Tim Pierce’s "Winter of Wells" flies from web series to international feature film

Tim Pierce is shooting some of the most beautiful footage of mountaintops and free skiing that a human has captured with a camera. He follows world-class skiers around the globe to the most breathtaking snow-covered peaks and straps himself into helicopters, or perches under crests to catch flyers, or outfits the athletes with helmet cams for stomach-churning POV footage. He edits the videos with a rhythm that intuits and respects the performances of his subjects and brings an audience right into the exhilarating world of extreme winter sports.

photo credit: Miles Holden
Prior to 2011 Tim’s solo work has been short-form web episodes and promotional videos. But this year he has been commissioned to make a feature length documentary film about one of his favourite subjects – the championship free skiing Wells brothers from New Zealand.

Tim began documenting the lives of professional free skiers Jossi and Byron Wells in 2009. He created a series called Winter of Wells (WOW) that began online, was quickly picked up by international sports websites, and then bought by Air New Zealand, and ABC and FuelTV for television broadcast.

Where the online series focuses on the brothers’ travel and competitions, the feature will delve into the history of the family including all four skiing brothers and their parents. Tim says, “You get to live 2011 with the Wells family. That's kind of the key difference to it. And it breaks down everything that goes into competing, traveling, the family dynamics. There are sections on their religion, health, their injuries, psychological problems, brotherly rivalry. It's the story of this family that is incredibly unique. If you've grown up in a family you'll be able to relate to it. And it just so happens that we've got the world's best skiing in there as well.”

Winter of Wells doc teaser

To capture the story as it’s unfolding, and remain adaptable as unexpected events come up, Tim works as a one-man crew. He travels with about five bags of light panels, reflectors, travel dollies, tripods, cameras, lenses and microphones. He shoots with the Canon 5D and 7D DSLRs, GoPro helmet cams, and uses a Panasonic HVX both as a backup camera and as his audio recorder. Tim reveals, “It's got XLR input, so I bring it along and it’s set up as a C camera to use on interviews, but it also runs the mics, and when I import it I just get rid of the video track and just use the audio.”

Tim edits with Final Cut Pro on a 17” MacBook Pro that’s hooked up to numerous hard drives and a large plasma screen so he can check his work clearly. With the series of short episodes Tim was used to shooting and editing in quick succession. For the feature he spends weeks on the road filming, and then returns home to synchronize and edit in longer stretches. He recalls, “I'm sitting here going, I'm gonna have to sync all this up and it's going to be a bit of a nightmare. So I started talking to some people that told me about PluralEyes. Did a few Google searches and looked at some tutorials on it, and saw that it looked like it would save me a bunch of time and hassle. And spending $180 for it (in New Zealand), I figured it was well worth the investment, and really haven't looked back since then. For syncing all my interviews up I just run it through PluralEyes then drop it into my timelines in the doc, and it all seems to be running pretty smooth.”

Winter of Wells Episode 22 - Behind the Scenes of the Documentary

Tim has also been spending time with the Queenstown Camera Company testing development of the new Shotover Camera System, which is being designed specifically for the cinema industry for shooting stabilized aerial footage from moving platforms - primarily helicopters - with no limitations to aircraft maneuver or camera angles.

photo credit: Miles Holden
Tim remarks, “The gimbals are incredible. You can be flying around in a chopper 3 kilometers away with your camera zoomed in on a 290 mm lens and it's rock solid, you can never question the rig. And they're also developing a 3D rig, which hasn't been done for heli before, so that’ll open up this whole new world for 3D heli-filming and stuff, which’ll be crazy.” Some of the helicopter footage will appear in the “Winter of Wells” film.

Tim admits his biggest challenge is staying organized and getting enough sleep amid all the exciting and consuming projects on his plate. This year he also delivered a series of promotional videos for the New Zealand Winter Games, which occurred in August; and has produced an online series featuring the people of his hometown, called “Revealing Lake Wanaka”.

Revealing Lake Wanaka - Martine Harding

The feature version of “Winter of Wells” is scheduled to premiere at the world sales meeting for Amer Sports in Austria at the end of October. Amer is a sporting goods company with internationally recognized brands including Wilson, Arc’teryx, and Atomic – one of Tim’s video and photography clients. From there the film will roll out to international festivals and sports-related events.

This feature doc marks an impressive milestone that has come relatively early in Tim’s career. His first offering was a mountain bike film called “How About It?”, made in 2007 at the age of 19 with friend Chris Arnison and a camcorder. Even in this early video you can see the seeds of Tim’s unique creativity and his eye for framing athletes in their surroundings.

“I do what I love, there's nothing that can beat that. I'm just really, really into sharing stories about subjects, people and places that I'm passionate about. Nothing gives me more enjoyment than seeing that affect other people. And it’s just snowballing at the moment, so I'm running with it, you know, taking it by the horns really.”

Stay tuned to Tim’s blog and the Winter of Wells website for release dates and upcoming projects.

Tim Pierce 2010 Showreel, Zeros & Ones

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Consultant and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.