Montana’s Toy Soldier Productions’ first effort Come Find Us (2010) was a low key, mellow affair that introduced the world to a crew of riders dedicated to making the most out of what they had while living in an area not noted for skiing. Ironically, though they complained of not having as many ski features as other areas, the guys managed to find ways to train, shred and squeeze every bit of opportunity possible from their Big Sky setting and develop serious skills. TSP’s next film, 2011’s Set Your Sights showed loads of progression in both the skiing and the film making as the tricks got more advanced and the camera work became more assured. It was a solid sophomore effort that sent a strong signal that there was something happening with this crew.
Though these two earlier films had hints of some prodigious, yet unknown, skiing talents and were a pleasure to watch due to the director’s deft vision for the camera, nothing prepares you for the full out onslaught of shots that make up this year’s movie, Act Natural, particularly the first two segments.
Shay Lee delivers as great an opening sequence as Sean Pettit’s in Matchstick’s In Deep (2007). Consisting of urban and backcountry shots, the sheer variety of Lee’s stomps twists your mind in incredulity. You have to replay them again and again to fully comprehend the skill proficiency on exhibit. He lines up 720s, misty 5s off roof tops, cab 540s, double back flips, rails on one foot – the list goes on. Edited exquisitely to the alt-rock soundtrack from Mr. Gnome, Lee’s segment ratchets up the action and the tension right from the start and the punches keep coming right to the end.
And then, in a smart bit of programming, the vibe switches as the jazzy hip hop of Theophilus London’s “Big Spender” opens up and Brock Paddock delivers his tricks with complete mastery of form and with all the style of a real artist. Like a 30s jazz great riffing around the melody and adding his own personal touch, Paddock glides smoothly throwing in understated flare, whether it be a crisp grab or a subtle drop of his shoulder on the afterbang. And he brings this great style to some horrifyingly scary rails, jibbing everything on the way past. This is a cleverly developed segment that highlights the skier’s personality without having him say a word and it’s the type of performance and filmmaking that builds legends. Paddock’s stock is definitely going to rise as a result of Act Natural.
More so than TSP’s earlier films, director Justin Brodin has conceived of Act Natural as a real rider segment based movie. Not that there were ever weak links in the TSP crew of skiers, Act Natural has a much smaller roster than the earlier films and this provides a bigger platform for each skier to shine. Austin Torvinen, David Steele and Luke Perin all turn in great parts. Karl Fostvedt’s inventively aggressive hits are a stand-out especially on his smooth landings. Finn Anderson, who seems to take a beating in his segments (here and in Set Your Sights) always comes back to astound and astonish with what he can do. And then there are performances like Khai Krepela’s gut wrenching, high consequence rail ride two stories above the unforgiving cement of the street and Sandy Boville’s hard-charging approach, tearing everything up like a skiing version of Jack The Ripper, as he slays, hits and stomps rails, kickers and stairways.
Using two and sometimes three cameras per trick allows Justin Brodin and editor Jonny Durst to create a film that has a continuous flow of energy. Act Natural builds and keeps a strong level of power all the way through until they finish up with a series of relaxed shots set around a custom built park of features in the backcountry, putting the viewer back down on the ground again after a monstrous ride. Even where several of the same features appear in more than one segment, the TSP crew‘s strong repertoire of skills means that it never becomes dull – it simply highlights the different styles of each of the skiers. It should be no surprise that Act Natural took the honors for Best North American Film in the amateur category at the 2012 IF3 and that both Sandy Boville and Khai Krepela were nominated for IF3 Rookie of the Year awards for their work in this movie.
Toy Soldier Productions have got a winner on their hands with Act Natural. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail