From skiing a mall in Dubai to kayaking to Iceland’s most remote locations, photographer, filmmaker and producer Jordan Manley has made it a personal mission to document the diverse cultures and ecosystems of the world. Based out of North Vancouver, the extreme sports auteur is especially fascinated by mountainous terrain and ski culture. His principal concern is to "tell stories about people who live and work in the mountains," he says, and with more than 50 covers under his belt for titles like Skiing and Powder Magazine, his photography and video work certainly center on this adventurous class of athletes as they engage in climbing, skiing and mountain biking. But rather than following the staid trend of action videos that showcase larger-than-life sports personalities backed by booming soundtracks, the films employ an almost meditative approach to establishing character and location through impressively cinematic visuals and ambient soundscapes. Manley’s videos are absolutely immersive, instilling a visceral sense that you’re experiencing the subjective beauty of each location yourself.
Jordan Manley’s A Skier’s Journey set of short films follows the photographer and filmmaker as he travels to a series of remarkable locations for winter sports.
I’ve been making short films for four years. I began shooting and editing video in high school, but migrated to photography with a film camera before switching to digital cameras in 2006. Now that I’ve made the jump back to doing video, I’ve continued my professional work as a still photographer, as well, often working on simultaneous video and still projects/assignments.
Have digital cameras changed the way you work?
Of course, the instant feedback speeds up the creative process immensely. It also gives you the confidence to try more complex or difficult images, I think. Film was perhaps prohibitive in that it was expensive to shoot 1,000 images on one thing. Digital takes away that inhibition, and you can keep working at a shot until you know you’ve gotten what you want—depending on the conditions and circumstance; with skiing, you often only have one chance at a shot because a skier’s trace through the snow irreversibly changes the landscape you’re shooting. I’m using a Nikon D4 for both stills and video. I use a range of ƒ/2.8 Nikkor lenses, most often a 17-35mm and a 70-200mm. I use very light, but capable Gitzo carbon legs and a Miller DS-10 head, as well as a Glidecam 2000 stabilization system.
What is it to you that makes one film stand out over another?
I think the difference is the intent and the thoughtfulness the creator employs when making a piece. The equipment is accessible, and the aesthetic styles are out there to pull from to make something that’s aesthetically impressive. But in order to make a piece that resonates with people, teaches or shares an experience with them, I think greater thought is required. The pieces that I’ve been working on are about travel and experiencing different forms of landscape and different cultures. Essentially, they’re about place. Each location is different, and it’s important for us to be thoughtful about what makes each place unique and to work as hard as we can to gather strategic images that communicate that effectively to the viewer.
What would you say to an independent filmmaker looking to create the look and image quality of bigger-budget productions?
Having better glass helps, of course. Camera technology is changing so rapidly that cheaper equipment is resulting in higher image quality, even in smaller packages. I think image quality is important, but ultimately, communicating an idea is more important. To tell a story, you don’t always need a lot of money or the fanciest, flashiest equipment. Thoughtfulness isn’t something you can buy; it’s something you have to work on.
As an independent filmmaker, how do you get your productions seen and distributed?
I’ve paired up with commercial sponsors to make my projects happen. Arc’teryx and GORE-TEX® sponsored the A Skier’s Journey series, and we distributed it online via YouTube and Vimeo, which then allows anyone to see it. A network in the ski and travel industries has helped immensely with embedded plays. There are some emerging sites like reelhouse.org that provide filmmakers a way to crowd-source funding before, during and after the film is shot. I think this is a really exciting way that the online format of film is going, and hopefully great stories that otherwise haven’t found funding will surface this way.
Do you have any suggestions for photographers and filmmakers
as to raising a budget and putting together a production?
I do all my own producing. It’s tough to juggle everything, and I’m learning that I need to hire some help so that I can concentrate on what I’m good at. It’s good to learn the different sides of it, though. With respect to raising the budget, I think you basically have to find a way to convince your funders that your production is what you’re asking for—make something you’re passionate about, that communicates a message that you haven’t seen before. Otherwise, it will be lost amongst the rest.