Interview: Filmmaker Mike Douglas Talks About ‘Skier vs. Drone’

A drone had the power to ground Gatwick Airport over the festive period, but can one beat an Olympic skier in a race? That is the question put forward in Mike Douglas’ entertaining short film Skier vs. Drone.

Mike, who is known as the ‘Godfather of Freeskiiing and has established himself as one of the best sports filmmakers around, joins us on Close-up Culture to tell us more about this ‘man vs. human’ film.

Q: With the rapid advancement of tech and A.I, I expect we will be seeing a lot more of these fun ‘man vs human’ experiments. When did the idea for ‘Skier vs Drone’ come to you?

A: It came in the Fall of 2017 as we were planning for a new season of Salomon TV. The rise of technology is something that surrounds us everyday, especially in the world of film production. Things that used to take expert operators and expensive machinery just a few years ago can now be done by a kid with an inexpensive drone.

We wanted to do something with one of the top ski racers and this seemed like a fun and interesting challenge.

Q: The film features Bronze medalist skier Victor Muffat-Jeandet and 2x World drone racing champion Jordan ‘Jet’ Temkin. Can you tell us about working with these two on the project?

A: I work with Victor through the sports brand, Salomon, we already knew each other. After Victor picked up a bronze medal at the Olympics, we wanted to be sure to put him against one the of the best drone racing pilots so we started asking at the top. Jordan has been a skier all his life and was keen right away. We knew right away we had the right guys.


Q: Did you have any pressing concerns or fears heading into the project, particularly from a filmmakers perspective?

A: Honestly, we were really afraid the drone was going to dominate and that it wouldn’t even be close. No one was more surprised than me when we started racing and saw the skier was actually faster.

Jordan felt he could have beaten Victor if he had a week to train. Unfortunately we didn’t have that luxury.

Aside from that, weather was a huge concern. We actually had the whole thing set up and ready to go in Austria three weeks earlier, but a massive storm forced us to cancel. Stable weather was required to pull this thing off and that’s not always an easy order in the mountains.

Q: I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Snowbird locals before the race. How much fun you had filming those?

A: We didn’t want to take the race too seriously and ultimately wanted something that is fun to watch. I asked our producer in Snowbird if he knew any interesting locals we could talk to and he was like, ‘Oh Ya!’ (laughs).

About half of them were known locals and the others were just people we chatted to around the resort. In the end they delivered exactly what we were looking for.


Q: You have an extensive sporting background and are called the ‘Godfather of Freeskiiing’. Can you tell us more about your interest in film and how you successfully transitioned into directing?

A: I’ve dabbled in film since I was a teen, but I was always more interested in being in front of the camera than behind it. Because I felt comfortable translating what was happening in the sport for the masses (along with demonstrating it), I became the de facto spokesperson for the rising sport of freeskiing. I ended up becoming a commentator for ESPN’s X Games as well as other TV networks. I did that for many years.

Between that and starring in more than 50 ski films, I learned the ropes of how to put things together behind the scenes. When I got serious about it and started Switchback Entertainment, I saw a lack of storytelling in ski media and sports in general. When I began directing, I did so with that in mind.

I wanted to bring storytelling to skiing and sports. That was about 12 years ago. It’s been a fun ride and now I spend more time making films than I do skiing.

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or plans for 2019 to share with us?

A: I’ve got several projects on the go with the team here at Switchback Entertainment and our Salomon TV web series. Right now I’m directing a short doc about an 84 year old skier named, Toni Sponar. He splits his year between Aspen, Colorado and Los Andes, Chile and has more winters under his belt than any other human on earth. Look for that one in Fall 2019.

Watch ‘Skier vs. Drone’


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