"I was looking for a portfolio piece," he says, "one that would push me. So I shot a short film called The Fall Line on a wounded warrior named Heath Calhoun. He had been a 101st Airborne Army Ranger, and both of his legs had been blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in Iraq. He went on to become one of the world's greatest ski racers, on the cusp of qualifying for the Paralympics to ski in Vancouver in 2010. So I hired a good friend who's a top director of photography, a Hollywood cinematographer named Kent Harvey. He shoots a lot of big movies, like Iron Man and The Bourne Legacy. I said, 'Look, I want to pay you your full rate to train me and my staff to shoot a film.' So he came out and shot with us for a couple of days, and it was this big, eye-opening experience.
"With stills," Stableford explains, "if I was shooting a feature on Heath Calhoun for Sports Illustrated or Powder magazine, you can break it down pretty quickly. You'd need five images, that's it: a shot of him with his family, a photo of him training hard in the gym, an environmental portrait in his skis on the slopes, you need a racing shot, and maybe one with his coach or his friends. Done. What more do you need? But, for a film, that hardly gets you anywhere. The question is kind of the same: How do we get to the slopes of Aspen? You've got to bring us. So we shot footage of the wheels of the chair-lift motor spinning. This would be the world's worst still image—you would never use it. And it's essential to filmmaking. It's very, very different.
"For that film," he says, "I invested at least $20,000 in equipment, expenses, crew and weeks, if not months, of my time to shoot and edit and learn. Then we started making small forays into getting some add-ons: 'Hey, can you shoot a little bit of video while you're shooting stills?' Eventually, we landed a nice commission to shoot a project for Canon, for their 1D X camera, called Shattered. It was a labor of love, a work of art. That piece started to become our calling card. We can tell stories this way and still connect to the human story. That's the gift that DSLR filmmaking has really brought to us."
I wouldn't have come to filmmaking so rapidly if I didn't believe that the world was changing so quickly that I absolutely needed to be able to shoot stills and video in order to survive.Adds Stableford, "I'm not saying it's easy. It hurts even to think about it. I had to invest in the transition to video at the height of the recession. I wouldn't have come to filmmaking so rapidly if I didn't believe that the world was changing so quickly that I absolutely needed to be able to shoot stills and video in order to survive. That hardship produced, as it often does in life, a beautiful opportunity to change and become something stronger, faster, brighter than I was before."
Stableford seized the opportunity after a photo shoot last year to show Cabela's executives what else he could offer. They were suitably impressed. In Shattered, they saw what Stableford was capable of.
Says Stableford, "They told me, 'This is what we want our brand anthem to be. A poem. It should be a visual poem. It should be ethereal, not literal. The visuals should touch in-to this unpredictable realm of beauty and soulfulness.' So, that was the start of them keeping me on the table. Without that, I would have never had a shot."