“In ski movies, what is successful? It’s failure.”
It’s the opening lines of my interview with Eric Iberg, and for a moment, I thought I misheard the man. There was no bitterness, just matter-of-fact, and that vibe didn’t jibe with what I was hearing. Success means failure?
“If you look back, guys like Kris Ostness, Scott Gaffney, Mikely Hilb, these guys all made three or four films and then moved on.”
“When creating ski films you have to set a goal of what success means to you. There’s only three companies that really make livable money, but still not everyone at those companies are being paid well. Find a reason and a purpose for what your goals are for success in the ski film world.”
Yep, the making of ski films will never be confused with fame and Hollywood fortune, even if there’s a Squallywood. Eric Iberg is six films in, and he has yet to heed his own advice and move on. “I just try to continue to do something new. As long as you’re doing something new all the time, you’re learning editing, graphic design… Keep learning, keep failing.”
Eric Iberg’s sixth film is the Tanner Hall documentary, Like a Lion. It was no surprise when the project was announced that Iberg would head the telling of skiing’s biggest star.
At 18, Iberg was a combo mogul skier-slash-baseball player. He ditched the 128 vertical feet of Hyland Hills in Minnesota for a chance at coaching moguls and walking on to the baseball team at the University of Utah. Folks who seem to be on a natural path, keenly aware of their journey, but not getting in the way of themselves… those folks, failures tend to be successes in retrospect.
Walking on to the Utes baseball team didn’t work out for Iberg, but meeting a 14-year-old Tanner Hall, who had recently moved there too, that certainly ended up being much more important than anything that might have happened on the diamond.
Iberg started his film career with Hall that season, traveling and filming together, two novices flying blind, finding their way together. “Making a movie was tougher than I thought, so all the footage ended up going to Poor Boyz Productions film 13.”
Fast forward to 2010, on the other end of full circle, and this time Iberg’s lens on Tanner is in Iberg’s movie. Like a Lion takes on the insta-debate subject of Tanner Hall. For all the respect that can not be denied Mr. Hall, the persona of skiing’s biggest star has become a ratings winner for message boards. People love to debate, and hate on Tanner Hall. He’s become a Tom Cruz of sorts in the ski world, a superstar so fascinating that the byproduct is constant abject speculation and gossip. Although it must be noted that Tanner’s adopted Jah mores are much more healthy and applicable to the mountain ethic than the human-impersonating alien mythos of Scientology. Tanner’s a little wacky, but not that wacky.
But like Cruz, it’s not what Tanner does, but how he does it that inspires so much empty chatter.
“People need something to talk about. Bored people talk about famous people. Same reason why someone might hate on Paris Hilton. Everyone wants to have an opinion. And since our industry is really small, those opinions are much louder than they should be.”
“Look at that Skiing magazine article, WORST BEHAVIOR BY A PRO ATHLETE SINCE RON ARTEST. All he did — he was a 21-year-old, wasted outside a bar in Vail, got drunk in public, they put him in jail. And the ski industry writes that, compares him to Ron Artest? It gets picked up by local radio, newspapers. It’s a small little industry, an industry that’s repping a very wealthy sport. Well, Tanner exists and he represents the country club sport of skiing.
“He got up the next morning and won the halfpipe.”
And that cuts to the heart of it. Tanner’s success hasn’t come from the gentlemen’s handbook. Neither did Bill Johnson’s or Glen Plake’s for that matter. Snowboarding was outfitted with a rebel spirit from day one. But skiing’s birth was eons ago. There’s tradition, and with tradition comes its bedfellow: privilege. In 1969′s Downhill Racer, Robert Redford’s character laments his teammate’s Dartmouth affiliation. The subtext is clear: skiing is the sport of privilege.
Now picture Tanner Hall as Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School: Dartmouth. Yeah, Tanner Hall’s not the best face if chasing the dollar dominates your ski vision. That forward march of “progression” seen in the moniker change from ski area to ski resort.
But the soul of skiing has nothing to do with money. And this is where Like a Lion succeeds. Whatever camp in which your Tanner Hall judgments lie, agreement will come in a simple respect due Tanner’s unbounded passion for the sport of skiing. Tanner has done it because he loves skiing with every cell of his body. That’s something we can all appreciate.
Says Iberg, “I just admire his persistence and drive the most. When you’re around him, you see how much he gives to his sport and you think, wow, I could do my job more. Because he’s always gonna go his more than everyone else is going to do theirs. You can film an urban rail, even if its negative 30, he’s gonna’ go until five in-the-morning. He’s excited to do it. And that infuses you. You don’t want to stop and he doesn’t. That’s what’s the illest about him.”
It’s Tanner Hall’s drive that will determine the next chapter in his legendary career. It’s an underdog role for Hall now. Sitting on the sideline in a sport progressing at mach speed, can Hall come all the way back after two blown ACLs?
“I’ve seen what he’s gone through, he’s stronger than he’s ever been, his flex is better, his range of motion is better… He knows in his head you just have pain in your life, that’s what it costs to be in this game. All it’s going to take is getting back, not being in that 16 month doubting period. As soon as that mental part clicks, he puts the skis on — he’s coming back full force.
“The whole point of the movie was chapter one. He could either get hooked on drugs and go down or focus on life. For Tanner now, whether that focus is the Olympics in four years or being the best big mountain skier, that’s the chapter he plans on writing.”
As for Iberg, looping back to his original question, when making a ski film, how does one redefine what success is?
“Tanner has been sober every day since the world premiere at IF3 in September. My hat goes off to him. That’s larger than any success that could have been paid out. We all know someone that’s died drinking and driving. I’d say his sobriety is worth a million bucks. Easy.”