Amid all the buzz for All.I.Can, another little gem from Sherpas Cinema – in collaboration with Public Ritual – is quietly causing its own stir. The short film The Man and the Mammoth originally aired on Salomon Freeski TV last spring, but this season it’s touring some of the film festivals with an alternate ending, after the original edit raised controversy among audiences, and surprisingly, even between the producers themselves.
Malcolm Sangster of Sherpas Cinema and Public Ritual’s Callum Patterson discussed the evolution of the film with Brobomb.
Brobomb: Why did the Sherpas want to do a project like this? And why stop-motion?
Malcolm Sangster: I like anything that’s new or different in snowsports and animation has always been one of our staples. We had these guys [Public Ritual] at our disposal and Mike Douglas who wanted to progress Salomon Freeski TV over the years so we said, hey we should marry these two concepts.
It was definitely a risk for Salomon… some of the corporate guys were like, ‘I dunno this is maybe a little too PBS for us,’ but we eventually pushed it through.
What is it like working with Mike Douglas?
MS: Amazing, he truly is the godfather of freeskiing. He gave us the reins and let us do what we wanted, with some input on what he’d like to see.
Where did the story idea originate?
Callum Patterson: The funny thing is we actually shot all of the outdoor footage first. When we started this project we knew we wanted to get him [the Man] outside. We got all of those shots, then afterwards we wrote the story to try and get him there.
[SPOILER ALERT] That leads us to the big question that early audiences have been asking: why did the Mammoth eat the Man?
CP: The ending is a bit of a story in itself. When we initially came up with the story arc, we ran it by some people we were working with. I wanted to end with him skiing out in the open, skiing around – that he had kind of transcended. But a lot of people felt it had to return to the Mammoth.
It was kind of decided without my input that the Mammoth would eat the man. I was a little upset at first … but I can also see that the Mammoth, in the end, is a mammoth. There are these differences between these two characters and he would still eat the man based on his beast-like instincts.
MS: Callum and I were actually out rock climbing when [Nathan, Callum’s partner in Public Ritual] finished the ending.
I was shocked the first time I saw it and I knew it would probably piss a few people off … My initial take – maybe stemming from being on the road a lot – is you come home and you’ve got this pissed-off roommate or wife or girlfriend or someone like that who’s kind of upset that you’ve been out shredding all day.
I’m sure a lot of skiers can relate to that. But was there any sense that this might be an environmental statement on the ski industry and its impacts? The Mammoth taking retribution for human progress and, in a circular way, its own extinction?
CP: Yeah – that’s a very interesting interpretation…
But not something that had come up before?
CP: No, but a part of [our] practice is to let go of control… People want to nail down all the metaphors beforehand whereas I find there’s a certain magic to just getting out there and getting a shot, you put them together and all of a sudden there’s a story.
Is it possible that the Mammoth is somehow reacting to the Man’s choice to ski in an urban setting instead of more pristine mountains?
CP: As a skier I stick to the backcountry, so maybe there’s something subconsciously there. But the simplest reason why he’s skiing on sidewalks is that it is steps from our studio. I figured out early on that he has good articulation – he skis a lot like a ski racer – so I really wanted to get him carving.
The puppet makes the last call as to which kinds of things he skis because it’s his capabilities. We’re not as concerned about following a storyline or structure that will tell people what to think about skiing, or the difference between urban and backcountry.
Let’s just say he likes 540s.
So has the Man taken on a life of his own? What’s in store for his future?
CP: We have kind of an interesting gallery; we keep all the armatures [puppets] from every film we’ve made. The Man sits upon the Mammoth on our fireplace mantle so I look at him every day and I’m quite fascinated by this character.
Some people have named him Mark Abma, somebody said Witt Foster. I definitely think we’ll go back to using him and continue down the skiing road.
What about the original ending, will it survive in some way?
CP: This conversation will probably affect that outcome. Since we have both versions I could see us using it. Sometimes for filmmakers, negative reactions are more valuable than no reaction so maybe it’s worth taking that risk of confusing people because it gets people talking.