kicking people in the face every time he makes a film. His style is right up my alley. It’s dark and just bad-ass.
What’s with the zero-budget approach to filmmaking?
I think it’s ridiculous for people who have never made a film to try and get a budget. The experience of making a movie for nothing is good whether there’s budget or not. If you’re passionate about doing it there’s no excuse not to get out there and do it. We have access to so many different cheap ways of making films. A kid with an iPhone could make something amazing and it’s all about whether they have talent or not. I don’t think that it’s a matter of money and budget – although that does come in to play. I think everybody should make their first feature with nothing because the tools are there and the internet’s there for you to get feedback. Any 16-year-old kid can reach out to a few thousand people no problem. I feel like I purposely made I Like You for zero to prove a point. Of course, my cinematographer Ryan Baker owned a lot of production equipment, but you don’t need all that. It looks good, but it’s not a necessity.
What do you think snowboarders think of your films?
The snowboarding community has always been a big support; Terje [Haakonsen] is always interested and wants to be a part of things. And that’s just normal, I’ve grown up with those snowboarders since day one. Some of the scenes in my films, snowboarders and skateboarders should be able to relate to. They’ve all lived those kind of moments more than other groups of people have. They all have a piece of that. I’m assuming out of any audience out there, snowboarders and skateboarders are a guaranteed audience for me.
I’m working on my third feature now and that’s going to be done this summer. Then I’m doing a fourth one by the end of the year. Those are the two things in front of me right now. My next film is a little bit more of a thriller; there’s more adrenaline involved and the story is super dynamic. It’s another shocker! It’s going to leave people surprised I think. So they can expect that for sure.