The State of the Industry with Jesse Burtner
13 Dec, 2010
The snowboard industry is constantly changing and adapting to the world around us. The last couple years snowboarding hit a rough spot in the economy but is now bouncing back with companies, films and snowboarders developing snowboarding for how it will be into the future.
One of those companies and the man behind it is Think Thank’s Jesse Burtner. His snowboarding can be seen in many films but he’s also the filmmaker and brains behind the lens. He’s been described as the hardest working man in snow biz and it’s no doubt that his passion for snowboarding can be seen from his Lib Tech pro model the box scratcher to his latest part in Think Thanks “Right Brain Left Brain.” Jesse continues to inspire snowboarders around the world and is checking in to discuss Think Thank, relationships in snowboarding, costs of filming and helmets.
Shay: What’s your story and how did you begin Think Thank?
Jesse: I’m a snowboarder who makes snowboard videos. I’ve been snowboarding and filming snowboarding for 21 years or so. I’ve always done both, snowboard and make movies, the two have always gone hand in hand for me. The first movies I ever made for sale in stores were with Jason Borgstede, our company was called JB Deuce (both our initials are JB) and we made seven movies with the help of Boarderline Alaska, an epic shop that ruled the Alaskan snowboard scene. After that ran its course I started my own project; with the help of my wife and closest friends Think Thank was born. We have made seven Think Thank videos now.
Shay: Who are the brains behind Think Thank?
Jesse: The three major collaboraters are myself, Christina Burtner aka Pika and Sean Genovese. We are the three that have been full on since the inception of Think Thank. We are the brains and the braun, with the help of our hard working filmers and designers past and present. For example: Ross Phillips, Mack Collins, Manchild, Andy Simutis, Mike Morgan, Mike Yoshida, Alex Mertz, Gary Milton, Sean Lucey, Woody Engle, Todd Lown, Matthew Burtner and many many more. One of the reasons we named the company Think Thank was to play off of the name “think tank” which is a group of smart people that get together and figure stuff out. We wanted to be a think tank of snowboarders, artists, musicians, photographers, etc. Think Thank was meant as a place for everyone to share their talents with a larger audience.
Shay: What are some key relationships in snowboarding that matter to you and do you have any loyalties within snowboarding?
Jesse: Oh wow, so many key relationships. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. First key guy was Scott Liska the owner of the aforementioned Boarderline Alaska. He got me sponsored, he gave me a job and he poured money into my video projects. Through the good, the bad and the worse Scott was always a friend and a role model. Then I’d have to say Krush Kulesza from Snowboy Productions, he has almost single handedly made my life as a snowboarder in Seattle become relevant and productive. Through Krush and The Summit at Snoqualmie, I’ve had freedom to do rad stuff and weird stuff and funny stuff, no matter what it is Krush is down. He is just a hard working creative juggernaut who is genuinely excited about snowboarding and everything that encompasses. Next is Mervin Mfg’s Pete Saari. Pete, Mike, Annette and the rest of the Mervin crew are amazing people doing amazing things in this world. I’m so proud to be associated with them, especially Pete. He has backed me hard and given me a second chance at a once in a lifetime opportunity, that is to ride for Lib Tech. Also Pete is this super stoked boarder, snow, skate and surf he is charging trying new stuff all the time which is inspirational. But the single most key relationship I have in snowboarding is my wife Christina, nothing would happen without her support. This is such a heavy question I feel like I have to list a few names here of people I could have written books about for all they have done for me: Sean Genovese, Andy Simutis, Scott Rouse, Maxx Von Marbod, Chris Shepherd, Mike Yoshida, Spacecraft and Preston Strout. All of the relationships I’ve made have been key, I love you all.
Photo: Think Thank
Shay: How do you determine what pro snowboarders you’d like to film and work with?
Jesse: I try to keep it organic, have it come together naturally. If a kid coming up starts riding with the crew or submitting clips and filming a sick part with his homies for a local video then he is on the radar and if he or she keeps at it and shows dedication then they’ll usually get a chance to film with Think Thank. I try to pick the people first and then make the sponsor thing work out after that. I’ve always filmed my friends and don’t see any need to change that. They are all amazing snowboarders and individuals I’m lucky to have worked with each and every one of them.
Shay: Think Thank has no problem filming at resorts, what’s the reasoning behind collaborating with resorts instead of super secret locations?
Jesse: We film at The Summit at Snoqualmie a lot. It’s a mellow place to try new stuff that we didn’t get to put together in the streets or the back country. If there is a certain trick that needs to go down we just make it happen up there, just to know it can be done then maybe look to try it in the streets the next year. Stuff like backflip fastplant and bs 270 one foot you might spend a whole season looking for the right spot where you feel comfortable even trying it so it makes sense for us to try and push some of the boundaries at a place where you can control the environment and not worry about looky lous or getting kicked out or whatever else.
Shay: What’s the breakdown when it comes to making money in snowboard films? How does it all work?
Jesse: It basically comes down to sales and sponsor dollars. We raise money from our sponsors to cover most of the budget and then sales is how Pika, Sean and I get paid. No salaries for us, just DVD sales. The sponsors make it happen and we try and get them the most exposure and value without comprising our artistic direction. We work with the sickest brands and are proud of our value to them as well. It’s been all good relationships for the most part, a lot of the brands have grown with Think Thank. It’s cool like that.
Shay: How much of your season is spent filming, editing and working on Think Thank?
Jesse: All of it, everyday literally. I’ve ridden 12 days this season so far and filmed on all 12 of them. It completely permeates my life.
Photo: Lib Tech/Mike Yoshida
Shay: Where do you see Think Thank going in the future? What are your goals to accomplish?
Jesse: I’ve always said we’d make at least 10 movies. I’m trying to make what I think is a perfect snowboard video in my minds eye. I’m also trying to film my best ever video part still. So those two things are goals, possibly unattainable, but goals none the less. We have some other things in the works that are yet to be announced. For the time being it’s not going to be a social networking website, it’s still snowboarding on video. Snowboarders filming snowboarding for other snowboarders to watch and get excited to snowboard. That’s still the focus.
Shay: I’d like to ask the same question I asked Cavan. Downloading and pirating snowboard films has increased, how do you feel about your snowboard films being downloaded instead of bought?
Jesse: I don’t know what to think. It could suck, it could work out great. The media delivery paradigm is going to shift, that’s for sure. But to whose benefit? And how many are going to get taken out during the transition between physical media and free download or physical media and pay download or pay download to free download. The less money that comes from the end user, the more corporate subsidies you are going to see. And I think that is maybe what people don’t realize. That a corporate agenda could replace an artistic agenda and you won’t even notice until Jimmy New Jib Kid is filmed slow motion drinking an energy drink while filling up his certain car with a certain kind of gasoline in a certain valley of ski areas all because that’s what has to happen to afford to make a movie. That’s kind of bleak prospect there, where more and more content is product placement, you already see it, and it can be tasteful but it rarely is, most of the time it’s blatant and gross and boring. Look at the music biz, big beverage companies are just putting out pop radio hits about Dr Pepper or whatever and people are hardly the wiser. The artist loses in this scenario, the little guy that wants to cross over from his successful Vimeo hit to actually doing it for real will be faced with the painful choice of either making what he wants and getting nothing or bending his creation to corporate interests. How are we going to progress? Where are the free radicals going to come from? It’s going to be more homogenized more vanilla more mainstream. Just because you can steal something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. If you feel so compelled maybe you should support your favorite riders and what they have worked for and how our culture has progressed, the snowboard video. On that note Think Thank has a lot of loyal friends and fans who continue to put their money where their mouth is and support what we are doing. Thanks to all of you. Things are changing and we can change with them, one possibility is to tour with the movie more like Warren Miller or like a band that goes on tour after a new album. However it changes, I think I’ll be up in it doing my thing no matter what.
Photo: Think Thank
Shay: How has Think Thank adjusted to the online media spread of information, in what ways have you changed how you make films?
Jesse: We’ve so far stayed focused on the physical media. Trying to add value to the DVD so it is more of a special thing to hold and touch. It’s exciting for me when I buy a DVD and I open it up and there is something in there and there is graphics on both sides and there are DVD extras and hidden easter eggs, I love that stuff. I buy movies all the time. I download them too. The ones I download I never watch, I just get it and watch it once and then I’m bored with it. It feels like internet garbage to me. If it doesn’t physically exist than something is missing, maybe I’m wrong maybe I’m getting too old but I still want the thing that is the movie not just images on a computer screen. The internet is a constant barrage of snowboarding and skateboarding, you can’t keep up with it. And throwing your movie into this torrent is akin to throwing it in to a raging river. The people on the banks can see it as it goes by, but then it’s gone from their minds because a second later there is another movie in front of their face. In this way the only thing that matters is what’s in front of them at that second, there is very little perspective to be gained from this vantage point. Like I said I watch and buy a lot of movies. I bought the Alien Workshop video in Japan at the premiere and Pika ran and got Jake Johnson and Dylan Reider to sign it for me. I have that video, it’s signed, I saw those guys, Dylan threw wine against the wall and made a scene, Arto was there, it was awesome. That video represents all of that and I own it and I watch it all the time. Now for comparison let’s take the Globe movie project, United by Fate. This was released on the internet, it was INSANE. But I watched it once and the next morning there was something else up on the top header of the web site. So I never watched it again. Furthermore I felt like they didn’t value the work that those skaters put in, those were some ground breaking parts, but for me they weren’t part of the conversation because Globe didn’t seem to value it (they have since released it on DVD). Toy Machine Brainwash came out on the internet first and I downloaded it then it came out on DVD, I’m pissed, wish I had waited for the DVD, there is bonus on there, the download is just this chulky little file in my I tunes. Boooooooooring.
Shay: What are your thoughts on the current state of the industry?
Jesse: Seems pretty rad right now. I think there are a lot of snowboarders making decisions right now, which is what we’ve always wanted. There is some broad diversity too inside the core market, which is cool. I like that all kinds of riding is looking rad right now. Like big mountain looks cool and fun and jibbing looks insane and legit and mini shred looks magical and all sorts of styles are side by side. We look like a nice cultural cross section, it’s cool. Plus I feel like a lot of industry heads are just excited to snowboard this year, they are out there charging, remembering the reason for the steezin’.
Shay: As the man behind Think Thank, do you intentionally make your video part really good every year or does that happen by accident?
Jesse: Is it good? I don’t know. I make every part really good. I try to hold myself to higher standards. The dudes are so good now, in Think Thank. They are just insane. Nicky, Scott, Larson, Geno, Bogart, Blair, Tim, Beresford all these guys are just such epic riders it’s super inspirational. I used to lead the charge and drag dudes along with me trying to squeeze footage out of them but now they are so stoked working so hard and trying the gnarliest stuff, I just hang on and watch them work.
Photo: Lib Tech/Mike Yoshida
Shay: It’s rare to see a pro snowboarder wearing a helmet in their video part, what made you decide to start wearing a helmet?
Jesse: I hit my head in 2003 on some stairs and ended up having bleeding in my brain and getting my skull opened twice to remove the blood. It was a game changer for me. Wearing a helmet was just the first of many things that changed because of that, all of it has put me on this different path that has been my second snowboard career.
Shay: Do you think it’s becoming more acceptable for snowboarders to wear helmets in films?
Jesse: I hope it is. There are enough of us now doing it that I think it just doesn’t matter. People used to say to me that you can’t film with a helmet on. People would make fun of helmets in front of me because they forgot I’m wearing one, after a while you just don’t notice. Does it matter that Jed wears a helmet? Does anyone care? He’s absolutely berzerker on his snowboard who cares if he has a helmet, he’s the best jibber and he wears one, so who cares. And if he didn’t and if I didn’t and if Dufficy didn’t, then snowboarding wouldn’t be the same because Jed gets so many concussions that he would have had to quit and same with Duff and with myself.
Shay: What does it mean to be a snowboarder?
Jesse: It means to have fun in the snow with your friends.