On January 9th 2017 I had a chance to catchup with Gray Thompson. Here are twelve minutes of an excerpt from our interview at the Sierra Surf Shack. -GP
GP – Ok so go ahead and introduce yourself.
Gray – My name is Gray Thompson; I was born and raised in the chaotic city of San Francisco. At the age of 16 I moved to Lake Tahoe and haven’t left since! I’ve been snowboarding since 97, Co-Founder of Warp Wave and United Shapes.
GP – Sounds like you have a busy life juggling Warp Wave, running United Shapes and being a Pro Rider…. How do you find time to manage all of it?
Gray – Well yeah, I am busy to say the least, but busy in a good way- I am doing what I love! I’ve dedicated every aspect of life to snowboarding and by some miracle have been able to keep it a priority through riding professionally, managing companies and producing films. I think the key for managing it all- for me- was to simplify all parts of life un-related to snowboarding so that I had more time to commit to snowboarding. I’d hate to see any of our projects fail or flicker out, so I’d say that is enough motivation to keep working hard and creating radness.
GP – So what do you do to blow off some steam when the stress creeps in?
Gray – There is a balance that needs to be held between the daily grunt-work of emails, spreadsheets, and pitch decks vs. being active outdoors and not risking burn out. Luckily I live in a place that makes it easy to work for a few hours a day and then run out to ride, climb, fish – or to do something to clear the mind and get the body moving and refreshed.
Gray – In the summer of 2012 Eric and I sat down in a coffee shop and started talking about snowboard media, the projects we had been a part of, and ideas we had of our own. We had both felt a sense of disconnect from the direction snowboard media was going, it felt too competitive and repetitive, with creativity at a standstill. We decided to go all in on our own project, at the time a project we viewed as more of an art experiment than legitimate snowboard film project. We reached out to the industry for support prematurely and got little response. Arcade was one of our only supporters since day one! Looking back, I don’t think the industry was in a good place to take a chance on two somewhat lesser known boarders and their hard to grasp snowboard project idea. We were passionate about our ideas and our project, and that was all we needed to get the wheels in motion.
After that first season of releasing web videos and a full length video, we were on to something. The feedback was mind blowing, people were truly connecting with our creations and we seemed to be filling a void within snowboard media. We loved it, we loved the process of creating something exactly as we saw it- no outside influence. It was pure and authentic. Warp Wave is going on 5 years now and it’s a true testament of what you can accomplish with hard work and few handouts. We have an amazing crew of riders and a solid foundation to really start growing now.
GP – Did you ever think that Warp Wave would grow to this level?
Gray – Honestly, no. I kind of saw Warp Wave as a fun project to fill our time for a season or two. At this point, the sky is the limit!
GP – So you guys made a shred flick called Aurora Boardealis?
Gray – AURORA BOARDEALIS is our latest film that came out this past November. It was our biggest project to date, the first project that we had a crew of committed riders, a solid budget, and a full time filmer- Sam Tuor. With AURORA, we wanted to go big- we wanted to try our hand at producing a full length feature snowboard film- capturing A-grade riding and showcasing the Sierra Nevada in a way that hasn’t been done since the old films of the 90s. Tahoe and the Sierra were once the epicenter of riding, and many factors (drought, etc.) had taken that away over the years. This is our home and holds the terrain we love so dearly- it was time for us to shine some light out of the Sierra darkness.
GP – There are lot of shred crews out there that dream of producing a movie like this. They start their seasons with the best intentions, maybe getting a new camera, having a few meetings, stoking the fire with ideas but in the end fall short. What sets your project apart?
Gray – That is a good question. I think there is a lot of mystery in that, a beautiful mystery. For Warp Wave, it has never been about going out and upping the ante, you know progressing the act of snowboarding or showing off what we are capable of. I think a lot of snowboard media does just that- and when looking at it that way, you lose vision, story, vibe, and you end up getting lost in the mix with everyone else doing just that. Our driving focus and purpose has always been to create and showcase a certain vibration in snowboarding that we all connect to. In turn, that has become our story and it is a story that anyone who straps into a snowboard can relate to. And then I think our early days of artistic experimentation really set the stage and gave us the tools to portray this vibe in a unique manner that is provocative and really exciting to watch. Don’t get so caught up in planning and logistics that you forget to enjoy the process of making the film!
GP – How do you manage to be the rider, camera operator, film editor, producer and actually find time to get the job done?
Gray – I live simply, commit to my passions, find motivation and excitement in everything, and remain humble and thankful to be outside in the mountains – in a place I love!
GP – Tell us about Warp Wave’s Indie film making approach. You guys run on tight budgets… but somehow squeeze out some of the best vibes in the industry, what’s the secret sauce?
Gray – Since day 1 we have taken a true DIY approach to everything from writing pitches, to shooting and editing and distributing. We have made many mistakes and learned the hard way- true indie film making! We have been fortunate to have many mentors and people to help show us things along the way and that has been a huge resource. The whole thing is a learning process- as is everything in life. One of the biggest things we have learned is to follow through and keep a good reputation or track record. Always deliver, progress, and think outside of the box. Doing that has gained attention and opened the door for brands to get behind what we are doing and trust our process and product. With AURORA BOARDEALIS we wouldn’t have been able to pull such a feat without the support from Airblaster, Jones Snowboards, K2, Arcade Belt Co. and United Shapes, so a huge shout out goes to them!
GP – A lot of film crews are moving towards using some really high end products to capture their content, but you guys have a very different approach. Describe some of the gear you are using and why you think it is beneficial to be light mobile and spontaneous.
Gray – The age old saying goes, it’s not the camera you have but the subject and story to tell. That slogan is and will always be the truth. Sure, Redbull and Brainfarm are breaking technological boundaries, but by no means are they pushing the envelope of filmmaking and storytelling. You can have beautiful, clean and crisp footage, but without the meat and potatoes of a coherent story, message or connection, a film will fall short, it happens all the time especially within snowboarding. The first year of Warp Wave, we shot everything on $15 VHS and Hi8 cameras we found in a thrift store. Probably the worst image quality you could work with, but we embraced that and proved to ourselves that the camera is maybe towards the end of the list of necessities. We have drifted towards shooting on lightweight DSLR cameras because of how we shoot and move through the mountains. Because we are low budget, we use our feet 90% of the time so weight becomes our biggest issue. Following a rider up a 40 degree couloir in waist deep snow is painful with a RED camera, but very achievable with a small DSLR!
GP – Is there anything you would do differently if you had to make this movie again?
Gray – If we were to remake Aurora Boardealis I think we would shoot way more 16mm film and we would have spent a few more nights camping out under the stars and riding down in the Eastern Sierra. We shot a few rolls of 16mm and when we got it all developed, we were blown away. I wish we shot the entire film on 16, but then again we would have needed a big budget to do that!
GP – What’s next for Gray Thompson and the Warp Wave Crew
Gray – What’s next is the continued pursuit of creation, and progression into bigger mountains and higher objectives. Warp Wave is working on a few different film projects this season that we are really excited about. We might even step foot outside of the Sierra Nevada, you’ll just have to wait and see!