Greg Stump opens up and says 'Ahhh'

By Troy Hooper
OpinionReal AspenDecember 8, 2010
Strolling into Bentley's, it is easy to spot filmmaker Greg Stump.
Greg Stump reveling in the moment.

Greg Stump Productions

He's sitting on a bar stool wedged between a pair of stunning mountain lasses, telling crude jokes with a drink in his hand. The scene resembles prior encounters I've had with Stump at Little Annie's and other watering holes in Aspen. But this is the first time in over a decade that he's made a pure ski film.

He looks tan and rested.

After a stint in competitive skiing, Stump burst onto the cinematography scene in the 1980s. He pushed the boundaries of his genre by employing daredevil skiers like Scot Schmidt, Glen Plake and Mike Hattrup to invent movies heavy on action, scenery and the hard core, rebellious sounds of punk-infused rock. His storytelling conjured up raw, original dramas and, like his predecessors, a hearty dose of humor.

"Blizzard of Aahhh's" released in 1988 and inspired generations of extreme skiers. What happened after that film and what came before it is the nexus of his newest film, aptly titled “Legend of Ahhhs.”

A director's cut of “Legend of Ahhhs” premiered at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen on Nov. 26 for ten bucks. Schmidt and other big mountain stars were in attendance. The finale earned Stump a rousing standing ovation.

The next night, Stump went to the Belly Up to see Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. He's been filming the son of Willie Nelson in locales across the country. It's potentially for a concert documentary.

Stump met Lukas Nelson in Maui seven years ago, when the musician was just 14 years old.

The young Nelson blew him away.

“Were you at the show last night?” Stump asks.

“No,” I reply lamely.

“Oh my god. He destroyed it again. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real,” Stump says.

"Aspen knows who it is. Aspen knows it's a fun party town," the legendary filmmaker explains.

Greg Stump Productions
Many people don't know this but Stump has worked with some of the biggest names in music. He shot the video for the Fat Boys and Beach Boys collaborative hit “Wipe Out,” which topped the charts for 18 weeks in 1988 and was that summer's most requested video on MTV. He's also filmed Seal, Dinosaur Jr., Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and others.

“The coolest thing is Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real,” he answers later when I ask him what's the coolest subject he's ever filmed. “I would honestly say that. That's why I'm so excited by this next project. I told Lukas that too. I told him, 'This is the most exciting thing. Hanging out with you guys and being able to film and for us to potentially be doing a concert movie, it's the coolest most exciting thing I've ever been involved with.' It's like being involved with Jimi Hendrix before Hendrix was famous."

Stump has a lot of friends in Aspen. His brother lives down the highway in Basalt. He also has partnered with the Aspen Skiing Company on smaller commercial projects like “The Power of Four" back in 2004.

Real Aspen: What do you think makes Aspen special?

Greg Stump: "Aspen knows who it is. Aspen knows it's a fun party town. It knows it's not Chamonix as far as terrain. But at the same time it's really, really beautiful. The other day on opening day, I saw a lot of smiley faces out there. When the jet stream is shifting the right way, Aspen is just awesome. The town is unbelievable. You can get any kind of food, fun … I don't know. There's just something about it. It's not too cold here. I live up near Jackson Hole and it's friggin' freezing there all the time. Aspen's nice."

Real Aspen: Tell us about the “Legend of Ahhhs” and how it came about.

Greg Stump: “I wanted to make a film on the history of ski films from the 1930s with Leni Riefenstahl through what's going on today with the kids. It's kind of a historical thing. It's funny a lot of people who saw the movie the other night were like, 'I had no idea that's where that came from.' The fact that Warren Miller is imitating John Jay. John Jay is imitating Otto Lang and Otto Lang is imitating Leni Riefenstahl. It's the whole concept that the ski movie is this big giant book and there are all these little chapters. It's not just 'extreme,' or just 'goofy' Warren Miller. Not that Warren is goofy. You know what I'm saying. Warren didn't invent the comedy routine. John Jay did. He's the one who brought comedy into the ski movies.”

Real Aspen: Why did it take you more than ten years to make another pure ski film?

Greg Stump: "I quit making the extreme thing because it was getting too dangerous. That's another theme in 'Legend of Ahhhs.' Someone was going to get hurt or killed in front of a camera and I wasn't going to do that. I was always doing advertising stuff and music video stuff from the very beginning. And so I was just like, 'You know what? I'm not going to do this anymore.' Plus it's a lot of work. Making a ski movie, it's hard. Call up Steve Winter or call Robert Johnson. It's weather dependent so that takes it completely out of your hands. You can only position yourself to get lucky. You're sitting around for months. The reason 'Dr. Strange Glove' is such a screwed up weird movie is I had no footage of skiing. There was no snow that year. What do you do? It didn't snow that year. [Different voice:] 'How's your ski movie?' 'Really dirty.' 'How do you mean, like sexually?' 'No. Dirt. Dirt and rocks. Really dirty and rocky. Lots of saplings. Grass.' 'You mean like weed?' 'No, grass coming through the snow.'”

Real Aspen: I heard you say you still have more editing to do. Is this just a first draft of the film?

Greg Stump: “It's more than just the first draft. It's like the eighty-five-thousandth draft. At one point that movie was two hours and 37 minutes long. I had to get it down to 90 minutes. Sequences that took months to build? Bye-bye. Gone. 'Sophie's Choice' is the best way to describe it.” He added that he was "antsy" during the Aspen screening, in part, because “three days before the show here, we had major computer meltdowns so I couldn't do my final tweaks.”

Real Aspen: Who are your influences?

Greg Stump with girlfriend Kacee.

Greg Stump Productions

Greg Stump: “Leni Riefenstahl, who is in my movie. She did 'Oympia.' Her use of dissolves and putting athletes to music — she really invented that. Terry Gilliam as a director. [Martin] Scorsese ... 'Shutter Island' is unreal. He keeps getting better. Those are my favorite three. I'd go Gilliam, Scorsese and you'd have to throw in Riefenstahl since she invented sports film.”

Real Aspen: Why did you get into film?

Greg Stump: “Because I wanted to get laid.”

"It worked!" the snow siren next to him squeals.

And with that, the interview is pretty much over.

Stump has boiled down his life's sole purpose into one Freudian conclusion. He is motivated by sex. And that's just it. His honest, unfiltered and raw perspective is exactly why Greg Stump's work — three decades later — remains relevant today.

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