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San Sebastian: Jon Long Talks About ‘The Search for Freedom’

Vet extreme sports director reflects on what drives extreme sports athletes in another Savage Cinema offering at San Sebastian

Jon Long’s passion and experience shooting action sports movies is far-reaching but the director went for something different when directing “The Search for Freedom.” The film is a documentary that doesn’t look at the sports so much as the people who came together to create the modern cultural phenomenon of action sports. Variety chatted to Long before “The Search For Freedom” world premiered at San Sebastian Sept. 23.

What was your experience prior to the documentary with these sports?

I made action sport movies on skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and surfing throughout the nineties. In the late nineties, I made a movie for IMAX theaters called “Extreme” which featured all of these sports and became one of the most successful movies shot in IMAX at the time, grossing $27 million at the worldwide box office.

What was the shooting like?

The shooting was really fun. Unlike the days of shooting IMAX, our crew was small, so we were able to move quickly, be very flexible and creative. We would change the shooting objective for any given day if the flow of the situation led us to something different and more interesting. One example: We were shooting on the North Shore of Oahu and we heard that the surfing conditions were better on Maui, so we immediately drove to the airport, flew to Maui, rented a helicopter and within two hours we changed our plan entirely and were shooting the world champ stand up surfer on another island. It was an amazingly productive day as were many days on this shoot for the same reason.

Which sport was the hardest to shoot?

Big waves and big mountains are the hardest to shoot because so many conditions have to align in order to get those really standout shots. Weather, risk and safety all come in to play in a huge way and this is where you need to be making smart decisions. You can wait for weeks in the mountains for weather to clear before you can access peaks, and many times you’ll have perfect blue sky days, tons of fresh snow along with horrendous avalanche conditions.  So its balancing everything together, picking the right moments and working with great people that brings it all together.

The most fun?

The most fun sport to shoot for me is surfing because it is such an amazing art form, the imagery is so visceral and the interaction with waves and water is endlessly fascinating. And most of all, I like it because when you’re not shooting surfing, you’re surfing.

Do the mindsets of these athletes differ from the mindset of other professional athletes?

I don’t think so, but I’m sure everyone would have their own opinion. These athletes and doing what they love to do, they need to weigh risk with reward in order to sustain what they do, and if they want to be really good at what they do then they probably have to work very hard at it in most cases. But like Warren Miller says in the movie “If you love what you do, it ain’t work, it’s fun!”

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