Interview with Pirate's Basti Balser


Portrait by Peter Lundström, Interview by Melanie Schönthier

When it is bad weather in Riksgränsen you can read a book, watch a movie, go to the gym or get drunk. If you already tried everything out, maybe it is time for an interview. We hooked up with Basti Balser, filmer and producer of Pirate Movie Productions, who came to Northern Sweden with Lukas Goller, Sani Alibabic and Marko Grilc to get some more footage for next year’s movie – “Overseas”.

Onboard: You just showed me the logo for your new movie, “Overseas”. Did you choose this name because the Pirates were filming in the States for the first time?
Basti Balser: Yeah, after a really good start in December where we got some filming done in Austria, January and February were quite hard in the Alps so some of us went to the US to try to shoot there for the first time. First we stopped at the SIA trade show in Las Vegas and from there we continued to Salt Lake City, Logan and all the way up to Montana to a place called Cook City. It was really good up there, although we had a lot bad weather but for those you stayed patient and waited for good conditions, it was really worth it. This place is just a nice place to hang out and actually pretty similar to Riksgränsen – an old cowboy town, no internet connection, no mobile phones, just a bunch of hippies living there. But Vegas was interesting too, mostly to see how the trade show is looking over there and how the snowboard scene works in the States.
But we didn´t choose the name just because of that. Overseas just seemed to fit in general, Pirates used to travel “Overseas”, for the Americans we are “Overseas” and also for the new American Pirates their filming trips here to Europe were “Overseas”…

OB: What is the difference to Europe?
BB: It is way more mainstream with events like the X Games and a lot of riders have sponsors like Mountain Dew or Target. I don´t really know if this is positive for Snowboarding, but that´s the way it is there. Shaun White is the best example, being on the cover of the Rolling Stone Magazine! You really feel that snowboarding is a bigger thing than here. In the States you don’t have to explain to someone what a professional snowboarder does, they all just know. The only thing they probably don’t understand is when you are telling them that you are not taking part in the Olympics… (laughs)

OB: But you were not only filming in the States but also involved some American riders for the first time…
BB: Actually we have been really nervous this year because involving American riders in the project is not that easy – you need an American filmer and we are really happy to have Justin Hare with us who already worked with Robotfood and Blank Paper. Besides riders like Drew Fuller, Josh Sherman, Mike Casanova and Dan Brisse from the States, we also have the French pirate Emeric Front, Swedish Kalle Olssen as well as Tyler Chorlton from England with us for the first time. Other than that it is mostly the old crew and some riders that haven’t been with us for some time and are back now, like Marko Grilc and Sani Alibabic, which I’m super stoked on. Also watch out for our newest edition from far east Russia Osa.

OB: Do you already know who will have the banger part?
BB: All of the Americans were really strong but one did show a lot and I think not many people might know Dan Brisse in Europe. He is riding for Capita and will have a really good part as he is both a strong rail and backcountry rider. Mike was really strong on handrails – incredible what kind of board feeling this guy has. Gigi, even though he didn’ t have that much time this year, is gonna come out strong too. But actually I’m more or less happy with everybody; Tyler Chorlton, Kalle Ohlson and Danny Larsen had a good year, too. All in all the whole crew killed it!

OB: I heard there is another Pirate crew with Kalle Ohlson filming not really far from here…
BB: Yeah, he, Mike Casanova and Hans Ahlund are down three hours south of Riksgränsen. They are on a rail mission with our French filmer Clemont who brought some travelling rails with him.
We were hoping that this is going to be a really productive trip but now it turned out that Hans hurt himself – he landed on a rail with his rips and bruised them. Nothing too serious but he has to take a break for a few days. And Kalle bruised his heel when he landed terribly flat on asphalt so he probably won’t be able to ride for a longer time as such an injury can take a while. Now it is just Mike alone – I don’t think he has a big problem with riding on his own but for us it would have been nicer if all three of them would have been productive up there and not just Mike. But the others already got some stuff done before this trip….

OB: But now you guys are stuck in Riksgränsen, waiting for the weather to clear up since almost a week now. Aren´t you starting to get nervous as you are not getting any footage done?
BB: Waiting and being unproductive is way easier late in the season when you already have a good feeling about how the movie will turn out but of course you always have to try to not panic out. It always depends what time of the year it is. Every time we go to Riksgränsen, for example, it is the end of the season, most of the riders have already a bunch of tricks together and aren´t as stressed out, as they probably would be if it was January.

OB: It is middle of May and most of the riders are travelling since last fall. Do you feel that they are getting tired now that it is the end of the season?
BB: Of course, but it also depends from rider to rider: Some guys are motivated throughout the whole year, go on summer camps for six weeks and do trips to South America or New Zealand because they can’t wait for the winter to come back. Other riders want to rest their bodies, do different kind of sports like surfing or just take some time off and go home to their girlfriends. I understand both. It is mostly the older riders who have more experience in being a professional snowboarder and know that it is good to take time off in summer to keep the motivation up. The younger kids can’t get enough of snowboarding.

OB: Except the US, was there a country you haven´t been shooting in before?
BB: Bulgaria. They got loads of snow in beginning of January with snow chaos in Sofia but when we finally got there it was wind packed and not too good in the mountains. We mainly went into the city and did a lot of jibbing.

OB: Is there a local snowboard scene in Bulgaria?
BB: I think so. We had some young locals that followed our crew showing them the mountains. It is not as mainstream as it is in the rest of Europe but they are getting there. I guess they are a lot more motivated than most of the spoiled snowboard kids around here (laughs).

OB: Did you have any trips planned for this season that didn’t work out in the end?
BB: We really wanted to go to Kamtchatka, home place of Asa, where we have already been three or four years ago. Back then it was a really interesting trip for us as we saw such a different country with amazing mountain. Riding wise we weren’t too lucky so we really wanted to go back and have a productive trip. But it just turned out that we couldn’t do it because when the conditions were really good most of the riders were in the Alps, busy with shooting. And when we wanted to go in March the snow wasn’t too good so we decided to not do it this year…

OB: The Pirates movies always included a “Boardbagged” movie as a bonus in the past, a kind of travel documentation. What is that all about?
BB: The idea behind it was that we wanted a kind of movie that shows that we are not just those stereotype snowboarders that a lot of people might think we are. When we travel to places like China, Russia or Scandinavia, we really enjoy seeing different countries, learning about new cultures and meeting new friends. But when you travel to five or six different countries throughout a year, there is not enough space in snowboard movies to show all this. We wanted to do a more lifestyle-based movie – in “Boardbagged” you will maybe see 40 % snowboarding and the rest are lifestyle or culture shots from places we have been to. We also always involve other friends of us, for example we were shooting with a guy from Japan who is one of the best breakdancers in Tokyo and last year René Margreiter had a part in “Boardbagged” – for us it is a way to show different things than just riding. “ Boardbagged” is always on the bonus of the main movie and is cover mounted on different national magazines throughout the world!

OB: Speaking about travelling, which other countries are still on your “wish list”?
BB: A lot! I would be super stoked to go to places like India, Bolivia or Iran. There is an endless list of places. We also have never been to Alaska, a place where we all want to go – we just still need to figure out how.

OB: Why did you never go to Alaska so far?
BB: I would say lack of big mountain experience and big mountain riders. I think all the riders and crews that are going to Alaska really know what they are doing there. Trying to do the same like Absinthe is totally out of our range because they have so many years of experience up there, that is why it works so well for them. But going up there with RV’s like the Blank Paper crew did last year and sledding the pass is something that sounds really interesting for us and will happen sooner or later.

OB: Will there be any girls in the movie this year?
BB: No girls.

OB: Why not?
BB: I don’t know. I think it is probably because girl’s productions are getting bigger and better. You don’t have just one girl movie anymore that the girls have to be part of but there are a few now and they really push each other now. The other reason is… No, actually this is the main reason.

OB: Quite diplomatic…
BB: Of course.

OB: Okay, let´s move on to another topic then… Last year’s “Walk the Plank” was a real banger and you got so many props for it. How do you handle the pressure to come up with a new idea and a better movie each year?
BB: Flo (Eckhardt), Ludschi and me don’t really feel the pressure from the outside too much. Of course there is some pressure as sponsors and money are involved, but most of the time it is the pressure that we put on ourselves because we want to top the movie from the year before. Most important for us is that at the end of the year we can present a movie to the snowboard world we are happy with ourselves and that is the hardest. But I guess we work good under pressure…

OB: Snowboard movies are not just editing some sick riding and hardcore music together anymore, it turned out to be much more than that and it seems like the filming techniques are advancing every year!
BB: Everybody tries to show snowboarding in a different way. Teleshot and wide angle are still very important but cable cams, travelling rails and heli shots are getting more and and more attention. We used the paraglider last year and also used it this year, for example. I think it is good that every film production works on progression and for sure there will be much more to come. But the main focus is still the riding! We can’t make a movie better by just using a lot of different filming techniques if the riding level is not showing the progression in snowboarding. If a rider would do a progressive trick that a buddy of him filmed on an HD camera, which is maybe not such a good quality as our 16 mm shots, we would still use it because snowboarding is defined through progression. You can help it out with better film techniques but it is not gonna make the movie.

OB: You are not only editing the movie but I heard you are also filming on trips?
BB: I always bring my Super 8 camera but I’m not doing too many trips. I was in the US mainly because Vegas was really important for us as met up with American magazines and sponsors. And I’m in Riksgränsen right now because I just have to – eleven years ago I have been here for the first time and every year since then! Coming to Sweden is a special thing for me as I went to the snowboard school in Malung for four years and I still have many friends here.

OB: Ingemar Backman made this tiny village famous in 1996 when he did this massive backside air. Did the role of Riksgränsen in snowboarding change through the years?
BB: Certainly. Six or seven years ago and at this time you could see most of the faces in European snowboarding and a lot of Americans up here every spring time. Last year was pretty funny and kind of a reunion because there was a Burton, a Roxy and a DC crew, plus Yeah Productions and us. You got a bit of this feeling back again as there were so many riders and friends here that you haven’t met all winter long. I was thinking that way more people will make it up here again, especially as last year was really good and productive for all of us.

OB: What is so special about Riksgränsen?
BB: The midnight sun is a really special thing! You fight a lot with the bad weather here but on the other hand you have the possibility to go out at 10 p.m. when the light is good and come back at 3 a.m. in the morning. Usually it has a lot of snow until really late – last year we left end of May and it was still very good, we just got tired after three and a half weeks of shooting. The terrain is really nice, you have a lot of natural wind lips and many cliffs that are good to hit. The mountains are not really high but it is really “bumpy” I would say. Especially for us Europeans who have no sled skills it is a very easy sled access compared to North America.

OB: Is Riksgränsen the last Pirates trip this year?
BB: I think so. Lukas, Sani and Marko will still stay here for another two weeks but I´m going back to Innsbruck next week to start editing “Overseas”.

OB: I´m looking very much forward to finally see it! Will it have such an elaborate intro like “Walk the Plank”?
BB: I don’t know yet how much we will involve the acting skills of our riders but we will keep it the analogue way like we did before. We are not going to have a pirates intro again but for sure it will be something special – the production name and the idea behind Pirate Movie Production is still the same: That we are just pirates in this snowboard movie world.

OB: Thanks Basti!

For movie premiere dates and more information about “Overseas”, next year´s Pirate movie, check out their website!
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