What’s In: Matchstick Productions’ History

A wall in their Crested Butte, Colorado, headquarters reflects 20 years of ski filmmaking

Photo: Murray Wais

There are 7,304.84 days in 20 years. For Matchstick Productions, those moments of time are strung together through a body of work that’s documented skiing’s rapid evolution, and made fun of it at the same time. A three amigos of sorts, Steve Winter, Murray Wais, and Scott Gaffney make up the core of MSP. From their Crested Butte, Colorado, base and Gaffney’s satellite editing office in Tahoe, they have been there for the heartbreaks and the rad.

After graduating from college in 1992, Winter started Real Adventure Films by hopping in a VW bus and ski bumming around the country with 10 rolls of film. His first movie, the 15-minute Nachos and Fear, was edited at a public access station in Seattle, Washington. The film attracted sponsors and the attention of skiers everywhere. For his follow up, Soul Sessions & Epic Impressions, Winter enlisted the help of Wais, a childhood friend who had just completed journalism school and an internship at Powder. At a ski film festival in Crested Butte in 1993, they met Gaffney, a young filmmaker. It wasn’t until years later that a catalyst would connect the three dots.

“Shane [McConkey] brought us together,” says Winter. “He loved filming with Scott because they were good friends, and it was easier to work together than it was for Shane to split his time to shoot with Scott and also with us.” In 1999, they rebranded as Matchstick Productions after, according to Winter, a late-night brainstorming session sparked by matches. In their 20 years, MSP has produced 22 films and burnt unforgettable memories into skiing’s core.

1. “The Motorola RAZR was mine,” says Wais. “I used that thing to track Mount Baker’s world record snowfall season of 1,140 inches in 1999.”

2. “Back in the day till about 2005, all of MSP’s time lapses were done frame-by-frame on film,” says Wais of the Bolex Super 16 and intervalometer. “You wouldn’t really know what you were going to get. It’s not like today when you hit a digital button, look at your frame, set it and go, and pretty much kill every time lapse.”

3. Wais estimates MSP has shot over 10,000 rolls of Kodak 7245 16mm motion picture film. At 100 feet a roll, it’s safe to say that most of the MSP moments you remember from the pre-digital era were captured with it. “I had a massive love affair with film,” says Winter. “I did not want to leave it, but this year we went all in and got a few of the new RED Epic [digital] cameras.”

4. MSP used this slate on location and in the editing suite to match audio to the film. “Film cameras don’t record sound, so you have to record it to a separate source,” explains Wais.

5. The Way I See It film canister from the opening of the 2010 movie. The initial sequence of the flick marked the first time MSP used the high-speed, super high-definition Phantom camera.

6. Ski Movie, the first of the popular Ski Movie series, was the first MSP film released on DVD. “The digital revolution made it a lot easier for people to find out about MSP and watch ski movies,” says Wais. “Because VHS tapes sucked and DVDs were instantly getting to see studio-quality images, it was no longer this massive down-convert from the film we were shooting.”

7. One of Saucer Boy’s (McConkey’s alter ego) many Jack Daniels bottles. MSP and Red Bull are producing a feature-length documentary called McConkey, expected to be released in 2013. “The first year that they did Saucer Boy, I didn’t think there was any way he was drinking Jim Beam that whole time,” says Gaffney. “I didn’t believe it until we started shooting Saucer Boy the next year. We were drinking Jack all day.”

8. Gaffney, who handles the majority of editing for the annual film, says Pennywise’s “Broheim” is his favorite song used in a movie. “I used it in Sick Sense in a Chamonix segment. But for me, making In Deep, as soon as Shane died, I was like, ‘That’s the song we’re using.’ Now, when I’m standing on top of a line that’s scaring me, I usually have that song in my head.”

9. “All the lines we shot with the Polaroid are one thing, but I don’t think there’s any more fun than taking photos with that thing at a party,” says Wais. “You could use a ballpoint pen to scratch up the image and get all artistic on it. We must have blown through thousands of pictures of our friends at parties and other pro skiers and putting crowns on them or calling them ‘dick’ or giving them a mustache.”

10. The Super 8 camera was purchased for the boat trip featured in 2005’s The Hit List.

11. In August 1997, Winter was in a helicopter crash near Portillo, Chile, that killed photographer T.R. Youngstrom. “This photo was taken literally seconds before it crashed,” says Winter. “T.R. shot this photo and was taking shots of Seth [Morrison] in the helicopter.” After the crash, Winter was told in the hospital that he was fully paralyzed and would never walk again. “Murray was in my room,” says Winter. “Murray and I have known each other since Little League. We had started this film company pretty much together. We had that discussion in Chile, ‘I guess we’re done.’ The nights I had alone in the hospital, I thought, ‘Well fuck. My life is kind of over.’ All the good times I remembered were of making ski films, and traveling with cool people. I wasn’t thinking back to other shit in my life, I was thinking about stuff I did making ski films. Right there in the hospital, we decided we weren’t going to quit. We’re going to keep going, we’re going to go on. Quitting was not an option because Shane died. He would kick my ass if we stopped filming. This is not something I do for money or whatever else. It’s been for the experience, for the travel, and the cool people to hang with.”

12. “I took [skiing] so seriously 20 years ago,” says Wais. “I’ve come to realize it’s all fun and all in the same spirit and that it really doesn’t matter what kind of grab it is or what kind of outfit it is, as long as that person is having fun, I shouldn’t really mock it.”

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