Everything you want to know about Abe Kislevitz can be summed up by his childhood dream career: roller-coaster designer. "I had every roller-coaster software available at the time—that was available on a floppy disk—and designed roller coasters and looked at G-forces," laughs Kislevitz. While he hasn’t lived out his dream of designing physical roller coasters (yet), Kislevitz is currently combining his technical acuity and creative instincts by creating dramatic thrill rides through his GoPro video work centered around skiing and other action sports.
Kislevitz was introduced to the sport of skiing as a teenager. "I have an older brother and I kind of followed him around everywhere at the time. He started skiing, and I naturally went up with all of his friends on the weekends. My senior year I skied 120 days. I was doing my homework in the car," says Kislevitz.
When he left his home of Portland, Oregon, for college at the University of Southern California, Kislevitz maintained his love of skiing and quickly joined the University Ski Team. Motivated by the desire to share his team’s enthusiasm with others, he built the team website.
"I did all our photos, and I kind of took it on as my own little company. I tried to establish it online and get as many people fired up as I could. One of our members of the ski team went down to the Action Sports Retailer trade show around San Diego and came across GoPro. They ended up sending us two of their cameras. It was kind of like a light switch for us. We were always in the park doing big jumps, and then had a camera that could be hands-free and all of us could do the jumps together, but still get the shots," explains Kislevitz.
GoPro stayed in contact with him, inviting Kislevitz to work on their product launch videos and offering him a job on the creative team upon graduation. While Kislevitz had graduated with an engineering degree thinking he might go into product design, he realized working with GoPro would be an opportunity to continue with the video work he’s passionate about while also utilizing his engineering mind. "I think that’s what I love about GoPro," muses Kislevitz. "I was so into technology. I read technology blogs all the time. I’m always trying to learn as much as I can. At GoPro, I’m doing the creative side, but I’ve been here long enough that I’m able to give input on the engineering side. I’m always testing cameras and sitting in on engineering meetings. I’m really trying to help every area that I can. I know exactly how the camera works and how we can achieve exactly what the consumer might want most. It’s a really cool combination of the creative side, the consumer side and the engineering side."
While he has a hand in many different aspects of the company, Kislevitz is always most excited for fieldwork. "It’s kind of like a double-adrenaline thing for me," he says. "I get really excited when I’m capturing amazing footage, and then I also get really excited when I’m going off a 60-foot jump. The double combo, when you land, you’re like, ‘Holy cow! I just did a huge jump, but also got the sickest shot in the world!’ For me, it drives me to keep going, and my energy doesn’t ever really drop until the end of the night and it’s 2 in the morning."
Because of Kislevitz’s ability to juggle filming and production while actually participating in the sport, GoPro has sent him all over the world to create content. A trip to Chile to film for the HERO3+ launch video has been his favorite shoot so far.
"We flew into Santiago and we spent 10 days on the coast in the city of Valparaíso," notes Kislevitz. "That’s where we filmed urban downhill mountain biking. These guys are flying through really colorful, beautiful alleyways on the coast and on incredible streets. So I got a taste of that culture, and then we went two hours into the mountains up to 10,000 feet."
Once in the Andes, Chris Davenport, Lynsey Dyer, John Jackson and Travis Rice joined Kislevitz, who recounts, "We had a heli-pilot who would land in the backyard of the house. We would load up and fly into the Andes and then go heli-skiing all day for a week. It felt like a whole different world I’ve never experienced."
Many athletes are given the opportunity to use GoPros, but not everyone knows the trade secrets about various modes and camera mounts. Because of this, Kislevitz has also been entrusted with the task of training athletes in the camera’s use. "We got 10 of our athletes to a resort in Switzerland called Laax, and we had a custom jump line and sunset shoot built. We taught them in a classroom setting and gave them an overview of the camera mounts we use," says Kislevitz.
Then they moved out into the field. "We’re out there high-fiving each other, having fun," he recalls. "Someone would say, ‘I’m going to do back flips all the way down the jump line. What mode should I use?’ or ‘Will you follow me off these jumps?’ Then you see their Instagram feeds the next week, and they’re taking everything you taught them into account."
One of Kislevitz’s favorite tips to share with athletes and film enthusiasts alike is the GoPro’s still camera functions. "People think it’s just a video camera, but it’s such a strong photo still capture camera. There’s a single still photo mode and then there’s also the time-lapse mode. I usually mount the camera in some place unique and start taking photos and then see what I get. There’s also the burst photo mode, where you press the button and it takes 30 photos over 3 seconds. You can get 30 photos of your back flip, and you’re guaranteed to get a really great shot."
Kislevitz has created a video housed on his website that fully explains how to use the photo functions. "If you watch the video, you’ll see I’m doing pretty mediocre things—going off a little rail or doing a little hop off the ground," he notes, "but with the 30 photos you can see exactly how the photos look so much more stunning than what you were actually doing in life. So I encourage people to just jump off a rock or jump into the sunset."
|Abe Kislevitz’s Equipment|
|GoPro HERO4 (Black and Silver)
GoPro Handlebar/Seatpost Pole Mount
GoPro Chest Mount
GoPro 3-Way Mount
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM
Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 50mm ƒ/1.2L USM
Western Digital My Passport Pro Portable Thunderbolt drive
With over 40,000 YouTube subscribers, Kislevitz has been creating more how-to and behind-the-scenes posts for his personal blog. While his official GoPro work takes up a lot of his time, he uses his blog and social-media accounts to inspire him further. "A push in creativity is always good in my life," he says. "I think it’s very gratifying to do what you love and have people acknowledge you for it and just push yourself as a creative."
Using an action-cam tool not only has pushed Kislevitz creatively, it also opened him up to new activities to participate in. "Before we had specialized areas, I went to motocross and supercross every weekend," he says. "I’ve done a couple of surf trips and some big music festivals. I never really knew about the sport downhill mountain biking, and once I saw what it was, I started trying it just because I was around it. It was fun to shoot, but it’s more fun to actually partake in the mountain biking. I think that was something where I discovered a whole new sport. But skiing is still far and away my area of choice just because I can really participate in the activity of skiing while filming. And that’s what it takes to get those shots. That’s why I love doing it."
See more of Abe Kislevitz’s work at abekislevitz.com, and follow him on Twitter @abekislevitz.