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Live From the Backcountry: How Uncle Toad's Media Group Took REMI Production to New Heights With Natural Selection Tour Snowboarding

04/04/2024

Live From the Backcountry: How Uncle Toad's Media Group Took REMI Production to New Heights With Natural Selection Tour Snowboarding Inside the two-day effort at the tour's marquee competition last month in Revelstoke By Jason Dachman, Editorial Director, U.S.

Thursday, April 4, 2024 - 4:01 pm

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The Natural Selection Tour has been referred to as a manifestation of snowboarders' wildest dreams. When it comes to logistics, however, the live production of the backcountry freestyle competitions is more akin to a broadcasting nightmare. Despite the challenges, tour production partner Uncle Toad's Media Group pulled off a flawless two-day REMI production at the marquee competition last month at Revelstoke Mountain in British Columbia.

Plenty of others have pulled off backcountry events like this with one or two cameras, and they do a solid job, says Jordan Velarde, CEO/founder, Uncle Toad's Media Group, who served as executive producer. Our goal is to bring the same broadcast quality and style that you would have for a major live event. We pride ourselves on our ability to not be hindered by the technical limitations so that we can deliver an authentic show that's on par with some of the [top productions] today.

Launched in 2021, the Natural Selection Tour is the brainchild of legendary freeride snowboarder and film producer Travis Rice. The world's top snowboarders - from Olympians to big-mountain film icons - come together to compete in men's and women's events. Twelve riders duel at six iconic mountain venues to earn the right to compete at Revelstoke along with 17 returning and invited Natural Selection Tour riders. Day 1 of the Natural Selection Tour Revelstoke event was streamed live exclusively on Red Bull TV on March 13., The finals at nearby Selkirk Tangiers on Day 2 premiered as live today at 1 p.m. ET.

If Travis Rice is doing a snowboarding event, says Chris Steblay, executive producer/creative director, Uncle Toad's Media Group, the expectation is that we will match that Travis Rice quality and brand. We're trying to produce something live that is on the same level as a Travis Rice movie but do it live and do it on a realistic budget. We want to hit a bar where it looks effortless [to the viewer] even though it's actually one of the most difficult [productions] you could possibly imagine.

Uncle Toad's produced both days of competition in 1080p using a REMI-production workflow that linked the onsite operation in Revelstoke with a control room at Red Bull Media House in Santa Monica. CA. Onsite, the operation relied heavily on a pair of drones and several RF Wireless camera systems to cover the wide-ranging action. Camera feeds were backhauled to Red Bull Media House, where the production team cut the show and announcers called the action off monitors.

Years in the Making: From Jackson Hole to Revelstoke

Velarde and Steblay began discussing the potential for producing the finals live with Rice and Natural Selection Tour COO Liam Griffin in 2018. Following COVID-related delays, their plans finally came to fruition in 2021 at Jackson Hole, WY. Uncle Toad's rolled out a full mobile unit and several production trailers, parking them roughly a mile and a half from the venue in what Velarde describes as baby steps on the way to a full REMI solution. After two years using this production model, Uncles Toad's went full REMI in 2023 when the finals moved to Revelstoke.

From day one, the goal of this event was to be able to go absolutely anywhere in the world to find the best backcountry skiing and be able to broadcast that live, says Velarde. When we moved to [Revelstoke], we were required to have the same full production capabilities that we had in Jackson. That meant rethinking our [production workflows].

Given the remote locale, all equipment had to be flown in via helicopter and dropped on the mountain. Further complicating matters was that the final course is often determined the day before the competition based on the current conditions.

We have to scout several different locations and put production plans in place for covering all those possible spots, Velarde points out. No mountain is exactly the same, so you have to evaluate your transmission, your wireless systems, your camera units, and all the support for getting in and out of there.

Adds Steblay, One of our biggest challenges is the need for meticulous planning and packing. Once something enters the field in that position, it can't move. Moving a single camera or [piece of equipment] can cost thousands of dollars and endless man-hours. And there's no such thing as we forgot a cable'; there's no Amazon Prime or big electronics store. So the packing and the planning become very important.

Onsite in Revelstoke: The BFT at the Center of It All With just 19 crew members on hand, Steblay and his team set up a Mount Everest-style base camp - lovingly dubbed the BFT, or Big Fucking Tent. The BFT serves as the main point of acquisition for all camera and audio feeds, the primary hub for transmission and engineering, and home for the team piloting the drones. Its location is key: it must have line of sight to all camera positions as well as to the satellite uplink - not an easy task in an area of high ridge lines and extreme distances.

In addition, all crew members must be expert snowboarders capable of traversing the treacherous terrain and must also be safety-trained for potential avalanches.

You not only have to be comfortable in the backcountry but you have to be a badass broadcaster - whether you're a camera op or a video engineer, says Steblay. You have to be expert in both: you have to be really good at your job and really love to be in the mountains. We try
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2024/04/04/live-from-the-backcountry-how-u...
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