From ‘The Lonely Star’ to numerous other DPS Cinematic films, Frank Pickell – award-winning director and cinematographer, and co-founder of Futuristic Films – has established himself as a well-respected member of the adventure filmmaking scene. Recently, ‘The Lonely Star’ was nominated to appear in the Banff Film Festival, Mountainfilm, and 5Point Adventure Film Festival.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Frank is commonly found traveling the world as a creative director and cinematographer, since his career in the film industry began in 2000. The DPS team has been fortunate to have Frank in the mix the last few years as the director of: ‘The Space Within’ (Mountainfilm 2018), ‘Ski Photographer’ (Mountainfilm 2019), and now ‘The Lonely Star’. We asked Frank a few questions about his background, filming, directing, and behind the scenes action from the DPS Cinematic film, ‘The Lonely Star’.
When did you start directing and filmmaking?
I started filmmaking in early 2000. At the time we were doing a lot of adventure, short branded documentaries, and event coverage filming.
Have you always been interested in directing and filmmaking? How did it all start?
I've always been interested in cameras and imagery, but I wasn't immediately captivated by filmmaking. In a way, filmmaking found me. It all started in the early 2000s when I was part of a startup company that was trying to make content for the internet. This was back in the days of dial up connections, so figuring out how to do video online was all very new. We were all young and absurdly naive. Since I had an interest in cameras, I became the video guy almost by default. One of our early clients was Marmot. The following year they had an expedition going to attempt a ski descent on a remote unclimbed peak in Eastern Tibet. Since I had a background in skiing and cameras, I got the opportunity to go on that trip. It was a pivotal experience and launched me into filmmaking.
What were some highlights (or interesting misadventures) when filming ‘The Lonely Star’?
Filming ‘The Lonely Star’ was one of the trickier Cinematic shoots for me. We based out of Revelstoke, but unfortunately central British Columbia was having one of the driest mid-winter stretches on record. Everyday we would drive an hour up Rogers Pass and tour for 4-5 hours trying to find zones with meager amounts of fresh snow. It was an immense amount of physical output with very low return. Many days we would come back with one or even zero shots in the can. It was brutal. Fortunately, Zack Giffin – one of the Koala team skiers on the shoot – was keeping an eye on the weather at Mt. Baker. We eventually decided to pull out of Revelstoke at the last minute and chase a storm down to Baker. The Baker footage really saved us.
What are some challenges you face as a director and filmmaker? How do you deal with those challenges?
As a director, there are so many challenges you have to deal with on any given shoot. Shooting ski films has a unique set of challenges unto itself. It's a constant battle keeping cameras dry, lenses clean, batteries charged, moving fast, communicating with athletes, dealing with weather, and hunting and standing around waiting for good light. Some days everything lines up and it's truly magical – like, "I can't believe I get to call this work" type of magical. And other days, it's completely brutal. Days like that, a construction job breaking bricks in the road starts to look pretty appealing. The emotional pendulum swings far and wide.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self for working in this industry?
I would say that there is no right way to make a film. Certainly, there is a threshold of technical understanding required, but beyond that, don't get hung up on wondering if it's the right way or not. Just continue experimenting.
Besides directing and working on films, what are your favorite hobbies and passions?
Skiing has always been a passion for me. These days I really enjoy a backcountry tour with friends. There's something magical about being in the mountains with a small group of people, relying on each other and working towards the same goal. I also really enjoy taking my 9 year old son to the resort. Seeing skiing through his eyes is a fun way to be reminded of the simple joys in all aspects of the sport.
What are you looking forward to in the coming years?
Well...I hope this quarantine/distancing thing fades away soon.