For the love of the mountain
Making films with Chris Kamman of SkyLab Media
Chris Kamman spent every summer of his childhood in Big Sky, selling golf balls lost by the family home on the 17th hole of the golf course and admiring Warren Miller’s filmmaking skills.
He never thought he would one day own his own Big Sky-based production company and travel the world shooting ski films.
Kamman began borrowing his dad’s camera and filming friends skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding in his teens. The resulting films led to celebrations: of life; of art; of just plain fun.
“It was no payment, no money, just a reason to have a party,” he said.
With a business and marketing degree from the University of Montana, he took as many elective classes for film as possible, since there was no established program at that time, and continued his hobby of filming friends doing epic things. This led to a job with Barrett Productions, a company later renamed Warm Springs Productions.
The company had him pre-editing hunting and fishing videos where he learned by both doing and seeing.
“Mostly, I was assistant editor. I had no training up until that point. I saw how real professional cameramen shoot and how they angle it. I got an idea of how it’s actually done by watching raw footage. Trial and error was probably my biggest teacher,” Kamman said.
Kamman wanted live and work in Big Sky full-time when he graduated, and luck was on his side, as the increasing need for social media for businesses created a more than favorable market for his skills. He landed at Big Sky Resort, doing the snow report in the morning, shooting video in the afternoon and maintaining the resort’s Facebook page.
“It was good timing on my part. Right when I got here was the beginning of the need for social media,” he recalled. Kamman remained working full-time at the resort for five years while also discovering interest from parties as well as opportunities to travel. Eventually, Kamman stopped working at the resort, but continued his work there on a contract basis. This allowed him to expand his expertise to other clients.
Soon, Kamman’s SkyLab Media House was born. The northwestern U.S. and Canada have been frequent locations for him to shoot ski films. With SkyLab, he has done athlete profiles for NBC Olympics in Liechtenstein, filmed in Italy and Austria; shot film for a sea turtle conservation video in Costa Rica and a coral reef preservation video in Belize.
“I’m going to be gone the first half of January shooting for Powder Magazine. This will be my third year working with them,” he said. “If someone would have told me in college that would be happening, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.”
Kamman wants to someday film skiing and snowboarding in the mountains of Japan and delve into his craft – continually learning and perfecting his hobby-turned-profession. It’s a progressive profession and he’s finding inspiration everywhere – he said companies like Sweetgrass Productions and Teton Gravity Research are pushing innovation and setting the standard for outdoor adventure films.
“Most of what I do is short, intended for social media. I have done some longform storytelling, but don’t get that opportunity as much as I would like,” said Kamman, noting that he did help film Wilderness Ski Film – a production looking at designated, non-motorized areas around Montana for skiing and snowboarding.
In addition to those goals Kamman wants to continually bring the spirit of Big Sky and the locals into the films – to let viewers know that there are real people in Big Sky, living real lives.
“As a kid, there was no one cooler than Warren Miller and the people in his films. I definitely have– since childhood– had a deep appreciation of the area. One of the aspects I try to keep there is the beauty of the place, the fun and the local culture. Even if it is a corporate video,” he said.
Kamman also spoke to the responsibility of local artists, photographers and creators to provide a real sense of Big Sky. “It is a real town with real people. It’s important to show that culture. A lot of people who visit only see the glitz and glam and don’t understand that there is a core group of people who have been here for years – sometimes from birth, working hard.”
He said he’s making it work in Big Sky partly from his time invested here: connections made with clients, skiers, snowboarders and other filmmakers. He’s been grinding it out – making it happen.
At the end of the day he’s hoping his work can help generate more connection to the mountain and the area than typical marketing videos. “Hopefully, you get the feels from them. If I can give someone goosebumps from a shot or the story, that’s my objective,” he said.