Q&A: Sean Pettit on making ‘The Masquerade’
Sean Pettit is upending industry expectations with his vision for ski movies.
The 23-year-old Whistler native — and ski movie staple since his tween years — made his directorial debut last year with “The Recruitment,” the first title from his Super Proof Inc. It blended cinematic storytelling with the big mountain line-slaying we’re accustomed to seeing in ski flicks.
“The Masquerade,” which screens Saturday at The Meeting in Aspen, is his follow-up. The new film takes a similar approach, blending scripted scenes with on-mountain action, and it features Pettit, Mark Abma, Richard Permin, Callum Pettit, Noah Bowman and Aspen’s own Torin Yater-Wallace. The loose plot revolves around a group of skiers who get wrapped up with gangsters running the illegal gambling trade in Canada.
Pettit filmed the dramatic scenes before the snow flew last season, then went hunting for powder in Alaska.
“It’s more of an art piece than anything like us trying to formulate a Hollywood film,” Pettit said in a recent phone interview. “It’s more like a 45-minute music video where you can formulate a story.”
Andrew Travers: “The Recruitment” was a pretty groundbreaking mix of feature film-style fiction with a ski movie. Can we expect a similar approach in “The Masquerade?”
Sean Pettit: There are definitely some similarities, bringing fiction and mainstream entertainment to the film. But it’s a very different movie from “The Recruitment.” It’s not a sequel or anything. So far, it premiered in Whistler and everybody was really positive about it. So we’re stoked to share it at The Meeting and see what more people think about it.
From our standpoint, were just having fun and putting out stuff that we want to. Some people might like it and some might not, but we had a good time making it. We’re just trying to do things differently as the main priority. We’re just experimenting.
AT: The travelogue approach is so entrenched in the ski film genre. Is there resistance in the industry when you try something more experimental?
SP: I definitely felt like there was a little bit of people at standstill and not willing to step out of the box, just working with what has already worked. And I don’t see any progression in that. And hell, if we’re not a production company, which we’re not, then we can be as experimental as we want. We have the right crew working with us on the Super Proof team that are willing to step out of the box and do something cool.
AT: You’re the director and a star of the film. What were some creative and athletic challenges wearing those two hats?
SP: From a skiing standpoint, we had a tough year hunting for snow all over the world, trying to figure out where it was and never really finding it too well. But that’s why we’re professionals. We can make bad snow and bad seasons look pretty good. Everybody in the film has a good segment and performed really well.
The harder part was curating a story and trying to piece it together and make everything flow and make sense with the fictional side. Removing as much acting as possible was an easy way to do it, but everyone in the film was surprisingly good at playing their characters.
AT: How did you learn to make a movie like this?
SP: I don’t think anyone needs credentials to do those sort so things. It takes the right team to understand each other, which we definitely had. I’ve never done screenwriting and actually was terrible in English class in high school. I sucked at writing. But I’ve always had creative ideas. So when I’m sitting beside somebody like Lee (Powis), we could come up with these stories and how we wanted them to look.
AT: Do you think adding story elements into films is pushing ski movies into the mainstream?
SP: That’s part of our goal. That’s the future. There’s no reason our sport can’t live in the mainstream. There are all kinds of Hollywood movies about football and surfing. There’s no reason this can’t hit. It’d be cool to see. I don’t think being core is something that needs to happen. I think we can be bigger than being core. I think the ski industry is too small to stop there. Mainstream is the goal.
AT: You shot some of “The Masquerade” on an iPhone. How did it work out?
SP: We have been working with a company called Hitcase, which is a foam case that wraps your iPhone in waterproof housing with an interchangeable lens. We were using a wide angle lens and I strapped it right onto my chest and did a straight line in the film wearing it. I just busted my phone out of my pocket and stuck it on my chest.
AT: What are you up to this winter? Where do you want to take Super Proof from here?
SP: I don’t know exactly where I’m going to be or what I’m going to be working on this winter. I’ve got a couple months to figure it out. We want to change the game, but we don’t want to do another full-length film. We want to keep things fresh. We’ve done this formula for the last two years, shooting a full-length film, and we want to change it up. We need to keep people on their toes.
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