CHROMA and POLY are the quietly elegant and intertwined projects of Severin van der Meer and Silvano Zeiter. CHROMA is an experimental snowboard film shot by Willem Jones and directed by Alex Tank, while POLY is a complimentary multimedia project featuring a series of three flipbooks and an exhibition. They each capture and convey Sevey’s snowboarding in a variety of forms but are not what you might expect from a typical snowboard project. While delicately connected, they are also able to stand alone from each other. Each piece invites the viewer to participate in the experience in a different way, and what they take away from it is up to them.
Interviews. Theo Acworth
Photo. Silvano Zeiter
Severin van der Meer
Tell us about the crew, how was it working with them all?
Willem [Jones] was in since the beginning as the filmer, then Alex [Tank] took over the directing from DBK [David Bertschinger Karg] and Tobias [Bonfanti] at Hillton, and Silvano [Zeiter] was shooting photos. It’s kind of been a dream to make a project like this with friends.
Has CHROMA turned out like you thought it would, or has it developed into something more?
It’s definitely developed into something more, and it happened every week or two during the filming process. At first, I really wanted to ride everything naturally. Then after the first season, we figured that we kinda need some proper airtime, too, so I started to pat some stuff down, and I changed what I wanted to show with my riding. At the same time, Alex came in with his vision, and that definitely changed the whole film. So it definitely changed a few times. I can’t even tell how many. Some stuff happened super randomly and ended up turning into one of the main parts of the project. This is the main reason that I wanted to do a project like this, to be able to have impact on the direction of it, and the creative side too. This really motivated me to snowboard way more.
Did you ever feel pressure having so much control of things, or did it just make it more enjoyable?
We really had a vision. I knew that I had a cool opportunity with this project, and I really wanted to give my best. It pushed me to try stuff, hike more and explore more. We just went out each day and tried. If it worked out, it worked out. If not, then it didn’t. I don’t usually put pressure on myself, but I definitely felt it a little bit, especially in the second year where we knew that we had to have a film at the end of it. But it wasn’t pressure to do better or higher tricks. We just wanted to make something special. I think everyone had their own personal pressures about wanting to do this or that, but after we had our last filming session in Laax, we could all just release it and enjoy the last couple days of snowboarding together.
“It’s kind of been a dream to make a project like this with friends. To be able to have impact on the direction of it, and the creative side too. This really motivated me to snowboard way more.”
Tell me about your relationship with Silvano and how his project POLY has developed alongside CHROMA.
We have to start a bit further back when talking about Silvano. This whole project kinda started when I moved in with him. We started hanging out and shooting together, and this friendship really made this movie happen. We’ve been talking about making something together for a while now. We knew we wanted to do some slow-shutter stuff, including photos and film together. We didn’t really know how it would turn out, though. At first, we built a rig with two different cameras on it, one photo and one film. That was when Levi [Luggen] cut my head open, and we had to stitch it up.
What? I didn’t know about this.
So we tried to follow each other with this rig, and it was pretty heavy. Silvano is a really good snowboarder, but we thought it would be better if Levi followed me. I sprayed him pretty good, and he came out of the cloud and didn’t really see me and fully crashed into me and cut my head open. That was when we knew it wasn’t going to work and that we needed to find another way. We didn’t even try it anymore that season. In the end, we mounted a GoPro onto Silvano’s camera, and this worked out really good. For me, that was almost the most exciting part. Shredding together, almost killing each other. A lot went into this, and I really like to look back on this process with him. It was so fun.
How much did you enjoy being strobed doing those follow shots at night? Could you even see properly with the flash?
It doesn’t really blind you, but it’s definitely trippy. Like being in a nightclub, but snowboarding.
I wonder what any bystanders were thinking.
It must have looked so stupid *laughs*. But every run, we would check the shots, and they looked so good. We just wanted to keep doing more and more.
Sounds like you were just having fun all the time and experimenting with different things.
I think that was the whole point of the film, and I think I can speak for Alex and Will too. We just tried different angles and different stuff, and that motivated all of us to keep going. Just trying to make something cool.
How do you feel about the final result?
I’m so happy with how it turned out. We watched it for the first time in the sound studio, which was crazy with the music. All the hairs on our arms stood up. What do you call it, chicken skin?
I’d call it goosebumps.
How would you describe the feeling of the film?
It should be... no. I shouldn’t say what it should be. For me, it has two feelings, dark and happy. I can’t really describe it in English. Let me look up the translation.
*he looks it up*
Hmm, you can’t really say this in English. It’s like dark, and happiness, kinda. But that doesn’t really work together that well when I say it.
I think it’s ok if the feeling of it can’t be captured by language.
Yeah, I guess you really have to see it and feel it for yourself.
As a director, how did you find stepping into a project that already existed?
At first, I really wasn’t thinking of doing another snowboard film. But then DBK hit me up, and I thought maybe under these circumstances, where I could have creative freedom and was filming with someone interesting like Sevey, I could be really down. They gave me total control, and I was able to come up with my own concept and totally craft the film into what I wanted it to be. I was really happy about the trust of everyone in the project to fulfil my own vision.
How big of a difference was there from the original concept to yours?
Theirs was an open-ended process. They came up with a couple of conceptual ideas for parts, which are still in there, like the photo section from Silvano. But for me, this film is a love letter to snowboarding. I brought in a bit of a narrative structure. You see a character at the beginning who’s melancholy in the big city and contemplating life choices. And then snowboarding happens, which is a metaphor for freedom and fulfilling life. So that’s a new concept that I brought in, but visually it worked pretty well with the shots we had from the start of the project. There’s one section that’s only footage from the first year. But in general, it really flowed together, so there was no big ‘break’ in the direction. Everyone brought their part to it and made it what it is.
Sounds like you’ve brought quite a personal perspective into it?
I guess that’s what you have to do if you want to make honest work as a filmmaker. You only have your perspective and not a different one. Judging from my perspective and someone who’s somewhat grown away from the professional life of snowboarding, this was the love letter to snowboarding from me. That’s what I wanted to bring into the narrative.
If I asked you to describe the feeling of the film, is that something that you can put into words? Sevey struggled with this question.
It’s hard. I’m a filmmaker, so I can’t really speak about feelings. I can only show feelings. But if I had to, I’d say it’s a little bit dark. It’s challenging, in a way. It’s not a cute little snowboard video that will make you happy afterwards. Maybe it challenges you to reflect a little bit on your position in snowboarding and life in general. That’s the vibe that comes through it. I hope so, at least.
So everything has really been thought through, that’s quite a rare approach to find in snowboarding.
Definitely, it’s a highly conceptualised piece. Every shot has an idea and a thought process behind it. Especially the narrative parts of it.
I like projects like this. For sure snowboarding should remain immature and playful, but seeing other parts of it maturing somewhat is cool too. Did the film turn out like you thought it would?
This was like a narrative snowboard film fusion, where you definitely know what you want to get beforehand, at least in the narrative parts, but with snowboarding, you never know and have to adapt. So all of the snowboard segments were an open-ended process. I like to have an approach like this instead of something that’s only goal-orientated. We brought in so many talented people. Willem on the camera, Sevey on the board, Silvano as the photographer. Then a colourist and sound designer and an editor. Just a super interesting and playful combination of all of us, working together in a flat hierarchy and trying to celebrate the process of artists coming together. That’s what the film is all about.
Exactly. That’s the way that I like to work. As a director, I maybe have a bit more of an overview of everything and see the whole thing at play, but I love to trust the people I work with. I want them to be artists and bring their own style. That’s why they’re in this project.
“For me, this film is a love letter to snowboarding. It’s challenging, in a way. It’s not a cute little snowboard video that will make you happy afterwards. Maybe it challenges you to reflect a little bit on your position in snowboarding and life in general.”
The idea of snowboard films having ‘directors’ isn’t too common. As soon as I heard the word, I pictured the classic Hollywood thing, a guy in a chair with a megaphone, a riding crop and a beret.
I think that time is definitely over! Me shouting from the bottom of the valley, ‘Gooo! Light’s good, do anything!’. That’s definitely not the case. The term director is a bit misleading. Of course, you have to give some direction, but also leave enough space for everyone involved to bring in their own artistic language, and the stance between everyone is what makes it special.
So what does a snowboard director actually do?
I was on the mountain almost every day with them. When I wasn’t there, I totally trusted Willem with the vision, and he knew what I wanted to have, and I knew he could do it. There can sometimes be differences in opinion about how a shot should look and how snowboarding should be implemented within them. But these discussions with Sevey were always productive. I don’t like it if a dictator says what you have to do, especially in snowboarding. Your state of flow where you can get the best out of yourself is such a fragile thing, so I tried to leave Sevey as much room as possible to ride in his way, but at the same time not lose the general direction of things. In the end, we came up with something that was good for the film and good for him as a snowboarder. And I guess for me as an ex-professional snowboarder, I could take his perspective and hopefully understand him and help to make this process happen.
Sounds like you found a really good balance. Are you proud of how it’s turned out?
You’re so deep into it that at some point, you don’t even know! You just do what you feel is right and do it in the best way that you think you can. Pride is a weird word, but I’m happy with how it turned out, and I can’t wait to hear what people think or what they see in the film and how they interact with it. Let’s see, it’s an experimental snowboard film in a certain transcendental style that has more of an emotional narrative than a logical movie narrative. You’re always on the edge, not sure if it’s going to work. But coming together as individuals and shaping something greater than the sum of its parts, that’s what I like so much about this project. So much blood, sweat and tears go into something like this. You have to invest a whole year of your life, if not more. I would urge people to see it on a big screen if possible. And thanks to you and Method for letting us talk in-depth about these projects.
It’s our pleasure.
“A rider like Sevey, he needs to feel like he has the door open to be able to do whatever he wants. His riding really asks for that freedom, and as a filmer, you just follow.”
Have you ever shot backcountry snowboarding like this, or for this long before?
Never. This was my first time in a full-on backcountry project. I was pretty out of my comfort zone for a long time, but that was really cool. Especially working with someone like Sevey. The Beyond Medals guys used to call him the Mountain Goat. He just goes, and it was pretty challenging to follow him around. He would always make sure I was safe, though. A rider like Sevey, he needs to feel like he has the door open to be able to do whatever he wants. He’d make a plan one day and then switch it up the next. All over the place, but in a really cool way. His riding really asks for that freedom, and as a filmer, you just follow.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
Just moving around, and the gear. My snowboard experience is pretty limited to just following the park kids around, and then you end up having to do long traverses in difficult conditions. I was trying to figure out how to make the RED as compact as possible, but my balance was still really off. It’s a fine line between what you want to bring and what you actually need. Especially if you don’t have a plan. With Sevey, it’s more about connecting dots on the mountain. He’d tell me that he would jump from one spot to another, but I wouldn’t always have the total reference of what he meant because he has such a different way of looking at the mountain. Also, it’s usually the stuff he does afterwards that’s cooler. So that’s tricky because you need such a broad scope of gear to capture it. The Hillton approach is also very cinematic. So you try to figure out what you need to actually follow him around and also to be able to film it as well as possible. So it was challenging, but in a nice way. Maybe there were times where I didn’t feel totally capable of doing it and thought that perhaps he needed a different filmer, but I really loved him for pushing through and saying that he wanted to do it with me.
Were there some sketchy moments?
Yeah, for sure. The first time I freaked out, we were doing a long heelside traverse. I was carrying the camera and tripod in my hands and also the backpack full of heavy batteries. I was too slow and knew I couldn’t reach the endpoint. I didn’t really think, and I unstrapped one of my bindings and started slipping down with the RED and tripod in my hands. It was a thin layer of crusty powder on ice. I didn’t slip far, but it wasn’t a nice feeling. I think I made it harder than it needed to be because it was so new. I still had a rush of just being able to get to the spot. Silvano taught me a lot about where safe spots were and where to drop your gear and then go and look for angles. We also did an avalanche course before we started filming, which made me feel safer, and I also learned a lot while shooting. It was a steep learning curve but a good one to make.
That’s good to hear that they were looking out for you.
Yeah. I definitely doubted myself for the first month. I love Sevey, he really grew into one of my best friends, and I just want to show his riding in the best way possible. It’s like seeing a unicorn. It’s not the tricks that do it. It’s such a cliché, but it’s the little turns and the way he goes over rollers and bumps. It’s those moments that really fuck you up as a filmer, too, if you didn’t get them.
"It’s such a cliché, but it’s the little turns and the way he goes over rollers and bumps. It’s those moments that really fuck you up as a filmer, too, if you didn’t get them. It’s like seeing a unicorn. ”
Have you seen the final version of the film?
A couple of months ago, I saw the first cut, and at first, I was like, ‚whoa’. It’s a little weird, but in a good way. It’s so different from other films I’ve seen. It’s not like the ‚banger ender, let’s applaud’ kinda thing. I’m curious to see how people react in the premieres. It’s really like a dream.
You usually shoot commercials, which require a highly controlled approach, and are almost totally opposite to a project like this one. How did you find the switch?
It was cool. I always felt that Sevey was pretty loose, in a cool way that everyone wants to be. He just lets it flow, and you see that in his snowboarding. After a while, I just let it go myself and went where he went. You start feeling it for sure. One day, he was hiking up and talking to Alex on the radio about his line. Silvano pointed out the line he thought Sevey would take. On the radio, Sevey said that he didn’t really know where he was going, and then he did exactly what Silvano said he’d do. You know the movie Avatar where the main guy connects his ponytail to the horse thing’s ponytail?
Sevey and Silvano are like that. Maybe you can’t print this, but I swear those two are connected by their dicks or something, like those ponytails. It’s insane how in tune they are. As a filmer, having Silvano with you is a lifesaver. I’m more than happy to have met him, and also seeing his eye at work, it’s so unique.
Were there any really memorable moments for you from the last two years?
Watching Sevey and Arthur Longo snowboarding together just for fun. They are the guys that just want to go go go and not always film or shoot. Just seeing them go over a little bump was so beautiful and cool. They really interpret snowboarding in a totally different way. The first time I shot with Arthur, [Julien] Perly came up to me and said, ‚I don’t know what frame you have, but make it at least 3 meters higher.’ I did that, and Arthur still went to the top of the frame. He came to check the shot, and he said, ‚Ah, you zoom. Tanner [Pendleton] also zooms, but I don’t really like it’. Then he hiked back up. I thought, ok, no zoom then. Also, that long butter from Sevey from the first year. We’d had a long dry spell on shots, and when we got that one, I was literally screaming. That was a crazy good feeling.
That shot is definitely a special one. Ok, I think we can leave things there. Any closing words?
I always wonder why Sevey picked me to work with. I never asked him. We just clicked, and I guess that was enough. It’s tricky to capture his riding, but seeing it all come to life is beautiful. I’m really honoured to have been a part of it.
How did you end up with flipbooks?
When we started shooting CHROMA we also wanted to do a book project simultaneously. At first I had something else in mind that focussed a bit more on the snow structure side of things. But as the project evolved, we were shooting all these follow-cam sequences that would go in the film, and I thought it would be cool to do something with that. Then a friend of mine sent me a video of a flipbook showing a single tennis shot from Roger Federer. Despite being near midnight, my brain started going full speed. I knew that was it, and I was so sure that it had to be done. I thought it would be good to do three different books, and at first we’d only planned to do the black and white follow lines. Then we had a spontaneous night of riding at Rinerhorn and did those shots with the flash and red gels, and I knew that was going to be the second book. The third one is the guy in the sky stuff. I thought I’d just try them and see how they looked. It could be cool or it could be shit, but they turned out pretty good, and they became the third one. So that’s it, black & white, red, and blue. Volumes one, two and three.
To convey the feeling of snowboarding with still images isn’t an easy task, but these do it in a very elegant way.
Thank you. Nowadays most zines and books are usually about snowboarding culture and focus on the more offbeat side of things, similar to Honey Ryder that I did with Nicolas [Müller]. So I wanted to do something that was only about the action, but that’s kind of hard to do, if you don’t want it to look like a regular mag. So I wanted action, but not crazy action, something relatable for everyone that was just simple and fun. The follow-cam stuff combined with the longer exposures, it just pulls you in. You feel like you’re in there with Sevey.
It seems like you’re working in a space that sits somewhere between photo and video?
For me, this is a natural evolution of the way I shoot snowboarding. I started doing follow-cams with Freddy [Kalbermatten] twelve years ago, and I tried to keep that going every season. It’s exciting, shit can go wrong. Shooting snowboarding for so many years, I sort of felt bored, in a way, and I wasn’t as motivated to go out and shoot as much as I used to. But this gave me a whole new drive. Usually at the end of the season I’m done, but this season I was the one always telling Sevey that we had to go out again and find another windlip. That was sick. It felt like when I was shooting ten years ago and was always frothing to go out. At the same time, I was so in that follow cam zone, that as soon as we posted up and shot something ‘normal’, that was also fun again. Nothing ever felt forced, it felt natural and simple.
“Sometimes I know what Sevey is going to do before he does. He doesn’t like it when you ask him what he’s going to do, because Sevey doesn’t know himself until he’s mid-line! You have to understand each other blindly. I don’t think I could have done this with anyone else.”
You and Sevey must have a pretty good shooter/rider relationship?
Sometimes I know what Sevey is going to do before he does. I actually haven’t done these with too many riders because they require a lot of trust between them and the photographer. You have to understand each other blindly. Willem is a super rad dude, but of course he needed to know where and what Sevey was going to ride if he was going to film it. Sevey doesn’t like it when you ask him, because Sevey doesn’t know himself what he’s going to do until he’s mid-line! But we’re such good friends that I can tell you that he’s going to go here, then slash there, then air off that, even if he doesn’t know it yet. We really understand each other. I don’t think I could have done it this way with anyone else.
It’s cool to hear how these have developed quite naturally as you shot them.
They’ve really become their own body of work. CHROMA is kind of its own big universe, and POLY is a smaller complementary part of it. They work together and enhance each other, but they’re also able to stand on their own.
When CHROMA and POLY are together, is there a certain order that they should be viewed?
I had this discussion with Sevey. He thought that people should watch the film first, then come out and see the exhibition. I said no, it has to be the other way around. I feel like POLY is a way to prepare the viewer for the film. The books and the exhibition puts them in the right headspace to watch CHROMA. We tried to put ourselves in the heads of the audience. Sometimes people forget that the audience has no clue about what’s going on, so it’s important to remember that they’ll be seeing this shit for the first time. But people are also going to expect this to be just another snowboard film, which it kind of will be, but different. This is made by Hillton, but it’s not another GLUE or soft, which was very important for Sevey. Bringing Alex in to direct was a good way to differentiate it, the film has Alex’s fingerprints all over it. It’s dark-ish, but I love it. It has this red thread running through it that not everyone is going to get, but you can ask Alex and Sevey about that.
The design of the books is really classy, but that doesn’t surprise me because everything you Swiss people design is classy. Did you do the design yourself?
Boris Stoll is the graphic designer in charge of the movie, and it was clear to me that I’d ask him to work on POLY as well, to help make the bridge between the film and the books. He did a great job on the covers and advising me about size and page count and things like that. The barcodes are the ISBN number, and every volume has its own number. They’re also used as a graphic element, sort of representing the flipping of the photos through the book.
Where can people get their hands on the books?
We’re going to give them away at the premiere. Everyone there can get one, but you can also buy the full set in a box as a collectors edition. Those will be limited to 333, sold through FW, and we’ll also sell some through Doodah. Everyone I’ve shown them to feels nostalgic, like when you’d make a little stick figure animation on a pad of paper. You feel like a kid again. My favourite part about it is that the reader is responsible for making it look good, it depends on how good your flip skills are. If you suck at flipping, it won’t be a good experience! You might have to try it a few times until its smooth, but when it is, the reader will be so stoked.