When I was cut adrift by Head on June 13, 2001, my once glowing prospects dimmed considerably. The date is etched in memory because I hosted a small soirée that evening in honor of my darling wife’s 50th birthday. One of the attendees was Paul Hochman, who would play several roles in my life as I wandered in the wilderness of unemployment during what were supposed to be my peak earning years.
During the gaping hole in my career that spanned 2001-2011, I would eventually spend every cent of my inheritance, plus most of what I’d saved from earlier bouts with gainful employment, just keeping the household afloat. Despite a river of red ink, my resume would suggest that I was not only commercially active during this epoch, but had my hand in all sorts of ventures:
- Co-created Desperate Measures and Planet Hospitality with Dave Bertoni (of Stump-Bertoni Prize for Excellence fame), implementing them in the field and promoting them at industry confabs. Great concept that almost got off the ground. Almost.
- Worked with Bertoni on several other projects, including brochures for instrumented football helmets, risk assessment according to location, energy use monitoring for home and business and equally eclectic pursuits.
- Paul Hochman, whom you’ll remember from the first paragraph, hired me to play his foil on Gear Guys, which aired on Resorts Sports Network. Thirteen episodes shot in a day.
- Wrote white papers for accounts payable software. Client had never read such lively prose. No kidding.
- Enjoyed a brief tenure as Marketing and R&D chief for niche eyewear brand Panoptx. No sooner did I supervise its re-branding to 7Eye than it lost a critical patent suit; the 2008 market collapse ensured its slide into oblivion.
- I was a rank-and-file ski and boot tester for SKI magazine when the enterprise was spearheaded by Andy Bigford, Paul Hochman, and later, Joe Cutts. A font for tales that will have to wait for another day.
- It was during a SKI test session that I served as Officiant at the wedding of Paul Hochman and Carrie Sheinberg, a fruitful union that persists to this day. Widely derided by PC quibblers as a mock wedding, it revolved around a theme that was as wildly inappropriate then as it would be now, so the less said about that the better. Let the record show that, while not entirely legal, the vows slurred that afternoon were nonetheless binding. Amen.
- I was hired by Andy Bigford and Max Bervy at Warren Miller Entertainment to ghostwrite the script for Impact, released in 2004. The remainder of this chapter of The Making of a Skier is devoted to that assignment.
Assigned to Write for an Angry God
Warren Miller was not amused.
He had already narrated fifty-four movies with his name above the title, and although he’d sold his shares in Warren Miller Entertainment several years earlier, he naturally preserved a proprietary attitude when it came to the script it was still his job to recite. He had never required the services of a writer, and he wasn’t keen on parroting some else’s verbiage.
I gather the first recording session didn’t go brilliantly. I could have written, “Free sex for everyone!” and Warren would have delivered the line deadpan. I’m not sure how Max Bervy cajoled Warren into adding some animation to his voice, but I suspect some contract-related arm-twisting was involved.
Before Warren could hold his nose and deliver his lines, I had to write them. Although this assignment wasn’t so long ago, the process that produced the narrative was medieval by today’s standards. The editor and linchpin in the entire operation, Kim Schneider, would send me a pile of video cassettes, Bervy supplied a list of the cast and shooting venues and otherwise I was left to my own devices.
I had written a fair amount of promotional scripts where I had to fit the story to match available footage, so the fact that the film was written after it was shot didn’t strike me as odd. What was peculiar was writing for someone with whom I had zero contact. I would bounce ideas off Schneider, but that was as close as I got to Warren’s throne.
While ostensibly I had a free hand, in reality I had to remain true to the spirit of Warren’s customary voice-over. I was hired to rejuvenate Warren’s go-to punch lines, not to alter his formula. The movie was always going to be pitched as Warren’s, although he no longer shot a single scene. The fiction had to be maintained that it was still Warren’s show, his images and his words. To preserve the façade, my name remained forever absent from the credits.
The following season I would again compose Warren’s words for Higher Ground, but the rift between Miller and the company that bore his name soon devolved into an unpleasant mess that proved irreconcilable. (Warren assured this outcome when he narrated a ski flick by indie producer Level One, an overt, unforgiveable violation of his contract.) My relationship with Warren Miller Entertainment lasted for another year (Jeremy Bloom providing the voice-over), but with Warren gone there was no longer a need for a writer who could mimic him.
Warren and I never met nor exchanged a single word during the making of Higher Ground or Impact.