Winter of Wells The Documentary Insight Part 1 – Production

Myself with the Wells family at Rubys Cinema

After being bombarded with questions about producing Winter of Wells The Documentary, I’ve decided to publish three posts that briefly break down the production process into bite sized chunks. Obviously, there will be a lot of details missing but I’ll try to include the most interesting and significant parts! (If you have any questions simply leave a reply on this post) I produced about 80% of the documentary solo and learned a lot from doing so.

The first aspect I’m going to cover is Production (With a little Pre Production) followed by Post Production & Distribution.

Concept Development

Notes line the walls in my office with concepts for the Doco. I’m a visual learner and found it very helpful sticking these up.

WOW the Doco was born after producing 2 years of Winter of Wells episodes. We were looking for the next step and producing a feature 52min documentary was the goal. I locked in to the documentary at the end of December 2010 & by early Jan 2011 I was on a plane to USA to start shooting. With the documentary needing to be completed by October 2011, it left exactly 9 months to get everything done, which was very tight for what we wanted to achieve. Every possible concept for the chapters and themes of the documentary changed hugely as the year unfolded. So many of my plans went out the window, as all four of the boys got seriously injured during shooting the Doco.

Byron found himself in a stretcher on a few occasions whilst we were shooting. All part of pushing the sport!

I think the biggest skill in directing documentaries is being able to adapt to what is happening in front of you, and build story lines on the run. A lot of the golden moments happen when you least expect it, so being there with a camera on you 24/7 is vital. Every concept I wanted to include in the film was run by the client and the family which generated a huge amount of paperwork, which was yet another unexpected challenge as I had to communicate every idea in between NZ/USA & Europe. The time differences alone made things challenging.


A huge amount of time for me is spent organizing and communicating through emails and phone calls! Either in my office or on the road.

Co-coordinating a heli shoot for the Doco. Piers Harding filming behind the scenes. Photo

When you start creating a documentary that has so much travel involved based on a family on six people, and you’re working in the snow with so many variables that you can’t control, it becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare. I believe shooting snowboarding/skiing is one of the hardest sports to shoot due to not being able to control the snow, weather and light. All of the boys are extremely busy and on their own schedules which made things more complicated. Most shoots took weeks of planning to make happen. On top of this I was also trying to manage all the accounts and expenses. My phone bills were gnarly!


On the road with a lot of luggage. Clothes bag packed with lighting gear, a hard pelican case, my laptop bag, my FSTOP Satori & my board bag packed with tripods and sliders! ( & snowboard of course )

The fun part! I am a camera geek and fizz on getting my hands on new equipment. I used a large amount of different cameras for this documentary. The Doco gave me the opportunity to hire toys that weren’t mine (If I hustled) and also hone in on my own art.

I chose the Canon 5DMKII/7D to shoot most of the Doco. The cameras are small, light and when coupled with Canon L Series lenses they produce incredible results. They definitely have their limitations, but if you play by the rules they are an incredible tool in film making.

I shot most of the documentary interviews like this. 1×1 foot LED Panel, 5DMKII main camera, 7D second camera, and Panasonic HVX 3rd camera & sound. This proves to be very challenging operating all this kit solo whilst interviewing, which are vital to tell the story of the Wells.

I set up a shoot in the Wells family garage when everyone was back home together during June (A rare occurrence). I took my portable backdrop & hired some Kino lights from Queenstown Camera to shoot a typical family portrait, except the boys were to be holding their skis. This imagery turned into a huge theme for the whole Doco, and was included as the main visual reference for posters etc. I shot the family on black, and created some video portraits which looked very surreal.

Getting cozy in the garage. Photo

I had to shoot a lot of scenes in between the skiing to build the story. A big part of Jossi’s history was learning to swim race at a young age, so we shot this scene at the Phyzique pool. I skated whilst shooting 50FPS on the Canon 7D with some Kino lights – Photo

Hanging out in more garages. Shooting a scene with Jossi’s motorbike.

Getting innovative with Trent Palmer and Errol Kerr from Copter Kids

One of my goals in shooting the skiing for this Doco was to raise the production standards by using innovative camera techniques. I tee’d up a week shooting at Park City with Byron Wells and I brought in the assistance of the Copter Kids so that we could shoot angles which haven’t been achieved before.  The RC heli opens huge doors, enabling us to position the camera wherever we wanted . The Copter Kids are incredibly talented and were able to achieve any shot I suggested. There rig is set up immaculately and they achieve the best results in the RC world. Check out the Behind the Scenes video below.

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Big Toys, myself with the ShotOver heli gimbal – Photo Miles Holden

Myself inside the chopper at the controls of the ShotOver

The ShotOver heli gimbal shoot at SnowPark was one of the biggest highlights of making this Doco. I managed to get hold of this rig for an affordable price & it was worth every penny. It was my first time operating the rig, and within about 20 minutes I had it reasonably dialed. It helped to raise the production significantly. Below is a behind the scenes video from this shoot.

[vimeo w=750&h=422]

Outside of the big shoots, I work solo on the hill with my gear. I frequently take my ladder dolly to remote locations to shoot. Here is Byron Wells at Snow Park NZ. Photo Fabrice Wittner.

No snow film would be complete without some follow cams. I follow with the 5DMKII and 15mm fish. It’s a tiny rig and if used right the results are good! Here I’m following Beau Wells at Treble Cone. Photo Fabrice Wittner

I also used other cameras such as the Sony EX1 with Duncan Lake, and the Panasonic Af102 with Chris Kirkham.

Chris Kirkham shooting with the Panasonic AF102 and 300mm Canon f2.8. This lens / sensor combo gives an incredible reach and beautiful images.

Sound was definitely the hardest part of shooting the documentary. I recorded sound on a variety of microphones from shotguns to lapel mics. In the future I will be hiring a soundie for any shoots that have the budget!

I pulled in Chris Kirkham from NZ-Greenroom with some of his sound kit to record a voice over for the documentary intro. Goin a bit loopy after a long day!

That about wraps up my first post highlighting some areas of production for the documentary. If you have any questions fire away, next post will be published next week on post production. In case you haven’t seen it you can download Winter of Wells The Documentary on iTunes here.


3 responses to “Winter of Wells The Documentary Insight Part 1 – Production

  1. Really like the documentary Tim, I’ve watched a few times now. I’m interested in knowing more about the ladder dolly. Is it a setup you can buy or just do you make it yourself?

  2. Thanks Brett. A friend made the ladder dolly for me! Has stood the test of time, still going strong after about 3 years.

  3. Pingback: Copter Kids Aerial Reel 2011 | Tim Pierce

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