Austrian skier Lena Stoffel talks us through the process of getting her latest short film produced in the northern depths of Norway.
We caught up with Lena in Innsbruck where she gave a talk together with house-mate and fellow filmmaker Aline Bock at the Slay Days opening dinner, sharing some of her life’s tales and film making experiences, refreshingly focused on the moments that don’t make it to Instagram, the tough shit, bad days, the crippling self-doubt. And pushing through that to reach your goals.
Lena! Your film Circle of the Sun is so nice! Talk us through the process and steps from concept to premiere? How long did it take from you had the idea til you were standing on snow?
I had the idea to go back to the arctic for a while… I wanted to go and spend more time there without a tight schedule. I’ve been talking to Inigo Grasset (the filmer) about it for a while and then I finally decided to go without a storybook or plan to make a proper movie out of it. The plan was to go, spend time, and shoot the best possible footage for just any following projects or campaigns. Luckily I am working with the RV company Sunlight who supports me with camper vans. I asked my friend Daniel Schießl to come just to have someone on the mountains I really trust, to have a second camera angle, and somebody who could follow-cam me.
A week later we were sitting in the camper van driving north and I think it was on the third day on the location that we decided we wanted to make a movie. We had snow, surf, and northern lights every night. Most of the time we were tearing up and couldn’t believe our eyes because the nature was just so stunning. After the trip we edited, added music (score by Rory J. Williams), and I wrote the narration along the way. The first premiere was in late August at the Women Surf film Festival in New York, followed by many more and still going.
How do you pitch to sponsors on this type of project?
On this project I didn’t pitch it ahead of the trip as I didn’t even have the plan to make a proper movie. I used the content budget I had from my partners and was also lucky to have the camper van company support me. The movie is made with a minimum budget and a team of just three people. After the movie was made I pitched the movie to a few partners and got support. It’s not the easiest way to do it but I like it this way because I get the most freedom with the outcome and also I have no pressure from the partners’ side. I can do completely my own thing and let the trip decide what kind of movie it will be and what story I want to tell with it.
What were the biggest challenges of making this happen?
I think the biggest challenge for me was to decide to actually go and do it. It was also a challenge to do the four-day drive, be in the arctics for a month, and not having any idea how weather conditions will be. It can be very tricky up there with snow conditions, weather, waves, and just terrain in general. So taking the risk to actually go and do it was quite a challenge for me. The trip turned out to be perfect though.
The second challenge came with getting the film out there and do that all by myself. We needed to distribute the movie to the right audiences who would appreciate the work, while hopefully making a bit of money on it. In the end it’s all worth it as it turned out exactly how I had imagined it and also I feel like the audience is getting the point and the feeling I want to portray with the movie.
How long did it take you to hike that chute and was it worth it?
We actually saw the chute from the road and we didn’t know the approach it so we tried to map it out and see if we could get closer to the terrain, just to the check the snow as well. It took us around three or four hours to finally get to the top and it was totally worth it. It was an incredible day and an experience I never had before. Maybe the coolest, most beautiful looking chute I ever skied. We were all very grateful it worked out so well!
What do you enjoy about hiking?
I love to hike because I get time in nature. Time to really absorb my surrounding, the terrain, the snow, the weather. It’s quiet and it feels like meditation to me. It’s also a nice challenge because it sometimes pushes you to your physical and mental limits. But if you’re approaching it the right way and you take your time, it can really make you feel alive realize what you’re actually capable of and how strong you are.
It’s both cold and not also not, haha. It’s hard to explain but the wetsuit keeps you warm as long as you are moving and not duck diving too much. It’s a very unique experience and also makes you feel very alive. The waves, the surrounding, the cold air ( mostly colder than the water). The hardest part is almost coming out of the water because you’re so cold that you can barely move.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to finance their own projects – whether it’s film, or art, or anything creative?
I guess the best advice is that the project that you want to do, needs to be something you are really passionate about and when you pitch it, it has to have a clear mission, story, a clear message you wanna tell. I’ve never had a big budget for my projects but somehow they’ve worked out in the end.
What’s next on your radar? What’s the dream project?
At this point I am collecting ideas and just thinking of things I would want to do, but nothing on the radar yet! I will definitely come up with something but for now, I am gardening and getting into climbing, just enjoying home and mountains, which actually feels amazing.